Fred leaned on his broom and watched the old farm truck rattle up to his corner store.
"Good morning, Mack."
"Good morning, Fred! I've got your apples — three crates, right?"
"That's right. You're early this week, not that you're ever late."
"Ayuh! I've got to be some place at four o'clock." His eyes twinkled.
"Oh yes! This is the special day!" Fred slapped him on the back. "Congratulations!"
Mack's truck engine sputtered and coughed before dying. Mack lifted the hood and jiggled some lines. "C'mon, Betsy! You can't die on me today."
Fred smiled. "It looks like you're running on a prayer and a song."
Mack scowled. "Prayer has nothing to do with it. I don't need God. I can take care of myself." He hopped in the cab and chugged off to his next stop.
Fred shook his head and went back to sweeping when Miss Tilly hobbled up. "Good morning, Fred."
"Good morning, Tilly."
"Was that Mack?" She squinted toward the receding shape of the old truck.
"Yeah, he comes by every week with a new load for me. His apples always seem freshly picked from the trees— winter, spring, summer, or fall."
"How does he do it?"
"Well, I don't right know for sure, but I heard tell that he invented this special gas to keep them from ripening. The big companies use carbon dioxide, but he's found something else, something less toxic to people."
"You don't say!" She wrinkled up her forehead. "How old is Mack? I remember that he owned that orchard even when I was a youngun."
"Funny you should say that. I also heard tell that he pumps this gas in his house. He claims that he has stopped 'ripening' too."
"You don't say!" She pushed her glasses up on her nose. "He appears to be well preserved. Too bad he couldn't use it on that rusted piece of junk. . . Fred? Does it look like he's getting younger to you?"
"If he is, he could market it and make a fortune— a regular fountain of youth. Man could live forever!"
"Forever?" Tilly shook her head. "That doesn't seem right. It seems that life and death should be God's business . . . you know, 'It is appointed unto man to die' . . ."
Fred tapped his broom on the ground and shrugged. "Well, Mack is making the most of staying young. Did you hear what he's doing today?"
Tilly tipped her good ear closer. "No, I hadn't heard anything. What's he doing?"
"He's found himself a bride and getting hitched this afternoon."
"At his age?" She shook her head again. "Are you going?"
"Nope. I wasn't invited. Besides, I think he said it was happening over in Pyrite City in that new fancy church at four o'clock."
She shifted her purse to her other arm and shuffled toward the shop. "That's quite a poke to travel."
Fred held the door open for her. "That's why he was in such a hurry today. He didn't want to be late for that!"
Tilly brought her purchases to the counter. "I seem to remember him being married a long time ago. . . Mabel was her name. She died of heart failure a ways back . . . If I remember rightly, Mabel was a kindly woman — not the best looking, but she could make prize-winning pies."
"Is that so? This bride is from the city . . . I heard that she's pretty enough to be in movies."
"You don't say!" Tilly smiled. "I'll bet she never made an apple pie in her life."
The next morning, the shop bell jangled. Fred smiled at Tilly. She was a ray of sunshine on such a rainy day as this. "Good morning, Tilly."
"Good day, Fred." She grunted as she bustled her arthritic limbs out of the drizzle and shook the raindrops from her umbrella. "I hope the newlyweds are on a sunny beach for their honeymoon."
"You haven't heard? They never went."
"I heard about the train wreck. Did it block the road?"
"Nope! Mack was part of it."
"You don't say!"
"That old truck stalled on the tracks. Witnesses say that stubborn fool was determined to make it start . . . and . . . well, it didn't."
"Oh my!" Tilly put her hand on her heart.
"And strangely enough, it was the Four O'clock Express — on time, as usual."
Water dripped in the silence.
"I'll miss Mack's apples."
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