JUST DESSERTS • by David Desiderio

They collided on the Farmers Market at Clinton and Bailey streets in Buffalo, New York, on a sultry Saturday in August. She was forty-six, and outspoken. He was twenty-one, and given to few words. They both spotted the last basket of succulent Alberta peaches shimmering in the morning light at Paul’s Farm stand. Both could taste the flaky crust and warm, sweet juices oozing from the first slice of pie. They moved in concert, her from the left, him from the right, to snatch the prize. In the quick choreograph their hands met atop the basket and immediately recoiled. She recovered first and reached again, her hazel eyes blazing with indignation. His anger boiling up, too, he lunged doggedly for the treasure. What ensued was a tug of war with the prize alternately gaining and losing ground. Angry words were exchanged, threats were made, but throughout the joust the fruit was handled with the tender care reserved for an infant. A crowd gathered and made Lottie Green the favorite, a no-nonsense mother of three famous within her family for her exquisite desserts. But to everyone’s surprise, Lee Kim proved to be a formidable opponent despite his slight build and youthful, round face.  Finally a shout stopped them in their tracks.

“Put down my peaches!” It was the owner, Mr. Paul, a burly middle-aged man in need of a shave leering angrily over the top of his dark glasses. The skirmish had brought business to a halt.

“I wish to purchase these peaches,” Lottie stated firmly.

 “But they’re mine,” objected Lee.

“They’re neither of yours,” snarled Mr. Paul. “Now give them to me.” The peaches were handed over and placed out of reach.

“How much?” asked Lee.

“Hold on, Mister,” Lottie growled.

“You both hold on,” Mr. Paul said pushing up his glasses to hide the gleam in his eyes. “There’s only one way to settle this. I’ll hire you both for one hour. Whoever sells the most earns the right to buy this basket of peaches. Take it or leave it.”

Lee let out a loud laugh. He was a budding pastry chef and produce clerk at Tarrantino Foods. Fruits and vegetables were his life. Lottie didn’t like the sound of that cackle, but held an ace too. She had chaired numerous fundraisers for her church and felt she could out-hustle anybody.

So the contest began. Word spread quickly and everyone flocked to the stand. Brown bags snapped like firecrackers as they were opened to catch potatoes, onions, and beans. Plastic bags crackled like kindling, as they were stuffed with tomatoes, okra, and grapes. After forty-five minutes Lee was ahead by five dollars. After fifty-five minutes Lottie edged forward by three dollars. With one minute left it was too close to call. The crowd cheered as the buying frenzy continued. Then an old man leaning shakily on a cane pointed a crooked finger and bellowed over the din, “I want those peaches!” Lee and Lottie eyed each other contemptuously as the final countdown began. “Ten, nine, eight…” They rushed to grab the prized fruit to put them over the top. In their haste the basket tipped and the soft fruit spilled onto the pavement. Everyone gasped. Then, inexplicably, Lee squashed a peach underfoot. Not to be undone, Lottie squashed one, too. Before anyone could react, the peaches were a mash of slippery syrup. Lee and Lottie’s eyes met again. But somehow the contempt had given way to a mirth that erupted into laughter as they embraced apologetically to loud applause except for the old man. “What a couple idiots,” he grumbled turning away.

David Desiderio, a life-long resident of Western New York, is retired and busy editing and submitting his many short stories, as well working on his third novel. He and his wife, Maryann, owned and operated a pizzeria in Buffalo, NY for more than thirty-five years.

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