Jenny O’Gorman

School: George Watson’s College, Edinburgh
 

Radish Soup

 
Dad had always been eccentric.

Large wrinkled prunes bobbed on the surface like oversized raisins as he stirred. A tea bag was slung over his chipped mug, a buoyancy device in the murky sea. Philosophy books were stacked like ham and cheese sandwiches, yellow and pink bookmarks protruded from the pages. He glanced lovingly at them every so often, stroking them. I smiled politely, sipping my tea and rescuing drowning prunes and slices of radish with my teaspoon, and placing them on a handkerchief on my lap when I was sure he wasn’t looking. 

“Enjoying your soup my dear?” Dad exclaimed looking expectantly at me over the rim of his glasses. I grinned and nodded, I had been under the impression it was tea. Dad surveyed me while taking a large gulp of soup. 

“How’s school, enjoying Philosophy?” he queried pouring goats’ milk into the coffee percolator. I watched the milk trickling down the sides like pearly veins and contemplated telling him I had dropped Philosophy. 

“Um, Wonderful. Yeah really erm…” I stammered staring at our tablecloth which resembled a bedspread selected by someone with particularly bad taste. 

“Thought provoking?” he offered wincing as a steaming prune slid from the mug in a bid for freedom. The handkerchief on my lap was becoming increasingly damp and crimson prune juice was bleeding onto my school kilt. 

The next morning he swept into my room looking ludicrously bat like, his cloak billowing out behind him. 

“Hurry up Spud!” he exclaimed, looking like an overexcited sheepdog. Outside trees stood in a copper sea, branches splayed out like prongs of a rusted fork. A handful of blackbirds were shovelled from the boughs of a nearby tree and landed among the foliage drumming the ground, hammers to a nail.

“Got all your books my little radish?” Dad asked, adjusting his spectacles. I nodded silently before realising he couldn’t see me and mumbled my reply. The car trundled down the road, wheels grating on partially frozen leaves like a large rake in a bowl of cornflakes.

Dad insisted on coming in with me. 

“Have a good day my little radish!” he exclaimed, smiling in earnest. A couple of girls cackled and strutted off like peacocks curling their lips into sneers. I breathed shallowly as a whiff of disinfectant and mashed potato loitered in the hallways. Music was first. Mr Sanders was a metronome bouncing around his seat and tapping his feet. 

“Prudence, transfer this into a broken triad!” bellowed Mr Sanders, his teeth splayed out like broken piano keys. I studied the music notes on the whiteboard in utter horror. A dejected keyboard sat in the corner surrounded by peeling music posters. A couple of girls sniggered, whipping their blonde ponytails in contempt at my ignorance. The rest of my day wasn’t much better. 

“Unfortunately Mrs Scott is unwell, so Mr Quantrel will be taking Physics today,” the speaker announced in a metallic tang. 

“Prudence. Isn’t that your dad?”

Dad was a supply teacher. Luckily he doesn't get a placement often but when he does it’s excruciating. He strode into the class, brandishing a cluster of tea bags. His spectacles were askew on his crooked nose, his hair stuck out in grey wisps around his head like a halo. He resembled a mad scientist. He continued to conduct the experiment, hopping from foot to foot in glee. 

“Teabags sink in soup!” he chanted while the class looked on in astonishment. He clutched a coat hanger and dunked it into the soup and fished around, his beard drizzling radish and tea soup. The class erupted in laughter at his antics. I sunk down in my chair, trying to avert my gaze from Dad who looked baffled and hurt.

“He is so weird!”

“I know right, SO eccentric.”

“Imagine having him for a dad… He’s a crackpot!” 

I sidled out of class clutching my Physics book for comfort. Dad strode up behind me and wrung his beard, splattering liquid over the corridor. 

“You’ve got umm.. Tea on your beard,” I prompted and began to blot it with the inside of my my physics book. As I made my way to Mathematics several children were pressed against the windows. 

“Purple smoke!” they bellowed, the crimson chimney flushed gently in the snow. Lurid purple smoke billowed from the opening. On my way home I joined the throng of students who drifted past in a cloud of mint deodorant. Leaves lay encrusted in splinters of frost and birch trees stood like hunchback men, gnarled and stooping. The chimney was framed in clouds, wisps of lilac smoke licked the horizon.

“More stewed beetroot Spud?” Dad asked, shovelling drooping vegetables with a ladle. Shaking my head I proceeded to talk. “Today purple smoke was coming from the chimney!” He looked sheepish and blinked, hitching his wiry spectacles onto the bridge of his nose. “What an unusual occurrence!” he grinned, I studied him for a few seconds and twirled a strand of beetroot around my fork.

The bell vibrated, grating on my ears.

“Bye bye radish!” Dad hollered and I grimaced. He was up to something. He had been like this before I found him climbing up the drainpipe to study the cloud formation at night.  I followed him to the chimney, splinters of frost protruding from the earth, glittering underfoot. Dad resembled a badly wrapped present, a thin stripy scarf swam behind him as he galloped along brandishing a wilting radish. The door stood ajar and a strong odour of radish danced out. “What on earth are you doing?” I cried. He faltered and spun around. He stood drooping slightly, framed in the doorway. Several wellingtons were strewn across the dingy room, each held a single radish waving fronds of leaves in acknowledgment. Soily boot prints lead into the chimney.

“A radish farm!” I stammered, peering behind him. 

“I’m growing them for the school, the lunch ladies can make radish soup!” he sang, gesturing wildly like a drunken pelican.

 “That’s wonderful…” I offered and he enveloped me in a hug. Crimson ribbons of steam snaked around us as we stood awkwardly in an embrace. A group of children had congregated around us gaping slightly. 

“Who wants radish soup?”

 

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