Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bubble Gum Pears: Fall, Chicago

From the bus I can look down into the taxi and see the woman in her crisp business attire, her portfolio open, white sheets with black text splayed out before her. I wonder if she is reviewing a resume, her own or someone else's, wonder if she is off to interview someone or be interviewed, or maybe she's off to make some big corporate presentation. I imagine her facing a boardroom of suited men, possibly silver haired, possibly two times or three times her age. Or, possibly there is one who she is secretly meeting in a hotel room on Wednesdays over the lunch hour, when she tells her officemate she's running to Bloomingdales. 

I wonder this as I look down into her taxi. Then my bus lurches forward and the taxi speeds off. I am left with my own wondering about what I am about to do. Three more stops, before I do this, two more stops before I am there. I could stay on the bus, pass by the familiar cross-streets and let the summer pass and fall come without doing this. One stop. And then I find myself rise, step off the bus.

My mind is a blur of possibilities, who will speak first, what will I say, what will he say, will I even be able to look him in the eye? It doesn't even occur to me until I am nearer that he might not even be there. And as I get nearer, it's obvious. He isn't. I did not expect this. Now what? I walk on, east, toward my office, embarrassment settling over me, the silliness of it all. I feel exposed and naked, like everyone passing me on the sidewalk can see that this (whatever this was suppose to be) will not be happening.

But as the walk signal changes and I start through the intersection I pass by him, recognize his blue sweatshirt, the blonde curls wisping out from under the heavy dark blue hood, and nearly brush his arm with my shoulder. He doesn't recognize me (I mean, how could he, why should he) but I see that it's him and it catches my breath and I have to stop walking, frozen in the middle of the crosswalk, people squeezing to get by.

But today's the day. The last possible day and if I’m going to do this it has to be today. So I turn around and cross back, barely making it before traffic zips behind me, drivers honking at my last minute sprint.

I don't go to where he stands immediately. I am sweaty and can't breathe so I circle the square, my sunglasses shielding my sightlines. I pretend to smell the flowers and check out the organic soaps and sample the cheese from Somewhere, WI. I skip the honey booth with the live bees packed between two sheets of Plexiglas, and I skip all the other booths that sell fruit.

His booth is right on the corner, the white canopy top makes me think of circus tents. I recognize the other employees, the one who uses a dirty knife to cut samples of bubble gum pears for all the girls, and the tallest one who's hands are always shoved into his pockets and he never seems to be helping anyone.

I pick out my pears, unaware of how many I’ve chosen until the plastic bag is bulging and my sweaty palms can barely hold on. I put some back. I decide to keep my sunglasses on because last time I got this close I just stared at his hair, could hardly hand him the $3, certainly couldn't string 3 words together. Just handed him my bag of corn on the cob, trembling. He said something chit-chatty, and I, I, well, I grunted (seriously), thrust the $3 into his hand and bolted. That was last year.

I'm up next in line and just as I step forward, dirty-knife-guy replaces him because some little old lady wants his opinion on the purple eggplants.

"Back for more?" dirty-knife-guy asks.

"Huh?!" I say quickly and suspiciously.

"More pears? Told ya last year you'd love those bubble gum pears."

"Yes, right, yes! I am back for more bubble gum pears!" I laugh a strange shrill laugh that sounds foreign even to my own ears and apparently to his too, because he backs away slightly when he gives me my change.

I start to walk away but I can't. Somehow this thing, this thing, this thing I want to do has become huge, defining, urgent. So when I go to leave, I don't cross to the crosswalk. I come around his table and stand behind him as he finishes bagging the little old lady's purple eggplant.

I step up to him, step in close and before I can think, I extend my hand. He starts to extend his, then seems unsure, can't tell if I’m going to hand him something, or if want one of the purple eggplants. But then he does take my hand, or I take his, and I lean in and whisper.

We are still holding hands when the words hit him, I can actually tell when the vocabulary is decoded in his brain and the text becomes meaning.

"Thank you," he says. "And you too." He is still holding my hand.

I smile and say, "That's all." I let go of his hand and walk away.

When I get to my office I immediately slice up a pear and hit the speed dial button with the heart on it. David picks up and I tell him what I’ve done. I sense him put on his 'best friend hat' as he says, "No way! You rock, you totally did that?!" and we laugh about how it took me all summer to work up the nerve. I tell him how I had to keep my shades on so the farmers market boy wouldn't see my eyes, so I could be brave enough to whisper, but David says, 'Hon, I can totally see your eyes through those shades.'

"Oh, seriously?" I say.


David asks why today, since there is still one more week for the farmers market. And I say that I don't know, that it just had to be today.

"Sure, I get that." he says. There's a pause and I can tell he has something else he wants to say.

"What?" I ask.

"So does this mean this is the last of the bubble gum pears?" he asks.

I can't tell over the phone if he's serious about the pears (because he really does love those pears) or if he's talking about my crush on the farmers market boy.

"Yeah, I think so," I continue, fishing a bit. "Plus, I just ate one, and I’ve had better." I’m curious if his rarely worn 'jealous lover hat' has slipped on and I wait eagerly for his response. When it comes, I laugh, not really disappointed or surprised by his security or his honesty. He says, "Aw, too bad. Man I love those pears."