This story was written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge round 1; I was set the genre romantic comedy, it had to take place under a bridge, and needed to feature a weigh scale.
On the Market
By Lauren McMenemy
Written in August 2014; 1000 words
Jennie points beyond the bridge to the sharp-suited figure emerging from the morning crowd. My heart sinks.
“What’s he doing here?”
I shrug, weigh a regular’s grape supply. “After he stopped showing up – 90p, love – I figured I’d blown it.”
“How long’s it been? A month?” Jennie’s given up serving; lucky the rush is over. It always was when he’d turn up, swaggering, his big umbrella tapping the pavers like a walking stick. I’d memorised his walk as I pined from across the counter.
“Six weeks,” I reply. There’s the little jump as he saunters past Festival Pier…
Jen scoffs. “Strutting like nothing happened.”
I turn to her, my confidante and business partner. She’s consoled me, called him everything under the sun, promised to turn lesbian because all men are bastards, said the right things over several bottles of wine. Every night.
“Leave it, Jen. It’s not like we were married. It was one drink-“
“-You were in unrequited lust for years-“
“I had to clear your dribble every morning.”
“He’ll keep walking. Posh English blokes don’t do confrontation. Not in the DNA.”
“Think again.” She calls over my shoulder: “What are you doing here?”
“Nice to see you, too. Ever the wordsmith.”
His voice… It’s like he once cast a spell on me over the bananas. I don’t turn: “Six weeks?”
“I’m here now.”
Every morning he’d strut along the river to his office, and every morning he’d stop by our little fruit stall under Waterloo Bridge, among the second hand booksellers and living statues, to have a chat and grab some of his five a day. Every morning for two years; a bit of flirty banter and fluttering eyelashes over the figs.
“So what’s your excuse?” Jen’s overprotective. I better get rid of her if this is going to happen right now.
“Jen – leave it out. We have a customer. Go.”
Him. A regular in our humble patch. Handsome, charming, irresistible. Hugh Grant in Mr Darcy’s clothing. Deep breath, then: “How can I help you, sir? We’ve got the Bramleys on special today.”
“Exotic mangoes, direct from the sunny climes of London town, two for one of your British pounds.”
“Sir, either you want to buy some fruit or you continue your walk to the City, because I’m not sure how long I can hold on.”
“Look, I know it didn’t go the way you wanted-”
“-but I did it for you, for your image of me-”
“You didn’t tell me we were going to a bar the royals frequent instead of the pub. I was still in my woolies. Ugg boots don’t go down well in Mayfair.”
“OK, I should’ve warned you.”
“They thought you’d brought a homeless person-”
“That is blatantly untrue-“
“-and I heard what that man said.”
“Cravat man. He asked how much it was to “borrow” me for an hour.”
“That was Giles attempting humour.”
“I’m still not laughing.”
His eyes flash. “If we’re really going to do this, I must say there was no need for you to drown your sorrows.”
“Several bottles of wine. Dancing on tables. Karaoke.”
“That’s a normal night!”
“It wasn’t a karaoke bar…”
I look down.
That riles me. “We don’t stock French goods, sir; everything we have is grown in our Southwark allotment. You’ll find more fancy goods a few bridges down at Borough.” I peer over his shoulder. “Can I help you?” The gossipy old lady is startled from her eavesdropping.
“Imogen. I’m talking to you.”
“Well I’m not talking to you! You disappeared. Two years of flirting and smiling and me thinking maybe, just maybe, someone like you might go for someone like me. Finally, after I’ve fallen utterly in love with the idea of you, you actually ask me out for a drink. Me. Imogen Potter; market stall owner and most definitely not from your world. And then it turns out it was all for a joke.”
He sighs, looks at me with those deep blue eyes: “It wasn’t a joke.”
“That’s not what Giles said.”
“I told you, Giles has a strange idea of humour.”
Back by my side, Jen puts on her poshest voice: “Still, no need to disappear, dahling.”
He sighs – “Is there no private conversation in this city? Work urgently needed me in New York. I got a call at home and had to leave at 5am.”
“And you didn’t think to tell her?”
“It’s a bit hard when she threw my phone in the Thames mere hours before.”
He lowers his voice: “Look, Imogen. Please. I’m back now and I’ve come straight to you. I should be on the 49th floor right now giving a debrief on the takeover. But I had to see you.”
“Well, now you have.” I can feel moist eyes, so busy myself with the merchandise. “Good bye.”
“Ferchrissakes. It was one disaster! It was me trying to fit the model you’d built up!”
“You never had to pretend to be something you’re not. I sell fruit, not futures. I have simple tastes.”
“I know that now. I had plenty of time for reflection, sitting in my room wondering what you were up to.”
I stop turning the apples, but still won’t look at him. “You were thinking about me?”
“I’m always thinking about you, Imogen. I don’t even like fruit. I’ve been keeping the office fruit basket stocked for two years just so I can see you. The boys in the office say you’ve got the best melons in the borough.”
I can’t help the smile. I look up: “Now you’re just flirting with me, sir.”
“I don’t know…”
“I’ll leave the Rolex at home.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Deal.” He flashes that smile. “See you tomorrow?”
“Same as always.”
And as he saunters off, he calls over his shoulder: “They are great melons, by the way.” I can hear his whistle on the wind…