It was very early in the morning, but the sun was already shining. Softly wiping the coffee from her lips, she collected her parcels and stepped out the door. She paused to glance back into the entrance of her home, her distant gaze unchanged as the pale orange door passed over the dimly lit room and obscured it from sight. The click of the lock was a pleasant sound. The smooth brass key felt powerful in her pale, delicate fingers. She softly caressed its texture before dropping it into the pocket of her tunic.
Shadows crept across the path as she made her way toward the center of the village. Aside from distant report of a dog barking, the only sound was the soles of her sandals crunching the pebbled path as she walked. She was tired, the sound of the night had kept her awake, but as the years seemed to accelerate she often felt this way. She was vaguely aware of a good night’s rest some time ago, when was it? A month? A week? Perhaps more than a decade. Her feelings were not the current topic. This morning, the task at hand was to be rid of this baggage once and for all.
As she made her way into town, young men waited in doorways for their employers to arrive and allow them to begin the day’s work. Their callous expressions of modernity, and capitalism were betrayed by the smooth, glowing skin of youth. They would gladly tear this village down and build a travel plaza, or an exotic resort if they were allowed to. Mastahn, her son, was always talking about cellular telephones, and the future. Young men only thought about themselves. She was well aware of young men and their dreams. Though her expression did not change, and her eyes remained set upon her destination, her heart beat a little faster, and her memories began to flit from the corners of her eyes across the gravel street like butterflies.
There had been a young man, he was difficult and stupid. She had loved him so terribly. Her mother had taken to calling her a “petit ?É¬¢ne” because she would not listen to reason. She loved her difficult and stupid young man in spite of herself, and because of the way the light reflected from his honey skin, and could not escape the black center of his eyes, she did not leave this village, she did not go to the University. Instead, she had remained here, left behind to raise a son, and scrub the floors of the Grand Hotel Universal, in order to put food on the table so that her difficult and stupid young man could grow fat, and slow, and eventually die in mid-sentence as he cursed his having been left out, again, of the planning for the development of this village.
Her feet ached, they had not been right for years. Liniment which stunk of mustard was the only relief. She soaked her feet in an aluminum basin at night, and felt the seeds settle on her toes as she quieted her mind and tried to rest. Her moist eyes widened and she paused to adjust the parcels before stepping into the square.
Not fifty meters away stood a tidy stall, where a narrow little man sat watching her. He would scribble in his ledger, adjust his glasses, and then look up again as if marking the progress of her approach. When the women came this early baring parcels into the center of the village, he knew that they were coming to him. They would all come to him eventually. And while we had remained unmarried, himself, his brother often joked with him about how if the women didn’t come to him in their youth, they would be sure to come for him in the twilight of their lives. His brother had a terrible way of making everything sexual. He, himself, was not a sexual man and he did not imagine his customers this way. His only concern was the acquisition of articles at a modest price. The profit and potential for profit were his only pleasures.
“Ahem” She said. Staring into the little man’s eyes.
He nervously finalized something in his ledger, and returned the cap over his pen’s nib, and set it precisely beside the thick and deeply creased book.
“Oui Madame?” He said, rising from his chair. His eyes focused on her face. She had been so beautiful when they were younger. She was still beautiful.
Silently she unfolded her parcels, and set the various items out onto the counter. The little man seemed to lick his lips and fiddle with the pocket of his apron as he examined each valuable carefully. Mumbling to himself, he made cryptic notes on small unbleached paper which he tucked beneath the corners of the corresponding items. As slowly as she was able to unpack her most valued possessions, he would swiftly evaluate them, and make his little notes with the blue stub of a pencil. Before writing anything, he would wet his lips, and then dab the dull tip of the pencil to his tongue.
“Nervous?” She asked him, exhausted by his twitching and licking and drooling over her things.
“Pardon?” He asked, adjusting his glasses, and correcting his apron.
“Ne fait rien” She said absently and her eyes passed over his shoulder.
After a silence, he offered her a sum of money in exchange for her goods. She looked at the figure, awkwardly scratched in blue on the paper. The texture of the note seemed to pierce her fingertips, and warm her body slowly. She had never before seen such a large number associated with herself. She looked up at the man slowly in disbelief and a distant and unfamilliar feeling of delight.
“For all?” She asked seriously.
“Bien sur” Said the man confidently, ” This is more than fair, no?”
“No, erm… Oui.” She said quickly. “Merci.”
“Bon!” He said abruptly, and extracted a leather bound book from within the awkward ledger he had been writing in all morning. He proudly sketched out the letters and numbers on the cheque, and when he was done pulled it from the book with a loud tearing sound which seemed to startle both of them.
“Shall I cash it for you Madame?” Asked the man kindly.
“Merci” She said, holding the draft back to the man, her hand shaking slightly.
She had not imagined that these terrible things she had spent so many years hating would fetch so much money from the merchant. If she had known there may have been other choices for her to make. Things might have been quite a bit different. She thought of her husband and the stains he left on the sofa, the way he lay in bed as if her were already dead. She swallowed softly and closed her eyes as she remembered the feeling of his hands on her torso.
“Ce qui a la perte” She said absently.
“Excuse moi?” The man said crisply.
She opened her eyes and blushed slightly because she hadn’t intended to say anything out loud. The man had counted the money out into stacks, and set the coins beside the notes before her on the counter. Without counting the money, she put the money into her pocket book, and tucked it back into her tunic. She thanked the man and said good day. He wished her an equal amount of courtesy, and resumed his perch behind the counter, and opened the ledger again.
She passed the hotel where she had worked for many years, the guests were all so casual now. Not even a tie or a hat. The world had changed, and she cared nothing for the brutally soft creature it had become. As she passed the cafe, she could smell fresh lemmons and warm bread wafting from the kitchen delighting her nose and hastening her step. A smile curled up unexpectedly in the corners of her mouth.
At the edge of town, as the bells began to toll for mid day, she saw the trolley approaching. Her ticket was lodged crisply between her thumb and forefinger. It arrived onto the platform, and all four doors swung open. she had imagined a band, or perhaps a crowd, but there was no one.
She climbed the steps of the coach, and handed the ticket to the footman. For a moment, they played a silent tug of war. She blushed as he ripped the ticket in two and handed her the receipt. He smiled softly and reached up to ring the bell. With a lurch the trolley was in motion, heading north out of the village. She wondered if he still loved her, if he would even remember her. It did not matter now, for the day had arrived. She was coming and would see for herself soon enough.