Fatty Acids

Rose Skelton

It didn’t matter that it was June, Sorrel was pleased for her all-in-one jumpsuit. A sharp wind blew and rain slanted across the bare Scottish hills in the distance. In the greenhouse, between seedlings of kale, spinach, cabbage and broccoli, their tender shoots sprouting in rows from orderly trays, Sorrel straightened the jumpsuit across her shoulders, pulled the metal zip upwards until she was neatly zipped inside, and went out to the potato patch. It was Tuesday; her father was coming to stay at the weekend. She wanted to dig the first new potatoes of the season for dinner, as a special treat for them all.

The garden was twenty yards from the sea, attached to the house where Sorrel had grown up. The house had been sitting empty since her mother had died and her father had moved to London, the garden left untilled. When Sorrel had lost her job at the university and moved back to the island, her father had suggested she get the garden growing again, make a little extra money, supplement her income from the on-line teaching job she had managed to get. Sorrel had re-dug the garden herself, her hands had been blistered every day for an entire month. That was two years ago, before she’d met Daniel. He could have helped, though he wasn’t as strong as he looked. But the garden was beginning to be productive now. She spent all of her spare time in it. It was the one place where she felt at ease.

Bending one knee beside the raised mound of potatoes, Sorrel slid her trowel into the soft earth and levered it so that a clod of soil lifted. The roots of the spuds tugged and tore as the potatoes emerged from the ground, the slight tension as the roots held on for that last little bit and then, ah, that wonderful feeling as the potatoes came free. The soil smelled of home, reminded her of her mother who had also grown her own, buttering the potatoes and planting a sprig of mint on top, and then placing them steaming on the table. Her father was at the head of that table, halving and quartering a Comice pair, admiring its rough and speckled skin as he turned each juicy segment in his fingers. His eyes which said, Those potatoes we have grown, they will make you fat.

Sorrel had become anxious over her father’s visit, but Daniel seemed unfazed, presumably because he didn’t know what he was up against. Daniel only knew that her father was a mycologist — they heard him on the radio sometimes, usually when someone died from eating the wrong kind of mushroom — and that he was “funny about food.” That was all anyone in her family had ever said about it when pressed. She had never really managed to elaborate on what it actually meant. It was only since he had started being a guest in her own home that she had become conscious that it was anything to talk about at all.

The next day, Sorrel drove along to the fish-farm where Daniel worked, to meet him for lunch. The fish-farm wasn’t far from Sorrel’s garden, and as the road rose up and over the small crest of a hill, she could see in the distance the silvery water of the loch and the black floating circles of fences where the salmon were kept caged. Daniel’s job was to assist the diver, who went down into the nets and brought out the dead fish. The bodies stank, Daniel said. He would never eat farmed salmon, couldn’t stand the sight of it in the shops even.

When the fish-farm had been in the planning stages, there had been strong local opposition to it: petitions that sat beside the shop tills and angry meetings in the village halls. People said it would kill the wild salmon industry, that it wasn’t healthy for humans, all that pink food coloring. The people in support of the farm said that it would bring jobs to the island, that we had to find a solution to the global food shortage. An executive from the fish-farm company came to one meeting and said that if more foods containing Omega-3 Fatty Acids were available at a lower price, then people would be healthier. Maybe Scotland could kick this obesity trend.

Sorrel’s father had sent her a link back then to a news article about how farmed salmon was spreading sea lice to the native salmon population. He knew all about it, and warned her not to eat it, but she and Daniel hardly had money to spend on things like fish anyway, and she tried to grow everything they needed in the garden. Like it or not, salmon farms had come to the island and Daniel needed a job. He didn’t have much in the way of qualifications, so this would do him just fine for now.

In the fish-farm driveway, Daniel walked down the track in a blue jumpsuit towards her. The suit clutched at him around his middle, and she clenched her teeth a little for noticing. She’d been doing that a lot lately, breaking her unkind thoughts with some sort of physical jolt to herself.

“Hi,” he said, with a smile, and then, looking behind him, brought his face to hers and kissed her. She loved it when he touched her unexpectedly, it was like being rescued from herself by an icebreaker ship.

