“Bonjour Monsieur, is there anything I can help you find?”
My days as a shopkeeper made me weary.
“Those oranges are fresh from Pontoise!”
I’d rather spend my time someplace else.
“Lovely weather, isn’t it?”
You can’t even see the sun, there’s clouds all around.
“Thank you! Have a wonderful afternoon!”
I hate my job.
When I was 12 years old, my father left his position as a city councillor to open a fresh fruit and supplies shop in our town’s square. My days consisted of managing the produce and providing a warm and welcoming experience to every nonsense maker that entered the shop.
“Bienvenu à La Marché de Franco!” Franco was my father.
“We have a fresh shipment of oranges from Pontoise in the back.” That shipment was three days old.
“Five oranges? Oh, you’re going to love these. €2.80. Thank you. Have a nice day!”
I tried to tell my father countless times that public service was not my forte, but he insisted I keep at it because everyone should have experience in different fields.
“Oh miss, you’re going to love these oranges. Fresh from Pontoise!”
My father caught tuberculosis when I was 18 and his health slowly declined. When he passed, I realized I had full control of the shop; I could either shut it down or keep it open. I decided to keep it in operation for a while, to save up enough money so that I could live comfortably after I burned it to the ground.
My dad’s been dead for 8 years.
Saving up enough money to live comfortably is quite difficult when you have to buy a few cases of Pontoise oranges every week, but my father always sold the best on the market.
It was late Sunday morning that I was unloading the biweekly shipment of Maffliers green pears when a most peculiar customer came in: a skinny, red haired man who was dressed as though he had gotten in a fight with a pair of scissors. He approached myself and nervously asked if we carried flowers for special occasions. I pointed him in the direction of the white orchids.
“The orchids are beautiful, however, the shasta daisies cost nearly half as much. Who are you buying them for?”
“My brother is dying,” he responded softly.
“Oh,” I felt guilty for asking. “In that case, you can take the orchids. Free of charge.”
His eyes grew dark, “I asked for flowers, not sympathy.” He reached into his pocket, drew three euros, slammed them on the counter and left in a huff.
“Have a nice afternoon!” I called after him.
“What a weird man,” Jane said as she leaned over the shop’s counter later that afternoon. “But when my brother grew ill, I was a shrew also.” Her petite fingers grasped at the orchids I had on display. “These certainly are beautiful, but I wouldn’t pay three Euros for them. Why are your prices so devilishly high, Elisabeth?”
“Father always had them that way.”
“That’s a lie if I ever heard one. My mum said that she used to be able to afford a pie’s worth of apples for only €2,” she looked around for the current price, “Now… she’d have to pay nearly 3 and a quarter. That’s madness! How are you still in business?”
I grinned and started, “My father was a highly respected man. You’re aware he was a councilman?”
“You’ve told me before, but the one thing that stalls me is the disbelief that councilmen are respected,” she giggled.
“My father was, he was in favour of everything la belle époque had to offer.”
La belle époque was the state in which France was in. In the past few decades, art, music and theatre had flourished and become more prominent in our daily lives. My father loved this, and regularly took me to see plays when I was little. Now, the majority of my customers were performers and painters, whose careers had been started with the help of my father.
Jane looked up at me, “I wish I could have met him.”
“If you met him, he’d pretend like he didn’t see you.” I said blatantly. “He was an incognizant man, with a fabricated enthusiasm for art.”
“He was still your father, don’t you miss him in the slightest?” She looked accusingly at me.
I understood the position I had brought upon myself. I responded, “I do… But whenever I think about him and the time that he was alive, I feel like every limb I have attached to my body is swelling and containing something that I’ve regretted for so long.” I looked longingly at the stack of Pontoise oranges. “I feel an obligation to keep his spirit pleased and to remain an obedient daughter but… Jane… it’s been 8 long years, and I think I’m finally ready to leave that behind.”
Jane caught me looking at the oranges. “You mean these?” She walked over to the display. “These pathetic things?” She pushed the display over. The floor was instantly littered with ripe oranges. “Who needs them!”
“No, but-“ I attempted to correct her.
“Look at these!” She strode to the granny smith apples. “How’s my mum going to bake a pie with apples that cost €3! She might as well frame them!” She tipped the crate over and apples rolled out of the shop and into the street. Passerby, stopped and looked concerned. One old woman with a pink shawl wrapped around her head almost stepped on one and lost her balance, she gasped, looked up and met my eyes. I had a devilish grin on my face and she walked off in a temper.
“That’s enough, Jane, you’ll injure somebody!” I said through my giggles.
“You know what, Elisabeth?” She took a break and leaned on a stand of grapes. “When my brother passed last June, I mourned for a while. I mourned like a sister should. I did not however, mourn for nearly a decade, not like you.”
“I am not mourning, I am saving money.” I declared.
“You are, aren’t you? You blame it on the oranges and the orchids but I know just as well how much you earn from those high prices of yours. For you’ve had enough to live comfortably since the day he died.”
We looked at each other for sometime. I’m not sure if I had ever fully realized how wealthy I had become. Being my father’s only child who was not burdened with incessant illness, I felt as though I had been overlooked and uncared for. When the logical explanation was that he was preparing me to endure the worst without him.
I looked up from my daze to see Jane standing directly in front of me with a sly grin on her face.
“Let’s go on an adventure.” she whispered.
I understood what she meant immediately, I had brought the idea up myself no more than a week before. Only now, I was ready to endure the worst.
We poured the stores supply of gasoline atop the counter, atop the fruits and atop the vegetables. We stood a good distance away from the shops entrance and Jane did me the favour of drawing a box of matches from her satchel and lit one.
“Wait!” I exclaimed. “I forgot something!” I ran into the store and emerged with one of the orchids that was the least bit covered in gasoline. “Alright. Light it up.”
With her petite fingers, Jane dropped the match onto the trail of gas in front of us and we watched it as it followed it’s path towards the store. Within seconds we were standing in front of my burning burden and I watched as the sign that read “La Marché de Franco” turned black and fell to the ground.
I took a deep breath and inhaled the orchid I had clasped in both of my hands. It smelled sweet and fresh. I glanced up at the burning building which was starting to lose it’s character as it transformed into a heap of black ash.
I smiled and whispered into the flower in my hands, “Rest in peace, Papa.”