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S. J. White April 2012
S. J. White April 2012

Stan White has written non-fiction most of his life and he has written short stories and poetry for the past 30 years. He has published several books and his poetry has appeared in the usual literary journal and anthologies. He is retired and lives with his wife in Ontario, Canada.

Kafka's Grandson

I suppose there are many people who have physical abnormalities they would sooner not talk about—amusing idiosyncrasies, which if revealed, might change their friends' attitudes towards them. I would not mention my own peculiarity for fear some might find it amusing, were it not for a recent and somewhat unsettling further development.

Since I was a boy I have never liked broccoli. I realize anything good for you has to taste awful, but broccoli takes this trend to unacceptable extremes. So, it might have been a surprise when my wife, one evening at dinner, gave me a helping of broccoli.

I should explain that my wife is on the leading edge of what is good for me. She watches the current health programs on television and reads the health magazines. Consequently, we have a varied diet. We will have yogurt for a week.  She will have discovered that yogurt is particularly good for acne, though of course, neither of us has acne or has ever had acne. The next week, yogurt will be off. They will have announced a further study proving too many yogurts lower resistance to dengue fever. Some years ago I had to bury several large sacks of oat-bran in the backyard. It was touted as a cholesterol reducer. Then later they discovered the whole idea was a big mistake. But you can imagine that our diet was inexplicably varied, and until recently, rich in soybean. I dreaded the day when some idiot would come up with a study proving that a bottle of red wine a day was no longer good for us. Though at times, the studies notwithstanding, my wife could be extraordinarily selective.

So the helping of broccoli was not altogether a surprise. The surprise was that I ate it. My wife tends to take offence if I don't eat everything she puts before me. I told her I would much rather suffer the dreaded disease that it was supposed to head off than eat the awful stuff.

The incident went completely out of my mind until several weeks later when I felt a slight irritation on the fleshy part of the inside of my left arm, about three inches down from where the nurse sticks the needle in to draw blood. There were five, minute, dots of color. They looked all the world like paint splatters. You know the kind—when the bristles of a paint brush flick and stipple your hand with perfectly round dots the color of the paint. These were green. I tried to scrape them off with my thumbnail. I tried soap. I tried pumice. But whatever they were, they were not going to come off easily. So I forgot about them figuring they would probably go away by themselves. A day or two later I had cause to notice them again. The dots were now raised above the skin. They looked like green Braille. You might guess, whenever I was by myself, I examined them— sometimes a dozen times a day. Over the next several weeks I watched the dots develop into stalks and the ends of the stalks blossom into dark, vegetable-green blooms. I nibbled an end. It was unmistakably broccoli

At first I was so fascinated by the outcropping that I never considered the possibility that this might be just the first in a prodigious outbreak—a kind of chicken-brox of broccoli so to speak. In fact, I was fascinated. Though, the sprigs never grew to a height of more than a centimeter or two, there was something distinctly aesthetic about them. I was reminded of those wonderful landscapes that Capability Brown designed for the great houses of England. I would hold out my arm so the early-morning sun would throw its light onto the miniature scene. It had the elegance of a stand of stately elms, its shadow thrown across a field of rather sallow skin.

I have outgoing friends who would have exploited such a peculiarity—would have used it to be the life and soul at parties, for it would have been a great conversation piece. But I am a shy person of great introspection, and the very thought of such crass exhibitionism mortified me.

For several weeks I was on tenterhooks. I have a vivid imagination, and some of the places, that it occurred to me I might have sprouted, were downright embarrassing. Besides I had no wish to spend the rest of my life as a nursery bedding-box for gestating broccoli. But I need not have worried. There were no further outbreaks. And once the novelty wore off I snipped the sprigs off with a pair of nail scissors. I found that by running my electric razor over my arm when I shaved each morning I could keep them as merely five small, green, dots.

That was several years ago. We continue with our varied diet, and I still eat some of the vegetables I have an aversion to. But so far, no health-nut has cast doubts on the wisdom of drinking a bottle of red wine a day. But last week the bubble of my tranquility burst.

I was putting on my pajamas when my wife asked, "What on earth is that on the back of your leg?”

"Where?" I said, but I had already seen the telltale green dots on my right calf. "Just paint," I said, shrugging it off.


As soon as I could get away to the bathroom, I examined it. Several yellowish-green spots this time. Over the next few weeks, as I expected, they sprouted. It's difficult to get a good look at your calf. From a distance I suspected Brussels sprouts. But yesterday, I managed to get into one of those infernal yoga positions and had a good look at it through a magnifying glass. You know what? I'm ninety-percent certain, it's rhubarb.