By  Fran Riley

Bridget told her parents about John the day they met.

 

“Sold me some rotten tuna at the market today, that’s what he did,” she yelled into the phone, alone in her flat. “No fish tonight. How do you expect me to win the ‘Best of the Market’ award if I don’t get my weekly omega-3 fatty acids?!”

 

. . . .

 

Down the hall in apartment six, two men sat eating gelatinous tilapia. Between bites, the taller, John, explained, “This girl comes up to me today at the farmers’ market, demands ‘the best fish we have,’ aggressively shoves a dollar into my face and extends her hand, into which I place the oldest, most rotten tuna we carry, because that’s the only fish we’ll sell for one dollar!” He savored the tilapia and continued, “So, that’s why we have only a slightly rotted fish for dinner tonight – I sold the worst to that loony.” Opposite him, Steve chuckled.

 

“If everyone at the market is as crazy as she is, there’s no doubt you’ll win the ‘Best of the Market’ award,” Steve said with a mouthful of spoiled fish.

 

. . . .

 

Whhhr whhhhhr. Whhhr whhhhhr.

 

“What. In all of humanity. Is that?”

 

Bridget put on her robe and walked out into the hallway. She followed the sound as it grew louder. Stopping in front of apartment six, she banged her hand on the door.

 

Whh…

 

The sound stopped. John opened the door, vacuum at his side.

 

“Please stop. I’m trying to sleep.”

 

John looked at her, confused.

 

Bridget pointed a hand mask clad finger at the vacuum.

 

“Don’t clean at six o’clock in the morning. I’m trying to win ‘Best of the Market’ and I can’t if I don’t sleep.” Bridget paused and squinted. Her vision was fuzzy because she hadn’t yet applied cucumbers to her eyes. “Wait,” she said, backing away, “You sold me the fish!”

 

“Yeah, ‘cause you gave me one dollar. What did you expect?”

 

“You’re trying to sabotage me!” Bridget yelled as she ran down the hallway to her essential oil filled apartment.

 

Back in bed, Bridget couldn’t sleep. Not only was John still vacuuming, but her acupressure rings were loose and falling off her fingers. She fumbled with her aromatherapy mist, hurriedly spraying the calming dew over her face.

 

. . . .

 

The crisp morning air met John as he stepped out of the apartment building. Hauling a cooler full of fresh caught fish, he ambled along the street to the welcoming farmers’ market square.

 

“Hey man!” Paul the produce seller called.

 

John waved back. I wonder how Pauls doing, John thought as he walked away. We’ve barely talked since the competition began!

 

John set up his stand a little past Paul’s. He had learned that it was best to set up shop towards the middle of the square – that’s where you got the best business.

 

As the sun rose and shadows appeared, early morning shoppers meandered into the market. Among them, tardy sellers arrived. John caught a whiff of something that he would later describe to Steve as a ‘pungent mixture of lavender and coconuts’.

 

“Tweedle dee dee and tweedle dee dum.”

 

Bridget was feeling better. She had called her self care consultant, who had recommended a vanilla bubble bath along with an all-natural hyacinth bath bomb to de-stress. The effects were immediate. Her confidence was back, her spirit restored. Later that day, the Best of the Market would be announced, and she was sure that she would win.

 

John ignored Bridget all morning long. He focused on being as friendly as possible with his customers – he knew that would score him points in the competition.

 

“Ready for the big day?” Tom, a regular customer, asked John at around ten o’clock.

 

“Yeah,” John responded. “I’m feeling pretty confident.”

 

“Well I just put in a vote for you, you run the best stall around.” Tom patted John on the shoulder. “Anyways, good luck, let me know how it goes!”

 

John, smiling, stowed away the money Tom had just paid.

 

When Bridget noticed John a few minutes later, she quickly turned away. He was happily selling fish – probably rotten ones, she thought. He could never win, she assured herself.

 

By five thirty, many sellers simply paced before their stalls, eyes staring at the ground. Others, like Bridget, had resorted to applying acupressure rings to their toes, or, like John, were juggling fish.

 

Half an hour later, everyone gathered at the market’s entrance. “We are ready to announce the two thousand and eighteen Best of the Market winners!” a man boomed. “This year, the contest is still based on customer satisfaction, but there’s a twist. In order to promote camaraderie amongst us, we have chosen two victors.”

 

A hush fell over the crowd. “Two victors?!” a woman murmured, “How is that possible?” Some left in desperation. For fifty years, only one winner had been chosen.

 

“How dare you break the tradition!” an old man yelled as he stomped out of the market with other veteran sellers.

 

John was confused. He didn’t know there would be two winners. Maybe, he mused, the competition committee had been infiltrated by a maleficent seller who wanted to –

 

His thoughts were interrupted as the man at the podium announced, “The winners are John Smith and Bridget Miller!”

 

The crowd clapped as John leapt for joy and hurried up to the podium. He shook hands with the committee, and finally reached Liz, standing opposite him. She had acupressure rings on each finger. John rolled his eyes.

 

Its her, he sighed.

 

Their eyes met, but quickly darted away.

 

“This year, along with a cash prize, our winners will have to establish and co-run a new stall here at the market!”

 

Bridget and John stared at each other.

 

Finally, they agreed on something: oh no.

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