A Disgusting Story
Mum takes his little brother by the hand as he, the elder one, tries to keep up with Dad. They’ll soon be at the Camenzinds’...
Spinach 'cake'! Yum yum or yuck? ©Shutterstock/beannshie
Mum takes his little brother by the hand as he, the elder one, tries to keep up with Dad. They’ll soon be at the Camenzinds’. Mrs Camenzind has invited them all for lunch and, apparently, they’re going to have “cheesecake”. He’s puzzled. Cheesecake for lunch? At home in Berlin, we sometimes had cheesecake on Sunday afternoons. Mum always baked the Sunday cake the day before. He’d always liked cheesecake best. But everything’s different here in Switzerland. They’d only been in this mountain village for two days, and his first impressions were dreadful. The mountains block out the sun almost all day long. This morning he had to go to school for the first time. The other children stared at him, and he couldn’t understand a word of their strange language. Dad had said they spoke German here, and that he’d soon make new friends. But all he wants to do is go home, back to Berlin.
Mrs Camenzind welcomes them warmly as she wipes her hands on a checked apron. She leads them straight into the roomy kitchen where a long table has been set. It smells odd, of melted cheese and bacon. There’s no cheesecake nor whipped cream in sight. The four Camenzind children charge into the room, followed by Mr Camenzind, one of his father’s fellow teachers. The guests sit down timidly. Mrs Camenzind announces, “There’s not just the cheese cake, I’ve baked a spinach one as well.” His stomach lurches. Spinach… cake?! What on Earth is that? It sounds horrid. He loves cake, tarts and flans. But spinach? Yuck! Mrs Camenzind puts a plate down in front of him with half a slice of something indefinable that smells of cheese, and half a slice of something with yucky green spinach on it. She then eagerly puts a small heap of green salad next to it. They then all have to join hands and bow their heads. Mr Camenzind says grace. Then he bellows, “Enjoy your meal!”, and everyone picks up their knives and forks and starts attacking the food in front of them.
What should he do now? He carefully places a small piece of this indefinable thing inside his mouth. It’s not as bad as he’d expected. A bit like the ‘Toast Hawaii’ that Mum sometimes makes. Only without the pineapple and cherries. Mrs Camenzind nods, “I see you like our cheese cake.” He nods back. But what’s he going to do with all this spinach? There’s no way that’s going down. His little brother prods his slice around his plate, then announces he really has to go to the loo. “But you’ve just been at home,” whispers his mother, embarrassed. Mrs Camenzind laughs and points to the hall. The little boy slides off his chair and hurries off. He, the big brother, is the only one who notices that the slice of spinach ‘cake’ has disappeared from his little brother’s plate. But he can’t go to the loo too! Mum gives him a stern look. He reluctantly shoves a leaf of lettuce into his mouth and rolls it from side to side. It tastes oily and sour. He chews and chews, then chokes it down. It tastes awful. It would be better with some sugar, but there’s no sugar bowl on the table. He’s got to get this slimy thing down somehow. But what in Heaven’s name is he going to do with all that spinach? He looks pleadingly at his Mum for help. She knows full well that he doesn’t like spinach, but she just stares down at her plate and frowns. He fidgets on his chair. He’s sweating in his well-ironed shirt. His leather shorts are sticking to his legs. If only he could make himself invisible. “Eat up, otherwise it’ll get cold!”, insists Dad with his strict teacher’s tone. The Camenzind children all want a second helping. As Mrs Camenzind goes to serve them, suddenly, a slice slips off her spatula and onto the floor. Mr Camenzind bends down, and the children smirk. Mum and Dad are staring at their plates. This is his chance. He quickly takes the piece of spinach tart, rolls it up and shoves it in his pocket. With all the fuss going on, no one notices a thing.
The adults shake hands as they say goodbye. “Thank you very much, that was wonderful!”, says Mum. On the way home she says to the boys, “That was a bit unusual, but not that bad, really.” He holds his hand over his bulging trouser pocket. Luckily, nothing is seeping through the leather. He swears to himself that he will never, never, ever eat spinach! All he wants is to go back to Berlin as soon as possible.
Marlise Schläpfer Heilmann
This short story was awarded joint third prize in the short story competition Writing about food disgust organised by the Alimentarium in autumn 2020.
(Translated from the original in German)