Another week, another short story, somewhat informed by the fact that I’ve been travelling the roads quite a lot recently.
Here for the first time? I’ve challenged myself to write a short story every week for a year. I’m now 30 weeks out of 52 into it, so things are going fairly well, I think.
If you want to catch up, you can read every short story here.
In itself, this is a repeat of a challenge I did a few years back which led to an entire collection of short stories, which you can buy as an eBook, if you would be so kind:
Want something notably different and considerably longer? There’s also my B-movie novel, Sharksplosion. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a book with that title might be like
Enough of the eBook plugging, Alex.
The Orange Stand
Head about 30km outside the east edge of town, and you’ll pass by a little orange stand.
Nothing unusual, you might think.
Simple wooden structure with a basic bench stacked with bags of oranges behind a see-through gauze mesh.
A hand painted sign, letting you know that you can grab a bag of oranges for only $5.
Total honesty system, little sun-faded ice cream container for the money and nobody in sight.
Lift up the mesh screen, grab your bag of oranges, leave the money and you’re on your way.
Unless you got there very early in the day or very late at night, you might wonder how the bags of oranges ended up there.
It’s not outside an obvious orchard, surrounded as it is by fields of wheat. But if you were there very early, just as the sun is rising in the east, you’d see a small man in a brown coat dropping off the oranges.
Later in the day, as the sun is setting, he returns, checks the ice cream container and counts how many bags are needed for the next day, as well as taking away any oranges that are obviously spoiling.
It’s not really that a big mystery where the oranges are from if you’re a local, mind.
The Forrester family farm is just a few kilometres further down the unsealed road.
If you head there, you’ll drive down Forrester road, surrounded on both sides by healthy orange orchards lining the path to the dusty old manor house, built by the original Forrester family when they settled here more than 150 years ago.
That orange stand — or at least a version of it — has been there a long time, mind you.
Steve Forrester’s great grandfather Robert Forrester put it at the crossroads more than 100 years ago, selling off the spare oranges that his wife Maude wasn’t making into marmalade that year.
It was either that or let them rot. Robert Forrester quickly worked out that for a small trip each day down the road, he could generate a small but steady income to supplement what the farm could make year round.
What Maude didn’t know at the time was that Robert would use his trips in to “check the orange stand” to also pay a quick visit to the Lock family farmstead, just back up the road. It hasn’t been in the Lock family for decades now, after that mining company bought up the farm and tried its hand at digging further beneath the soil than any farmer would go.
Back then, however, it was all small farm plots in every direction.
So every day for more than a year, Robert would head out in the afternoon to check, returning some time later after the young Widow Lock had “entertained” him in return for a few farm delicacies.
Maude never found out, and when the Widow Lock suddenly ended up pregnant, she quickly blamed one of the itinerant workers rather than the far more respectable Robert.
Robert’s little visits ended rather abruptly after that.
What started as an avenue for one man’s peccadilloes was maintained for years afterwards, putting the Forresters in better stead than many of their neighbours through recessions, world wars and shifts in transport that made it harder than ever for the orange stand to grab attention from passing travellers.
These days an orange stand is nothing special, of course. Travel down just about any rural road in the country and you’ll find endless offers for cheap tomatoes, bananas, cherries or whatever grows best in the area.
Most of the cars fly past at 110, many not even noticing the spray of dust they leave behind. The mesh cloth protects the oranges from the worst of it, but it can’t prevent everything that might damage the oranges.
Most of the time that’s just the risk of mozzies, or usually teenagers who figure it’d be funny to throw beer bottles at it as they zip by. The worst of it for the orange stand happened back in ’72.
It was a dark night, well past the time when most folks would be heading down the road anyway when those teenagers crashed that Falcon XK they’d stolen right into the orange stand.
Nobody knows why, or who they were, because while the car and the stand were totalled, they fled the scene well before Steve’s dad could make it out there to find out what all the noise was.
Not local kids for sure, because the cops did check where everyone was the night before. Best guess anyone has is that they had friends in another car nearby and so could flee post-crash leaving little evidence behind.
Steve and his dad spent much of that summer cutting timber and rebuilding the orange stand to as close to the original as they could.
For a little while Steve experimented with offering other veggies from the farm on the stand. He figured that veggies he only had to refresh when they got a little too ripe, or got sold might be a better bet. But having a more complex sign, or different prices didn’t seem to help.
Maybe it was the expectation of regular travellers, or the distance to town, but it always seemed that the oranges sold best, and got stolen the least.
Steve’s dad used to tell him when he was younger that the scarecrow in the field opposite was watching the tourists for him, so there was no worries there.
At his dad’s suggestion, when they rebuilt, Steve used some of the scrap timber to fashion a sign telling visitors this as a joke.
It’s a joke that works, mind you, as most who grab a bag and start to leave tend to see the sign and sheepishly leave their $5 notes.
They probably figure there’s a camera somewhere, but like his dad, Steve figures a scarecrow is cheaper — and so far, quite reliable as a security measure.