A Short Story
By Raeesa Jassat
There existed a flea market beside a cheerful pond, that sold everything Dia could think of, in all shapes and sizes, dead people’s clothing with intentionally fashionable flaws, lemonade by the glass from an 8 year old boy with sun-kissed golden curls who was dreaming of his soon-to-be bike as he grabbed Dia’s money from her outstretched hand, two gentlemen in turtlenecks who were arguing over the artistic value of a painting while the painter looked into the distance desperately trying to remember the curve of the right hip of a woman he met in Salerno 50 years ago. There is a woman who claims (in a cigarette-rusted voice) that her rose quartz stones will make Dia’s non-existent lover want to screw her more.
There are gluten-free churros because human beings don’t deserve regular churros. As Dia made her way down the sunlit path, she could taste the sense of purpose: People desperately trying to get money, people desperately trying to give money away, people enjoying beautiful days, people dreaming of things that once were or will be, burning oil mixed with soil from freshly picked carrots that stand horizontally like spikes in case you get too close. Pseudo art aficionados walk away with rectangular canvases that (they are sure) will increase in market value by 64.7% in a year (as opposed to the shameful 38.9% that the other pseudo art aficionado thought it might). Their wives giggle as if they know what market value means. Dia saw the glint in the little golden haired boy’s eyes as he realised that he had just about collected enough money for the bike that was soon-to-be his. She saw him turn around and yell to his mama that she could stop squeezing lemons because he had accomplished what he had set out to do. She heard mama say that it’s just as well because the lemons were finished. Dia watched mama walk up to her son (with one hand on her aching hip as if to keep it from popping out of place) and take half of his hard-earned money for the materials and her labour, and she watched as mama pulled the curtains over the glinting eyes.
As she walked, she saw an unattended table full of…well…things; broken things. Not broken in the sense that they were physically shattered into a million pieces; just broken in the sense that they could no longer do what they were supposed to do. A kettle filled with dry flowers, two chairs that each had one missing arm rest. A lawnmower with a grocery basket on it. A factory-rejected pair of binoculars that made things seem further away when you looked through it. This was certainly not a table full of things that would increase in market value, nor had any market value in the first place. It might as well have been invisible because this table attracted nobody. It appeared that even the seller eventually abandoned his or her table of Intact Broken Things. Dia thought that these were the kind of things that made you love what they had become more than what they once were. She imagined the one time when she desperately wanted the desolately large space between her and the human sitting next to her to disappear. That space that forces hands and shoulders to be so close and yet so far. Their atoms vibrated, and the hair on her hands tingled with the sense of intimacy. She imagined all those times when she was given a bouquet of flowers and needed something to put them in so much more than she needed a cup of tea. In her mind were vivid flashbacks of all the things that happened to her, and people that were in front/on top of/behind her against her will and wished that she had a way of making the trauma seem further away. She thought, how lucky the lawnmower was to find a new purpose, after spending most of its life feeling dreadfully sorry for what it did in the past. She looked at all the items on the table and thought simultaneously of what was, what is and what could be. Perhaps the rectangular canvas would be sold at a loss. Perhaps someone would choke on a gluten-free churro and die. Perhaps the little boy might get his bike after all, but even if he doesn’t, he had learnt a painful lesson about how the world works. Perhaps there is a bridge to cross between what is and what can be, but this table showed her that it exists. Perhaps our purpose changes. Perhaps the past can be left in the past. Perhaps part of the value of a thing lies in what it can be. Perhaps there is more to seeing than just looking. Perhaps seeing is the start of the story.
She found an empty spot on the table and sat on it and watched the sun sink beneath the birch trees and felt its waning warmth on her face. She watched the people drift past and pause briefly with puzzled looks on their faces, because they couldn’t tell if she was trader or merchandise. In her mind she was both.