As Colonel Cords pushed his Zimmer frame along the familiar cobbles between the church and the tombstones, it occurred to him he didn’t believe in love at first sight. A fierce wind pushed him backwards and tumbleweed hit him in the eyes causing him to crawl slower than normal as he remembered his wife.
The Erotica Exotica Club was Cords favourite détente spot during his secondment to the Yugoslav war. Vodka was his tipple and pole dancing his sport. But then one day a new girl appeared on the pole and the more Cords drunk over the next 3 years, 8 months, 1 week and 6 days of war the more his tongue dangled over the left side of his chin. The girl was a national treasure, a Dwarf with biceps that made her wider than she was tall, her name: ‘The Belle of Bosnia’.
When Serbia and Bosnia stopped butchering each other, Cords decided on a new pact with the Balkans. They married on Armistice Day, 14th December 1995. But two days later as they set off for market, they passed a man up a ladder painting a demolished Butcher's in a beautiful plum pink. A momentary lapse in concentration occurred as the Butcher thought he saw a bomb falling out of the sky, he swerved on the ladder shouting ‘DUCK!’ But the only person to hear was the Belle of Bosnia who ducked under the ladder as the pot of paint came hurtling downwards. It was a plum pink massacre with one casualty.
On her deathbed the Belle of Bosnia said one word: ‘Plum’.
So in her memory, Cords had eaten a bowl of plum borscht every day for 26 years. And that’s where he was off to now, Chez Prune, a family-run restaurant at the back of the church with one dish on the menu and a giant plum tree in the middle which grew through the roof.
Cords pushed the door and immediately saw his plum, a bright blue one with the words ‘PICK ME’ written on it. He removed it and knock on the little wooden hatch separating the dining areas from the kitchen. The hatch flew open, and a hand plucked the plum from Cords and slammed the door.
That is Prune - he washes and slices the plums. Prune was so adept at chopping up plums he could slice one in each hand simultaneously whilst reciting tongue twisters, such as ‘si mon tonton tond ton tonton, ton tonton sera tondu…’
He passes the washed chopped plums to his wife Aubergine who's job is to squash. She is the great great granddaughter of Rasputin and so fond of breaking into Cossack dance, naturally she prefers to squash the plums with her feet whilst she dances.
Aubergine passes the washed, sliced squashed plums to Papa Prune who boils, simmers and, most importantly, seasons them in an enormous vat under the plum tree. No one knew exactly what he put in the borscht, not even his family, he operated in secret. Old leather shoes with the shoe laces taken out and dentures bubbled on the surface.
Papa Prune had dedicated his life to mastering the Plum borscht recipe; it was now a fine tuned instrument with magical properties. You could often hear him reciting Alice in Wonderland riddles as he worked: 'Will you walk a little faster? Said a whiting to a snail, there’s a porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my tail…'
Cords always sat alone in the same corner seat, so he could smell the delicious bubbling fruit whilst watching the transformation of the other guests. Miserable grey folk would fill the tables, after a few mouthfuls of borscht their tongues would pinken and the grumbling stopped. Then their lips would pinken and start twitching slowly forming smiles. Then pink teeth glimmered as playful chatter bounced off the tables, and finally as their chins turned pink laughter echoed round the room.
Just like every other day Cords pulled out the crossword. But this was not any other day, this was the 16th November 2021 and unbeknown to anyone, a pigeon had just dropped out of the plum tree into the vat of soup. Unbeknown to the Plum family this pigeon was swimming for its life in their carefully crafted magical plum juice.
At exactly the same moment as the pigeons fatal fall, Papa Prune gave out a wailing cry ‘Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance? Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?’
And at exactly the same moment Aubergine and Prune did a Cossack gig and Prune declared. 'Je suis ce que je suis, et si je suis ce que je suis, qu’est-ce que je suis?' As they handed out bowls of pink gloop with pigeon feathers floating on the surface.
As Aubergine handed Cords his broth, Cords heard a knock and swung his head to the closed oak door. Standing on the other side in the wind and tumbleweed was Millie, a sparkly woman with white hair down to her waist. She knocked again and tried the door handle. No answer. Locked. Perplexed, an urchin boy appeared beside her.
‘There's no sort of use in knocking, and that's for two reasons. First, because I’m on this same side of the door as you are; second, because they’re making such a noise inside, no one could possibly hear you,’ said the boy.
‘How am I to get in?’ asked Millie
‘Are you to get in at all? That's the first question you know’ said the urchin.
‘What am I to do?’ asked Millie
‘Anything you like’ replied the boy.
Cords lost interest in the door as the noise was rising inside, but not with the familiar laughter accustomed to him. Something was amiss. Yes the lips, teeth and chins of his fellow table guests were there normal pink, but the conversation had taken a different turn to usual, it appeared everyone was talking in riddles.
