TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The fruit vendor smiled at her through sightless eyes, enjoying the warm breeze and salty air. During casual banter with his customers, he seemed to remember the smallest details, even ones they couldn’t remember sharing with him in the past. The girl had been coming to his stand daily for as long as she could remember. As she turned to leave, she patted his hand and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, friend.”
Still smiling, he replied, “No, you won’t…”
(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)
Spring was finally winning. The chill of winter grudgingly gave way to a warm breeze that raced me from the lower docks to the open-air market at village center. I ran toward Mr. Everbent’s fruit-stand, my daily trade weighing heavy in the satchel slung across my body. I’d been coming here for as long as I could remember. Each morning, after I helped my mother lay out her sewing handy work in the tiny stall she rented on the other side of the market, he would give me a small list of things to gather. In turn, he would fill my satchel with produce at the end of the day. Today was no different. I waited patiently as he smiled through sightless eyes, long grayed over by too many years spent in the salty sea air. His customers adored listening to his tales of a life at sea as much as I did.
Mr. Everbent could recount the smallest of details and make you believe that you had been there. When he spoke of hunger my belly would grumble. If he told a tale about a break in the weather after a particularly bad storm, the sun felt a bit brighter.
I slipped under his counter and, after his last two customers wandered off, he leaned toward me and asked, “Did you get everything on the list, Jewels?”
“Yes, Sir.” I riffled the pages in the small ledger book he insisted I keep. It contained everything I had ever gathered for him.
He held his hands together, palms up. I stowed my ledger then placed the items in his hands one at a time, letting him identify each piece. It was our special game and he wouldn’t set anything in his wooden box until I had described each item again and again.
“Those will do nicely,” he said afterward, and patted my face. “I would like to ask one last thing from you before I send you on your way tonight, Moppet.”
“Anything,” I replied, eager to stay longer.
“An eyelash from each eye so that I may carry them in this locket and think of you fondly.”
“That’s easy! I thought you would send me back to the shore,” I said with relief, plucking out the lashes and slipping them into the tiny silver locket he had pulled from his pocket.
Mr. Everbent slipped the chain over his head and tucked it under his shirt. “I shall treasure it always, Jewels. Now, help me load your satchel with all the fruit you can carry tonight.”
“It’s too much,” I cried.
“Nonsense.” He clasped me to his chest tightly and said in a choked voice, “It will never be enough, I’m afraid. But you have listened well and you are smart. You will understand.”
I hefted my satchel over my head and told Mr. Everbent that I’d see him on the morrow.
“No, you won’t,” he said. His milky eyes darted around restlessly.
“Don’t be silly,” I called out as I hurried to meet my mother. “I’ve gathered everything on the list. We’ll need to start a new one tomorrow!”
My mother was overjoyed at the fruit seller’s generosity and said something about blessings for old fools and children before I fell asleep that night.
With the crow of the cock I heard my mother moving about our one bedroom cottage preparing for a new day. I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I could hear the crackling of the freshly stoked fire but I could not see its orange tongues flicking about in the hearth.
“Mother?” I called out, rubbing my eyes again.
“Yes?” I heard my mother from across the room.
“Mother, I cannot see you!” I said, growing frantic.
Instantly my mother’s weight was next to mine on my small cot.
“Jewels?” she spoke softly as her hands turned my face.
“Mother?” I asked, trying to keep the panic from my voice.
“God in heaven, child!” she shrieked. “Your bright blue eyes have gone cloudy over night! Can you not see me?” She tugged roughly at my eyelids, forcing my head back on my neck.
“Ouch!”I reared away from her work-roughened fingers. “I can’t see anything!” I wailed.
Mother was up in an instant saying she must call for the physician.
I felt about my surrounding area, hoping if I touched something familiar it would bring back a familiar sight in return. My satchel hung over the bed post and I recalled all the items I’d carried in it yesterday; the beautiful robin’s egg still wrapped in a nest, the bit of black coral, as black as a raven’s eyes, the tuft of wool from a newly born lamb. Slowly, I reached up and felt my eyes. Did my lashes feel differently? My heart began to race.
I recalled my conversation with Mr. Everbent from the day before. Instantly, I was filled with dread as I pulled the tiny ledger from my satchel.
“Mother, the doctor cannot help.” I sobbed. “Only someone who can gather, preferably with keen eyesight and time to spare, can help me.”
A tiny boat bobbed along the shoreline, heading west from the island. The old man gazed out of bright blue eyes at the beauty of the sea. He sent up a silent prayer that his young friend could harvest the things she needed faster than he had.