When we arrived at the market, Dave joined the line for cold brew coffee and I, resisting the siren song of a library book sale just a few yards west, immediately ditched him to scope out the produce selection. I spotted newcomers to our market – a stand selling pints of vegetarian soups and new cheese vendors distributing cubes of goat cheddar on toothpicks. Weaving through the clusters of impetuous little boys nursing their 10am ice cream pops and well-behaved terriers on long leashes, I saw that everyone seemed to have long bouquets of light pink poppies wrapped in brown paper balanced on one shoulder. The unfurled petals looked as translucent as tissues. They were magnificent and I wanted them.
I got my quart of strawberries, capped with a little hairnet to prevent spillage. I bought a dozen eggs and a bag of greenhouse tomatoes. I swooped up some kale, salad greens, and baby carrots at my favorite green vegetable stand, as well as three heads of lettuce that looked like frilly sea anemones plucked from the Pacific.
There I also discovered a type of radish called a “French breakfast radish.” I tried to imagine all of the delicious French breakfasts that one could make with such radishes and came up with nothing.
Dave, roasting under the direct UV rays, rejoined me with iced coffee. I made my rounds again, vacillating between not wanting to eviscerate my bank account and also not wanting to miss a single food experience, yet also having a limited number of arms with which I can embrace bouquets of chard.
Summer goes by so quickly. Berry season peaks and passes and before you know it everyone is selling cantaloupes. You have one day to devour your raspberries before they turn to jam on their own accord. Eventually there are pumpkins everywhere and then you know that you don’t have very much time. Brooding, you count the number of subsequent summers that you can expect to be alive and the number seems inadequate for the amount of experience you mean to digest and you are always ravenous for more of everything, everything, everything. It’s all so unfair.
On my second round, I bought three poppies. The seller recommended that I buy a few buds so that they would last longer. I bought one closed bud and two that had just begun to unfold their petals. At home, I clipped the ends and arranged them in a vase of water on the kitchen table, making a point to sigh every time I crossed through the kitchen.
Two hours later, I was mortified to find, in place of one poppy, a droopy stem with a shaggy black head, its discarded petals in a heap. It didn’t even last one day! I wanted to shake my fists at the sky.
“But everyone at the market bought them!” I whined. I couldn’t imagine that the entire town had a bouquet of withering poppies in their kitchen. Surely there would be riots.
We went out for a few hours and when we returned, I found the sight of the second poppy’s bear pistil shot right through my heart. One petal held on for dear life but the others were piled in the fruit bowl. The two droopy stems in the vase without petals look as pathetic as naked, badly-shorn Barbie dolls. The memory of everyone carrying poppies through the market brought me more pleasure than the poppies I purchased. Why is life so unfair? The last poppy never opened, thank god. It was too young to witness such carnage.
Having learned our lesson, we ate the quart of strawberries before they could decay into a soft pulp. There are always ants waiting somewhere, even if we aren’t always thinking about them.