"Good morning," she said. "Did the fruit come in this morning? I mean today, not yesterday or last night, today."
"Yes, Miss Irene, it came in at five a.m. just like every day."
"Well, did any of it fall on the floor as you brought it out?"
"Only what we feed to the pig in the back."
"No one likes a wise ass, Giuseppe."
"Hmm," he muttered and wandered back inside.
Meanwhile Irene selected her first piece of fruit. She stared intently at a nectarine, very careful to find one which had absolutely no bruises on it before she even picked it up. Upon first glance it seemed no fruit was bruised; therefore, she began picking up only nectarines because she felt it a mortal sin to randomly inspect fruit. One could not choose an apple, then a pear and expect to return to the apples. Oh, no, her motto was start with one fruit before moving on to the next.
As usual she became so absorbed in her fruit selection she ignored what was going on around her. A little freckle-faced boy with a harelip stood silently watching her for a few moments. He wore a look of curious wonder upon his face as his stare grew long. Eventually Irene felt a pair of eyes upon her.
"Well, hello little boy. Did your mom send you here for some fruit?" Irene asked, getting just a bit nervous. She hated to be rushed in selecting her fruit. The boy nodded in agreement.
"Oh, uh, okay. I'm almost done picking out my nectarine, so you could take some of those if you want. You do want nectarines, right?" she said as her eyes darted between the boy and the fruit. He stood there in silence as he tilted his head and cocked his brow.
Moving on to the mangoes, Irene felt herself get angry with the boy for just standing there. She thought to herself, I shouldn't be mad at this kid, but, God, he just keeps staring. Why won't he freakin' talk? And that harelip, it's so gross.
Speaking slowly, with all the patience she could muster, she offered, "There's the nectarines. Go ahead, take a few." The boy violently shook his head and ran off. Irene felt a deep sense of relief. She was not quite sure her hasty choice in the nectarine was the right one, but she was compelled to move on because that kid made her nervous. Well, she thought, I'll make sure this mango is perfect.
As Irene rummaged though the mangoes, she gripped her nectarine a bit too tightly without taking notice. The skin began to tear ever so slightly, virtually undetected. One mango she found almost met with her standard of quality, but it had just slightly too much green on the skin. "Giuseppe!" she called, "Are there any more mangoes in back? I can't find one here I like."
"What a surprise! Oh, what's the matter? Are they too red? Green? Hard? Soft?" Giuseppe inquired, on the verge of losing his temper.
"This one is almost what I want, but it is a little too green. There's got to be a few more back there somewhere. These ones just aren't quite what I'm looking for."
"Let me go check, just one more time. I'm sure the one you want must have been left in the back," Giuseppe mocked.
He was gone a few moments and returned with one small box of mangoes, of the very same delivery of the ones out in the display. Irene's eyes practically squealed with delight when she saw Giuseppe make his way out with the new mangoes.
'Oh, Giuseppe, you're so sweet to do this for me. I know it's an inconvenience, but I just hate bruised fruit. That's all I had to eat as a kid. My mother bought it real cheap - bruised, overripe, a little dirty, there was always something wrong with it. But I had to eat it anyway."
"Why? Why didn't you just not eat it until you could eat 'clean, fresh fruit'?"
"Mom never bought nice fruit like that. It was too expensive. If she brought that crap into my house today, I'd throw it in the garbage. It's disgusting. I can just imagine the worms crawling out of the apples, out of the holes the birds pecked in the skins. Eww!" she shuddered. "Oh, Giuseppe, you life saver, here it is! This is the one I want. It's been hiding out back the whole time. See, I knew it."
"Yes, yes, Miss Irene, that's always where the one you want is, in the back," Giuseppe said, sarcastically. Irene smirked at him, realizing his intent.
For the most part she ignored him as he walked back inside the store and she turned to the red grapes to find the plumpest, sweetest bunch. Irene knew this could take some time; it would not go nearly as quick as her mango and nectarine selections. The grapes had to be handled very delicately or else with one quick movement of the hand the perfect bunch could be destroyed in a second, pluck one off here, two off there and they would be completely out of balance. Yet she believed the perfect bunch had to be in this very fruit stand. After all, she had found a nice round, plump, juicy nectarine and the best mango she had come across this season. For a moment, Irene wondered if the nectarine really was juicy. She had not yet bit into it; it could be dry. But no, she thought to herself, I have a good feeling about this one.
Out of the corner of her eye, Irene noticed the little harelipped boy walking down the street, this time with a friend. When she realized the two boys were returning to the fruit stand, she became a bit perturbed, but she decided she was going to take her time with the grapes. She would not let this little kid and his sidekick rush her.
The brown-haired sidekick with a springy bowl cut had a certain look in his eyes - childlike curiosity! Oh, God, Irene thought, he's a talker. Those are the worst kinds; they have so many questions. Ah, okay, I can do this.
"Hey, lady, have you really been here for two hours, like Josh says?" The little brown-haired boy inquired.
Laughing nervously, Irene replied, "Don't be silly. It's only been one hour."
"Why does it take you so long to pick out fruit?" the boy posed.
"Because I'm looking for the best pieces of fruit Giuseppe has. I don't like the bruised or dirty ones."
"It doesn't matter which ones you take."
"How can you say that? Of course it matters."
"Because I want the perfect fruit."
"My mother says there's no such thing as perfect."
"Well, your mother -"
"-She said you have to look past the bad parts to get to the good."
"I'm kind of doing that."
"But if you want the perfect ones, don't you want the ones with no bad parts at all?"
"Yes. That's how I always pick fruit."
"Well, you probably don't want that peach."
"You mean my nectarine?"
"Yeah, that nec'rine is leaking juice."
"Isn't that a bad word?"
"My mom said you can't say G-O-D."
"What? Oh, um, yeah, that's right. Little boys should never say that."
"What's that other thing you're holding?"
"It's called a mango."
As the brown-haired boy said this, the harelipped one tugged at his arm and pointed to a fat hairy spider which had just landed in the grapes as Irene had her head turned.
"Hey, lady," the brown-haired boy started, "I wouldn't take those grapes if I were you."
"A spider just landed in 'em."
Irene jumped back with a start as she saw a spider crawl out of the bunch of grapes she had been eyeing. In the process, she dropped her mango and it landed on the filthy sidewalk, rolling about beneath the stand. At that moment she realized it was too hard anyway.
"Ahh! Oh, no!"
"Don't say G-O-D," the brown-haired boy quipped. "It's okay, lady, people come here all day to get fruit. Someone will want the stuff you don't buy."
A look of horror flashed across Irene's face, then disgust. "Good bye, boys," she said curtly and walked off to her appointment with her "confidante." She would be a little early, but after this episode she needed the extra time. She was revolted by the thought of all the hands rummaging through the fruit just as she had done. "Dirty hands," she murmured and got strange looks from the passersby. She could never view fruit or fruit stands the same again.
As she tottled off down the street Giuseppe stood on the corner, his furry little caterpillar mustache jiggling in time with his large belly. So, all I needed was a spider to keep her away, he thought, laughing to himself as he handed the boys each a lollipop and they ran down the street to the ice cream truck.