The sun should be up in about an hour, Peter thinks 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 has to make the long trip to Yellowknife every few weeks for work, and his days there are filled with meetings, but he always looks forward to returning. He relishes the early morning hours he steals for himself in the silence of the northern wilderness. This morning he was up at 4:00, 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 frigid, windswept land. Wincing at the gust that cuts through his trim wool jacket, he turns and steps into the warmth of the store.
Peter smiles politely at the woman behind the till. He recalls her from his previous visits to Yellowknife; she seems to be a permanent fixture here. There is a cup of coffee resting, cold and forgotten, on the counter beside her.
She must have been up early, too, he assumes.
She greets him with a casual nod and a smile. Her face is welcoming and kind, broad with soft contours. Her wrinkles tell a story of long days and short nights, of hard work and struggles, but Peter also notes the traces of laughter. Her flannel shirt is well-worn but neat, pressed with care so that there are creases down the sleeves, reminding him of his mother. She is older, though not old by southern standards. He looks at the picture of a little girl hanging on the wall behind her and wonders if she is a grandmother.
No words pass between them and, without wasting any time, Peter makes his way to 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, receiving a faint nod in response.
Audrey has known Bob for as long as she can remember; he is part of the community. She glances back at Peter and mulls over his comings and goings. He shows up often enough, but not so often to suggest that he lives here. Definitely not a local. She wonders where he comes from, what would bring him to these parts so often.
He looks distinguished: tall, his silver hair clean-cut, a clear, healthy look in his blue eyes, and neat, expensive clothes. He is always courteous, soft-spoken, but not very talkative. He must be from a city, though she can’t figure out which one.
Audrey takes an absentminded sip from her coffee, then looks down in distaste at its murky surface, opaque with cream. She sets it aside.
Her thoughts drift to her granddaughter, Tess. A neighbour took the little girl to school today as a favour. Audrey still has a lot of work to do at the store before picking her up and taking her home. She’ll get to it once Bob and the other gentleman leave, she decides.
Bob is over by the pineapples again today. Bob and his pineapples!
He 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 once asked him why he buys the pineapples, but he just shrugged without meeting her gaze and replied, “Oh you know, they’re supposed to be good for you, and Gina doesn’t like them herself.”
Bob can smell the sweet, exotic scent rising from the fruit as he lifts one pineapple at a time. He turns each of them over in his rough calloused hands, feeling the prickly skin, judging their weight. He closes his eyes for a moment and drifts on the sea of his imagination but, feeling conspicuous, he quickly rouses himself and turns away from the produce with the chosen pineapple in hand.
As he approaches Audrey at the cash register, he sees another customer coming to line up. Bob hasn’t seen him before. He notices his crisp, 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.
When the man stops behind him, Bob turns around to smile, then looks back at 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, shutting out the memories, and looks into Audrey’s face, hoping that he hasn’t belied his casual exterior. He doesn’t want her to ask him again.
Nobody would believe it anyway. He has never told Gina that his family was Hawaiian; never shared with her his distant memories of his first home. Everyone has always assumed he comes from northern Canada, like them. How could he explain to them now, after all these years, that he is different, foreign? He certainly would never mention his foolish dream of returning one day to his homeland.
It doesn’t matter anymore anyway, he tries to convince himself. The money he had saved up for the trip has all drained away, used over the years to cover the costs of life: replacing the old stove, repairing the truck, new shoes for Gina. He spent the last of it a few months ago when they needed to redo the roof. Now – instead – he treats himself to a pineapple whenever he can get away, and takes the trip in his imagination.
Sometimes, he reflects, you don’t have to travel. Sometimes it’s almost good enough just to imagine.
He realizes he’s still looking blankly at Audrey. 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.
He watches Bob as he leaves the store, pineapple in hand. The ringing bell signals his departure.
Peter pays for his items, thanks Audrey, and also leaves.
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 already eating his pineapple, awash in dreams.