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My Favourite Market Stall

Unlike most of the others, her stall was devoid of customers. Perhaps due to the owner. There was something about her, the twinkle in the eye, the dress she was wearing, the overbearing make-up.

We sized each other up. I studied the glass jars on display. They had screw tops and all appeared to be empty. ‘How much are they?’

Her lazy gaze travelled from my shoulder to me. ‘Depends which kind you want.’

‘They’re all the same, aren’t they?’

She was looking at my shoulder again.

‘Is there something there?’ I asked.

She reached out, taking hold of my elbow and pulled me towards her. With her free hand holding an open jar she tipped whatever was there into it, quickly sealing the jar with a lid.

I stared but could see nothing in it.

‘My darlin’, you can look as hard as you like but you won’t see it. I can see ‘em, you can’t. I caught a sneeze lurking on you.’ Then she turned away, as though I was boring her.

‘Sorry. Are you saying there’s a sneeze in that jar?’

She sighed. ‘All this pile have sneezes. Organic, free range and healthy. It does you good to have a sneeze.’

‘You sell sneezes?’ I peered around, searching for the hidden cameras. ‘Is this a joke or something?’

‘I don’t expect you to believe me, dear. Very few people do.’

Somehow drawn to her, I lingered, needing more from her.

She pointed an arthritic finger. ‘This pile, my lovely, has a selection of itches. These contain coughs. I’ve got frogs-in-the-throat, cramps, plus mysterious and unusual bruises. And this one’s my only fart the day. Ripe, too. Ready for release… But you’re not keen, are you? Like everybody else, you just think I’m mad. Harmless, but a little crazy. Fine. I don’t mind. You go. No skin off my nose.’

The market was busy in the sunshine and the people of Chesham were going about their business like nothing was out of the ordinary. As though they couldn’t see me standing by her stall, they were blanking what they instinctively knew was too weird to comprehend.

‘Could I have my sneeze back, please?’ I looked her straight in the eye, expecting an argument. But the side of her mouth curled up into a cheeky grin. She handed me the jar. A young man staring at his mobile was passing by, so I opened it and tossed the invisible contents at him. There was a short pause before he sneezed quite suddenly and violently.

I laughed.

‘I like you,’ she said. ‘You’ve got an open mind. Very few people notice me, even though I’m here every week. I’m Toogood. What’s your name?’

I told her and we shook hands.

‘I’ll take a couple of sneezes, please, Toogood. And, go on, that fart as well.’

‘Certainly. And I hope to see you next Saturday!’ she winked.

(First published in The Chesham Writers' Group's short-story collection Metroland Miscellany 3, autumn 2016)


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