Gil pushed his American Express card into the parking meter and keyed payment for two hours. 120 appeared on the digital display. He liked that about parking meters, how he controlled the input and decided the outcome. It was predictable, unlike his work in the ER where everything was triaged.
His daughter, Tracy, walked ahead, long black hair swaying between her shoulder blades. Gil could not get over how much she had matured since last time they’d had a weekend together. Where do the years go?
“Wait up, Tracer,” he said. She glanced back, showing a pained expression.
“Would you please not embarrass me today?” she said. He wasn’t supposed to call her that now that she was thirteen.
“Sure, Honey. Sorry.” Gil caught up and dropped his hand onto her shoulder. They walked past the striped barricade preventing traffic entering this end of the street. A stage had been erected at the other end of the block. In between, vendor stands were selling everything from cotton candy to gyros. The sky was a vivid blue, like water stacked up against a shore of darkening clouds in the distance.
“When’s the concert start?” Tracy said.
Gil checked his Rolex. “Half-hour. Do you want something to eat?”
Tracy shrugged. “Who’d you say this band is? Run ‘n’ Gun? I never heard of them.”
“They’re local. Peg…one of the nurses I work with told me her daughter likes them.”
Tracy gave him a suspicious look. “You should have invited her,” she said.
“I wanted to spend time with you.”
Tracy rolled her eyes. They strolled past a hot dog stand, through a wavefront of beef grease and sauerkraut. Gil considered ordering a dog for himself, but decided to follow his daughter instead.
A table held bins of vegetables and fruits. A woman with lovely black hair sat at one end, reading a newspaper. A Latino man sat at the opposite.
“I’m in the mood for a pear,” Tracy said.
“Mom says I’m going through a fruit stage.”
“Sure, whatever you want. Do you have any pears?” he asked the woman.
The woman leaned over the table, peering into bin after bin. “We’re down to the bad ones,” she said.
“No,” the man said, crushing the paper onto his lap. “They’re all good, Rosalinda.”
“My brother, Alejandro,” Rosalinda said. “He thinks everything he touches is top shelf.”
“Just because the skin is bruised,” Alejandro said, “doesn’t mean it’s lost its flavor.” He noticed Tracy and his expression transformed from anger to curiosity. “It’s the juice that counts, the sweetness, right?” His eyes fell to Tracy’s breasts, bulging slightly from the scooped neckline of her shirt. Gil felt a surge of anger. Why does her mother let her wear that?
Alejandro pawed through his stock. “Here’s a good one.” The pear he lifted was large. Part of its skin had peeled away, exposing pulp. He smiled, showing two gold teeth.
Gil took the pear from Alejandro’s hand and dropped it back into the bin.
“Overripe,” he said.
“What you want for your daughter,” Rosalinda said, “is the perfect pear, si?”
“What I want for my daughter,” Gil said, “is a perfect life.” He sensed Tracy rolling her eyes. He could not help that he worked most weekends and double shifts, or that his position required him to be on call almost constantly. He saw her when he could. His work was the reason she had a college fund.
Rosalinda laughed. “I see the struggle on your face. What kind of car do you drive?”
Gil’s jaw tensed. “This isn’t about what kind of car I drive.”
“BMW,” Tracy said. Rosalinda nodded as if she had predicted the answer. She scribbled onto a paper sack.
“What are you writing?” Gil said. “This is ridiculous. Come on, Tracer, the concert’s about to begin.” He tugged Tracy away from the table.
“Hey!” Rosalinda said. Grudgingly, Gil turned.
“You say you’re her father? Don’t you want a chance to prove it?” She waved the paper sack. Gil returned, and she gave it to him.
- Wrap seed in damp towel, refrigerate 90 days.
- Plant in potting mix. Water daily, not wet, but moist.
- Soak roots, plant deep, sandy soil, compost, full sun.
- Stake sapling, water and weed daily, protect from rabbits and deer.
- Do this for ten to sixteen years; if you are vigilant and tender, the tree will produce a perfect pear.
For some reason reading these words affected Gil deeply. He felt his throat constricting, his chest too. It was as if he were swimming, and found himself suddenly out of air.
Tracy walked toward the crowd gathering at the stage. For a moment Gil saw her mother, the tense set of her shoulders, the soft curves of her hips being forced into straight lines.
“Wait up, Tracer,” he gasped. So much work for one fruit.
Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in various places, most recently the Of Sun and Sand anthology from Kind of a Hurricane Press, A Pound of Flash, and Cease, Cows. His first collection of (very) short fiction, Glass Animals (Pure Slush Books), is available online from Lulu, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Find him at http://www.stephenvramey.com.