'Cuckoos and Cauliflower' by Jo Derrick
Cauliflower was the only vegetable he’d eat.
As a mother I worried about that. His lack of immunity frightened me. I was certain he’d die from a deadly disease.
But he didn’t.
“Run it under the cold tap, love,” I told him when he burnt his hand on the saucepan handle.
“Let me put some Germoline on that cut, sweetheart. It looks nasty.”
“You really should go to the hospital and get that stitched, son,” when he fell off his motorbike and cut his knee open.
Nothing seemed to faze Laurie. He took it all in his stride.
He sent me postcards from China, Australia and Cuba. Deserts, mountains and bloated rivers. The pictures of his travels stood in line on the mantlepiece next to the carriage clock Colin’s mother had given us as a first anniversary present. She was long gone, of course, as was Laurie’s dad, Colin.
It was strange not having anyone else in the house. I still changed Laurie’s bedlinen every week, just in case he’d turn up unexpectedly.
Never a phone call. Always postcards.
I started to invite friends round for cheese and conversation. I set up a book group, but sometimes I liked to stand all alone, quiet and barefoot on the lawn, listening to a warm, fat night.
And then I met Bill.
He turned up at our book group meeting. Bill was new to the town and wanted to make friends.
The first time he came to my house, the group planned to discuss a novel that was set in a small US town and dealt with the aftermath of the Vietnam War. It was set in a period we all remembered well. Bill had more to say than anyone, as he’d been to Laos as a young man. At the end of the meeting he walked over to my mantlepiece and studied Laurie’s postcards, then he rearranged them. I think that was the moment he captured my heart.
It wasn’t just the postcards he rearranged. Laurie’s room became a study and Bill would sit in there for hours reading or tapping away on his laptop.
Bill loved all vegetables except cauliflower. I had no worries about his immune system.
And then, one day, Laurie came back. He told us about places where tragedies became footnotes. Places where he sat in the hills and shared cassava. About lodgings with corrugated roofs. About people who reached out and touched his heart.
And then he turned to Bill who had become an angry shadow in the corner of the room.
The ceiling suddenly seemed a little closer to my head.
“Proper little cuckoo in the nest, aren’t you, Bill?”
The carriage clocked pinged the hour and Laurie’s question was met with silence.
I escaped to the kitchen to make dinner. When I finally put the meal in front of them.. well, that’s when the shit really hit the fan.
Along with the cauliflower cheese, I’d made a momentous decision.