A meeting in the Marketplace – a Short Story – Part One

Frank is arranging items on his town square market stall. It’s in a reasonable spot – located at the far end of the market and backed up to his van. It’s the first day back for the market since the Covid restrictions were lifted in June 2020. His stall is one of twenty or so, though some haven’t yet re-opened. It’s a bright day, and the faded, striped awning over his stall flaps noisily in the stiff breeze. Not many shoppers yet – COVID has put a lot of folk off – but Frank is an optimist. He chats to Dennis on the DVD stall next to his as he works. Every now and then he pauses to encourage trade.

‘The price is right and it’s all gotta go!’ he shouts. The “all” is stretched out and louder.

Dennis laughs and shakes his head.

Frank’s stall is organised chaos: too neat and the punters will assume his goods are overpriced. There’s a mixture of secondhand tools, hardware and accessories: hammers, chisels, screwdrivers, wrenches, spanners, vices, screws and nails; plus some bric-a-brac.

As he pauses to take a sip of tea from a large, chipped beaker, he notices a familiar face among the shoppers working their way along to his stall.

‘Hello!” he says to Dennis, ‘I’ve not seen him for a while.’ He points with his hand.

The man in question is Jack Swift. Frank and Jack have both been keen amateur photographers since way back. He used to see Jack at the monthly meetings of the local over-55’s digital photography group. Jack hasn’t been to a meeting for almost two years now. He’s looking older – a bit stooped and he’s walking with a slight limp.

At the moment Jack’s looking at the paperback books on Alice’s stall on the other side of Frank’s. As Jack looks up from the books, his eyes meet Frank’s friendly gaze in recognition. Frank nods to him.

‘I see you’ve got your mask on, Jack. Good lad! Some folks seem to have forgotten that the virus hasn’t gone away.’

‘Morning, Frank,’ Jack says, ’You okay?’

 Frank notices that Jack’s voice is quieter now and that he hasn’t shaved.

‘Not seen you for a while, Jack. Josie not with you?’

Jack says nothing for a minute. He just stares at Frank.

‘Didn’t you see it in the paper, Frank? She’s dead. Car accident in January eighteen months ago. Drunken driver.’

‘Oh God, Jack! I’m so sorry. How are you? How’s Clare taken it?’

Clare is Jack’s thirty something year old daughter. She was the apple of her mother’s eye.

‘Bearing up. Having to work from home. We only see each other by Skype. She’s scared of me catching the bug off her and losing me as well.’

‘Bloody Hell, Jack! How are you coping?’

‘Not well, Frank. The house is too quiet. I know Josie could nag for England, but it was only because she worried. I don’t half miss her voice and her bustling around the place.’

‘Are you managing to get out much yourself? I see you haven’t got your camera with you. You used to have it on that shoulder strap everywhere you went.’

‘Nowhere to go, Frank. Rules say only local exercise once a day. I’d hoped to get up to the North East – Scarborough, Whitby, Durham – as far as the Edinburgh bridges for a few weeks. Get me out of the house, take some photos. I’ve always wanted to do that trip. Covid’s buggered that up too. Not been my year!’

‘Come back to the group Jack. It’ll be company.’

‘You must be joking! Even if I wanted to, you lot can’t meet anyway now.’

‘True. But we meet via that Zoom app. Have you heard of it?’

‘Yes, but I’ve never used it. Any good?’

‘So-So! It doesn’t always work and Bert’s bloody useless with anything technical.’

They both laugh.

A passing community policeman looks at them and waves to Frank.

‘So, you’re not getting any use from your camera at all, Jack?’

‘Nothing to photograph worth bothering with is there?’

‘For God’s sake, Jack! What’s up with you man? That’s not like you. There’s other places round here you could go.’

‘What? Photograph boarded-up shops, streets piled high with litter and dog shit. I don’t think so.’

‘Why did you stop going to the group, Jack? You always had ideas for times like this when you were a member.’

‘I wasn’t learning anymore Frank. I was bored. I learned loads more just being out taking photos. Learning more about my camera. Trying out new approaches that I’d read about online.’

‘Well, there you go, man. Come back and tell everybody else what you’ve been learning. Anyway, wasn’t it you who gave that talk about rainy-day photography? Photographing things about the house?’

‘These days, I’d want to get some proper lighting gear; set up a mini studio.’

Frank says nothing for a moment while he thinks. Jack makes to leave.

Featured Photo

For a change I include a shot from my garden to represent the coming of Spring. The flower was on my Magnolia Stellata bush. I took the shot on Easter Sunday this year and I was reminded of it because the bush is in bloom again.

I took the photo using my Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera paired with a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens. The EXIF data are 1/320 secs @ f2.8 and 70 mm. The ISO was 100 and I used a tripod.

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