A Terrible Confession About Brussels Sprouts


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A Terrible Confession About Brussels Sprouts

Welcome back to Stranger Than Flicktion, our Flickr-inspired fiction column. In today’s festive tale, we meet a narrator with an unforgivable Christmas secret.

Welcome back to Stranger Than Flicktion, our Flickr-inspired fiction column. We provide writers with five random food-related Flickr images and ask them to construct a fictional short story in under five days. In today's festive tale, we meet a narrator with an unforgivable Christmas secret.

And just like that, another Christmas was ruined. The dining room, now silent, throbbed slightly, the air thick with gunpowder, treason, and plot. It never normally went smoothly, but it usually never went this badly, either.


As the rest of the family slowly slunk from the table one by one, pausing momentarily to look at me with an expression that sat somewhere between extreme annoyance and palpable pity, I picked at what was left of what was left of the turkey. Fingering the carrots, nuding the roast potatoes, pushing the peas, I began entertaining the possibility of vanishing into thin air; contemplating the likelihood of total transmogrification.

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Perhaps, I told myself, if I shut my eyes hard enough and for long enough, I'd become a plate or a walnut or a cracker joke. Plates and walnuts and cracker jokes had it easy. Plates and walnuts and cracker jokes got to enjoy Christmas. Plates and walnuts and cracker jokes didn't ruin Christmas. Plates and walnuts and cracker jokes didn't send mums scampering to their bedrooms, or older brothers into the garden. Plates and walnuts and cracker jokes just got on with things because that's all that plates and walnuts and cracker jokes know how to do.

In the minutes that followed the mass exodus, I'd have done anything to have been a plate or a walnut or a cracker joke, but this was just another thing beyond my control—yet another addition to my ever-growing litany of failures. Edging my plate away, I studied what lay atop of it: two bald, bright-white potatoes, three-ladlefuls of Bisto-smothered turkey crown carvings, and twelve dismal sprouts. This was not a happy meal. This was not a meal I'd wanted. This was not a meal that I'd later make the star of a story I'd go on to write. At least, as I sat, red-faced, hot-cheeked, ashamed, and anxious, staring at potatoes, and turkey, and sprouts, that's not how I'd planned things.


The words that had come out of my mouth, the words that had led to everyone leaving me alone with the red cabbage and the parsnips and my own remorse and regret, were words I had not recognised. Words that I refused to have come from my own mouth, words that I could not associate with whatever it is I think of myself being, words that didn't belong to whoever it is that I am.

The words that had come out of my mouth that afternoon, words that I exhaled in between mouthfuls of sprouts, words that I can't remember in any recognisable order, words that have come unstuck in my own home video of the event, words that I might have imagined, words that might never have been said in the first place, didn't matter.

And they didn't matter in the same way that the actuality of a bad Christmas present doesn't matter—the betrayal goes above and beyond getting a pencil case or a fake fossilised fish. They say that it's the thought that counts, and they'd be right. In this case, my thoughts had tumbled into words and those words were the words that couldn't just be taken to a charity shop on the second of January, words that couldn't have been exchanged for a gift voucher. They were words that I wish I'd said to the one person who hadn't left the room: the dog.

The dog understood. Or at least he had the grace to mask his frustration at me for curtailing things before he even got a sniff of a half-portion of someone else's pudding. The dog had always understood, had always put up with my moods and that afternoon was no exception.


You don't need to know why I sat there, at the table, eating the sprouts, one after one, piling more and more onto my plate, picking up as many sprouts as I could, cramming them into my mouth, my fingers damp and green and mossy, my tongue looking like an automotive air freshener, teeth like hard-set pea puree. That's not important. That's unnecessary preamble. What you need to know, if you need to know anything at all about that Christmas, was that my stomach began to heave and each bite was sending me closer and closer to expulsion on a grand scale. I wanted to stop, but could not stop. I was going to eat all of them. I was going to make a point and was going to make a make a point well.

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My family had begun to panic, unsure of how to stop me consuming sprouts at such a rate. My father stood up, panic etched on his face, slamming his shaking hands on the table. Uncoordinated as ever, he knocked over the gravy jug. Thick brown liquid drifted down the table. This sent my sister into a state of panic. Her panic manifested itself in yet another uncontrollable moment of physical fucking up: this time, it was the sausages that took a tumble. As a plump banger dropped to the floor, the dog, implausibly, cartoonishly, incredibly, grabbed it in mid-air, swallowing it in one. The sight of this clownish act of canine gluttony, combined with the very human—disgustingly, disturbingly human—act of gluttony I was involved in down the other end of the table, proved too much for my brother, who stood up, quite calmly, quite placidly, and punched the door that led to the kitchen. His act of defiance would have been perfectly adequate, and all told, relatively measured, had my brother not also suffered from a slight dislocation between his hands and eyes, and had not inadvertently punched the door's frosted glass windows. Picking glass out of his bloodied—but not too damaged—wrists, he turned to me, kitchen roll flapping over his open wound, his mouth agape, trying to speak. There were no words. No one had the words to stop me.


I ate and ate and ate and ate and then I sat, not eating, with my eyes closed. With my mouth empty, and my eyes shut, I saw a strange vision: words couldn't do it justice.

Since you've been so patient, I'll let you in on something. Listen once, listen closely, listen with an open mind. The words I've been alluding to all along, the words that ruined Christmas, the words I can never take back and replace, the words that've made me a pariah, the words that caused rupture and ruin, the words that I've pretended all along dissipated into some postprandial, are words that I can't ever forget. Those words, now written down, all these years on, seem so tame, so lame, so unbearably meaningless, but that's what words are, that's what language is. It makes us, and breaks us. So, since you've been so patient, I'll tell you what those words are.

"I don't want to eat Brussels fucking sprouts ever again. Ever."

The end.