Short Story - A Flea Market Surprise

A Flea Market Surprise
By Heather Morse Alexander
            Carl Murphy pulled the last cartload of treasures into his assigned space. With two hours of unpacking ahead of him, his mind turned to Mona, as it always did while he set up his display of antiques. She loved arranging knick-knacks on bookshelves and setting a vintage dining table with china and teapots. Unfortunately, Mona could do nothing to help as she watched from heaven.
            He didn’t have a dining table to set today, but Carl did have a few trunks, dressers, side tables and boxes of what-nots. After arranging the small pieces, he went about unwrapping smaller, fragile items. His calloused hands fumbled with the delicate handles of teacups and thin stems of wine goblets. As he worked, he noticed his neighbor struggling with a steamer trunk.
            “You need help, young lady?” Carl asked, ready to assist.
            “Young, that’s a good one,” she laughed, “Yes, I could use a hand.” Together they lifted the trunk and set it in the corner of her space. “Thank you,” she said, tucking a gray-streaked curl behind her ear.
            “My pleasure, I’m Carl Murphy,” he held out his hand. “And you are?”
            “Dorothy Nesbit,” she said, taking his large hand into her soft one.
            “Looks like we’re neighbors, at least for today.”As Carl continued his work, he glanced over at Dorothy—to be sure she didn’t need any more help. She moved with the beat of the music piped throughout the auditorium-turned-antiques market. Carl smiled.
            At nine o’clock sharp, the doors opened to the public and streams of people made their way through the maze of booths. Carl sold a trunk, books and records, a dresser, and assorted small items. A good day of steady sales—Carl was pleased. He glanced at his watch to discover that it was already two o’clock. He pulled a little cooler and a thermos of coffee from behind a table and looked over at Dorothy. She sat in a wing chair flipping through an old photo album.
            Carl’s stomach flipflopped.
            What on earth?
            He hadn’t felt his stomach do that since he and Mona were dating.
            Guilt flooded his heart.
            Then he remembered the words of his son: “Mom would want you to find someone. She wouldn’t want you to be lonely.”
            Carl agreed, but no one could replace Mona.
            He looked up to find Dorothy standing in front of him, holding out a crisscrossed cookie.
            “Peanut butter. You want one?”
            It smelled just like the ones Mona used to bake.
            “Thank you,” he managed. Was his face red? It was so hot. He took a bite. “These are just like my…” he stopped mid-sentence and savored the sweetness. “These are really good, Mona.”
            “It’s Dorothy,” she giggled. “Who’s Mona?”
            Carl’s face flushed. “I’m sorry Dorothy, Mona is my wife.” He watched Dorothy’s hazel eyes look away. “My late wife. She passed two years ago.”
            “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Mona’s eyes were filled with compassion. “She made peanut butter cookies too?”
            “The best, they were just like these, actually, with chunky peanut butter and milk chocolate chips. Wow.”
            “I add extra salt to cut the sweet and…”
            “Showcase the peanut flavor.” Carl finished her sentence.
            “Yes, that’s right. It’s what my teacher taught at a baking class.” Dorothy smiled.
            “You didn’t happen to take that class at Southwest Community College did you?” Carl could hear his heart beat in his ears.
            “Why, yes, that’s the one. Let’s see, it’s been about three years. We made peanut butter cookies and whole wheat bread and…”
            “Cinnamon rolls.” Carl finished her sentence again.
            “Yes, cinnamon rolls.”
            “That was my wife.” Carl smiled.
            “Oh my goodness. She was a lovely woman, Carl.”
            “Yes, she was. And you’re a good student. Your cookies are exactly like hers.” Carl took another bite and blinked back a watery feeling in his right eye.    
            Between sales, they talked about baking and antiques. Dorothy told Carl about her late husband and his love of cooking. “That’s why I took the baking class,” she said, “my husband was a chef. When I lost him, I realized how much I depended on him to keep me fed.” She giggled. “I had to learn how to cook for myself.”
            “You’re doing fine,” Carl said, and then he surprised himself. “Would you like to get a bite after we’re done here?”
            “I’d love that. I really would.” Dorothy smiled and reached into her tote bag. “Here, to hold us until dinner.” She handed him another cookie.

            Carl felt Mona’s nod of approval in every delicious bite.

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