The asparagus spears stared at us intently from their jelly cocoon as we made small talk and sipped aperitifs. I tried to pay attention to the man sitting next to me, who was relating an anecdote about his misbegotten youth — likely the same anecdote he’d been using on unsuspecting dinner table partners for years — perhaps since his youth, which was, it was obvious, at some time in the distant past of the last century.
The asparagus seemed to want to make telepathic contact, to transmit an SOS directly to my brain. Help, they cried piteously. Been boiled. I think my friend is ill. Stuck in aspic. Can’t move.
Something something…Ration books and the War. Something something…Well, you’ll never guess what happened next…Three shillings ha’ppenny.
Save us, they silently screamed. I felt the same way.
I attempted to return their desperate communiqué. Dilemma noted, I thought. Will attempt rescue soon.
The more I stole glances their way, the less they looked like asparagus, and more like the disembodied tentacles of some awful sea creature, or else the severed penises of some exotic South American mammal.
Our hostess clinked her glass, bringing me out of my reverie, and temporarily releasing me from the verbal assault of my gentleman admirer. It was time to begin. I sat, fork poised over the perfectly smooth, glistening surface of my appetizer, aware that every second delayed the heroic rescue I was about to perform.
What if, once freed, the asparagus leaped up from their gelatinous prison, gasping for air and hell-bent on exacting revenge? They stared at me, and I stared back. It was the moment of truth.
“Go on,” I said to my ancient paramour. “I believe we were rudely interrupted.”
Salad Book, Lane Books, 1966