I won a fruitcake while out with my mates. One of them took issue with it and came looking for an argument. Set in a domestic scene, mainly dialogue, innuendo and hints of romance and LGBTQ+.
My mates laughed, saying only I could get lucky with a fruit cake. It was friendly banter, but kind of true.
Nigel was the odd mate. He tagged along with us all like a lost puppy. We liked him, despite his moods, his unkempt appearance and how seriously he took things. At the time, he danced and jigged around the fruit cake as if it was him on a promise.
I thought nothing more about it. As much as I like fruit cake, one can have too much of a good thing. Had I thought about it, he could have had it because apparently, nobody else wanted it.
More than a week passed, and I had a day off, with a stack of ironing already wearing me down. Out of the blue, Nigel came banging on the door with a bee in his bonnet, whinging about the bloody fruit cake.
“Why are you the one always getting fruit cake? You have the luck of the devil, and for you, it’s always a romance. You make me pigging sick.”
“Hello, Nigel. Nice to see you too. Would you like a coffee?”
He barged into the kitchen, almost tipping over the hot iron.
His voice was full of spite and criticism. I ignored his blustering as I put the kettle on. I quickly guessed he wanted the fruit cake, and instead of saying so at the time, he’d been letting it stew on his mind. Hence, he’d got it all out of proportion.
“It’s like they flutter their damn eyelids at you, suggest how they alone could fulfil your relentless appetite and wham, you fall in love. You’re so obsessed with fresh fruity cakes it’s obscene.”
Taken aback by this unexpected tirade, I mentally denied I fall in love too easily, even though the right kind of fruit cake can make me go weak at the knees.
“It’s true I’m a romantic” I mused, unsure whether I liked the tone of his innuendo. “It’s also true I’m rather partial to fruit cake. But you’re wrong about the fresh. I’ve had a few delicious discoveries with fruit cake well past the eat by date.
“Well then, what did I tell you? You can’t help yourself, can you?”
“Who are you, my sodding mother?” I retorted.
He folded his arms, shooting his usual stern and serious look when he tries, but fails, to get assertive. He continued;
“When it comes to fruit cake, everyone knows you’re a gullible idiot. In fact, so many dodgy fruit cakes have taken you for a ride you should have a certificate, or a badge saying foolish for fruit cake.”
I sighed; my eyes drawn to the pulsing twitch above his left eye. I folded the ironing board. There was still more to do, but he’d already drained my motivation.
Unplugging the iron, I offered a weak response; “I accept I’ve made some poor choices. But when a fruit cake catches my eye, or an opportunity…”
I stopped short of admitting the truth. “Can’t we change the subject?” I barked. He was like a dog with a well-chewed salivated bone. He was turning red from the neck up, and the twitch meant no, he wasn’t going to drop it.
He never answered the question. In one of his many strops, he plonked himself down on a kitchen chair, his skinny arse creasing the six shirts I’d just ironed and hung over the chairback.
I was reluctant to argue, especially when there was nothing to fall out about. I had my afternoon planned and at this rate, he was going to bugger it all up.
“Now look, it’s only a fruit cake. I appreciate how you might feel about it, but this time of year you can pick up a decent fruit cake from anywhere.”
He interrupted, calling me a patronising snob. “Don’t give me such crap. Ever since you set eyes on the fruit cake you were flirting for all your worth.”
“Wait a minute” I argued, getting him to shift off my shirts. “I can’t flirt for toffee. All I said was it looked nice. It’s always the same with you, you gotta be first in the queue, first to fantasise and first to get your sticky paws on the unlikely.”
He looked hurt. I knew I’d hit a nerve, an element of truth because he’s got no finesse, poor social skills, and seldom makes the best of himself. No wonder he goes home alone, sad and starving.
I pondered about apologising. He sat with his head in his hands fidgeting, scraping the chair on my polished floor. For that, I didn’t, so I continued.
“You’re just jealous. It’s the same when me or the lads click with someone, you throw a hissy fit and think it should have been you.”
His dark, innocent blue eyes threw looks that could kill. The hint of a tear ran down his cheek, and his thin, smooth lips quivered. Was this for real, or was he acting? I knew him of old, good at playing the victim just to taste a bit of the action.
“I know the truth hurts,” I said. “But it’s nothing I haven’t said to your face before. Do you take a blind bit of notice? No, because in your eyes any bit of fruit cake trash crossing your path is there for the taking.”
He sat there, picking his nose. I thought he’d switched off, so I tried to wind it up.
“Look, I can take it or leave it. I admit I played along, but at my age, less is more.”
“Ain’t you the effing angel” he retorted. “Why then do you keep having the fruit cake back?
He caught me on the back foot. How did he know that?
“The lads told me. Your so-called mates, telling me every time they’ve called round, the fruit cake’s in the kitchen, hiding in the pantry or lounging with intent near the sofa.”
I made us both that coffee, thankful for a lull in the ongoing spat.
I decided to come clean.
“I’ve tried to get rid of it. I don’t want to be unkind and to be honest, if I succumb to temptation, it’s never going to leave because I’ll be smitten. The trouble is, everyone I try to palm it off to passes it to friends or neighbours and for some weird reason, her next-door rescues it and brings it back to me”.
Minutes passed as we shared a silence. I could feel a dull headache coming on, still trying to figure out what I was missing.
As I scratched around for a headache tablet, Nigel got up from the chair and walked over to my shirts, trying to press the creases out with his grubby mitts.
I watched him and his edgy body language. Then intervened, hanging the shirts in the airing cupboard. He sat back down, calmly saying “I’ll take the fruit cake off your hands, if you want.”
Trying to fathom what was going on in his mind, I realised there was a change in his tone. I rued having to say you’re too late. “I’m sorry Nigel, I sent it to the pensioner’s Christmas club. I know they’ll appreciate it more than my waistline.”
He sat there, looking all rejected. Eventually, he mumbled “what a frigging waste.” It was all he said, looking into his coffee and pressing a finger on his twitch.
My conscience welled up, and in that second, I was glad I had him as a friend.
“I’ll tell you what Nige’, seeing as we’re old friends, we’ll go out tonight and see if we can’t fix you up with a nice piece of fruit cake. You know, the kind you like, all soft and gooey with lots of spice.”
He avoided eye contact, his eyebrow now twitching one to the dozen. “I don’t need your effing charity. I can find my own bit of fruit cake.”
He got up in a huff, again scraping the chair on my floor.
I followed him to the door, just as the doorbell rang. It was her, from next door.
“Sorry to trouble you ducky, but I’ve been to the pensioner’s club and won this in their lunchtime raffle. So, seeing as you love fruitcake, here it is for you to indulge.”
I staggered out a false thanks as she scarpered. I looked at him, and he looked at the cake. “See what I mean? I can’t get rid of it. Here, it’s yours. I hope you’ll be blissfully happy together.”
I was deliberately sarcastic, just to get rid of him.
He didn’t take it. He just kept blinking and staring at the fruit cake.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he quietly asked. A cheeky smile lit up his face, and the twitching stopped.
I wasn’t thinking anything, except to get rid of the fruit cake, and him.
“We could share it” he whispered.
I hesitated. “What” was all I could say as my mind raced. His eyes sparkled as I’ve never seen and a strange caught-in-the-moment came over me.
I hadn’t seen it coming; the return of the fruit cake, the hint of a romance, and Nigel catching my eye.