“I brought us a picnic,” she said, pushing him away in case someone was looking. “Soup and salad and I made jam tarts.”

“Sounds good. Shall we take the car up the road and eat it by the sea?” he said.

“No, let’s go to the woods. I want to walk a bit.”

Sorrel heard Daniel’s groan when she had already set off down the track. She had dreamed of marrying a mountain goat. She clenched her teeth again; he was doing the best he could. They were from different places, it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t love the outdoors as much as she did.

On the other side of the humpback bridge, they clambered between a gatepost and a drystone wall, Sorrel looking back to see that Daniel could get through the gap okay. The wood opened up in front of them, a thick blanket of luminous green moss covering the birches and oaks. Shafts of light filtered through the trees, mottling the wood floor. Sorrel led the way towards a stream whose peat-stained waters gurgled as they rushed past.

She spread a rug out on the river bank and Daniel lay down on it. He was rustling his hand in a packet of crisps that had appeared miraculously from his jumpsuit pocket.

“I made us lunch,” she said, unable to hide her annoyance.

“Yeah I know, I’m hungry,” he said, not taking any notice.

She knelt down and started taking things out of the basket, putting foil-covered bowls down on the rug. He could eat what he liked. Jesus, what was wrong with her?

“Here, have some salad,” she said, heaping some onto a plate for him. “And some of the soup that I made.”

Daniel lay back on one elbow and looked at her, smiling. “It’s great,” he said. He picked a piece of watercress out of the salad bowl with his fingers, leant his head back, and dangled it over his open mouth. “I love what you make.” A dribble of olive oil slid down his chin. He reached over and took a slice of bread from the loaf which she had wrapped in a tea towel. “What’s the green stuff?” he asked.

“It’s wild garlic. It grows along the path to the lighthouse.”

“Why’s it in the bread?”

“Just taste it,” she snapped. She watched him stuff the bread in his mouth, winced, and then looked away.

She used to come to these woods with her parents, looking for mushrooms. Her mum would bring a picnic of homemade scotch eggs, which Sorrel and her sister loved more than anything, opening up the breaded sausage ball and finding two halves of a boiled egg hidden inside. It was like magic. After lunch their dad would show them where to find clusters of Chanterelles and Ceps, Morels, Blewits, Chicken of the Woods, and Horn of Plenty. When they got home, they’d cook up the mushrooms into a risotto or a soup. Sometimes they just ate them fried with sausages, soaked in butter, garlic, and thyme from the garden.

Her dad had a special French knife he’d use to prise the mushrooms from the ground, a sound she could still hear now, a kind of pffft as the mushroom lifted free. Then he’d show them the undersides, the spores and gills, and explain how you could bruise a mushroom and depending on what color the bruised skin turned, identify the species.

When they were in the woods collecting edible mushrooms, they did sometimes see a cluster of poisonous ones. Everybody had to stand back, and then their dad went down on one knee, telling everyone to gather around so they could see. Sorrel’s mum wasn't all that interested; she said she thought it was dangerous to even poke them with a knife when they were going to be having their picnic nearby, but her dad was too excited to listen. He would lift the cap with the tip of his knife, and show them how the gills, stipe and volva were all white.

“These are deadly,” he would say, his cheeks flushing red. “Deadly.”

Back home, in his study, Sorrel and her sister would get a masterclass on the poisonous mushrooms — Death Cap, Fool’s Funnel, Destroying Angel — so that when they were out foraging, they were suitably prepared for how badly it could go wrong. Their dad showed them slides of what to look out for, his face glowing in the light of the projector, and as he pointed to the screen behind him, his face wore a maniacal smile. Destroying Angel was the worst, he said. The way it tricked you into thinking you were recovering, after the initial bout of vomiting, was genius. You thought you were getting better, but the amatoxins destroyed your liver. It was the perfect murder.

