“Are you sure you want just one?”
The kindly old woman wore a traditional frontier woman’s garb: bonnet, wire-rimmed glasses, a home-made dress of rough material, ankle boots and all. She stood on her tiptoes to reach the top of a clear glass jar filled with purple liquid. As she plunged a wooden ladle down into its depths, displaced purple pickling juice rose in the jar. Liquid threatened to spill over the sides just before the woman withdrew the ladle and produced a perfect purple-tinged pickled egg.
“One is hardly enough.”
On bringing the dripping orb into the light of day, the old woman grinned with more pride than that of the egg’s original hen-mother.
“All I have is this much,” the dirty-faced girl said as she laid down a wrinkled $1 bill on the counter. She wore faded jeans and scuffed tennis shoes with loosely tied laces that were unraveled at the ends. Her thin hair was pulled back into a greasy pony tail. After relinquishing the money, the girl stuffed her hands into her pockets and looked longingly at the jar.
Saliva filled the urchin’s mouth as the old woman patted the excess liquid from the egg. After a second of hesitation, the woman scooped out another dripping purple-tinged egg and dropped it next to the first egg.
With a wink, she whispered, “It looks like you could use it.”
“Thank you,” the girl whispered back to the woman, taken back by her generosity.
Finished with the business of egg-buying, the girl carefully took the eggs in both hands and stepped out of the line. She looked back half-expecting the woman to demand the second egg be returned, but no such thing happened. Instead, a man took her place and ordered lemonade and a pickle on a stick.
“No, make that an iced tea. Is it already sweetened?”
The man badgered the kindly old woman with questions about the sweetener and if he could have a drink of half lemonade and half tea. Patiently, ever so patiently, the woman listened and answered his questions, while trying to keep an eye on her last customer whom she had aptly named, the hungry urchin.
As the girl stepped out of line, it became clear that she was not alone. A little boy stepped out with her, following in her shadow. The boy wore a grungy grey sweatshirt with his thumbs sticking through the holes at the wrist of the sleeve. He was a head shorter than the girl but had an equally grimy face and messy hair. The girl handed him the second egg.
“Here,” she said. “It’s just like Granny used to make.”
The pair walked off, down the dirt path, past the other booths and vendors. Each slowly ate their delicacy, one nibble at a time, savoring the acquired taste of pickled egg and wondering what they would eat next.