|A picture of grapes would have worked so much better here. |
But I don't have one. Strawberries will have to suffice.
Back in April, I took part in the 24-hour Short Story contest sponsored by Writers Weekly. The judging is now complete, and I was delighted to learn that my story earned one of 22 Honorable Mentions out of nearly 300 submissions.
Angela Hoy at Writers Weekly always shares common themes that emerge in the contest. You can read that list and the writing prompt we were given here: http://www.writersweekly.com/contest/spring11winners.html
Below is the story I entered. Enjoy!
The Last Few Grapes
The fruit vendor smiled at her through sightless eyes, enjoying the warm sunshine that bathed them. He always remembered the smallest details of his customers’ lives, even ones they couldn’t remember sharing with him in the past. The girl choosing grapes had been coming to his stand every day since she was a child. As she turned to leave, she patted his hand and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, friend.”
Half-heartedly smiling, he replied, “No, you won’t.”
“You say that every day,” she chuckled back. “But here we are, every morning.”
The vendor sat back in his chair and let his face bask in the warm morning sunlight. He didn’t have to see to know that the street was nearly empty. There were fewer and fewer footsteps along the cobblestoned street these days. The grinding motor of the bread truck had not been heard in four days now. His own supplier had stopped bringing fruit more than a week ago.
“I fear this time, I may be right,” he said softly to the girl.
Anna pulled her hand away from the old man’s arm. Her smile faltered for just a moment. With forced gaiety she said brightly, “Well, I’ll be here in the morning, my friend.”
She patted his hand again and began to leave, but he suddenly reached out and held her hand in place so that she was bent over him, closer than she cared to be.
“You must be careful, Anna,” he said in a low voice. “Surely you know what things are happening now.”
Anna tried to tug her hand away, but the man held her in a firm grip. “I don’t –“
“They’re invading our town tonight, Anna. They’ll force the remaining Jews onto the street and take their houses and belongings; everything they have. You must leave, Anna.”
Startled, Anna pulled back so sharply that she dropped her grapes onto the ground. Her hand involuntarily rose to shield her mouth as she let out a cry, even as her eyes slid down to the fruit at her feet. As they travelled down the length of the old man, she caught a glimpse of yellow fabric tucked beneath his apron.
“Oh!” she cried out again. She turned to flee, but slipped on the grapes and fell to the ground. The old man rose to assist her, but she pulled back as he grasped her arm.
“Anna, I remember when you were a small girl and came here with your grandmother. She talked about the grapes that she grew in Lyon. You must go there, Anna. Go to her farm and find the grape picker, the vendangeurs Pascal that worked for her. He’ll take you in. He must. Go now, Anna.”
Anna stared at the fruit vendor. She studied his face and realized that she’d never really looked at him before. His face was lined with years of sun and hardship. His hands were spotted with age, and his legs bowed slightly as he stood. He was an old man – had always been an old man as long as she could remember. She’d started coming there as a girl and had never said more to him than a pleasant hello. But now she saw that they were not such strangers. He’d known her for years; knew details about her life that she’d forgotten, and yet, she didn’t even know his name.
“What about you?” she said softly. “Where will you go?”
The vendor shook his head. “I’m an old man, Anna. This fruit stand is all I know.”
“But the Nazis - “
The old man pulled Anna to her feet and grimaced slightly. “The Nazis may take my home. My business. My fruit,” he said expansively as he waved his hand toward the meager offerings that remained on the stands in front of his small store. “They may even take me.”
He dropped back down onto his worn wooden chair. “I’ll close up shop today and wait for them. But you, Anna. You must go.”
Anna looked around the lifeless street. She saw now that most of the storefronts were empty. The sun glinted off glass windows and reflected no movement. Other than a cat stealing down the road, they were alone.
“You can come with me,” she told the vendor.
He held out his hands and she grasped them in hers. He rubbed his rough fingers along the back of her knuckles. “You always were kind. But no, I must stay here and close up my shop.” He cupped her hands tightly in his. “Be careful, Anna.”
Anna leaned over and kissed his cheek before hurrying down the street toward home. The vendor listened to her footsteps fade away and then began gathering his fruit. He took the remaining peaches and grapes inside the barren store and placed them in baskets. He carefully cut each piece with a razor blade and then filled the small crevices with rat poison. As his fingers smoothed over the fragile peels of the tampered fruit, he thought he heard the cadence of boot steps advance from a distance.
He carried the baskets back outside and gingerly set the fruit on his stand. He shrugged off his apron and tugged the yellow star into prominent position on his chest. Then he sat down in his chair and waited with the warm sun shining on his face.