Short Fiction: Brussels Sprouts

    Mr O’Connell’s face turned red. His eyes narrowed, his cheek twitched, and his jaw clenched tightly. Resting on the desk in front him, his huge, hairy hands curled into fists the size of bricks. With each long breath his square shoulders rose and fell, and the moustache hairs just below his nostrils quivered. A low groan rumbled in his throat, and then he spoke slowly, “I don’t know how they run things in your line of work, Mr Segar, but let me tell you how I run things here, because I take my business seriously. I have job to do, I have over two hundred employees to oversee—people with families—I have this company’s reputation to uphold, I have two sons who look up to me, and I have the fearful knowledge that when my days are done, I shall have to stand before the Almighty and give account of my actions. And what you’ve suggested here today seems akin to bribery. I may not be a fancy artist or entertainer, but I have my pride, and I am proud to work for the largest Brussels sprout cannery in the state. So for you to come in here with your so called business offer, you are insulting not only me, but this fine company and all the decent men and women who work day in and day out to keep American grocery stores stocked with the best canned Brussels sprouts money can buy.”

 Mr Segar stood on the other side of the desk, fidgeting with his hat in his hands. “Mr O’Connell,” he said, “I think perhaps I have given you the wrong impression. What I’m proposing is simply—”

 “Enough!” shouted Mr O’Connell, slamming his fists on the desk. He stood up and stormed around toward Mr Segar. Mr Segar backed up a step. “I heard your offer,” said Mr O’Connell, “and I want no part of it.” He grabbed Mr Segar by the collar, spun him around and marched him out the office door. “You smug city types come out here thinking we’re all fools. Well, you’ll need more than smooth talk and a fancy suit if you want to fool me.” He shoved Mr Segar toward the front door.

Mr Segar stumbled but kept his footing. He stood up, straightened his collar and brushed off his jacket. “I can assure I did not come here to insult you,” he said. He opened the door and put in his hat. “I came only with a wonderful opportunity. I am sorry you couldn’t see it.” With that, he left.

 “Get out of here!” Mr O’Connell called after him. “His forearms are too big! You know that, right? He looks ridiculous!”

    Hands on his hips, Mr O’Connell stood there fuming, watching through the window as Mr Segar walked away up the road. A young worker named George came up alongside him. “Everything okay, Mr O’Connell?” asked George.

 Mr O’Connell took a deep breath, and his face faded from deep red to its usual pink hue. “Unbelievable,” he said, with a shake of his head. “You ever read those Thimble Theatre cartoons?”

 “Oh yes,” said George. “I know those.”

 “That fellow that was just here, he’s the cartoonist.”

 “Really?” said George. He looked with interest out the window. “What was he doing here?”

 “He wanted ten crates of canned Brussels sprouts—for free.”

 “Free Brussels sprouts?”

 “Yes. A real swindler. He said people like the Popeye character from his cartoons, and he is going to focus on him more.”

 “Oh yes, Popeye is the best,” said George.

 Mr O’Connell glared at him. “He said the only thing Popeye needs is a source to his great strength. He wanted to use Brussels sprouts as the source.”

 “Brussels sprouts?”

“Yes. He said he could have Popeye eating canned Brussels sprouts in the cartoon. Can you imagine? I told him we don’t need a tacky gimmick like that to sell Brussels sprouts. And we certainly aren’t going to pay him ten crates of cans so he can cheapen our product. What a crook.”

 “Hmm. It does seem a little silly,” said George. “I do like Popeye though.”

 Mr O’Connell grunted and returned his office.

 “Huh. Would you look at that,” said George, still watching out the window.

 “What is it?” said Mr O’Connell.

 “It looks like he’s headed across the road to Mr Benedetti’s spinach cannery.”

 “Ha!” scoffed Mr O’Connell. “He might have some luck over there. Benedetti is as gullible as they come.”

© 2021 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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