Weekend Markets, I love them! Wandering from stall to stall, picking up and fondling the various items on offer, my inner dialogue debating between need and want. Spare a thought for the stall holders, preparing their goods for sale, gauging what will appeal to the punters, the early start, many travelling long distances to the market. Then setting up their stalls no matter the weather or turn out of possible customers.
. Cross Words.
“Bugger,” Harold Jessop thumps his steering wheel. “Typical. All the decent spot’s are taken.”
The car park buzzed with the usual activity of stall owners preparing their wares for the local Saturday market. Organic vegetables, Turkish bread and dips, dairy-free cakes and muffins, wooden toys, garden sculptures, photographic seascapes, knitted baby clothes, second-hand vintage clothes and books, homemade jams and relishes, bacon butties and scented soaps. Every Saturday they came, just as Harold did. He scratches the stubble on his square jaw, thinking, why does he bother?
He drives to the end of the car park, past the Rastafarian coffee guy and the hippie candle girl. Then skilfully, he reverses the battered Hi Luxe Ute into the sole remaining spot. The one with the large puddle that never dries up, a deterrent to prospective buyers already laden with goods from the other stalls, to view his variety of native plants.
His wife’s pleading voice rung in his head. Please, Howard, I’m begging you, don’t go. I need you here with me today.
Honey, I have to. You saw the letter from the bank last week.
Last night, Jean-Marie had been the worse he’d seen her since it had happened. Her episode began with shouting accusations at him. Such a big man, a strong man but in truth, you are an empty man, a weak man, a man with no soul. You cannot grieve. Then in a screaming frenzy, she threw plates and cutlery. A sharp knife slashed nine-year-old Donald’s barefoot, blood spilling onto the floorboards but still she would not stop, could not be calmed. Finally, slamming out the door she ran off into the bush. For two hours, he and Donald searched with torch-lights, finding her huddled beneath a tall fern, weeping uncontrollably and led her back to the run-down cottage.
When they purchased the block of untamed native bush with the rickety cottage ten years ago, fired by the dream of living a life of their own choosing, nothing nor no-one could dissuade them. They packed up their city corporate lives, invested in a generator and went bush.
On that dreadful day, the day it happened, their dream was cruelly extinguished. Grief suffocated Jean-Marie. Her moods swung from violent rages to withdrawing to an unreachable place, a place of dark despair.
Harold steps out of his cab. He stomps to the back of his Ute, reaches for his sandwich board and places it in front of that confounded puddle.
Holly Mayflower gives him a wave, chirping a cheerful ‘Good morning, Mr Jessop,’ her colourful, wrap-around skirt swirls as she unpacks a carton of her multi-coloured, multi-scented candles onto her wobbly trestle table.
“Nice day for it,” she says, looking to the bright, blue sky. “Should draw in a good crowd today.”
Howard ignores Holly’s salutation.
Marcus Tremain, parked next to Holly leans out the window of his Mean Beanz van. “I don’t know why you bother with that grumpy sod,”
“Oh, he’s harmless,” Holly replies. “He’s a pussycat, really.”
“I’m glad I’m not beside him. He’d curdle the milk – even the plant-based milk – for my coffees. That’d really put the punters off.” Marcus ties his ropey dread-locks with a thick band.
“Donald, get your nose out of that God-damn book,” Harold hollers. “And give me a hand here.”
“Poor kid. Can’t be much fun being dragged along every Saturday just to be shouted at by his old man,” Marcus, placing his home-made vegetarian muffins onto plates, nods in Harold’s direction. “And did you hear him last week having a go at Sheila Bristol when she was collecting the stall fees? Telling her everyone should be designated a different spot each week to make it fair so’s the same person didn’t get dumped with the worst spot each week.”
“Yeah, I heard. Hey, what do you think of my new candle? I’ve been experimenting.” Holly picks up a dark purple candle and walks over to Marcus. “Take a sniff. Can you guess what it is?”
“Nah, sorry. No idea. He got real shirty with poor Sheila. Said he’d stop coming, but he’s here again today, isn’t he? Nothing but hot air. And it’s not up to Sheila who gets what spot. That’s committee business, isn’t it?”
“It’s blackberry and sage. I’ve a good feeling about this one.” Holly takes a sniff of the candle.
“Uh ha. Sheila, very diplomatically said she’d mention his idea to the committee.”
“Perhaps he’s got a point.”
“The regular stall owners could be designated a different spot each week.”
“Nah, I disagree. If he wants a better spot, he should get here earlier. Every man, or woman for themselves, I say. We’ve all got a living to make.”
“That’s a bit harsh, Marcus. I thought you were all about love and peace and goodwill to all.”
“Oh I’ve plenty of love and peace and goodwill for those who deserve it, but that grumpy sod sure doesn’t. Maybe you could experiment with a happiness candle.” Marcus laughs. Holly doesn’t.
“He does have a lot to deal with, you know. For starters, he lives way out in the wops somewhere, so he’s got quite a drive and then there’s his wife. She suffers from bouts of depression.”
“Not surprising living with him.”
“He’s not the reason. She hasn’t been right since their little girl drowned in their creek two years back.”
“Oh, right. I didn’t know about that.”
“Maybe I could experiment with an empathy candle and you could be my tester.”
“Point taken, Holly.”
“Keep the bigger palms at the back,” Harold instructs his son. “And move those hebes to the front here.”
Poor kid. The ropey haired coffee guy is right: it can’t be much fun for Donald, dragged along here every Saturday just to be shouted at by me. It’s hardly the kid’s fault that things are tight at home. Or that we live at the edge of civilisation. Nor his mum’s unpredictable mood swings. If it hadn’t happened, if Millicent, our little Milly-Molly was still with us, everything would be okay.
