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The Apple Market

by Rikki W 2 months ago in Short Story
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London, 1955

The marketplace was a frenzied tornado of sight and smell. Rows upon rows of stalls occupied the small square selling everything from yesterday’s tomatoes to tomorrow’s predictions. Crowds gathered like schools of fish, fins out, each one vying to get a better look at what was on offer. Vendors, relishing in the numbers, advertised their goods the only way they knew how: by shouting at passers-by like enthusiastic howler monkeys.

Juicy oranges, six for a nickel.

Cheeses. Every kind you can imagine. Plus a few you can’t!

Fresh flowers for the lady?

I stood alone by the fruit stand. My mind wandered as it most commonly did in these congested situations. I imagined that I was a secret operative on an undercover mission. My objective: surveillance. My target: the man in the blue scarf by the courgettes. I imagined he was a German spy sent to infiltrate the British government and I was the last line of defence; the only agent who knew who he really was and it was up to me to prove it.

Just as I was in the thick of my narrative – the part where he pulls a weapon from his coat pocket and I yell, Everybody GET DOWN – the blue scarfed man spun around and I found myself staring dead into his eyes. He frowned. I hurried to avert my gaze and pretended to study a grapefruit. I needed to stop doing that.

My mother would often accuse me of getting my head stuck in the clouds. Others would brand me a loner. Or unbefitting. Or strange. I didn’t want to be any of those things, but in my twenty-three years on this complicated planet I hadn’t yet figured out how to change.

I picked up a red apple. It looked particularly juicy today. As I held the apple in my hand, swollen and ripe, an oddly-proportioned, trout of a man appeared on the other side of the stall. His brow was furrowed and his cheeks were tinged pink. I recognized him as Mr. Andrews, of Andrews Fresh Produce and he looked none too happy.

“Young lady, your Amazonian grip is bruising my apples,” said Mr. Andrews, reaching out and snatching the apple from my hand.

I was taken aback. Shocked. Puzzled even.

Mr. Andrews pulled a small cloth from his pocket and inspected the apple.

“Is everything okay, dear?” a woman with a kind smile appeared by my side.

“Well, I don’t—” I started.

“—No, it’s certainly not okay,” interrupted Mr. Andrews, “Beatrice here has the strength of a bull – much too strong for a lady – she bruised one of my red apples.” He spoke quickly and matter-of-factly, raising his voice slightly, inviting others in to listen. A few shoppers glanced over and I felt my chest start to constrict.

The woman turned towards me, she placed a skinny hand on my bicep, “You are quite broad-shouldered for a young woman, aren’t you, dear?” she said.

“I suppose, I–”

“—Ha! Broad-shouldered is putting it modestly,” quipped Mr. Andrews, “I bet she’d outrun half the boys in this town.” I began to object but was cut off by another passer-by.

“You’re very tall, as well,” said a middle-aged woman with a hook nose, “much taller than my Annie.” The woman gestured to the young girl standing shyly beside her. The girl looked about twelve years old and had unfortunately inherited her mother’s nose.

Mr. Andrews laughed. “She should come with a warning sign, don’t you think?”

I couldn’t believe what was happening. Just as I was about to implode from embarrassment, a sultry voice piped up from the back of the crowd.

“Maybe it’s not her strong grip you need to concern yourself with, Mr. Andrews,” said the mysterious voice. “Perhaps your apples don’t know what it feels like to be held by a real woman.”

The hook-nosed woman gasped and covered her daughter’s ears. Others in the crowd tried to stifle their laughter but not before Mr. Andrews heard. His face plunged into a deep shade of red.

I, on the other hand, was thoroughly intrigued and grateful that the focus had now shifted. Who was this mysterious woman? I needed to see her. I needed to put a face to the voice.

I searched the crowd in the direction of the voice, peering over heads and around shoulders, but nobody looked like how I imagined the owner of that magnificent voice should look. Everyone was too plain. Too common. Too weathered.

And then I saw her.

She weaved through the mess of people like a serpent. Her hair was thick and unruly, spilling past her shoulders in auburn rapids. Her eyes, green like a sorceress. Mr. Andrews let out a whimper. I couldn’t even manage that. This mysterious woman had rendered me mute.

She came up close, her arm almost touching mine. Without the slightest hesitation, she reached forward and plucked the apple right out of Mr. Andrews tightly wound palm, and then – staring him dead in the eyes – she proceeded to take a long, deep, juicy bite of the apple.

I thought Mr. Andrews was going to faint. Instead he just stood there, stupidly, his mouth gaping open and closed as he struggled to regain the floor.

By now, quite the crowd had gathered around the tiny fruit stand; a detail that didn’t go unnoticed by the local police.

“What’s the commotion?” shouted an officer, over the top of the crowd. Mr. Andrews jumped at the intrusion.

“Over here,” he yelled, “THIEF. There’s a THIEF!” He pointed wildly, calling for help.

“Make way.” The police officer, bored but dutiful, pushed through the excited crowd.

I looked at the mysterious woman for help.

“That’s my cue,” she winked, shoving the apple into my hand and disappearing into the crowd.

I felt a rush of nausea sweep through my abdomen. I had never been in trouble with the law before. I had two choices. I could wait for the police officer to reach me, catch me red apple-handed and cuff me for a crime I didn’t commit, or I could take my chances and follow the auburn-haired woman.

I panicked and ran.

“Come back here,” cried Mr. Andrews, “They’re getting away.”

I ducked and dived through the crowd, madly trying to pick up speed. I could still hear Mr. Andrews’ cries over the bustle of the market which only propelled me further.

I made a beeline for the edge of the market. I planned to hide in one of the many side alleys that funnelled away from the square – anything to get me away from all these people and the police officer that was undoubtedly chasing me.

I dodged a tall, thin man in a feathered cap selling wooden clocks and rushed into an alley. I stopped, pushing my body flat against the brick. My heart was racing and I couldn’t remember a time I struggled this badly to breath. I risked a quick glance back into the market square. I could see the police officer, he had stopped near the clock seller. Mr. Andrews was right behind him – his red face as angry as ever. I spun and headed deeper into the alley. I needed to put as much distance as possible between us..

A few turns and a few more alleys later, I was clear of the law. It was only then that I slowed to a walk. I thought of the mystery woman and my heart sank. I had hoped to follow her and thank her. I wanted to know more about her but it was a pointless task trying to find her. I was too far from the market and I hadn’t seen which direction she fled. It was at that very thought that I realised I had forgotten one very important detail.

I was still holding the apple.

I stared down at the culprit in my left palm. In a strange way, I felt a small sense of victory that I had never felt before. It was a rush of excitement and adrenaline that I had only ever imagined I would feel if I was involved in some sort of extraordinary act; a feeling that now flooded my limbs and made me feel invincible. A small act of rebellion. A mysterious woman. A chase through the streets of West London. Perhaps I was still Beatrice Higgins, unbefitting and strange, but my head was no longer sitting above the clouds. It had dipped below and stolen a peek at the real world and it liked what it saw.

Short Story

About the author

Rikki W

AUS | Reader & Writer | Very happy to be here.

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