Fruiterer’s Gleam

There was a gleam in the eye of the fruiterer. His dog was worrying a toffee apple wrapper in the drain. He sold me a Carlsbad plum. He was a travelling fruiterer, and he soon went on his way, swinging his basket. The dog did not immediately follow. Some yards along the lane, the fruiterer stopped, and turned his head, and called out to the dog. The dog’s name was Flaps. “Here, Flaps!” cried the travelling fruiterer, in a rich baritone that would have done him credit on the stage. Flaps relinquished the toffee apple wrapper and scampered towards his master, and continued beyond him, along the lane, panting. I have no idea what sort of dog it was. It was soon out of sight, but the fruiterer did not appear at all worried. He, too, continued on his way, more slowly than his dog. On the spur of the moment I decided I wanted to buy a second Carlsbad plum. I got up from the laneside bench on which I had been sitting and followed the fruiterer. I did not call out to him, for the simple reason that I am mute. When I was but tiny I was witness to an abomination. You can draw your own inference from that pair of snippets. In any case, I am sure the travelling fruiterer is a more interesting “character” than I am. With the gleam in his eye and his theatrical voice and his swinging basket and his dog, Flaps, he is the type to gain attention, whether he wishes to or no. I, by contrast, could have sat all day upon the bench without attracting the attention of passing persons or dogs or, above, birds. The fruiterer himself would have strode on past oblivious had I not hailed him and brought him to a halt to buy my Carlsbad plum. Voiceless, my hailing method was to flail my arms, or to wave a stick. Now, to buy, as an afterthought, a second Carlsbad plum, I had to catch up with him further along the lane, so I sprinted. Doing so took me back, in reverie, to my youth, when I won many a medal, running round and round an athletics track, wearing a singlet to which bold numbers were attached, both front and back. I usually wore the number nine. I am older and creakier now and I was puffed out by the time I came alongside the travelling fruiterer. Panting, like Flaps, I slowed to match the fruiterer’s pace. I held aloft the Carlsbad plum I had already bought, and with my other hand pointed at the fruiterer’s basket, and by some other signals made plain to him that I wanted to buy a second Carlsbad plum. To effect this transaction, we both stopped dead on the lane. Looking up ahead, I saw Flaps micturating against the trunk of a lonely yew. The fruiterer handed me a second Carlsbad plum and in turn I gave him some coinage. There was still a gleam in his eye, a gleam so resplendent it dazzled me. One is seldom dazzled by fruiterers, in this day and age. Lord knows how much water Flaps had lapped from his bowl, or from a rill, that morning, for even as I was bedazzled by the fruiterer’s gleam I saw out of the corner of my eye that his dog continued to expel a stream of piss against the yew, in an unstoppable flow. I worried he might poison the roots. The yew would wither, and woodsmen with axes would come to chop it down, and it would all be the fault of Flaps, and by extension, of the fruiterer. Would his eye still gleam, when, in a far town, a year hence, he sat at a tavern table drinking his pot, and read in the local paper of the shrivelled and felled yew tree, and cast his mind back to that summer’s morning, when he sold a brace of Carlsbad plums to a mute, and Flaps relieved himself, his jet of canine piss powerful and prolonged, drenching the trunk of that very yew, sinking and seeping through the soil, withering the roots?

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