Another row of cabbages should do it, if it comes to that, I thought. The business was failing, and I hadn’t paid my mortgage in months. I’d stopped opening my mail, and had begun to allow myself to consider a range of ideas that only a year before I’d have discarded before they formed. Thoughts and wild dreams about schemes that would make enough money to allow me to keep the farm, and not have to work in a “proper” job again.
The garden kept us fed, thank God. The weather sweet enough that we could plant and harvest, all year round. Fruit, and berries and asparagus and corn. Greens planted in beautifully straight rows, covering at least an acre. The olive trees didn’t work out – too much groundwater for their roots, but my herbs were large and healthy. We didn’t go hungry. I gave my children each a basket and told them to go and choose their lunch from the rows. It was an adventure for them, and gave me time to breathe, to allow my face to fall for a short moment before they returned to the kitchen and I put my brave smile back on.
So I built a reed enclosure, intending to rent out space to crafters and artists in the area, to create a small market that would bring some money. We were too far off the main road, really, but I persuaded myself that with some signs on the tar road we’d be able to entice customers to visit us, despite the badly maintained dirt road they had to use.
We dug toilets of a sort – long drops we called them. A hole in the ground covered by a wooden hut and with a seat that would blister you if you were lucky, and splinter you if not. Water was brought to the market in drums, and a barbecue pit was built, all using materials readily available. The rocks on the ground made attractive building blocks, even though they were so irregular that an undue amount of cement was needed to hold the structure together.
For my part I gathered books from my library, thinking they’d make an interesting addition to the crafts we had on display. We spoke to friends who made jewelry, others who offered baked goods – cakes, and cookies and rusks. An acquaintance sewed hippy-style clothing and dresses, so we put a hanging rail in her area of the market. We put together baskets of fresh vegetables, sweet potatoes, broccoli, beans, cauliflower, and added jars of home-made pickles, relishes and jams.
The Sunday morning we opened, I hitched the trailer – really, just the bed of an old caravan with sheets of steel welded to it – behind my tractor, and loaded it with garden chairs and a table, along with the water and goods we hoped to sell that day. I started, slowly, very slowly, along the rut of a road that led, after half a mile, to the market.
It was the first corner that did it, I think. The wheels on the left tipped deeply into a hole in the road, and the table, along with most of the load, gently and gracefully slid into the veldt grass. And the mud. The table snapped. I was able to tape it together, but it was never the same, always listing to one side and often taking a glass of wine with it when some unsuspecting guest happened to look away for an instant.
We unloaded, and started arranging our wares, hoping to see the first of what we were certain would be a continuous line of cars coming towards us. Cars with city tourists, out enjoying the winter sunshine, and admiring our mountain range against the northern sky. Kids in the back seat, not yet bored as they would be later in the day.
I lit my gas grill and arranged bacon slices on the griddle. Neatly, no slice overlapping another, and stood back to look for Bill Harrop’s Hot Air Balloons, due overhead within minutes. With any luck he’d have to land on one of my fields and that would give me a quick shot of cash. He’d been nervous lately, after one of my friends brought suit against him, claiming that the “whoosh” of the burners on his balloons had frightened several hundred of his chickens to death.
Our vendors arrived about then, with their beads and clothing and cakes, all laughter and smiles. It was going to be great, a wonderful, profitable day. We’d eat sausage and bacon on bread-rolls, and enjoy the warmth of the day. We’d get dusty, and the cracked winter air would sting our nostrils, but there was hope and cheer among us. A new thing, a beginning, endless chance and excitement snapped between us.
I heard the balloons rather than saw them. The wind had carried them to the other side of the valley, far from where we stood. Our first customers arrived, looked around from inside their car, and drove away. The next arrivals walked around our stalls, glancing at a few of them, then left. Later, after we’d drunk the champagne we brought as a celebration, and started on the beer and wine we kept in reserve, we decided that really, truly, all we wanted was to spend time outside with each other. The food was good, the beer better, and sitting in the dirt alongside our forgotten wares turned out to be healing after all.