Marion planned to buy two dozen green apples from Javier’s stand at the market when it opened because in September the air is a fresh start. When she arrived, he was crying too hard to speak to her. With sympathy for his distress, Marion reached out to touch his shoulder though he seemed not to notice. Javier tried to compose himself, wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket.
“I don’t like children,” he said, still weeping.
“You shouldn’t worry,” Marion said. “They don’t like you either.” Relieved or distracted by this, Javier took a bite from an apple and threw it hard onto the pavement. It rolled into the street leaving a thick scent of fruit: the collision of soil and flower.
Marion hoped to buy three pounds of red apples from Javier’s stand at the market in the morning. She wanted to get there early, before the women who like to squeeze the fruit got out of exercise class. But by the time she arrived, there was already a long line of them. Though the sky was overcast, dry leaves on the sycamore trees flashed a hopeful, patient, yellow of surrender, of gratitude. Marion held an apple up to her face to see if she might see her own image in its shiny skin, but there was no reflection. When she finally got to the front of the line, Javier confessed.
“I don’t like kids,” he said.
“What do you know about the future?” Marion said with a wink as she handed him a five-dollar bill. Javier gave Marion her change and fixed his disappointment on the next woman waiting in line.
Marion hadn’t seen Javier since the beginning of the summer, which had turned out to be a blessing because the apology did not succeed. In June she had forgotten her wallet. That night she was hosting a dinner party, and she wanted to make a tart for dessert. Would he mind covering her this time? She would pay him back next week, she promised. Javier gave her a $20 credit on a box of apples. But then she got an invitation to her sister’s cottage on the coast and ended up spending the summer there. Marion had forgotten all about the debt until she returned to the market. The fall harvest colors rang like a trumpet through the cool air. Though Javier addressed his regular customers by name, when Marion reached the front of the line, he acted as if he didn’t know her.
“Javier!” Marion said, “Omigod, Javier! I haven’t seen you all summer. I’ve been away. I’m so sorry. I owe you twenty,” she said pulling a bill out of her wallet.
Javier nodded as he put the money in his pocket. The woman behind Marion was standing a little too close. She wore a black sweatshirt with an image of a wave, cresting.
“Brenda,” he said lifting his chin in her direction, “What did you think of the Empire reds from last week? Extra sweet, right?”
Brenda snickered into her hand as though Javier had said the most outrageous thing. Javier started to laugh, too. Clearly, they shared an understanding. As Marion walked away, she heard Brenda say under her breath,
“Marion is leaving.”
“She thinks she’s in charge of time,” said Javier.
“Bye Marion!” shouted Brenda. Marion looked around the market for a familiar face but could not catch anyone’s eye.
Javier drove to the market in the early morning with his windows open. It had been raining all night, but the air smelled clean. Most of the city was still asleep, so, he had no problem hearing his back-right tire pop when he hit the pothole. He pulled over to the curb. The leaves on the sycamore branches rustled in the wind while he waited for the tow operator, who arrived drunk. He nearly smashed his hand while attempting to install the lift. Javier tried to assist him, as he did not want to forfeit his favorite stall on the corner by being late, but the driver was moving slowly in the fog of a resentment that had origins elsewhere.
“Who sells fruit anymore? That’s not even a job.” said the tow operator.
“I have a farm,” said Javier.
“Oh,” he said. “You’re one of those,” raising the side of truck too high.
“Be careful,” Javier warned, “The truck is new—and it’s full.”
“I could never sell fruit,” said the man stepping away from the lift. “I couldn’t bear the loneliness.” He looked for a response, some kind of affirmation, but Javier did not give one. The tow driver stepped away from the truck, staggered across the lane of approaching traffic then onto the sidewalk. He kept going without looking back. Because this moment felt like one that had happened before, Javier continued fixing the tire with the tools the driver had left behind. He lowered the truck and sat on the curb. On his tongue, the taste of gasoline and apples.
Javier was pleased to see so many new customers lined up at his stall this morning. Because it had rained overnight, the air was crisp. The street no longer shone, but it still looked black and wet, full of possibility. His coat felt slightly protective on his shoulders. He knew he was lucky even if he didn’t always admit it. Javier touched his chin with his index finger. What had he forgotten? That is when he saw Marion standing near the end of his line. He hoped she did not see him and cast his eyes toward the curb. But he was not fast enough to miss her standing on tiptoe, waving her small hand like a prayer fan. When she got to the front of the line, Marion exclaimed,
“You got a new truck! I love it!”
“Thanks,” said Javier. “It’s so much easier to drive—”
“It’s so fancy compared to the other one. Did you steal it?” Marion said. “No, I’m just joking. But seriously. Did you steal it?” She smiled as she paid for her bag of apples.
“I see why you keep losing your job,” said Javier through a forced laugh, louder than he had ever spoken to her before.
Marion looked hurt. Then with a flourish, she lifted the bag over her head and dumped its contents onto the pavement, the apples bouncing and tumbling off the curb.
“You’re in the past,” said Marion.
“I want to be,” said Javier. Marion glared at Javier as she stepped back from the stall.
The woman next in line advanced impatiently.
“I’m in a hurry,” she said.
“Yes, of course. Sorry—” said Javier, his hands full of bruised fruit. The woman next in line wore a black sweatshirt with a picture of a wave cresting, barreling. Javier could feel the crush of the water, the power of a total collapse, the release that is going under.
This work was selected by guest editor Hasanthika Sirisena.
Wendy S. Walters’s current projects address class and racial disquietude in the industrial Midwest; intersections between writing and design; and organic forms in the essay. She is a 2020 Creative Capital Awardee in literary nonfiction. Her current project is a book-length critique of white paint. She is the author of Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal and two books of poetry. As Associate Professor in the Writing Program at Columbia University, she also directs the concentration in nonfiction.