When Sorrel was a teenager they still went on the odd mushroom forage, but things had changed. Her dad’s bouts of not eating had become more frequent, and he now inspected the mushrooms for longer than usual, giving Sorrel and her sister vacant lectures on this genus and that species and so on. When her mum said it was time to have the picnic, he just carried on walking. He was so interested in his mushrooms that it probably wouldn’t have mattered to him if the rest of them hadn’t come along at all.

When they got back home, he took the mushrooms into his study and closed the door. Sorrel’s mother started making dinner from whatever was in the fridge, which those days usually wasn’t much, and sometimes they didn’t see the mushrooms again. Once, Sorrel overheard her mum say that he should try the mushrooms before the rest of them, in case they were poisonous. After that, Sorrel found ways to avoid the family mushroom trips, and then, after her mother died and her father moved to London, she also moved away to the mainland. This was the first time she’d been back to these woods in years.

Daniel was eating a fourth slice of bread, dipping it in the soup and then stuffing the whole soggy mess in his mouth.

“Would you like a spoon?” Sorrel asked.

“Nah,” he grinned. “This soup’s amazing. Can I have some more?”

She poured him another cup. It was satisfying that he enjoyed her food, she told herself, it was a sign of good spirits. As long as you were happy with the way you were, and were in good health, it didn’t matter what you looked like. It was all about how you felt inside. These were the things she told herself about Daniel, who could do with losing some weight, and the things she had learned to tell herself every morning when she got dressed. She would never look in the mirror at her own image and hate the way that she was.

Daniel twisted the top off a bottle of Pepsi and drank it down in great glugs. She clenched her jaw once again. He was an adult, for god’s sake, and it was no business of hers if he chose to pickle his insides with fizzy drinks.

The next day the weather forecast said rain, but with her new jumpsuit, Sorrel could stay pretty much dry even in the worst of it. She pulled the suit on over her Wellington boots and trudged out to the garden. She would make risotto for dinner, and wanted to pick some parsley. Daniel had brought home a bag of crabs the night before, and she’d add that to it. It was free protein.

Sorrel wanted the evening with Daniel to be special, romantic. Before her father arrived for the weekend, she wanted for them to have good food and wild sex, even. She wanted to feel dead set on their life together so that when her dad started to pick holes in everything, it wouldn’t matter, she’d know that everything was just fine.

She had been pottering around for an hour, pulling weeds and turning the compost, when she heard a voice from the road.

“Coo-ee,” the voice called over the wall. “Only me. Can I come over?” It was Conny, from next door. She already had one leg over the wall and the other followed. Conny caught her trousers on some brambles but quickly shrugged them off, charging towards her.

“Hello dear,” she said. Sorrel had known Conny most of her life. Her father had accused Conny’s husband of rustling his sheep once. It had caused a rift which they had got over when one of Conny’s prize rams got out and ate her dad’s crop of potatoes, and then died. “Now we’re square,” her father had said then.

“Hi, Conny,” said Sorrel, straightening up and leaning on the handle of her spade.

Conny was eyeing her garden. “Kale’s going to be a good crop for you this year. Look at your broad beans! Haven’t they come along.”

“How’s your garden doing?” Sorrel asked.

“You know,” she said. “My leeks were dug up by something overnight and frost got the carrots in May, but soldier on we must.”

“Right,” said Sorrel, shifting her foot on to the shoulder of the spade. She wanted to carry on digging while the rain held off, but she didn’t want to seem rude.

“I had your father on the phone this week,” Conny said. “That’s why I came over really. He told me he’s coming up. I wanted to invite him to dinner, and I thought you and Daniel, is that his name? could come too. What do you think?”

There was nothing Sorrel wanted less than to have dinner in the company of Daniel, her father, and the Bakers.

“He’s such good company, your father, and he must be lonely since your mother passed away.” Conny pulled her wax jacket around her as the wind picked up. “I remember when your mother was alive and we used to come for dinner. Your father would cook these wonderful meals: wild mushrooms, salmon pâté on those delicious oatcakes your mother made, courgettes, all that nice stuff from their garden, good wine, fabulous cheese. I don’t know where we put it all,” she laughed, patting her stomach. “And where your father found time in amongst his mushroom research to make his own ravioli I will never know.”

