A short story
By Keith Harris

The happy days of waiting had become like decades.

Even the simplest pleasure of gazing from the candy store window out into the busy street by day and night no longer brought the old comforts.

Hundreds, probably thousands of shopfront companions had come and gone, visitors from all over the world to the little shop’s quaint lens-glass window, made of sturdy lignum vitae, they say the toughest wood on earth, in the heart of Avignon.

Some had only time to say hello before being plucked from the jar and passed to an eager hand across the counter, some stayed days, some weeks, but he was always missed. He’d strike up a friendship with a tousled orange head, perhaps a hazelnut, or sometimes even a strawberry delight, but just when the waiting seemed to be almost becoming bearable, they’d leave like all the others. They’d shout and wave a hurried goodbye, but their pleasure in leaving could not be disguised.

For a while he’d been part of a friendly band that stuck it out longer than most, but that only made it the harder to bear as, one by one, they too left.

Sometimes he’d catch a spark of interest in an eye from the street and for a moment his heart would again feel alive, but he’d been disappointed now so many times that even when he saw and recognised that spark of interest, he could only gaze back without feeling.

One day Toulouse, the friendly old shopkeeper, had pulled him from the jar with several others and placed them all in a small, narrow-necked and beautifully decorated Chinese china vase right beside the clattering machine on the counter, into which the old man dropped the shiny things, and sometimes the pieces of different coloured paper that were the things we were exchanged for.

It was a pleasant change, being so close to the customers that came and went. A few times too I was picked up and examined. Once I nearly made it to my Valhalla but the pretty young girl who wanted me wished for three and could only afford two. Guess who was the one who was put back.

The wet days were the ones to ripple the memory most of all. The rain running down the curved glass windows reminded me of being caressed with lazy abandon.

I’d given up trying to understand why I was always left behind. For a while I became completely absorbed by the puzzle, but the more I thought about it the more difficult it became to understand.

One day a Norwegian found his way beside me in the jar. After hearing my sorrows, he thought long and hard and said: "You are here to observe our existence. You are our historian, our keeper of the ways. I am honoured to be beside you."

Yes, but I want to live a little too, I heard my silent thoughts say.

Perhaps it was the purple blob in my centre, or the red spiral running from the purple blob across my yellow face to my edge, perhaps it was the way my cellophane wrapper was crinkled and twisted, or perhaps my stalk didn’t look right, though it looked like all the others as far as I could see.

I didn’t hold my failure to be selected against my companions—how could I? Perhaps I was merely an observer, destined to watch as others found their true places.

I’d dreamed of and learned a million ways to release a million and more different flavours when finally that precious moment came but it was beginning to seem such worthless knowledge.

Then there was the time when Anna, the shopkeeper’s giggling daughter, took me and several dozen companions all the way to the promenade at Narbonne le Plage, where she erected a small stall facing the beach in the bright summer sunshine. It was nice in the shade of the sun umbrella, watching everybody on the beach and swimming in the sea. Anna had a constant queue for the ice cream she also served but at the close of the weekend I was just one of five who were left and taken on the long drive home after nightfall.

And so, here I am. It’s dark outside now and its been raining—the street and pavements reflect the lights and darkened colours. Sleep was something I once knew, now it seems completely unnecessary. About fifty new arrivals came this afternoon and most were stuffed into my jar. I’m kind of in the middle, so it’s difficult to see clearly out to the street beyond the window. Still, it makes a change to feel cosy.

If you are reading this, it is only because I have felt the need to write it, because I am still here, in this little shop window in Avignon. Perhaps it will always be this way, until I am discarded as no longer good enough. I have heard talk about that, and often wondered what happened to those carefully examined by Toulouse and taken from the jar for some unknown place. Perhaps it is better there, I don’t know.

Yet if you are reading this and just happen on by a small shop in Avignon with an attractive lens glass window and see lots of us here, you might recognise, or remember me. If you do, and choose to pass me by, then I would ask just this one question of you.


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