'Why is a raven like a writing-desk?' asked a man with a handlebar moustache to a young lady opposite with a Chihuahua.
'I think you might do something better with the time, than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers,' replied the lady.
To which the man on the next table with a pince-nez said 'If you knew Time as well as I do, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it.'
'I don’t know what you mean,' said the upside man opposite him with a beard and a pink sun roof head.
'Of course you don’t! I dare say you never even spoke to Time!' said the pince-nez.
'Perhaps not, but I know I have to beat time when I learn music,' said the Chihuahua.
'Ah! That accounts for it, he won’t stand beating,’ said the lady at the next table with a tea cosy shaped hat.
‘Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock,’ said the handlebar moustache.
'Your hair wants cutting,' said the pince-nez to Prune as he passed by the table.
'You should learn not to make personal remarks, it’s very rude,' said the tea cosy.
'Why is a raven like a writing-desk?' asked the lady with the Chihuahua, her chin and the dog’s chin now bright pink.
How intriguing thought Cords, this had never happened in 26 years! From the corner of his eye he saw the Prune family gather around the vat of soup in an emergency conference. Papa Prune held a long recipe that trailed behind him as he marched up and down the kitchen barking out ingredients as Prune and Aubergine checked stocks.
‘Skewbald horse toe nails?’ barked Papa. Aubergine climbed to the top of a shelf of jars with specimens and pulled out the toenails, ‘Roger’ she barked back.
‘Siberian taiga moss?’ Papa bellowed at Prune halfway up another ladder in the flora section, pulling out a lump of moss crawling with beetles, ‘Roger’ he bellowed back.
Still waiting at the stubborn front door, Millie tried again.
'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'
'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' replied the boy.
'I don’t much care where,' said the distinguished Millie.
'Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go,' replied the urchin.
'…so long as I get somewhere,' continued Millie.
'Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough,' remarked the boy.
To which the door opened of its own accord and Millie stepped inside. Not long after her second foot had joined her first inside the door slammed behind her and a dozen sets of eyes popped out at her.
“No room! No room!” cried the man with the handlebar moustache.
“There’s plenty of room!” said Millie and sat at one of the many empty tables.
“Have some wine,” offered the man with the pince-nez.
“I don’t see any wine,” replied Millie
“There isn’t any,” said the tea cosy lady
“Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,” said Millie.
“It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,” cried the handlebar moustache.
“I didn’t know it was your table, it’s laid for a great many more than three,” retorted Millie.
Cords was still looking at the ethereal Millie, enchanted. He took his first slurp of soup still without taking his eyes off her. When he felt a twitch in his throat. The twitch turned to a cough, a cough to a whooping, and a whopping to convulsions. The climax of which was so loud it interrupted the Prune family’s emergency conference around the vat.
One look at the purple face of Cords and Papa prune dropped the secret recipe he has spent a lifetime fine tuning and leapfrogged over the counter followed closely by Prune and Aubergine who was clutching a brand new first aid kit.
With speedy finesse Prune unsealed the wrapper of the first aid kit, whilst Aubergine studied the mandarin instructions and Cords turned to a shade of violently blue. Latex gloves went on, and just as they were completing the cutting of the triangle bandages, Papa reappeared waving a rubber plunger and stuck it to Cords’s heart. ‘Kiss!’ he waived at Prune. Cords was now stretched out on the floor slipping into a blue grey undertone.
Prune and Aubergine jumped to their stations. Father plunged, Prune expired. Father plunged, Aubergine expired. But still Cords turned from grey to black. ‘Enough!’ shouted Papa throwing away the plunger, ‘it’s time for the Fireman’s hold!’
They hoisted Cords up and Papa wrapped his arms around his waist, Prune wrapped his arms around Papa’s waist and Aubergine around Prune's. ‘On the count of 3 everyone pull!’ shouted Papa, ‘ready… 1, 2, 3!’
On '3' the family pulled with all their might at Cords’s midriff. For a few seconds everything went silent and time stood still, but then an object rocketed out of Cord's mouth and hurtled across the room, at the same time the Prune family toppled backwards on top of Aubergine. At the same time Millie was looking at the one-dish menu when an object landed on her plate, she studied it intently.
When Cords next looked up, he saw Millie's beautiful kind eyes standing before him and a pigeon wish bone between her fingers, ‘I believe this belongs to you,’ she said.
From the other tables a chorus of ‘Off with her head’ could be heard. But for Cords the room went quiet, the riddles faded away and his love for Millie was instant.
Two days later, Cords and Millie pulled the pigeon wish bone in front of the Plum Tree. Two families attended the ceremony; the Prunes and a family of pigeon’s now perched on every branch of the tree. As Millie and Cords turned around in their tandem zimmer frame to leave Chez Prune, a handlebar moustache, Chihuahua, sunroof, tea cosy and a pince-nez could be heard clamouring, ‘Off with their heads!’