Bidden Fruit

Cutter’s Final Cut, Issue 5: Crones

Arjorie Renkel doesn't like shopping. She also doesn't like people, teenagers, or the powerful entity The Small Man with whom she has made an important magical deal.

But needs must. So while shopping, so she picks up a special apple to make the fruit salad that The Small Man likes so much.

An obnoxious teenager tries to get in front of her on her way through the checkout stand. He's about to learn a lot more about Arjorie's powers.


Arjorie Renkel shivered as she rolled her cart down the All Ways Market aisle. The market ran the AC too high, but in the town of Blackberry, it was the only grocery store with fresh produce.

The doors whooshed open. A posse of teenagers from Hopper High poured in, then another, shrill voices puncturing the store's prior calm. Arjorie shopped late morning, when the place was nearly empty, to avoid people. Especially teens.

She scowled. Must be a short school day. Why couldn't they warn the community?

The doors whooshed open. One posse of teenagers from Hopper High poured in, then another, shrill voices puncturing the store's prior calm.

Must be a short school day. She scowled. Why couldn't they warn the community?


Arjorie had been enjoying an instrumental version of "Slippin' and Slidin'," now shattered by prattling teens. Four boys crowded behind her in the aisle, impatient to pass. As Arjorie's cart passed into a crossing aisle, they pushed around.

She grumbled, rolling on to produce, wondering if it was worth a spell to clear the place.

Three girls in skimpy pastel dashed in front of her. Arjorie yanked her cart to an abrupt stop to avoid hitting them. She grimaced as pain shot through her wrists and back. Her cane, hooked over the edge of the cart, swung but missed Arjorie's leg.

Inconsiderate little brats.

She gave the girls a hard look. Their chemical wake of floral hair-care products was strong in the air, but they were gone.

Time to finish up and get out.

Carrots, onions, two apples--one green, one red, and--ah, there it was! She had gotten lucky: an apple that was more than it seemed: a plain looking Yellow Delicious with an otherworldly tint of magenta that few would be able to see. Along with a touch of brandy, this apple would go into a salad that The Small Man tried to pretend he didn't crave.

The Small Man was only one of his names and the one Arjorie preferred, mostly because he found it annoying. They had come to know each other rather well in the last three years. Who could have predicted the arrangement would result in so much apple salad? But the enchanted dish eased their difficult conversations.

It would be over soon. Two more days and they'd be free of each other. Someday she might need to deal-make with him again, because getting old was hard work, but she was eager to be done with this deal.

At the end cap was a stack of bright oranges. She put one to her nose, finding it plain in both the real and the etheric. She put it back, took another, flicking off the just-emerging fruit sprite.

The sprite yelped with the sound of a small dog in a long tunnel, which no one else in the market would be able to hear. Arjorie inhaled the fruit, and understood why the sprite had been nesting there; the orange remembered the tree from which it had come, the ancestor trees before, and the soil and sun of generations.

That would go in the fruit salad. She set it next to the lettuce and butter, and grunted slightly with the effort to get the cart moving again, urging it around a corner, and toward the checkout line.

It was then that she felt it: the tap on the shoulder, the voice that always came from behind her, more like a breath, or moan of wind, or echo of a distant french horn.

_I have a task for you._

"Busy," Arjorie replied brightly to The Small Man. "Try again later."

_I need you to deliver something._

"Leave a message at the beep." Arjorie said aloud. "Beep!"

The Small Man would get his way in time, of course, because they had an arrangement. Overall, it had been a good one. The chest pain was gone. The near debilitating arthritis was reduced to occasional stabs.

She was done shopping. Get home, make some apple salad, and see if he forgot whatever it was that he thought he needed, as he sometimes did.

Only two more days. She'd get herself a nip of Saint George's to celebrate.

Arjorie rolled her cart to the market's sole checkout line, which was, as yet, teenager-free. A gum-snapping checker with a "Britney" tag flicked the conveyor to life. Probably a Hopper student herself a year ago. She gave Arjorie a perfunctory smile.

Arjorie set a loaf of sourdough on the moving counter. Time was, she could pick it up with one hand, but the arthritis still liked to bite. A quart of milk. Eggs. Butter. The green apple.

A tall young man, perhaps sixteen, stood close, his three companions back a few steps at the crossing aisle. He wore a faded, ripped navy T-shirt and beat-up jeans. His jet-black shoulder-length hair accompanied a few optimistic scraggles at his chin.

"Hey, old lady," he said to Arjorie, "let me go first. I only have two things." He held up a red and white can of soda in one hand and a large orange bag of chips in the other.

"Or, young man," Arjorie replied, "how about you help me unload and we can both get through this line faster?"

His look at her was incredulous and accompanied by a derisive back-of-the-throat scoff.

"I'll take that as a 'no'," Arjorie said primly. "You can wait your turn, then."

She took the head of Romaine lettuce from her cart and placed it, rather precisely, at the center of the conveyor belt. The checker took it, weighed it, and placed it in the bag. Next, Arjorie took out the red apple, examined it carefully, and set it on the moving counter.

"Man," the boy said, rather loudly, "could you be any slower, grandma?"

Arjorie smiled a smile of genuine pleasure. You didn't get invitations like that every day. Obligingly, she adjusted her pace, thinking about how molasses might move groceries from cart to conveyor, if molasses had hands. It was a bit of work, this unhurried cadence, but the child had asked for it, after all.


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