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  • Marie Smysor Watson

Ripe


“You’re still so beautiful."


He had her trapped between the display of oranges and the sale bin of half-shrivelled limes. His sad eyes, dark brown and loose, mirrored the fluorescent lighting.


“Thank you." Her fingers gripped the shopping cart handle with a surprising strength. “I’m dying.”


He did not recoil. “Yes, I heard. I ran into your sister a while back. Literally. At the Y.”

His face was lined from the years that had passed since she’d last seen him, but his thick hair was still dark. She wondered briefly, jealously, if he dyed it. Her own was a memory; she had had to learn the many ways to tie head scarves over the past few months.


“I wish….” John left the sentence dangling like one of the coconuts outside.


“Why are the avocados always so hard?” she interrupted, her voice strong. “You’d think we’d be able to get some decent produce around here.” Avocados were one of the few things that she could eat that did not eventually make its way back up.


Why didn’t you come, Jean?” he asked, ignoring her. “All those years ago – why didn’t you meet me? You said you would come.”


His voice used to eat at her heart, nibbling at it like tiny sunfish at a fat worm. Now it made her impatient. But he was blocking her way out with his cart and she did not have the energy to be rude to him.


“Why, Jean? Why?”


She closed her eyes, eyes like wilted lettuce in color, and sighed. She wished to lay down and sleep forever. Soon, she thought with a glimmer of hope. Soon.


“I tried to call you,” she lied. “My husband came back unexpectedly. I couldn’t leave.”


“I knew there was a reason." The ache in his voice rose like a flock of morning gulls. “I knew you couldn’t have just left me for - for nothing.”


“Yes. There is always a reason, John.” Another lie. She opened her eyes.


He reached out and touched her hand with his blunt, hardy fingers. Her wedding ring spun loose and merry, like a carefree child. His eyes had softened even more, as if they would finally melt.


“It’s good to see you again, John,” she said, her voice taking on a surprising, happy lilt. “It really is.”


This may or may not have been a lie. Only time would bear that.


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