“How long’s it been this time?” Jodie asked as she joined Mitch next to a display of exotic fruits, the tepee of Aloe stalks providing a perfect place for them to watch their week’s entertainment as they pretended to straighten the two dozen papaya and six or seven Ugli fruit.
Mitch, without shifting his eyes from his prickly peephole, absently twirled a papaya in it’s display, his arthritic hands forgetting their handicap as they propelled the fruit in an almost graceful dance. “Half an hour, my guess,” he gruffly replied without pausing to greet Jodie. There was no need. In the fifteen years Jodie had worked at the Grocery Gala she had established a sort of camaraderie with the cantankerous Produce Supervisor- a title the kindly owners of the small store created just for Mitch, who had been working for the store since the day it opened its doors 52 years ago. He had taken Jodie under his tutelage almost at once and the first lesson she learned was he hated pleasantries. “Get to the pit of it,” he would bark any time she so much as said “Good Morning!”. There were many other things Mitch hated, people who mispronounced chard, the stickers on apples, anyone from the deli section, baby carrots, but even on his worst day (and there were many) he could be coaxed into some semblance of a good mood by a visit from his favorite customer.
“Think he’ll break his record?” Jodie asked as she had each week. It was one more part of their routine. She loved these days, Mitch was like a completely different person- he forgot to be mad at everything, a twinkle made a rare appearance in the corner of his eye and if she watched long enough, Jodie would bear witness to a crinkle in the lips, a twitch of the mouth- a full on smile. Catching a unicorn playing Pinochle with Bigfoot couldn’t have inspired the kind of jubilee she felt at witnessing such a crack in Mitch’s brusque veneer.
“Could be, we got in an unexpectedly large shipment of Ambrosia last night,” Mitch almost whispered, his voice teetering on revealing the glee bubbling just beneath the surface.
Jodie knew not to ask any more questions. It was now time to just watch, and wait.
Several feet away from the exotic fruit display and the two voyeuristic Grocery Gala employees, stood Claude. Forty-eight, single and mildly autistic, Claude shared Mitch’s somewhat odd passion for produce- specifically, for apples. Each week, while his mother circled the aisles, collecting the foodstuffs they would need for a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, Claude was left in the produce section of the Grocery Gala. Silently, and with the reverence of a Capuchin monk, Claude would slowly walk towards the brightly colored center display, towards the rows and rows of apples. There he would stand and for uncounted minutes he would stare at the different types of apples, making unknown notations or perhaps offering up a silent prayer . Only then, and in almost spastic movements would he approach the selected apple for that week’s ritual. Slowly, and with childlike fascination, Claude would pick up an apple, and one by one he would rearrange them according to number of defects, shape, size and finally by weight. The process was hypnotic for any onlooker blessed with enough perception to appreciate the mastery and skill being demonstrated (even if it was directed at the common apple).
Mitch not only appreciated it, he considered this time to be the closest he would ever come to heaven. Claude and his weekly ritual were the one thing that Mitch looked forward to on this stinking rock and emulated everything that was right in the world.
“One hour, 21 minutes,” Jodie said in contained excitement as they watched Claude follow his mother towards the front of the store, “That’s a new record, Mitch”.
Mitch took his first deep breath in almost an hour and a half and quickly looked away from Jodie and towards the floor, but not before she saw him swipe at the corner of his eyes with the back of his left hand. The tears he wiped from his eyes still apparent in his voice almost caused a similar reaction for Jodie as Mitch attempted a detached response, “Yep. I suppose it is”.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: In a quick stop at the supermarket, I swung over to the produce section to grab few apples for my lunch. As I perused the selection and weighed my options (Honey Crisp or Red Delicious) I informed Andy that I had a special knack when it came to selecting the perfect apple. Settling on the Red Delicious, I continued to tell him that I was so good in fact, that at college several of my friends relied on me to make their ‘apple selection’ when dining in the renowned Queens University of Charlotte dining hall (cough, cough). Plucking three decent looking specimens of ‘forbidden fruit’ led me to think about how others might handle their fruit. The story above is the result of these musings.
Love & Squirrels.