It's Saturday morning and my wife is up in Michigan and I’m not cut out to run a Farmer’s Market booth, but indeed that’s what I'm doing on this Saturday morning (no photos, please)!
by Charlie Leck
Imagine the fellow sitting down there in the city, behind the pickup truck and freezer trailer he awkwardly parked in its intended spot along the south-most row of vendors – right there in the southwest corner of the market! The table is in place and so too the big sun-shade umbrella and the little signs and the pile of business cards.
He has a pair of reading glasses perched on the end of his over-sized nose and a book in his lap (probably Jody Compton’s new novel, Hailey’s War). It is too warm for him; or too cool; or too humid, too wet or too dry. He can think of many reasons why he shouldn’t be there.
So if you’re reading this on Saturday morning and it’s between 7:03 A.M. and 1:03 P.M. (CDT), that’s where I am. Don’t inch too close without giving me some kind of audible warning (cough, or grunt, or clear your throat loudly) or you may hear me muttering curse words with each breath I take.
My wife is ‘up in Michigan.’
I like using that phrase because it always brings me back to a Hemingway short story that I read as a young boy. It was the first erotic material I ever saw in print and, for several months, I always kept the book near my bed so that I could read myself to sleep in those few paragraphs nearly every night.
The boards were hard. Jim had her dress up and was trying to do something to her. She was frightened but she wanted it. She had to have it but it frightened her.
“You mustn’t do it. Jim. You mustn’t.”
“I got to. I’m going to. You know we got to.”
“No we haven’t, Jim. We ain’t got to. Oh, it isn’t right. Oh, it’s so big and it hurts so. You can’t. Oh, Jim. Jim. Oh.”
Pretty steamy stuff for a young teenager, but my mother had given me the book of short stories, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The New York Times had said it was wonderful: “Short, crisp, attention-grabbing stories of adventure and travel!”
“It would be perfect to encourage him to read,” she said to my father. Neither of them had read the stories.
From the beginning, I read the stories straight through to Up in Michigan. I loved the tales, but Up in Michigan grabbed me, shook me and wouldn’t let me go. I got stalled there and it was a long time before I moved on to One Trip Across and The Tradesman Returns. I thought of girls in school and made Liz look like them in my mind.
“Excuse me, sir!”
Some woman had forgotten to cough or clear her throat. I looked up, out of the book, beyond her generous bosom and into her big, chocolate colored eyes.
“Could I get some shoulder chops?”
She posed the question in an awkward manner. I looked at my watch, wondering how long I’d been lost in Jody Compton’s novel. Market time was speeding quickly by today. That was wonderful!
“Shoulder chops! Yes ma’am! I’ll dig a package out for you.”
“I’d like three packages, please,” she said with a loud, slightly indignant voice, “if you don’t mind!”
Her attitude made me wonder how long she'd been standing there, waiting for me to notice her, before she spoke up. I climbed into the freezer trailer and started searching for the spot where the shoulder chops were kept.
Liz started to cry. She walked over to the edge of the dock and looked down to the water. There was a mist coming up from the bay. She was cold and miserable and everything was gone. She walked back to where Jim was lying and shook him once more to make sure. She was crying.
“Jim,” she said, “Jim. Please, Jim”
Jim stirred and curled a little tighter. Liz took off her coat and leaned over and covered him with it. She tucked it around him neatly and carefully. Then she walked across the dock and up the steep sandy road to go to bed. A cold mist was coming up through the woods from the bay.
I brought the packages from the trailer and tapped out the numbers on the little adding machine that sat on the table.
"That's 19.74," I announced with a degree of satisfaction that the calculator had worked. The woman handed me a twenty dollar bill.
"Will the nice lady be back next week?" There was a degree of hopefulness in her voice.
"You bet," I said.
"You must be her farmer-helper!"
I was a little taken aback, but I replied quickly.
"No," I said, "I'm just kept around to do general, unimportant chores. It gets me room and board and I also get to sleep with the nice lady occasionally."
"Oh!" My first customer of the day blushed and spun on her heels. She rapidly walked away, deeper into the market.
I don't think I'm cut out for this!
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