AT THE MARKET by Jeff Lennon
THAT SATURDAY WE WENT down to the farmers’ market, I waited in the line for cheese while you snaked through the one for coffee. We had a plan, and we were together, and we loved it, loved both our plan and loved each other helping to execute the plan. We ended up eating by the water.
The cheese was set up in a semi-circle, the shopkeepers (cheese-masters) standing within the circle, the customers crowded without. I waited with my number until summoned by the Controller, a lovely freckled girl with red hair, who pointed me over to my personal cheese-master. This gentlemen was formidable and bearded. Hearty, I thought.
Try this, was the first thing he said. And handed me a piece of something creamy on a wooden stem. I stuck this in my mouth and let it rest there as my tongue eased the triple-cream cow’s milk off of the stick, the cheeseman looking at me intensely, watching my reactions: the doctor watching his patient take a temperature.
Umh, I said.
Fravin’s Gloss, he said. From Monteforma Creamery. Great cheese. You looking for something in particular?
You had some trouble in the coffee line. Maybe it’s that people without their morning cup are especially petulant. But you let an irritated lady go in front of you just to calm things down. You gave your order to the riled barista, a dread-locked girl with eye-glasses. She was nervous and forgot your fresh-squeezed lemonade.
While you waited for the cold juice you talked with the man behind the espresso machine about the beans he was using in your cappuccinos.
An aged Costa Rican blend, a little earthy, he said. Good for Fall mornings.
The breeze off the bay was brisk and we quickly cut into our cheese and then warmed our hands around our coffee cups, until they got cold. You barely touched your lemonade.
The train uptown was crowded, and you snuggled up under my arm as we swung together with everyone else. We both had the sense that if we missed our stop, everything would be okay. We didn’t need to ever get off.
We did, eventually, at the park. A big crowd was headed in the same direction, so we swung off onto a side path I was sure would get us there in no time at all. You did nothing to dissuade me. I think there must have been some kind of joy you got out of this—letting me go off on an ill-advised tangent, knowing better than I that it would lead somewhere other than my desired destination. It was as if you liked seeing me fail. Or maybe that you wanted to help me so much that this was the only way to make me see you more prominently, the only way you could force me to turn to you for comfort.
I wanted you to comfort me, but for some reason always felt like I needed to get away.
We ended up at some unforeseen lake hidden in a corner of the park, and decided to stop for a bit. When we could see no one else around we walked a little ways underneath the low branches of a cypress tree and took off all our clothes. You let me undress you and pull you underneath me as we made love, your back and shoulders in the soft dirt.
Two weeks later I was on a plane to Oaxaca. You had cried to me over the phone. I refused to come see you before I left. In Mexico, I didn’t write you once.
A year later I was back in the city but I avoided your friends and didn’t ask about you, nor did you about me.
You got a job down at the market, selling oysters, which you had always wanted to do: early mornings, a sea of fresh faces, dawn breezes and hot coffee. You worked at the distribution office some days and the rest down at the market.
I was living in the outer Mission and never came down that way any more. For a couple years I traveled and wrote, making money here and there, always thinking I’d get back to the city soon enough. I dated a whole mess of women, mostly foreign, some travelers who wanted nothing from me. Most didn’t know what they wanted.
I came back to find you, but you were gone. Married, someone said, living across the country. I always thought it would be impossible for you to leave. You loved the city more than I did. One day I went back down to the market and asked about you at the oyster shop. They said you left a year ago, that you’d been hired to develop oyster farms in the Gulf, outside of New Orleans. They hadn’t heard from you but they hoped you were doing alright. I said that you probably were.
After a few years I moved up farther north. I didn’t have any need for the city anymore. They all seemed to have lost something. I didn’t want any part of it. You would have laughed to see me then—content, cold, alone. You would have told me that you could have guessed this was how I’d turn out. You always had such prescience. You were always right. You were always so damn lovely.
JEFF LENNON is from California. He has been to college and swum in all five of the American Great Lakes. This is his first time in print. He lives in a gated community just north of San Francisco.