A Chance Encounter at the Fair
There was a quiet wind skimming over the fields, smoothly swaying the rows of corn. At the field’s edge was a county fair, drawing locals and visitors from afar. The afternoon sun was high but not very hot; fair-goers wore anything from light sweaters to short skirts and sandals. Harmonic country music padded the background at every corner of the fair and sweet, candied smells wafted alluringly to the passersby as they strolled through the crowd.
Standing at the booth of a local produce farmer, a friend of her husband’s for many years, was a middle-aged woman with wavy copper hair with flecks of gray. Her attire was dowdy but comfortable - flat shoes, a knee-length knit skirt, and a light smock that covered a floral patterned cotton blouse. She lifted a pair of glasses that hung around her neck and rested them at the bridge of her nose, peering at an overripe apple she grabbed from a basket.
“Judd,” she warned quietly, “you might want to remove this one.” She handed Judd the apple.
“Thanks, dear,” responded Judd Harrison, “That’s what I get for lettin’ Jake fill the buckets,” he joked, referring to his three year old son who was known around the area as being quite a handful.
The woman smiled diffidently and began walking past the booth to the next. Thinking about Jake Harrison and his breadth of childhood joy saddened her; she was a ‘woman of a certain age’ who didn’t have any children of her own. She and her husband had tried for years, to no avail. Adoption wasn’t in the cards for them financially, as every year presented more of a struggle for her husband’s farm; it was all they could do not to lay off the two remaining farm hands they currently employed. She often wondered what it would be like to have their humble, orderly home turned upside down by a child, and she sometimes allowed herself to imagine he’d be as precocious and energetic as Jake, maybe even more so. The farmer’s wife allowed herself to get so deep in the daydream that she didn’t see a younger woman, who seemed to be lost in thought herself, walking straight toward her.
Their shoulders bumped and her purse spilled onto the ground, the contents strewn about.
“Oh!” gasped the farmer’s wife. She immediately knelt to collect her things, realizing the other woman was doing the same thing.
“I’m so sorry!” exclaimed the younger woman with whom she collided. Their eyes met; for a fleeting moment, each noticed something familiar about the other, neither being able to place the feeling. The older woman noted that she shared no visible commonalities with the other; the younger was dressed in more tailored attire, made of finer fabrics. She was wearing pearls, and they were real. Her earrings sparkled with the sunlight, and her hair was a black-brown swirled bun atop her porcelain complexion.
The younger woman continued, “Here, let me..” as she helped gather the fallen belongings.
“It’s really alright, dear,” insisted the older woman as they both stood erect. “My mind was wandering, it’s my own fault.”
The younger woman chuckled nervously. “My son is wandering,” she stated emphatically, “which, admittedly, isn’t much of an excuse for my clumsiness.”
Both women darted their eyes around, spying a young boy dressed immaculately in a sweater, slacks and tie, almost the picture of boarding school. He was holding a candy apple; it had melted a little and there was reddish glaze on his hand.
“Sorry, mother,” said the boy, perhaps ten years old, as he approached the women, noticing his mother’s furrowed brow. “Father said I could have it.”
The younger woman exhaled, embarrassed, and gestured her son forward. She pulled a tissue from the pocket of her skirt and gently wiped it over her boy’s face, then handed him the tissue.
“Finish up your apple and then go wash,” she instructed as she pointed to a public restroom at the far end of the row. The boy smiled at his mother, then looked at the older woman and gave her a big smile as well.
“What a handsome young man you have there,” said the older woman, somewhat anxiously. There was something in the boy’s eyes that spoke of hope and joy, and again, she felt a pang for what was missing in her own home. He chomped into his apple and turned, marching in the direction of the restrooms.
The younger woman nodded and smiled. “Handsome and headstrong,” she replied.
A small silence began as they continued to smile at one another. They each noticed that the other was wearing a noticeably beautiful adornment. “That cameo is exquisite,” the older woman said, “if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Not at all,” said the younger woman, adding, “I was about to comment on your lovely locket.”
The older woman instinctively tapped her locket with her right hand and said, “Thank you, dear. Forgive my manners, I’m—“
“MARTHA!” shouted a man from a few yards away. Both women gasped and looked at him as he approached with a giant smile on his face. He wore farmer’s overalls atop a red and blue plaid flannel, his thinning hair askew, his glasses a little too big for his face, and he was carrying a large brown teddy bear with a giant red ribbon around its neck.
As the man walked closer, the younger woman asked, “How do you know my name?”
The man looked puzzled. He looked at his wife expecting her to have the answer to the query.
“Wait,’ said the older woman, “is your name Martha, too?” She could tell by the young woman’s expression that the answer was yes.
The younger woman reached out her right hand and said happily, “What are the odds?”
They shook hands and laughed with a strange comfort that was foreign to the younger, city-dwelling woman. The happy farmer presented the teddy bear to both women and joked, “I’ll let you Marthas fight out who gets to keep the prize!”
The older Martha chuckled and took the bear. “This is my husband, Jon,” she directed, and continued, “and this, as you have gathered, is also Martha.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet both of you,” said the younger Martha. She cleared her throat and looked around the fair for her husband.
Jon asked, “Not from around these parts, I reckon?”
The younger woman nodded and said, “We were driving back to the airport, but our son read that there was a fair with a big Ferris wheel so we decided to stop for in for a bit.”
“What brings you to Kansas?” asked Jon.
“Jonathan!” said the older woman as she elbowed her husband, “you needn’t give the lady the third degree.”
The younger Martha giggled. “It’s perfectly fine, Martha. My husband is a doctor and he was visiting the father of a dear friend of ours, who sadly isn’t doing so well.” She looked about again, and there approached her husband. He was tall in his tailored slacks and crisp white shirt. His greying black hair fluttered as he walked and his face lit up with radiance as he made eye contact with his wife.
“Thomas!” she called as the other couple turned to look at the man heading over.
After further introductions and more pleasantries, the younger Martha’s son ambled over, clearly in obeisance of his mother’s instructions to clean up after his candy apple; he had slicked his black hair back off his forehead and his hands were squeaky clean.
“Well, hello, young man,” said Jon, “and what’s your name?”
The boy politely offered his hand and said, “My name’s Bruce.” For a moment the wind settled and the air was still. The five of them stood in a circle, harmoniously silent until Bruce broke the hush and asked, “Dad, can I go on just one more ride before we leave?”
With a nod of fast approval from his father, the boy scampered off through the row and both couples finished their unwittingly serendipitous happenstance, soon parting ways. Later that month, the older Martha and her farmer-husband would unofficially adopt a child that fell from the nighttime sky in a storm of meteorites, and the younger Martha and her doctor-husband would lay dead on the grimy pavement of a dark alley as their son, splotched with their blood, wailed in horror after witnessing their murders.