The sun should be up in about an hour, thinks Peter as he strides towards the grocery store. The morning is cold, brisk and still dark, though seasonal for autumn in Canada’s far north.
Peter enjoys being in Yellowkinfe, though it is a long trip to have to make every few weeks, especially as he spends much of it in meetings. But he manages to spend the early morning hours before work outside, running on the trails by Frame Lake. This morning he was up at 4, slipping along the frozen rocks and running almost blind through the forest, his fit silhouette dark against the bright moon.
He pauses at the door, turning to look over his shoulder at the brightening horizon, distant across the flat, windswept land. Wincing at the cold gust that tugs at his trim wool jacket, he turns and steps into the warm, welcoming glow of the store.
Peter smiles politely at the woman behind the till. He recalls her from his previous visits to Yellowknife. There is a cup of coffee resting, cold and forgotten, on the counter beside her.
She must have been up early too, he thinks.
She greets him good-naturedly. Her face is welcoming and kind, broad with soft contours. Her wrinkles tell her story of long days and short nights, but there are also traces of laughter. She is older, probably a grandmother he thinks. Her flannel shirt is well-worn but neat, pressed with care so that there are creases down the sleeves, reminding him of his mother.
He makes his way along the back aisle in search of provisions for the day ahead.
The chime sounds as another early morning customer arrives.
Audrey looks away from Peter and towards the door to see who it is.
“Morning Bob,” she smiles at him.
Bob is a local, has lived here his whole life, just like Audrey – unlike the other customer, she thinks. She glances at Peter and mulls over his comings and goings. He shows up often enough, but not so often to suggest that he lives here. She wonders where he comes from, what would bring him to these parts so often.
He looks distinguished; tall, neat, his silver hair clean-cut, a clear, healthy look in his blue eyes. Always friendly.
She takes an absentminded sip from her coffee then looks distastefully at its murky surface, opaque with cream. She sets it aside.
Her thoughts drift to her granddaughter, Tess. A neighbour took her to school today as a favour. Audrey will need to finish taking an inventory of the new stock before she goes to pick her up.
Once she’s taken care of Bob and the other gentleman, she’ll start on it, she thinks.
She sees Bob over by the pineapples. Another pineapple, she smiles to herself. Bob and his pineapples!
Bob has been coming in a lot lately, each time buying just one pineapple. His wife does the rest of the grocery shopping, usually while Bob is working the night shift as a dispatcher. Audrey has asked him why he buys the pineapples, but he always shrugs shyly and replies, “oh you know, they’re supposed to be good for you, and Gina doesn’t like them herself.”
Bob lifts one at a time, turning them over in his rough, callused hands, feeling the prickly skin, judging their weight. It doesn’t take long to choose one; he’s fairly practiced by now.
He can smell the sweet, exotic scent rising from the fruit. He closes his eyes and drifts on the sea of his imagination. Opening his eyes, he turns away from the produce.
As he approaches Audrey at the cash, he sees another customer coming to line up. Bob hasn’t seen him before. He notices his neat, fancy clothes and thinks, out-of-towner, as he puts the pineapple down on the counter and fishes his wallet out of the back pocket of his ragged jeans.
The other customer stops behind him. Bob turns around and smiles, then turns back to Audrey.
“How are you today, Audrey?” he asks affably.
“Fine, Bob, thanks. Are you well?”
“Sure, sure, you know, just doing a bit of grocery shopping.”
“Just the pineapple today, Bob?” Audrey asks.
“Just the pineapple,” he replies.
A momentary flash of sea, sand and palm trees washes over Bob. He steadies himself and looks into Audrey’s face, hoping that he hasn’t belied his casual exterior. He is too sheepish to admit what this whole pineapple thing is about.
Nobody would believe it anyway. He has never even told Gina that his family was originally Hawaiian. Everyone has always assumed he was from northern Canada, like them. And he certainly never mentioned his foolish dream of returning one day.
It doesn’t matter anyway, he thinks. The little money he had saved up has all been used for other things. He spent the last of it a few months ago. Now, he treats himself to a pineapple whenever he can get away quietly by himself, and takes the trip in his imagination.
Sometimes, he thinks, you don’t have to travel. Sometimes it’s almost good enough just to imagine.
He realizes he’s still looking blankly at Audrey and, pressing his lips into a smile, he pulls out a ten from his cracked leather wallet and hands it to her.
That’s peculiar, Peter thinks, turning to look at the pineapples piled in the produce section. He can see the price from where he’s standing: $7.99. It’s a lot to pay for a pineapple, even by northern standards, and this man doesn’t seem to be well-off.
I wonder why he’s here at this hour to buy a single pineapple? He wonders.
Bob takes his pineapple and leaves the store, the bell ringing to signal his departure.
Peter pays for his items and heads outside as well.
As he heads off to his first meeting, he walks past Bob who is sitting on a park bench across the street, facing the lake. He is eating his pineapple, awash in his dreams.