He went to the farmer’s market every Sunday afternoon. He bought onions, red and yellow, from the stand that let shoppers stuff a plastic bag with produce for ten dollars. He packed in carrots, potatoes, rutabagas, patty-pan squash, spinach, melons and green beans. Sometimes he lingered by the Kettle Korn stand, chatting with the owners, a middle-aged couple, as they stoked their enormous black furnace. He usually picked up a baguette to eat with dinner that evening, and every once in a while, a box of strawberries or blueberries to sprinkle on his breakfast cereal. But what he really wanted to buy, more than anything else, was peaches.
Western slope peaches, from C & R Farms in Palisade. The C & R stand was always completely loaded with peaches, dripping with the ripe, fuzzy fruit. White paper bags bulging with peaches covered every inch of the four tables set up under the red and white C & R sign. Little white bags cost five dollars and big bags cost ten. If he looked at the peach stand from halfway across the market, (as he was prone to do, for longish periods of time) from in front of the Sunflower Bakery’s booth, for instance, and squinted his eyes, the white paper bags bedecking the peach stand from Palisade began to spell out love poems by Rumi, their semicircular, upright handles morphing into exotic Arabic text, slanting invitingly in the bright Colorado sun.
He never bought any peaches, but not for lack of money. His pockets had enough cash to bring home the entire truckload of C & R’s cargo. He wasn’t allergic to the fruit, either. He liked the taste, though not as well as green apples, which were his favorite fruit by far. In fact, his favorite snack was green apples and chocolate covered granola bars, eaten very carefully by taking one bite of apple, and then one bite of bar, and then repeating this process in order until finished.
Peaches. They were no apples, but they were alright. But he never bought a single one because he couldn’t get up the nerve to approach the woman selling them, the farmer herself. She was the most delicious, exotic, exciting woman he had seen in a long time. Her hair was peroxide blonde and fell, slightly wavy and very dried out from too much bleach and blow-drying, just to her shoulders. Her face was tanned, either from a life of picking peaches in the sun or from roasting in one of those Fake-n-Bake salons. The skin on her arms and hands was leathery and wrinkled. Her face was not a beautiful face, by standards, or an ugly face either. Her rather long nose drew attention away from her eyes and mouth.
But her face was not her most noteworthy feature—nor her nose nor her arms nor even her hair. No, what had caught his eye that first Sunday and what he stared at now, were the dozens of silver bracelets lining her forearms like the armor of a twelfth century Crusader. Her collections of shiny silver bracelets began at both wrists and did not end until one or two inches away from her elbows. The bracelets appeared, at a distance, to be made from good quality silver (perhaps sterling) mixed in with some of the cheaper bangle-y kind. They made a wonderful jangling noise as she picked up bags of peaches and put them back down, reached into crates to pull out more bags of peaches, and plunged her hands into her apron pockets to make change for customers. Chink, chink, the bracelets never ceased. CCHHHSSHHH. They made a continuous whirring noise, the white noise of silver that to him was a lullaby, lovely background music, the soundtrack to the Farmer’s Market.
Clink, clack, swish, bsshhhh. She packed and unpacked, lifted and reached. He popped a cherry tomato into his mouth and stared at her. Why on earth would a farmer wear so much jewelry? Was the first thing he wondered when he saw her that spring Sunday, back in April, after wandering into the market out of boredom after church. The parking lot where the whole shebang went down was close to his house, on his way home from Grace Presbyterian. That day his hand put the blinker on like it had a mind of its own and the next thing he knew he had pulled in and parked his car. He recognized some of his fellow parishioners wandering around in the sun out there in front of Ace Hardware and couldn’t help but think they looked kind of funny, all dressed in their Sunday best, Mr. and Mrs. Lipkel treading daintily across the steaming tar towards a farm stand manned by tobacco-chewing teenage boys. He sat there behind the steering wheel for a few minutes listening to the end of This American Life on NPR before getting out of the car. And then he heard them. Swwwiissssssssssssssh. Clack. Tinkle tinkle click. Bssshhhhhhhh. Unlike the other organic sounds of the market, paper bags crumpling, bread ripping, coffee slurping, the silver bracelets lining the peach farmer’s arms banged against each other in a metallic, mesmerizing reverie.
Florence had never worn any jewelry but her wedding ring. It was a thin gold band with a miniscule diamond popping up out of it, better suited for slicing open skin than impressing people. Florence was why he had been going to Grace Presbyterian for the last 25 years. She never actually forced him to anything, but he couldn’t have let her go to church alone. After Florence died, he kept going to church on Sundays. But they had never stopped at this market. The sun was hot and Florence wouldn’t have liked that. But she would have loved the smell of the fresh-baked bread at the Fiona’s booth. The cinnamon raisin cakes and the black-olive and rosemary round crusty loaves. She would have liked the young mother with her curly-haired 3-year-old daughter selling homemade soaps at the Earth Sun Moon Organics tent. Florence’s sensible shoes with the black rubber soles and sturdy black laces would have protected her feet from the hot sticky asphalt of the parking lot. But Florence didn’t eat peaches.
He took a giant and loud bite of a Granny Smith he’d just paid a dollar for from Grant Family Farms and stared across the piles of fertilizer and compost at the forearm-armored peach farmer, whirring away at her brisk sales. Pastor Greg had suggested that innovation keeps the brain young and vital in today’s sermon. His right hand fluttered about his front and back pants pockets checking for his wallet, his keys. Maybe he would buy some of that cilantro he’d seen for sale at the booth on the corner, the one with the giant white coolers stuffed with grass-fed chickens, and sprinkle it on his microwave burrito tonight at dinner. He’d heard that cilantro was delicious.