Here we have a rather enchanting short story by Julie Martin – Our esteemed President – who obviously has an amusing way with words… And this very odd story about procreation and vegetables, ends with the most inventive series of puns – Love it!
By Julie Martin
“Reverent love has left the building.” Faith poked the smouldering fire from the inglenook cheek seat as her two sisters snuggled into the shabby but not chic sofas of the manse living room.
“Reverend Love with a “d” was Father’s name not Reverent Love.” Hope poured her eyes over the sympathy cards sent by her pupils, unconsciously looking for spelling errors as she drew in their warmth. “You are the queen of malapropisms, Faithy Love.”
“I meant reverent love with the “t” …that’s what they had for each other, Father and Mother. All those little attentions they paid each other, always there for each other.”
“No wonder we’re spinsters.” Charity said. “We hadn’t a chance of finding such love, such romance in this day and age. Not in this hole. No one we could find, could live up to their devotion.”
“Oooh, I don’t know. The laird has certainly been romancing Faithy with coleslaw and lettuce and fragrant nothings in her ear too I’d guess…shame he’s wheelchair bound so nought can come of it.” Hope pushed her pupils’ cards into a pile on her lap.
“We have like interests and he provides me with a job.” Faith was slightly flushed.
“OK, I’ll accept Mother and Father showed reverent love but I’m not sure there was romance in it after forty years. Don’t think there was any mystery left either.” Hope levered herself off the sofa, shedding her pupils’ cards on the floor before she investigated the pantry. “You’ve got to tell the laird to stop giving us coleslaw and pickled cabbage, Faithy. We’ve got enough to feed the whole Highland Regiment for six months.”
“I like it.” Faith stirred a pot of vegetable soup, complete with cabbage, on the wood stove.
“We know you do, but we don’t.” Hope said. “At least the cold weather has stopped the lettuce supply.”
“We planted some in the new hothouse…should be able to harvest it in a week. Archie’s experimenting with developing brassicas and lactuca sativas resistant to the cabbage white butterfly and the green fly. My gardening background is useful. ”
“Getting a bit familiar, aren’t you? What’s this Archie thing instead of My Laird?” Charity said.
“We work together all the time. I only call him Archie in private. He wants me to go to an etymology conference with him in London next month to help him present a paper. ”
“Just as well the tongues know he’s a paraplegic or the place would be rife with rumours.” Hope added a sumptuous stew from the pantry to the stovetop to warm. “ Dada! Two courses…now we need dessert.”
“I still can’t get my head round their deaths…both together, holding hands as Father shut the manse gate after evening service. What are the chances of lightning striking at that instant? What are the chances of such an escape for Mother from…?” Charity pushed the pleats of her district nurse’s uniform into knife edge lines as she swung her endless legs to the floor.
“Aye, it was a lucky escape but we’re left with a problem. Father bought this place and the church and the hall for their retirement when the synod told him the church was closing. Now it’s ours. We’re stuck here. It’s not likely to sell ever. No chance of us finding romance in the town of Ro. Did ya look at the pickings lined up at the funeral? It’s scary.” Hope said. “At least you’ve had a taste of the sex thing, Charity. It isn’t half obvious who Alistair’s dad is. It looks like Callum McPherson cloned himself, so like him is wee Alex.”
“I didn’t get Alex from sex, I got him from artificial insemination.” Charity nailed her sister with a glare that would have had most folk running to hide in a whiskey bottle. “When Fiona what McPherson couldn’t conceive after Fergus’s mumps rendered him sterile, they begged Callum to donate some sperm. After all he is Fergus’s twin. Couldn’t get a much better match. I did the procedure in the clinic. There were some sperm left in the bottle so I inseminated myself. Callum seemed a reasonable choice to give good genes to the child I wanted. He had a steady job and he likes dogs. Fiona got her twins and I got Alex. Statistically unlikely but true.”
Alex sunk deep into his grandfather’s leather chair by the bookshelves, determined to ask Aunty Faithy later what his mother meant.
“The tales you tell, Charry. The men look at you like you’re Arianrhod, goddess of life. Can’t tell me you haven’t played their instruments occasionally. You just got caught out with Callum.” Hope wasn’t daunted by glares.
Charity turned away. If her own sister couldn’t believe her story, no wonder the townsfolk didn’t.
“I asked Father once what he wanted most for us girls,” Faith said. “He said a man of letters and law for me, a breeder of good lions for you Charry, and a fisher of men for Hope.”
“Yes well, education is not high on Ro men’s priorities so there go the letters, lion taming doesn’t happen in Ro and the church has been closed because of the diminishing population so that cuts out fishing for men. Father’s wishes for us aren’t likely to be fulfilled here…and here we are stuck.” Hope had never lived up to her name. “By the way Father’s attorney is coming tomorrow.”
