The line was too long and I didn’t like apple fritters, but I had committed to buying one anyway, so I was stuck waiting as the crowd pressed past me. It hadn’t been quite as crowded in the primitive area where I’d bought myself a wooden toy axe while I built up my courage. I fidgeted with the leather strands hanging from the handle and peeked around the old woman in front of me. She held a sackful of beef and noodle containers in one hand and an umbrella in the other, just in case.
It was one of those rare years at the Apple Festival where the temperature was just a tad biting and the wind low and the clouds heavy but dry. It was quintessential sweatshirt and cider weather, and even I was a bit giddy with autumnal melancholy. That was the only excuse I had.
The apple fritter booth was quite the operation. She was there, not in the mixing hut or by the kettles, but at the table, powdering the fritters, face covered with powdered sugar, hair hid in the Little-House-on-the-Prairie bonnet. She wore an apron and a pioneer gown and I could hear her ridiculous laugh even over the noise of the kids standing outside the booth screaming, “Get your apple fritters!” at the top of their lungs. I think her laugh could startle birds and possibly make dogs whimper, but she didn’t seem to care. I think that’s why I liked it. In high school, everyone is painfully self-conscious–but she wasn’t.
I wouldn’t be able to talk to her, of course, because she wasn’t taking money, but if she looked my way, I would wave and smile. Maybe nod. If the moment took me, I thought I might even say, “Hi.” I’d run through the different scenarios in my head.
The wind changed a few times as I waited, so I’d get a face full of smoke from the kettles now and then. I persevered. Just as I reached the table, the lady taking money said, “Miranda, I’m gonna take this extra money back, can you cashier?”
With a hearty, “Sure!” she jumped to the table and smiled at me. “How many?”
Stunned, I managed basic math: “One.”
“Coming right up. That’ll be three dollars.”
I retrieved my remaining cash. One, two…. I counted again. One, two…. After the tenderloin and the root beer and the hay maze (which I was really too old for) and the axe….
“Never mind,” I mumbled and scurried away. At the side of the booth I leaned against the straw barrier and suffered, smacking the axe against my head.
“Hey.” I think the voice tried two or three times before I heard. Miranda stood next to me, separated by a two-bale high wall. She was offering me something. “I got you a fritter.”
“You didn’t–” I croaked.
“We’ll be selling a dozen for a dollar by day’s end. This one’s on the house. Employee discount.”
I took it. She waited. I set the axe down on the straw and eyed the white-coated, deep-fried lump warily.
I took a bite. I didn’t like apple fritters. Never had. But the sugar helped. And, I had to admit, this one, at least, was pretty good. I tried to say so with my mouth full.
Miranda just laughed.
Originally published in the 4County Mall, October 3, 2016.