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© 2003 by Frank Weaver
 

STORIES

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mere scribblings and kickshaws…


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My Date with a Delta

Time had slowed to a crawl. Would the work day never end? To pass the time, I would periodically slip into the men’s room and check myself—again—in the mirror. Spiffy suit. Fresh coif. Impeccably trimmed beard. Not a hair out of place nor a whiff of b.o. Perfect. Vanity of vanities. Finally, five o’clock rolled around and I was out of the office like a shot off a shovel. Off to see the girl of my dreams, Deborah.

She was a senior at Boston University, a sorority girl soon to graduate, and this was to be our first date. I had met her a few weeks back at a friend’s party and had fallen instantly, hopelessly, head-over-heels in love. All that evening I made half-hearted attempts at mingling, but time after time our party trajectories thrust us back into one another’s company. She thought I was witty. I thought she was delightful, dazzling, and decidedly hot. Finally, much to my own surprise, I asked her out. Much to my greater surprise, she accepted.

The next day I wrote her a poem and put it in the post: “To a Bee.” (Deborah means bee in Hebrew.) That would boggle her. The rest of the week was a blur of pure anticipation.

So now, at last, the Big Day had arrived. I rushed through the Haymarket to catch the Allston bus that would deliver me to my beloved’s doorstep, trying not to bump people in my haste. Boston’s Haymarket is a place where all of nature’s bounty seems to have run amok. On a Friday afternoon in June, it is quite possibly the most crowded spot on the planet.

And the filthiest. Butchers, bakers, fishmongers, fruit sellers, vegetable hawkers, and the great unwashed masses vie loudly for last-minute sales or bargains amid rows of canopied, wooden carts jammed together cheek-by-jowl and overflowing into the North End street, which in the course of the day turns runny with discarded tomatoes, rotten fruit, damp cardboard, fragrant offal, and the meltwater from ice-laden fish stalls.

Miraculously, I arrived dry and spotless at the bus stop just as the passengers began boarding. But there was a delay. A young woman directly in front of me was having considerable difficulty with her load of recent purchases from the market. The bags appeared to be quite heavy; and she was further hampered in her efforts to board the bus by the pair of crutches she required in order to achieve any kind of locomotion. I noticed then that one of her legs was missing. It appeared to have been amputated right below the hip.

I immediately offered to relieve her of the bags so she could climb up the steps of the bus unencumbered. She clearly was determined to do things on her own; but for my help in this one instance, she was profusely grateful. We managed to find two empty seats next to each other, and I rested the bags on my lap. Inventory. Not much of a meat eater. Grapes. Apples. Cantaloupes. Bananas. Yes, we have no…. Glancing in her direction, I noticed she had extraordinarily fine features. She puts up a good front. But this must be killing her.

For the remainder of the trip we chatted amiably, mostly about the weather and Italian cooking, and how hard it is to get decent tomatoes in the Haymarket. The vegetable sellers will try and cheat you if you let them: they put the good stuff on display, but fill your bag with the junk they keep out of sight. And they’re not at all gentle in the manner in which they pack the bags.

The bus chugged along fitfully in the rush hour traffic. I looked down at my watch. Damn! If the driver didn’t step on it, I was going to be late. And I didn’t want to keep Deborah waiting, she the delicious, the decorous, the adorable. Not this of all days.

“I hope my haddock isn’t getting crushed.”

That brought me up short. “Your what?” I sniffed. Something. What? I looked in the bags. Just fruits and vegetables. “You have fish in here?”

“Yeah, somewhere. Oh, this is my stop.” She pulled the cord, and the bus slowed. As I stood to let her out, she covered her mouth, and an expression of mortified anguish filled her eyes. “I think it’s leaking.”

I glanced down and saw what she had seen: a huge dark stain spreading across the front of my pants where the bags had been resting. It looked like I had pissed myself. Now I could smell it: a strong odor of fish. One of the bags was beginning to disintegrate. How would she ever manage alone? I asked the one-legged girl where she lived.

“About three blocks from here.” I was already late, so a few extra minutes wouldn’t matter much at this point. In for a penny, in for a pound. Trouble was, those three blocks were all uphill. Hobbling along on her crutches, my companion needed to stop frequently to catch her breath, while I cradled the rotting bag in my arms, lest all her food go tumbling out onto the sidewalk.

By the time we arrived at her house, I was a complete mess: sweaty, disheveled, and drenched with the fishy liquor of pulverized haddock. The girl was appalled at the state she had put me in. “I am so sorry. But thank you.” She offered to pay for dry cleaning, a class act all the way.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Nonchalant, as if getting saturated with fish juice were an everyday occurrence for me. Then we both burst out laughing. “But next time,” I added, “you might consider getting your groceries at the Stop & Shop down the road.”

Leaving, I turned to wave, and she called after me, “No good deed goes unpunished, does it?”

“Never. Not in a million years.”

Deborah must be getting really impatient by now. Cutting through the neighborhoods on foot would be quicker than waiting for another bus. It was far too late for me to return home to change. Besides, walking might dry me out somewhat. I could even use this to my advantage, pull victory out of defeat. It’s an amusing tale, isn’t it? A true comedy of errors. And what girl could resist such gallantry?

At long last I reached Deborah’s apartment building and ran into the elevator just as the doors were closing. The other passengers looked stricken. My God, I utterly reeked. It was awful. All I needed to complete the picture was a retinue of flies. “I had a little accident,” I offered, by way of explanation. But that didn’t come out quite the way I expected, and the other people in the elevator just backed as far away from me as they could get.

Deborah answered my knock, huffy, petulant, and beautiful. “Where the hell have you?…” Her eyes widened in disgust. “What. Is. That. SMELL?”

When you’re making excuses, it’s always good to have evidence to back up your story. And I had evidence in spades. Deborah the dumfounded was not amused. But she was willing to make allowances. I promised to rush home, get washed and changed, and be back at her door within the hour. Certainly she was glad to get rid of me, as I was stinking up the entire apartment.

The evening did not go well after that. Over dinner, I tried to get a rise out of her by recounting droll anecdotes, but she just sat stone-faced at my pleasantries. It seems her family was fairly well-to-do, but Deborah’s side of the conversation consisted almost entirely of detailing the trials and tribulations of her life. By the time the coffee arrived, I had had enough. “So, when was the last time YOU lost a leg?”

Deborah the dull, the doleful, the disgusted, the indifferent, did not take that last remark in the spirit of gentle sarcasm which I had intended. Unceremoniously, she dumped me then and there, without so much as a goodnight kiss. Just as well. At least I was spared the heartache of investing time in an unworthy person. The methods of the Invisible Hand that sometimes guides our lives can be crude, but they’re effective. Or perhaps not as crude as one might at first perceive.

About a month later, I happened to find myself on the street where the One-Legged Girl lived. (That was how I referred to her now, as I had neglected to get her actual name.) On a whim, I knocked on her door. A neighbor passing by noticed me standing expectantly at the front stoop and asked, “Are you looking for Melissa? Sorry, but she moved to New York last week. I don’t think she’ll be back.”

Melissa. So that was her name. It means bee in Greek.


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