“We need to start thinking what to do with this place.” Charity said. “If we could find a buyer we could each buy our own place. Otherwise we’ll need to divide the place so we have both privacy and shared space.”
“I’ve got enough to buy the manse but not the hall or the church, “ Hope said.
“Look my bike’s fixed, Mum, and I hadn’t even told you about it.” Alex said. Charity looked up from the mail she had been puzzling over — a school bill for Alex, marked paid but she hadn’t paid it. Since her parent’s funeral there had been a series of unexplained but welcome incidents that had made her life much easier.
“Can I go over to the twinnies’ place, Mum? Tam and Iain have the bronchitis and Mrs McPherson likes it fine when I take over me ipad and we play Spaceteam.” Alex said.
“Be back by 4.30. You’ve got homework and we’re invited to tea with the laird according to Aunty Faithy.”
“Hope he has more than cabbages in his larder.” Alex slammed a peck on her cheek and was gone.
Charity decided to pick Alex up early from Fiona McPherson’s. She had a sudden intuition she needed to scrub the boy up before they went to tea. As she was going through the croft gate she met Callum McPherson.
“Callum.” She nodded greeting and made to move on.
“Wee Alex is my son, isn’t he?”
“I didna have sex with you, Charity Love. I’d surely know if I did, you being so desirable and all, but wee Alex is my son. How can that be?”
Charity dropped her head and moved forward. Callum gripped her wrist. She was forced to halt.
“I’ve watched your kindnesses to ma mother, Fiona and the village for nigh on nine years. I’ve watched the way you love our boy. I’ve loved you, Charity love, from afar for you’re not welcoming to advances. I worked it out at the funeral when I saw the three boys together, so alike in so many ways: they all roll their tongue, they all have bent little fingers, they all clasp their hands with their left thumb on top, all things that Fergus and I do, but Alex has blue eyes while Tam and Iain have brown. Fiona has brown but you have blue so your recessive gene for blue eyes with my recessive gene gives Alex recessive blue.”
“Are you the one paying Alex’s fees and fixing his bike? Are you the one who’s fixed the fence of the pigpen and changed my flat tyre and a thousand other little things? Did you stop the Council from closing the district nursing service, thus saving my job?”
“You haven’t told me how Alex is my son.”
“He could be anybody’s boy. Ask the tongues.”
“I did more than that. I asked every man in the town. They would like to claim the boy but none can. They don’t have all the necessary dominant and recessive genes.”
Charity drew herself up to her full five foot two. “I artificially inseminated myself with the sperm leftover from Fiona’s procedure. You had all the things I wanted in a father for my child but you were about to be engaged to a fancy city girl at the time. I wasn’t interested in any other man…I’m a one man woman, if you like, I just couldn’t have the man I wanted.”
“Well you can now.” Callum kissed her. “That city woman was after a professional man with money not a country vet. We never did get engaged.”
“That kiss’ll set the tongues wagging. Two of them over there are near falling out their windows with curiosity.”
“Not for long. I’m marrying you as soon as possible. I don’t want my daughter conceived by artificial insemination.”
Faith was glowing at the tea with the laird. “We’ve worked out how to do it”, she sang.
Charity nodded. She couldn’t wait to share her news or maybe she would savour it for a while longer…until her wedding.
Hope said. “Well it’s taken you long enough. Does that mean we don’t have to eat lettuce and slaw forever more? What are we to be gifted with next?”
Faith blushed. “No. Yes. We haven’t solved how to make the brassica or lactuca sativa pest resistant but, “ she giggled, “we worked out how to have sex, very good sex, at the conference.”
Hope dropped her teaspoon and Charity turned to clap her hands over Alex’s ears.
Alex pushed her hands away. “I know about sex, Mum. It’s what you and my father didn’t do to have me. I heard you tell Aunty Hope you hadn’t had sex so I asked Aunty Faithy about the thing you did to create me. She had to explain the sex thing too.”
“I’d like to ask you Miss Hope, you Miss Charity and you Master Alex for permission to marry Faithy. I’ll look after her and promise to keep you all in veges for ever.” The laird blushed but kept his eyes focused on the family.
“Just not cabbages and lettuce.”
The celebrations were loud and long. As the sisters and Alex were leaving, the laird stopped Hope for a moment.
“When you have finished talking to Izaac Fieschmann tomorrow, would you ask him to drop in. I need to change my will.” He took Faith’s hand and smiled.
“I get it,” shouted Alex. “I get Grandfather’s riddle wish, Aunty Faithy, and it’s all coming true.”
“I’m not marrying a man of letters and law, like Father said.”
“No, you are marrying a man of lettuce and slaw. Mum will marry not a breeder of good lions but a breeder of good lines cause he created me and Tam and Iain, and he breeds the best Collies in Argyll. Grandfather meant he hoped Aunty Hope might marry Mr Feischmann not a fisher of men. So there is plenty of romance in Ro Manse and lots of love for the Loves, isn’t there?”