Rain spattered Sorrel’s face. She began digging once more. She hadn’t said if she would come or not but she knew that if her dad had accepted then she would be expected to come too.

“I’ll ask my father what his plans are,” said Sorrel, hefting all her weight down onto the sharp metal shoulder of her spade.

In the kitchen of her flat in town, Sorrel busied herself making the crab risotto she had promised Daniel for their special night together, chopping the parsley she had grown in cloches through the early spring, and softening the shallots in low-fat margarine. She got a hammer out of Daniel’s tool-box, and began to pound the crabs, covering them with a tea towel so that shards of shell didn't fly up and blind her.

What Connie’s visit had reminded her of was just how normal her father could be around food. What her parents’ friends and neighbours saw — the lavish, rich meals of lovingly prepared dishes, the good wine and charming company — was the man everyone believed him to be. But when those dinners were over, when he had pulled himself back together after the excesses of last night’s meal, he became the person they all saw at home: the man who became more gaunt by the week, whose bathroom scales were always in use, who sat at the head of the table with an apple and an orange lined up before him, silently daring the rest of the family to eat.

Sorrel now took each crab, and picked out the flesh, including the dark meat that nestled inside the cavity of its body. Daniel said he didn’t like the brown meat, because it tasted just like what it was — digestive glands and reproductive organs — but Sorrel told him that just a small amount could provide his weekly intake of Omega-3 and that it was good for him. She added it all to the risotto.

As she picked through the claws, Sorrel thought back to how she and her sister ate guiltily in those days following the feasts. Their mother, pressing food on them, didn’t touch much of what was on her own plate. Once Sorrel had come inside from the garden and found her father standing at the fridge, swiping things from the shelves and dumping them into the bin. Her mother was pleading with him to stop, but he said he was just tidying up. No one ever got up the courage to say, We think you should see a doctor.

Now Sorrel wondered how much of it was real and how much a trick of her memory. But Sorrel wanted to tell Daniel something about her father, before he arrived for the weekend. She wanted to tell him that she thought that her father had had an eating disorder, that there had been years when he had starved himself, and then years when it went away, but that it had come back, and that now, she didn’t know because they had never discussed it. Daniel would understand and he might make her feel better. But she didn’t know if it counted as disloyalty to her father to even acknowledge it at all.

Sorrel’s father didn’t come to visit all that often. The island was a long way from London, and the trains went at inconvenient times and were too expensive, he said. But he wanted to meet Daniel, he wanted to “check this man out.” He had laughed as he’d said that, snorting through his nostrils down the phone. She’d almost cancelled the whole visit, but Daniel didn’t seem worried. “What do you care what your dad thinks?” he had said. “We’re okay, aren’t we?”

She had fretted over what to make for dinner but in the end, she settled on a green salad, some homemade flat-breads, and mini kale soufflés. The soufflés had the appearance of being rich but were, in fact, more air than anything else. That was the beauty of soufflé. The flat-breads were wholemeal, and she went light on the olive oil in the dressing. She’d steamed some potatoes; Daniel would be starving after a day on the fish-farm. She set some candles on the table alongside the various bowls and dishes, lit them, and then blew them out. She’d wait until he arrived, or they might drip wax on the table and mess everything up. She picked at her nails as she watched the clock tick forwards.

Right on time, she heard a voice out in the street calling her name. In the doorway to the building her father took her shoulders between both hands and pecked her awkwardly on the cheek.

“Help me with my bags,” he said.

“Hi dad, how was your journey?”

“The bloody bus driver stopped on the way to chat with someone,” he said. “I don’t know why you couldn't have come to pick me up.”

“Well, you’re here now,” she said. She was determined not to let him upset her.

“I'm starving! The food on the train was disgusting and I left my bloody sandwiches at home. They’re sitting right there on the counter. They’ll be mouldy by the time I get back, rotting.”

“Maybe they’ll have grown some fungus,” she joked as they walked up the stairs.

“They’ll have grown legs and walked themselves to the bin probably,” he said. He was funny sometimes. This was going okay. Where the hell was Daniel? She almost hoped he wouldn’t turn up at all, though where would he go? This was where he lived.

