What Comes After

What Comes After by Steve Watkins

Book: What Comes After by Steve Watkins Read Free Book Online
Authors: Steve Watkins
said after we put up the awning over the card table and hung her sign. “I know every container of goat cheese in these coolers, and I know exactly how much money you better have when I get back, so don’t go getting any ideas about spending any.”
    I realized I’d come without any food or water, and I asked about that. Aunt Sue thrust a water bottle at me, but nothing to eat. Then she handed me a metal box with fifty dollars in fives and ones. “I know how much is in there, too,” she said. “It’s for your change.”
    Shortly after Aunt Sue left, a little girl climbed out of the Gonzaleses’ truck, which was parked next to their stand. She sat on a crate of green peppers and rubbed her eyes as if she’d just woken up. She was maybe six or seven years old. She had dark hair and dark eyes and was wearing a threadbare cotton dress. Mrs. Gonzales cut up an apple into slices and handed it to her on a paper towel. The little girl watched me while she ate, and I smiled at her and watched her back.
    I tried to make conversation with the Gonzaleses, who seemed friendly, but they spoke very little English, and I only knew a little high-school Spanish — though enough to learn that they were from Honduras, not Mexico. They had one of the busier stands at the farmers’ market — three wide wooden tables loaded with peppers, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and apples — and they were in constant motion, weighing and bagging, restocking their tables, dragging produce crates out of their truck, and stuffing money into a shoe box that served as their cash register.
    Every fourth or fifth customer they had also stopped at Aunt Sue’s stand. Some asked for a taste, but since Aunt Sue hadn’t said anything about samples, I was reluctant to open a container to give them any. Plus I didn’t have a knife or plates to serve it with or on. I didn’t have anything except the cheese itself and the money box.
    Some customers seemed outright suspicious when they saw me. “Where’s Sue Allen?” an older woman asked, as if I might have murdered Aunt Sue in order to take over her farmers’ market stand.
    I remembered the manager’s instructions when I worked at the L.L. Bean outlet and smiled politely. “She had to go to work,” I said. “I’m her niece.”
    “Is this still her goat cheese?” the woman asked, even though the sign over the stand said SUE ALLEN FARM GOAT CHEESE in large block letters, and it was the same sign, and the same awning, and the same card table that Aunt Sue had used since I’d been in North Carolina — and that she’d probably used for years.
    “Yes, ma’am.” I said, still smiling. “Same cheese.”
    She bought five containers. Several others who stopped — and who asked about Aunt Sue — also bought multiple containers of cheese. I assumed these were regulars, though only one, a thin woman in a peasant blouse who wore her hair in two long braids, engaged me in anything like a real conversation.
    “I didn’t know Sue had a niece,” she said. “Are you just here visiting, or do you live in town?”
    “I live here now,” I said, though I didn’t like admitting it. “I’m actually from Maine.”
    “Oh, I love Maine,” the woman said. “My husband and I used to go there in the summers. We always camped at the state park in Camden. Have you been there?”
    I nodded and started talking enthusiastically: “Camden’s just an hour away from my hometown. I must have hiked all the trails there a hundred times. My softball coach drove our team up there last year before the season started and made us do training runs up that two-mile road from the park entrance to the top of Mount Battie.”
    The woman smiled. “And what brought you down here?” she asked.
    “My dad died,” I said matter-of-factly. And then I stopped short, dismayed by how casually I’d just said it.
    The woman must have seen the look of regret, or sadness, or confusion on my face, because she reached across the

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