He sat behind the table on a Thursday afternoon, the door opening and closing every two minutes as shoppers came and went, came and went. He’d done this a hundred times now, or at least it felt like it and he knew the drill exactly. Most of the people who came in were heading straight for that pile of paperbacks stacked on the table near the desk. The new bestseller by E. Tanner. He’d get a few to his small table of neatly piled hardbacks, his latest offering of seasonal gardening, but the majority were led by their noses and would take whatever they were fed. Was he cynical? Oh god, he was cynical!
He shifted in his seat. He’d signed copies to Mike, Steve, Pat and Susan so far. Four. He’d signed and sold four. It was too depressing to dwell on, he knew where that road would take him. Better to look again at his creation, his name on the cover, his photo on the back, a smile as he bent by the rose bush.
He was just studying the lines on his face in the photo and wondering if he’d aged that much in the last six months, when the heavy weight of someone standing in front of him fell. He prepared his smile and looked up. A woman of about thirty stood there, thick blonde hair and a large wrapped round shawl. She glanced at the book on the table and began leafing the pages.
“I wish I had time to garden.” she said.
“Oh, you can fit it into your routine, it really doesn’t take up as much time as you think.” He checked himself. Did he sound too desperate? He could usually tell within the first two seconds whether the person at his table was going to buy the book or not. He wasn’t sure yet with this one, she was lingering, but she wasn’t falling one way or the other yet.
She stopped leafing and turned the book round to show him a picture. “There.” she said. “That’s what I’d like my garden to look like.”
He glanced down at the picture. A rockery bursting with strawberries, a couple of conifers standing like sentries. Yes, he remembered this one. Strawberries are the epitome of seasonal. They look like nothing for the remainder of the year. But he couldn’t tell her that. He couldn’t say anything real. Then she wouldn’t buy the book.
She made a sound that was a cross between a sigh and a judgment and looked around. He’d lost her. She was about to walk away.
“People are always drawn to the strawberries.” he said. “But the truth is, there’s nothing to look at for the rest of the year. Sure, they’re nice while they’re there, but…”
She was smiling and he couldn’t tell if she pitied him.
“I suppose.” she said.
He was still looking down at the photo as she wandered away to the E. Tanner display. It was true, what he’d told her, but the thing was, he didn’t mind about the strawberries. He always found they were still worth waiting for.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) andOrange Balloon(2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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