The train hissed at Claude Bouchard as he stepped from the empty passenger car onto an equally vacant platform. Faded wooden signs pointed with white arrows toward ticketing, a gift shop, and an adjoining diner offering a special involving a chowder he’d never heard of.
He crossed Fruit Town’s train station in four minutes where he saw only one other person, a man dressed as a porter, who vanished through a door labeled ’employees only.’
With his sister’s latest letter in a suit jacket pocket and single bag in hand, Claude walked down the three front steps and left the station behind, taking a narrow broken sidewalk into the blazing summer sunshine in search of the correct bus stop.
Cicadas were noisy. They’re never this loud in the city.
The sidewalk climbed beside a pitted road and soon disintegrated into a path of compact earth. Wild fields stretched uninterrupted on either side. So many yellow flowers choked the fields, it was as if a star from a child’s dream had fallen and dashed its brilliance across the countryside.
Did I miss the bus stop? Twice he stopped to look back.
The train station sank into the hills behind him along with a distant cluster of brick and spires – historic downtown Fruit Town. Beyond the downtown area supposedly sprawled a bustling harbor. He couldn’t see a harbor. However he did see a far off sea with a ship or two sailing at the speed of honey.
He came upon a crooked sign with a bus logo and a bench.
On the bench sat an old man with a great straw hat. The man wore trousers cut off and frayed at the knees with filthy sandals to match his skinny weathered feet, and he hugged a large walking stick in folded bronze arms. His face a topography map of sun-made wrinkles, his eyes seemed to be permanently squinting which, to be frank, made if difficult for Claude to tell if they were open or closed.
Is he sleeping? Claude paused then took the other half of the bench which had the forgiveness of concrete. Setting the bag between his feet, he sat back and exhaled. It’s hot.
“Afternoon,” said the old man without moving.
Claude jumped, and cleared his throat. “Good afternoon, sir.”
“My sister, yes. She just had a baby.”
“Good boy.” He settled into the bench even more as if to go back to sleep. “Don’t leave town without tryin’ our specialty.”
“Yes, sir.” What’s the specialty? Claude craned his neck to look farther up the lonely road which appeared to plunge into a thick tree line. It’s called Fruit Town so maybe it’s a kind of pie. I didn’t see any orchards from the train, though. “Is Fruit Town famous for its fruit?”
“No, no, seafood.” Seeing young man’s blank stare, the old man thought Claude didn’t hear him so he raised his voice. “FISH! DARN GOOD FISH!”
Claude frowned. “Why’s it called Fruit Town?”
“At first it was made up of two log cabins and maybe ten fruit trees so they called it Fruit Town. More people came, built houses and shops, the town grew, and it’s on water so naturally people started fishin’. It’s a harbor town. Harbor town’s ‘re only good for fishin’.” He scratched his belly. “Anyway, nobody ever changed the name. All the fruit trees are gone. I think there’s a plaque there now or somethin’.”