Short Story Intermission: Four Seasons in America
I couldn't make the posting deadline this Tuesday, so instead of a blog post, I'd like to share a short story Ivan wrote recently titled "Four Seasons in America."
1. Early Spring
I walked by a homeless man on my way to the farmer’s market. As I approached his cardboard box along the wall, I’d been holding my wallet in my right hand and switched it to the left as I passed, the hand furthest away from him. I don’t know why I did that.
The homeless man asked me for some change. He’d written a sign on a piece of his cardboard box, which read like a haiku because there wasn’t enough cardboard for a sonnet.
Any help appreciated.
“Sorry I don’t have change,” I said, and flashed him a look.
I’d been telling the truth - but he didn’t know that. After I’d walked about ten yards, he called out after me.
“Hey!” he shouted at my retreating back. When I stopped and turned around, he was taken aback and seemed to struggle to find something to say. Anything at all.
“I’m Asian too,” he said weakly.
I didn’t believe him. He was clearly a black man and looked nothing like me. The only thing he and I had in common was that we were both looking for something to say and ended up saying words that didn’t mean anything.
* * *
The only thing in my wallet that day, aside from my identity card and a $20 bill, was a Japanese 50 yen coin. The coin was silver with a hole in the center and was worth about fifty American cents on a good day for Japanese capitalism. When you hold it up to the morning sky, light shines through it.
It was my lucky coin. The only thing in my life I could still see through.
Besides, I reasoned to myself, this coin wouldn’t have done the homeless man any good. It wasn’t as if he could waltz into JPMorgan Chase and ask for the latest exchange rate. No problem, sir. Right this way, sir. Why don’t we take care of that for you, sir.
To give a man a fifty cent piece he could never use was the same as kicking him in the nuts and telling him “you’re welcome.”
Anyway, it’s early and I’m off to the farmer’s market.
“How much are these nectarines?” I asked.
“Depends,” said the blonde fruit lady. “How much you got?”
I opened my wallet and took a look inside. I counted one Andrew Jackson, who still looked ticked off at me for spending his fellow Americans.
“I’ve got twenty dollars,” I said.
“Well, what do you know,” the fruit lady said, her arms opened wide like Christ the Redeemer. “These nectarines are twenty dollars.”
“What a coincidence,” I said and wondered about the wheels of fate and twists of human fortune.
“Small world,” she nodded. “So, do we have a deal?”
“Let me think about it,” I said, backing away.
“Go ahead honey, but if I were you, I would take the deal,” she said. “What we have here is a classic case of a seller’s market: price collusion meets inelasticity of demand. The demand here being your midsummer’s thirst for my plump and juicy nectarines.”
“Maybe so,” I said. “But I’m gonna check anyway. Just in case there are holes to your fruit lady logic.”
“Suit yourself,” she replied. “It’s a free country.”
I marshaled my last Andrew Jackson and we galloped back into the heat in search of Indians.
3. Late Autumn
It was getting late and there were no Indians to be found. Andrew Jackson had probably slaughtered them all.
“Nice one Andrew,” I said. “Real nice.”
I wasn’t expecting a reply.
“Pssst!” came a voice to my right.
I turned and looked down an alleyway to see a petite, dark-haired Latino lady leaning up against the wall. In the shade, I couldn’t tell her age. She was wearing tortoise shell glasses and a burgundy turtleneck. There was a Virginia Slim between her thumb and forefinger. She brought it to her lips and smoked it sparingly, as if it were the last joint in Jamaica.
“What are you skulking around here for?” she asked bluntly.
“I’m looking for Indi - I mean - nectarines,” I said. “I’m looking for nectarines.”
“Nectarines,” she repeated to herself. “It’s not the season for those anymore. It’s squash and pumpkin season now. Do you like squash?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “What do I do with them?”
“A squash can provide everything you’ll ever need,” she says. “The Native Americans used to cultivate an ancient variety of squash up by the Great Lakes. Some could grow up to five feet long. You could stir fry the flesh and use the seeds to make an orange soup that tastes mild and sweet. You could plant the remaining seeds in the soil and you’ll never want for anything again. It’ll be squash morning, afternoon and night.”
Andrew Jackson and I exchanged glances. Indians.
“How much for a squash?” I asked.
“You’ve got a deal,” I said and we shook on it.
“Wait out here.”
She ducked into a side door down the alleyway and reappeared with a tan squash the exact size and shape of a newborn baby.
I said good riddance to Andrew Jackson and she handed me three George Washingtons and the baby-shaped squash. I had to carry it with both hands it was so heavy.
“You’re a proud father now,” she said. “How do you feel?”
“Happy,” I said. “and worried I might drop this thing.”
She gave me a pat on the back as I turned to leave, “you’ll get used it.”
4. Deep Winter
On my way home, I passed by the same homeless man and his cardboard box. He was trying not to look at me. He must have felt bad about the Asian comment he’d made earlier. Must’ve thought he’d hurt my feelings.
“Hey,” I said, after carefully setting down the squash on the ground. “I have some change for you now.”
I produced the three George Washingtons scrunched up in my jeans pocket and handed it to him.
“This isn’t much, but it’s all I’ve got left. I won’t be needing it anymore. You can do whatever you like with it. This is America, after all.”
“God bless you,” he said. “And have a nice evening.”
“Don’t mention it,” I said. “And you as well.”
I picked up my squash and kept walking. I made it ten steps before I stopped and called back to him.
“Did you ever find out who won that war?”
“War,” he frowned, thinking very hard. “Which war was that?”
“Never mind,” I said, shaking my head. “Happy holidays.”
* * *
The soup was delicious. Mild and sweet, just as the lady in the turtleneck had said.
My wife and I are in bed now, our bellies warm. All the lights are turned off and out the window, beyond the city lights, we could faintly make out the stars.
“Another year’s come and gone,” she sighed as we huddled close underneath the sheets. “Feels like it all went by in a second.”
“Let’s take the baby and go somewhere,” I said. “Somewhere fresh and unspoiled by old routines.”
“Let’s talk about this in the morning,” she replied. “When we’re wide awake in the morning.”
“Okay,” I said.
In the silence, we dreamed of a new life and new possibilities. Birds were chirping, plants were blossoming, and each morning, pixies would bring us daylight from a mountain spring.
But first, a deep sleep. Please wake us when the snow is melting.