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Old Woman Who Shops: American Fairy Tale

She passes my house, empty-handed, wearing a kerchief over her gray hair, in a house dress and canvas sneakers, purse in the crook of her elbow.

She’s a little wobbly, teetering as she walks. But in an hour or two, she’ll pass by again, walking in the other direction, laden with bright yellow plastic bags from the dollar store at the edge of town.

I think I know where she lives, a rundown farm a mile east of here. And though we’ve never spoken, I’ve told myself a story about her, an eccentric in-law hanging on at the family farm, sipping tea from chipped mugs, filling time buying plastic trinkets made in China.

But today, for the first time, our eyes meet. I stumble into her as I rise from weeding the garden and she is passing the edge of my yard. Her eyes are bright and laughing. She reaches deep into her yellow bags and hands me one perfect peach.
Plenty more, she says. Enjoy.

And now I’ve written her a new tale, as juice runs down my chin. In this story, she is the guardian of fruit trees. She travels this way each year, lingering like summer, to hand us things that grow and remind us of where we live—this bountiful land full of gifts, not one of them priced at a dollar, not one of them made of plastic.

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