Thomas Mogford works for ITV Sport as a translator and reporter on the UEFA Champions League. His short fiction has been published in The Field Magazine, Litro and Notes from the Underground. An early work featuring Spike Sanguinetti reached the semi-finals of the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. He is married and lives in London.
The spear bisects my palm. I run a finger across the purple arrowheads, which zigzag around the shaft, each pointing to the tip, the plump apogee of perfection. The colour, the weight… just perfect. Is that our supper, I hear behind? The summer sun has brought out the freckles on Flora’s cheeks; the sides of her new Hunters are felted with earth. I smile as I go to kiss her. Not in the first year, I say, dropping the spear onto the compost heap. You know not in the first year.
Things looked dire at first. Our stall was in the worst position, in the corner of the pub garden, beside a plastic slide with a murky pool of water in its base. And everyone seemed to know each other. The man next to us, who just grunted in a Cotswold burr at my hello, had sold all his spears within the hour. Just as Flora began to look worried – pursing her lips into that dark red heart – he arrived. I’ll take all of them, he said. All? Best I’ve seen on sale. We could have kissed him. A drink in the pub was the least we could do.
His name was Gregory Towne and he was young and American and worked as a sous-chef in Oxford. Respect what you’ve done, he said. Leaving good jobs, leaving London: takes guts. We just woke up one morning and knew we had to uproot, Flora explained, telling the story with more passion than I’d seen in a while. After he’d gone, Flora gazed at me and said, It’s really going to work, isn’t it?
Strange one today from Greg. Sitting post-sale with our drinks, he asked to pick up next week’s stock direct from our house. Season’s over, I told him. So where’s Chef going to get his asparagus? Greg, I said, the English season is six weeks’ long. Mid-May to end of June – sweetest, most intense spears in the world. Tell him, Flora – flying a kilo of asparagus from California uses a thousand times more energy than the home-grown equivalent. Chef won’t be happy, Gregory said.
The last supper; Flora making fresh Hollandaise. As if anticipating the change in season, a powerful wind rattles the dormers upstairs. Must get someone in to take a look. Flora tells me she wants to enrol on a course in Oxford. Carry on her Classics from university. I tell her there’s work to be done, winter veg, farmers’ markets, it’s not just about asparagus, but she’s determined, and she looks so beautiful when upset that I hide my anger and say yes.
Let me tell you something about asparagus. A single spear will pass through a man’s digestive system within ten minutes of consumption. Scientists are baffled at how the kidney can get to work so fast. Let me tell you something else. 50% of us claim asparagus has no effect on our urine. One particular digestive enzyme: either got it or you haven’t. The old wives’ tale, of course, is that those who give off the smell are more intelligent than those who don’t. Flora claims to be odourless; me, one spear’s worth would fell a tomcat.
I stare out of the kitchen window at the ferns blackening beneath the first frost. Time to get out the asparagus knife, use the narrow blade to pare the vegetation back, let the crowns build up energy for spring. Perhaps spring will be more productive for Flora. Humans follow cycles too.
Velocius quam asparagi coquantur, Flora trills as she comes in. Quicker than you can cook asparagus. Augustus Caesar was mad for the stuff, apparently. Used to have it rushed from the Tiber to the Alps, packing it in snow for year-round enjoyment. Well it can’t have tasted any good, I snap, and when Flora asks what’s wrong, I show her the repair bills. And still she wants to drive to Oxford in that fuel-consuming car.
First spears prodding through the loam. Surprisingly early.
Astonishing crop, far too much to sell. Flora keen to freeze but I refuse. No sign of Greg.
Flora mentions at the last supper that she’s enrolled for another year. She’ll be driving to Oxford twice a week now.
Still no Greg: has he jetted home to California?
The spears continue to sprout: over-composting? Mention to Flora my plans to sell the car. Another night in the blustery spare room.
Now I need to take this step-by-step. Flora comes home, then goes upstairs. When she re-emerges, she has something behind her back. A thin plastic tube. She shows me the tip: purply-blue. I embrace her and she rushes back up to call her mother.
Alone, I hold the tube in my palm. A sharp, unmistakable tang. I press it to my nostrils and sniff. Unmistakable.
Let me tell you something else about asparagus. There’s a new theory doing the rounds. Scientists used to believe just 50% of us gave off the odour. Know what they’re saying now? That we all do. Every one of us. The only difference is that half of us can’t smell it. It’s steaming off their piss but they’re way too thick to realise.
‘Yes, sir, we serve asparagus all year round’. I hang up and grab the asparagus knife. May have pared back the ferns too ruthlessly.
A buyer at last for the car – I shall drive it to Oxford myself, make Flora take the bus. Back in the bathroom: her smell, still there.
The spear bisects my palm, glinting in the winter sun. From inside the parked car, I watch the restaurant door open, and there she is, one hand in his, the other cradling her belly. Slipping the asparagus knife into my coat pocket, I get out of the car and fall in behind them.
A humid summer night in Gibraltar. Lawyer Spike Sanguinetti arrives home to find an old friend, Solomon Hassan, waiting on his doorstep.
Solomon is on the run. A Spanish girl has been found with her throat cut on a beach in Tangiers and he is accused of her murder. He has managed to skip across the Straits but the Moroccan authorities want him back.
Spike travels to Tangiers to try to delay Solomon’s extradition, and there meets a beautiful Bedouin girl. Zahra is investigating the disappearance of her father, a trail which leads mysteriously back to Solomon. Questioning how well he really knows his friend, Spike finds himself drawn into a dangerous game of secrets, corruption and murderous lies.
Available August 2012. £12.99