It was a nicer Thursday this week than it had been the last. It wasn’t bright sunshine and perfect candyfloss clouds, but there were at least gaps in the slabs of grey in the sky that enabled tiny slices of deep blue to show through. It was the best they were going to get at the tail end of February, so they would appreciate it. It was at least not raining, which they also appreciated, and which enabled them to sit by the open doors and admire the view of the grey industrial buildings surrounding them. Again, not great, but they would appreciate it nonetheless.
Leaving work at a reasonable time had felt wrong as it did every time it happened, not that that was very often, they always seemed to leave very early or very late as if someone out there had something against allowing them to be normal citizens even for one day. The evening had started out on a strange note, none of them willing to accept their luck, and all on edge anticipating being called back in at any minute. Regardless, trying very hard to enjoy their unexpected fluke, they headed off in search of the key ingredient of their evening. Strawberries.
It had been almost three years since their first official Thursday Evening meeting. The first time one had shown up at someone’s door sporting a fresh punnet of strawberries and a friendly smile, jokes had been made about making this a tradition, and those jokes had been taken a little too seriously. And so the next week, and although this Thursday was an example of a very late end to the day, a brief stop had been made on the way home to pick up some more, even fresher strawberries, which were devoured happily between showers and reheating a frozen meal they had found in the freezer that one of them had made too long ago to be sure of its contents.
Although it had never been mentioned again, a bottle of wine had been prepared on the third Thursday, and it was graciously welcomed as strawberries appeared at the door, accompanied by a friend. And from then on, Thursday Evening Strawberries was something that they did. On the other hand, something that they most certainly did not do was to speak about it, or discuss just why they turned into retired versions of themselves every Thursday to the best extent of their abilities.
If you asked Stephen, he would tell you that it came to him in a dream, and he wouldn’t be joking. He had awoken that Thursday morning to thoughts of strawberry filled picnics in summer fields with fluffy cows and daisies the size of rose bushes. Now most of that was not doable, it was apparently the end of summer by this point, although that was not evident to him, and finding a sunny field would be quite frankly impossible without a plane journey. But ignoring the minor obstacles, he focused throughout his day on finding his next chance to buy some strawberries, and he wasn’t going to keep them all to himself was he.
If you asked Robert however, he would tell you it certainly did not come to anyone in a dream, the idea instead came from a case they had been working a week or two before in which a fruit stand had been a very stereotypical casualty of a chase. Not a car chase sadly, just a slightly more underwhelming chase on foot in which the fruit stand had become briefly much heavier under the weight of a friendly local terrorist who had been ungracefully deposited upon it. Whilst their brains were trying to shove down all the adrenaline, their mouths had kept themselves busy discussing the sad waste of fruit, and then how much they liked it, and then which was the best, which was a topic they all became worryingly competitive over very quickly. Stephen decided oranges were naturally the winners, Alan was almost exiled from the group for supporting celery, Percy was adamant plums (“but only the purple ones”) would beat all of them, and Geoffrey surely but steadily backed a good crisp apple. But Robert had gone with a classic strawberry, which Stephen had quickly taken note of.
If Alan were asked, he would say he had no idea how the Thursday aspect had come about, but the strawberries were almost definitely designed as a joke at his expense. The others would deny this part of the conversation ever happened, but Alan would just as vigorously argue that he had told them quite explicitly when having their very important and professional argument about fruit, that he was allergic to strawberries. He could even remember Robert taking quite personal offence to Alan’s audacity to be allergic to his favourite fruit which he was feeling oddly protective over, and now, by extension, was Stephen.
If Percy’s opinion was required, he would tell you his very uncontroversial and uninteresting tale of Stephen’s favourite aunt who he visited on her farm at least once a summer. None of them had ever been privy to a detailed explanation of the details of the farm, they weren’t sure there could be a situation in which they would ask, but on being confronted with an endless supply of strawberries, Percy had put two and two together, made about seven and a half, and decided that was where the strawberries came from. Aunt Strawberry had evidently had some spares that she had ferried away to her favourite nephew. This had arguably been proved wrong since, as the group over time had taken to spreading the responsibility of strawberry buying between them, but nobody could convince Percy that the strawberries Stephen bought with him weren’t from a photogenic farm in Cornwall owned by an aunt who consistently grew too much fruit.
If Geoffrey were to be asked, he would ensure he was out of earshot of a certain two other members of the Thursday Evening Strawberries meeting, and then he would look at you like it was obvious. And to him it was, because he would argue for England that Thursday Evening Strawberries had originated purely out of badly concealed devotion from a certain Stephen, for a certain Robert. A Robert who just happened to mention once that his favourite fruit was a strawberry.