“Where’s that fella of yours?” her father asked.

“Daniel. He’s been out on the boat today,” she said. “He went to get mussels I think, if there are any at the moment. We’ve had rough seas so things have been hard to get hold of.”

“Farmed mussels, probably. I won’t eat them,” he said.

“Here we are,” she said, pushing open the door to the flat. “This is us.”

“Smells good. So this is your place?” he said, looking around the kitchen, sticking his head into the bathroom, “and this is where you sleep,” he had walked into the bedroom. “Nice, it’s nice, Sorrel. A bit sparse, but plenty of light.”

“Thanks.” She showed him into the spare room. “This is you.”

Her dad sat down on the bed and bounced up and down. “That’s OK,” he said. “The bed at your sister’s place is awful. I stay in a hotel now, except that makes her angry. I told her she should get a new bed, not that bloody folding sofa.”

Sorrel felt an overwhelming sense of achievement that her spare bed was better than her sister’s. With her dad bouncing on the bed, and Sorrel standing awkwardly in the doorway, she heard Daniel come through the front door, drop his bags, and take off his wellies.

“Boots outside,” Sorrel shouted down the hallway.

“Hi love,” Daniel said, appearing in his blue jumpsuit, his socks hanging limply off the end of his feet. Just seeing him warmed her, though she never could find the right words to tell him that. He always looked pleased to see her. He never compared her with anyone else, except to say that everything she did was better. She felt a rush of gratitude for Daniel, for being there. Then her father came out into the hallway too.

“You must be Daniel,” he said, pushing past her to shake his hand. “How do you do?”

“Good thanks. And you?” They dropped their hands and looked at each other.

“I should warm the bread,” said Sorrel. “Shall we go into the kitchen?” She shuffled past the two men, Daniel in his jumpsuit and her father in his linen jacket. “Are you going to wash up for dinner?” Sorrel asked Daniel.

“Sure,” said Daniel, who smelled of fish.

“Great. Dinner in ten, then.”

In the kitchen, Sorrel's soufflé ramekins sat, satisfyingly puffed, on the table next to a jug of foxgloves that she had picked that afternoon. She lit the candles and stood back to admire the table. She picked a handful of mint and thyme from the sill and rinsed them under the tap.

“The garden’s coming along,” she said to her dad, who was browsing her bookshelf. “I dug these potatoes this afternoon.”

“I thought you had your students today,” her dad said. “You said that’s why you couldn’t pick me up.”

“I had my students and I dug spuds,” she said. She wouldn’t rise to it. “Why don’t you come and sit? Daniel will be done soon, and we can make a start.”

When they were all sat around the table, Sorrel realized how nervous she was. She had never allowed a boyfriend of hers into such close proximity with her father. She had never served a meal to her father in anyone else’s company. Daniel reached out and took a flat-bread off the pile. The buttons on his shirt strained across his chest, and she clenched her teeth a little for noticing.

“So, Daniel,” said her father. “I hear you work on the fish-farm. Who’s running that place now? Is it still Gordon Letts?”

Daniel's mouth was full of bread. Sorrel busied herself with tossing the salad.

“How many fish are they churning out down there?” said her father. “When I was still living up here, we tried hard to get it stopped. But the company paid the council kickbacks or something, and we had no chance. Has anyone done a study on the native salmon population? Lice is a terrible problem. That’s what I worry about. Do you worry about that, Daniel?”

“Yeah,” said Daniel. Sorrel wished he’d take his elbows off the table.

“Sorrel, these are incredible,” Daniel said, who was spooning kale soufflé into his mouth. “Are there any more?”

Sorrel had barely started to eat hers. She tried to eat the greens before the rest of the meal, so that she didn’t get filled up on starch. Her dad was tucking into the salad too, and eyed the soufflé suspiciously.

“These are very ... pert,” he said, turning the ramekin in front of his eyes.

“Don’t play with it,” said Sorrel. “Just eat it.” Both men looked at her, and her father put the ramekin back on the table.