“Then, son, you can go join your mates at the domain, okay?”
“Really, dad?” Donald’s bright blue eyes, glisten
. “Are you sure you don’t need me here?”
“No, you go and have some fun. Doubt it’ll be that busy today.”
“Back by twelve, mind.”
Harold springs open his camp chair and sinks his lean body into the canvass seat. He extracts his glasses from his shirt pocket, puts them on and opens his crossword book to a fresh page. First clue. Samuel was known for his empty talk. Some said that the man talked nothing but hot air. Harold counts the spaces. Eleven. Easy. N-o-n-s-e-n-s-i-c-a-l.
“Morning Mr Jessop. I’ve come for the fees?” Harold’s face reddens.
“Sheila, yeah, um, sorry about my outburst last week. I shouldn’t have spoken to you like I did. Unforgivable”
“Perhaps you were a little harsh, Mr Jessop,” Sheila, ducking her head slightly, tucked a strand of her fiery red hair behind her ear. “But I think you have a valid point and I’ve passed it on to the committee. They meet next week.” She takes a notebook from her pocket.
“Thanks, Sheila. Very gracious of you. I’ve got the fees right here.” Harold pulls a crumpled twenty dollar note from his pocket.
“Good luck for today,” Sheila takes a step then pauses, kneeling beside a small shrub. “What’s this lovely little shrub?”
“A hebe, a diosmifolia. They’re easy to grow and this one has a lovely lilac flower. You’d like it.”
Sheila balances the hebe on one hip as she continues along the row of stalls, collecting the fees.
The Saturday morning market goers drift into the parking lot. Many people flick through the second-hand books on offer. Few are purchased. People flock to the organic vegetable stall, leaving with laden arms of crisp lettuces, plump red tomatoes and leafy silverbeet. Others sample the Turkish bread and dips for free. Some buy, others move on. The Turkish chap breaks into song occasionally, amusing the market goers.
Children run off from their parents, chasing one another around the stalls. Smaller children scoot around on wooden tractors and trucks, their parents distracted by scented soaps or garden sculptures or bacon butties. The owner of the wooden toys patiently tries to herd the children back to his stall.
Dogs tug on their leads, sniff or snarl at other canines equally disinterested in this Saturday ritual. The aroma of fresh coffee hangs in the air. A steady stream of customers mingles beside the coffee van. Holly, a tray laden with a mix of her colourful candles saunters amongst the coffee sippers trying to entice them into making a purchase. Those with a free hand, pick up the candles one at a time, sniff and admire them before returning them to the tray.
“Very nice,” some say.
“Maybe next time.”
“Try this one. It’s new. Twenty-five per cent discount today. Only seven dollars fifty,” Holly offers a woman wearing ‘distressed’ denim jeans, a bright purple puffer jacket and spiky high-heels.
Harold, pondering a clue, looks up and catches the woman’s scrunched-up face. She sniffs the candle and with a look of distaste, places it back on the tray before turning on her heels.
“No worries.” Holly addressed the retreating puffer jacket.
“Stoical,” Harold shouted to Holly.
“What did you say, Mr Jessop?”
“Stoical. Seven letters, first letter ‘s’ meaning not showing emotion to joy, pain or unpleasantness. That’s you, Holly. That woman was very unpleasant to you.”
Stoical, very much like Donald, too, Harold thought.
“Yeah, my new blackberry and sage aren’t proving to be the winner I’d hoped for.”
“Have you sold any candles today?”
“Well, make that six. I’ll buy a blackberry and sage for the wife. She responds to pleasant smells around the house.”
“Gee, thanks, Mr Jessop. How have you fared today?”
“Not so good. Sold nothing. Zilch.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. I thought I saw Sheila Bristol walk away with a hebe.”
“Um, yeah she did. That was a sort-of apology for my outburst last week.”
The crowd thins. A handful of people remain at Mean Beanz, munching muffins and waiting for coffee. Harold returns to his crossword. One last clue, nine letters, second letter an ‘a’. He frowns, rereads the meaning: a sudden, strident noise.
“C’mon mate. What’s taking so long? I’m gagging for my coffee here.” Harold, distracted looks up to see a thick-set, singlet wearing, gum-booted man leaning against the coffee van, scowling.
“Yeah, sorry mate. Having a bit of trouble with the generator. Don’t know what… .”
“Listen, mate. Don’t go trotting out lame excuses to me. How hard can it be to make a coffee?”
An odd pop-pop-pop sound comes from the rear of the van. Marcus swings the side door of the van open and dashes to the rear. A plume of thin blue smoke snakes into the air. Marcus curses softly. The old generator shakes on its stand. Then the contraption begins to emit a piercing, whistling noise.
Harold jumps to his feet, his crossword book dropping to the ground and joins Marcus at the back of the van.
Marcus pulls at his hair. “Holy cow.” The whistling noise becomes a screech and the plume of smoke thickens.
“Turn the bloody thing off before she blows.” Harold bellows.
Marcus flips the off switch.
Both men stand statue-still, mouths agape as the smoke dissipates. The generator rumbles to a stop.
“Jeez, that was frigging terrifying,” Marcus walks around in a circle. “She’s been playing up a bit lately.”
“Hey, wanker,” Gum-boot guy, appears around the side of the van and stabs a finger in Marcus’ direction. “Forget the coffee. It ain’t worth waiting for or risking my life for,” and he stalks away.
“A sudden, strident noise. My last clue. Thanks, Marcus.” Slapping the younger man on the back, Harold returns to his crossword.
A moment passes. Harold, grinning calls out to Marcus, “Hey man, let her cool off a bit and then I’ll take a look for you. After all, it’s nothing but a bit of hot air, eh?”