I made my way through the throngs of tourists at the market, nodding at some of the vendors I knew. The heat was not quite oppressive but the addition of suntan oil, perfume, sweat and that lovely velvet humidity made me more than a little short-tempered. A fat family of tourists completely blocked my way. All around, I heard voices, vendors, tinkles of wind chimes and gew gaws, tired shouts of basket makers, and the occasional car horn. I tried to dodge a Japanese man snapping pictures of the glistening black vendors, but the baby carriage stopped me. Damned tourists.
A small pink faced woman appeared at my elbow. She held up a clear plastic bag dotted with condensation and announced. “Miz Carol! Here the fudge you wanted us to make!”
I said thank you, but she stood there while we were jostled by lines of people. I opened the bag and took out a piece. It was still cold from the marble and I bit into the wetness. It was cool and full of texture, and I savored the piece even while my throat went dry and begged for a tall glass of iced tea. The heat hit about the time I tasted a hint of pepper. That heat spread through my mouth, down my throat and blew off the top of my head. The fudge was unbelievable. My southwest taste buds sighed and settled in for a long snack. Sweat rolled down my temples. Ole Rhonda had outdone herself on this fudge. I smiled and nodded, not wanting to miss a single flavor. It was deep chocolate and bold furnace. It was exactly what we had talked about just a week before.
She beamed. “Da boy worked on dis fuh days. Is ca’lina peppuhs, miss lady. What ya think? Mebbe get us some peoples over yah?” I just closed my eyes. It was indeed a winner with me. A few sweating tourists took our picture. I hugged her, overcoming my automatic revulsion at wet bodies and handed her a twenty.
Her face fell. Damn it. Another faux pax in the convoluted southern tradition. I said, “Honey, if you could just find me a tea, I would be most grateful for your gracious hospitality.” She beamed, then. She disappeared in the crowd.
I closed the bag and coughed discreetly. Damn, but the fudge was hot. I moved between two tables to get out of the way and all of a sudden, a man appeared in front of me, smiling. I smiled back. He held his smile for a beat too long. A quick, strong revulsion sprang up before I managed to hide it. His smile faded so quickly I didn’t recall it. His eyes looked dead and yet alive. He was relatively young but not so much that his youth showed. I memorized his face, a dough ball of white skin, dark brown eyes, wispy eyebrows. His lips were too red and full to be real. He looked like the main character in a John Kennedy Toole novel without the noticeable bulk or ridiculous hat. In fact, his hair was receding just a bit. In those few seconds, something happened between us. He leaned toward me, his height nearly mine.
“I wanted to tell you how much I like your books, but I see you are just another uppity bitch”. Fear sprang up dark behind my mind. It was primal. I couldn’t get away, trapped as I was between the tables. A red mist appeared to suffuse his face. Instincts kicked in and I pushed him out of the way, not caring who got knocked over. The ripple of protest echoed behind me as I ran blindly east through the market.