“So, Sorrel tells me that you’re a mushroom expert,” said Daniel. “We heard you on the BBC when that man got poisoned in Lancashire, was it?”

“Lincolnshire,” said her dad. “I’m a mycologist.”

“Right,” said Daniel. Sorrel’s father began to describe his career trajectory, and she poured wine into glasses that she had carefully polished before dinner. She started to get up to put the wine back in the fridge, but Daniel reached for her hand and gently pulled her back to her seat. Underneath the table, his rough, calloused thumb rubbed the soft skin on the back of her hand. She took a deep breath, and for a moment, sat still. Her father didn't seem to notice. Sorrel almost cracked. This was why she loved Daniel.

“And when I was taken on at University College London as a professor in Medical Mycology, I was the last tenured professor to be accepted. Nowadays it’s all these part-timers.”

Sorrel stood up to clear away the plates. “Dad, have you had enough to eat?” she said. He had eaten everything she’d served him, and she was surprised, pleased even. When was the last time they had eaten together? Not for years. Perhaps he was over his “thing.” Maybe she’d embellished certain aspects of the past. He was weird about food, that’s for sure, but anorexic? Just the sound of the word made her feel embarrassed.

“Have you got any cheese?” he asked. She had splashed out on the handmade cheeses especially for her father’s visit. There was a round of Cheddar, some Caerphilly, Wensleydale, and hard Devon goat’s cheese. Her father took the knife in his hand and cut a large chunk of the Cheddar. Stabbing it with the tip of the knife, he brought the whole piece to his mouth and clenched it between his teeth.

“That’s enough for me,” he said, after he had eaten a large piece of each. “You shouldn’t eat too much either, Sorrel,” he said, “not at your age. Cheese is very high in fat.”

Her knife had been hovering over the Wensleydale, but his comment had punctured her. She lay the knife down, defeated.

Before she went to bed, Sorrel ran herself a bath. She sat naked on the closed loo seat watching the steaming, peat-stained water fill the white tub. She felt hollowed out, exhausted, the taste of kale still on her tongue. As she lowered herself into the bath, she noticed an enormous amount of water displacement as her hips fully filled the tub. Her body glowed white under the glare of the bathroom light, brown water lapping around her fleshy mass. Had she got fat?

She regretted the question. As long as you were happy with the way you were, and were in good health, it didn’t matter what you looked like. It was all about how you felt. That was what the counsellor had told her, all those years ago. Sorrel had repeated it enough to herself that she had almost allowed herself to believe that it was true.

Her breasts bobbed in the water like two islands in a murky pond. It had been ages since she’d worried what she looked like. She had promised herself that no matter how fat she got, that she’d always be okay with it. But sometimes those thoughts crept in. It was hard not to let them, wasn’t it?

When she sat up to soap her hair, she noticed that the area between her belly button and her privates — she didn’t know what that triangle of the body was called — had developed a sort of, cushion. She knew that feeling of repulsion well; she had felt it once when Daniel had got out of bed naked and walked around the room looking for his trousers. She had wondered why she was with someone who didn’t take care of himself, and then she’d hated herself for the thought, and she’d pulled him back to bed. Since then, when he got out of bed, she looked the other way.

Now she had the same thing, but was it new? Or had it always been there? She lay back in the water and tried to forget that she had ever seen it all, but the words FAT VAGINA kept going through her head all the same.

After her bath, Daniel and Sorrel lay in bed, her father in the next-door room. The moments when she lay awake on the comfortable flesh of Daniel’s chest, not knowing if he was awake too, were when she was most at ease. Silently, one and then the next, they would drift away into sleep. But tonight they talked.

“Your dad knows his mushrooms. He seemed to know a lot about fish-farms too.”

“He knows a lot about most things,” she said.

“I see that. The dinner went well. Didn’t it?”

“It was fine.”

“I think it went well. He liked what you cooked. It was nice what you cooked, that thing.”

“It was a kale soufflé. Why were you so late? I thought you were going to get mussels.”

