STRAWBERRIES MAY OR MAY NOT SHOW UP HERE TODAY—The chalkboard sign hung cattywampus on my favorite fruit and vegetable stand. I stood frowning at the sheer ridiculousness of the proclamation. My gaze turned to Hank, a cantankerous old curmudgeon; he stared me down.
“Hank, where are the strawberries? I’m planning on making a strawberry shortcake.” He leaned forward as if to share a secret. I leaned in
“I hate strawberries. They give me a lot of trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Yes, Hank. Tell me how they give you trouble.”
“You’ll need to sit down. Some of it’s hard to hear.” He pulled up an old wooden chair, part of the rungs on the back missing. Hank leaned on the corner of the fruit stand, chewing on an unlit pipe.
“As you know, they’re a fragile lot. When they arrive, we must check them for travel bumps and bruises. If more than one soft spot shows itself, the bruise specialist eats them. I fired him last week.”
“Hank, are you talking about your ten-year-old grandson?” He ignored my question.
“Another reason those luscious berries you love so much may or may not be available here today has to do with the Strawberry Festival up river. If the unsuspecting strawberry truck driver stops for a wee and a coffee, the strawberries all roll off the truck and join in the festivities.”
“Hank, are you pulling my leg?”
“No. Those harlots dance with the raspberries who went there for a good time, if you get my drift.” Hank winked. “The strawberries, known for not being one of the brightest in the box, fall victim to the more rapacious raspberries. They sometimes linger after midnight. You know nothing good happens after the bewitching hour. Many jump into the quart baskets with the raspberries rendering themselves ‘used goods’.”
Hank drew on his unlit pipe. “There’s more. The driver leaves after his cuppa joe and shows up here with an empty truck. The next day the strawberries, faces redder than ever, forego the ‘walk of shame’, preferring to drop into strawberry margaritas in the bars along main street. They are no longer ‘farm fresh’.”
“Hank, that’s awful.”
“I know it’s hard to swallow. You need to understand the life of a strawberry is fraught with peril. In the off chance they make it out of the festival unsullied and roll back onto the truck, you might be fooled into thinking a strawberry shortcake is in your future. However, with the driver jacked up on caffeine, a highway accident can give new meaning to the phrase ‘red asphalt’. Showing up here today? Well, there are just too many variables."
“I’ll take three pints of blueberries.”