Potatoes, Beets and Three Oranges

Contributor: Andrew Stancek

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The greengrocer has taped photos of the new supermodel Twiggy, ripped from a fashion magazine, to his store window. My train leaves in forty minutes; my suitcase bulges. I stop to catch a breath, to admire the glossy beauty and peering inside the store through the grimy window I see a mound of oranges, not seen in Bratislava in months. The greengrocer must still be spreading the word to his cronies after a middle of the night delivery but they’ll be gone before the store opens at eight. I rap on the window, rattle it hard. My knuckles hurt but I don’t stop till a beer-bellied man with a three-day beard opens the door a crack and growls, “Closed, can’t you see we’re closed. Stop the goddamn racket.”

“I’ll take five kilos of the oranges,” I say, thrusting a hundred-crown note at him. He steps back.

“No oranges. Only potatoes and beets.”

I take another hundred-crown note out of my wallet, point at the pile. “These invisible oranges. I’ll take five kilos.”

“Every single one is spoken for, sefko. My blasted daughter didn’t pull the shutters closed last night. No oranges by opening time. You aren’t seeing them.”

If I had oranges to give to Dasa, I wouldn’t have to catch the 8:02 train. I wouldn’t have to knock on the door of a brother I haven’t seen in twelve years, with an unspoken plea. If I have to keep arguing with this bastard, I might not catch the train. But if I trundle back up the stairs with a bagful, she might soften like ripe cheese, take me back. She didn’t mean it when she said I’m a useless provider on top of being a goddamn drunk and a cheat. If I have an orange I can take a sharp knife, cut the orange into thirds, feed a third to little Palko, feed a third to her and she’ll take the last third and...

“I don’t need five kilos. I’ll take three. Give me three oranges. Whatever they’re paying you, the goddamn smrady in the council office, I’ll top their price. Look, three hundred crowns for three stinking oranges. You can tell the burzujs you got shorted, that you don’t have as many as you thought. No one will ever know.”

He stares at the banknotes in my hand, greed pulsing a vein in his forehead. He snatches them, motions me into the store. “Three, that’s all you get. Pick them quickly and get out.”

They smell of warm soil and full-throated laughter and I already feel their sunshine spreading on Dasa’s tongue as she tells me “Forever, we’ll be together forever.”

I caress the fragrant skin, juggle one-two-three in the face of the glaring store-keeper. Wings sprout out of my shoulder blades. “I’ll come back later for my suitcase,” I say and fly, fly home, clutching my gift.

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Andrew Stancek’s stories can be found in Tin House, Flash Fiction Chronicles, The Linnet’s Wings, fwriction, Every Day Fiction, Gemini Magazine (Grand Prize Winner), THIS Literary Magazine, LA Review and Windsor Review.
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