“I couldn’t get any, Frank didn’t show up today. Then Ronnie wanted us to clean the boat. Then he bought us a pint. It just got late. I didn’t think you’d mind, you had your dad here.”

“I wanted you here when he arrived,” she said.

“You were doing fine when I got home. He barely noticed that I came in anyway.”

“That’s not true,” she said, knowing that it was. “I’m sorry.”

Sorrel had raised her head off his chest and was resting her chin on it now, looking at him in the dim light from the street. It wasn’t a good angle for him. She laid her head back on his chest and reached down under the bed sheets where her wandering hand ran over the soft skin of his thighs.

“Sweetie, really? Your dad.”

Daniel’s voice trailed off as he became hard in Sorrel’s hand. He rarely didn’t respond to that. “My God, you’re gorgeous,” he mumbled into her hair as he rose up onto his elbows and pushed himself between her legs. She wondered why she had started this. He was heavy and he wasn’t very good on top. She didn’t feel like getting on top of him, so why hadn't she just lain there silently until they had both fallen asleep? Sometimes she didn’t know why she did the things that she did, especially at the moment. She wanted to cry.

As a special treat and because she felt bad that she’d initiated sex and then didn’t want it, she let him come on her thighs. Then he squeezed them and wiped a towel roughly across her skin, throwing the towel on the floor beside the bed. Sorrel winced and tried to ignore the fact that the towel was lying there in a damp, unsanitary pile. She lay on her side and Daniel pulled her towards him so that she was nestled in the crook of his body.

“You make more sense to me now, meeting your dad.”

“What does that mean?” she snapped.

“Well, all that business of washing up right after you’ve finished eating. Is that a family thing?”

“I don’t think it’s a thing. It’s just called clearing up.”

“I had barely taken my last bite when you'd taken the plate away, Sorrel. I’m not criticizing you, I’m just wondering. You seemed anxious, that’s all. I’m just trying to understand you.”

“My dad just likes things to be a certain way. We’re a tidy family.”

“I wonder what you’d make of my family,” Daniel said. “My mum considers oven chips one of her five-a-day. I think you’d hate eating at our house.”

Daniel laughed his loud, warm laugh, then yawned and pulled her body closer to his. Sorrel tried to relax. She practiced counting backwards silently from ten, but reached one too quickly. She found it more relaxing to think about all the things she needed to do in the garden the next day: hoe the beds at the back, plant the fennel and Swiss chard seedlings. She needed to get the deer fence righted by the burn. She should put seaweed down on the winter green beds. The runner beans needed tying up. The spearmint was out of control. Sorrel lay there, trying to breathe with the least movement possible, but the more she tried to relax, the more she realized she was unable to free herself from Daniel’s arms which were wound tightly around her waist.

When she felt Daniel’s grip on her loosen in sleep, Sorrel got up. On the way out of the room, she fumbled on Daniel’s side of the bed for the towel and, tip-toeing past the room where her father slept, she put the towel in the machine, ready to wash in the morning.

In the kitchen, it looked as if no dinner party had ever taken place. The countertops were clear of dishes, the cutlery put away. The ramekins were washed and stacked back in the larder where they would probably stay unused for another year. The candles had been arranged in a neat row on the mantelpiece, the wax carefully removed from where it had dripped onto the kitchen table. Only the jug of foxgloves remained on the table, their fuchsia trumpets flecked with white, the tall green stems gathered tidily in a glass jug that had belonged to Sorrel’s mother.

Sorrel sat down at the table and looked out to the fishing boats which bobbed in the harbor. In June, it barely got dark and the harbor was still dimly lit with late-night light. Pulling the jug of flowers towards her, Sorrel gently inserted her finger inside one of the foxglove heads, enjoying the way its thin silken hairs tickled the soft pad of her fingertip. She remembered reading a news article once about someone, an amateur botanist, who died from eating foxglove leaves in his garden. The article said that his eyes went yellow and his heart had collapsed and failed. It would have been a terrible way to go. Nature was wonderful, she thought, putting one, and then another, of her fingers inside the flowers, how deadly and how beautiful it could be. Just imagine that, a botanist killed in his own garden.


about the author