Strawberries, a short story

A rough draft of a short story I started this week. . .

Strawberries, a short story

Leroy timed it so he bumped into Gladys as the wedding guests squeezed out the doors and into the June sunshine.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he said. His voice reflected too many years on a tractor sucking in the dust and fertilizer past vocal cords and into lungs. A smoker’s rasp for a man who never lit a cigarette.

Small beads of sweat lined his pate as he tried to subtlety watch her to see if the nudge at the hip had angered her. She hadn’t even looked at him as she rebalanced. The little stumble put them both away from the flow of traffic. He wiped his head with a handkerchief.  

Gladys was ten years younger than Leroy. The women in their small town came from good German stock but unlike the majority of them, she had maintained a trim figure as she had aged. She had finally let her hair go a silver-gray, Leroy noted with approval. It was a darn shame her last dye job had turned pink. He liked it better all natural like this, he thought. It played good with her pale blue eyes.

“Wedding was kinda in’eresting, pastor getting’ all sideways and what.”

Gladys arched an eyebrow.

“I wouldn’t call it interesting,” said Gladys. “For a moment there, I worried that Pastor Austin was going to ruin the wedding for that young girl,” she said. “That would have been a real shame. A bride only gets one wedding day.”

Gladys put on her wraparound sunglasses, the kind with the little side shields that fit over her regular lenses and hitched her oversized purse onto her shoulder. She was making to join the flow of people, he thought, and head on over to the reception at the grange.

“Maybe Pastor was celebratin’ early,” said Leroy. He winced, the joke falling flat even to his ears but it stopped Gladys from walking away.

“That’s a poor thing to say about the pastor,” she said, turning to face him.

Leroy put his hands up reflexively.

“Just a bad joke,” he said. “No harm meant. Just real su’prised ‘cuz he’s usually so smooth and easy, preachin’ I mean.”

He hoped the apology would mollify her but she held a stern gaze on him. Too late, he remembered that Gladys had been the chairwoman of the search committee that brought the new pastor to town from back east.

You damn ol’ fool, he thought to himself with an almost imperceptible shake of his head. Fine churchgoin’ lady and you poke fun at her preacher.

“The grange is set up real nice,” he said into the chill space between them.

He rambled, trying to change the subject. “I went on down and help’d get it set up. Mary Lou did up all the flowers, real pretty, for the tables and I hear that Bob Cousins got the meat on the cooker since ten this mornin’.” He paused. “I got together a bunch of strawberries outa the garden, ‘bout twenty pounds worth for the kids.”

He offered the last bit studying her face. The last two weeks, on Tuesday and Thursday, when he came into town, he’d brought baskets of strawberries from his patch in the back and left them on Gladys porch. He didn’t leave any notes, just the juicy berries, red and fresh and sweet as sunshine.

Her head gave a little jerk when he mentioned the strawberries.

“I think the little Olsen girls have been putting strawberries on my swing,” said Gladys.

He felt warm inside and pleased but he didn’t tell her that he was the one dropping them by her place. She was adjusting her purse again, getting ready to leave. He’d walk with her. Everythin’ in its time, he thought and smiled.

Gladys continued.

“I’ll have to have a talk with them, I suppose, and get them to stop.”

“Stop?” Leroy tried to hide his confusion. “Whata ya mean, stop? Why?”

“Poor girls are trying to be so nice and neighborly, but I’m afraid I’m deathly allergic to strawberries. I just hate to disappoint them.”

Gladys turned away and Leroy let her walk away, alone, as he stood there, feeling crushed.