The bricks on the street were shiny from the rain, and pieces of grass had pushed themselves up through cracks. I leave through the front door of my house, cross the small garden and come up to the fence. With my hands poised on the brass handle, I have the choice to go left or right today. But then, of course, I can always choose. Maybe on Wednesdays,q I’ll turn left and on every second Saturday of the month, I’ll turn right.
Today I turn left.
Artfully, the streets look the same no matter which way you’re walking. There is no difference that is visible to the untrained eye. My shoes crunched wet gravel as I pass the tall and crooked houses along my street. On my right, there is an empty playground, with swings swaying nostalgically from the ghosts of the children’s memory. A thin mist, not unlike a fluffy spider web, blanketed the ground around me.
As I reached the street corner, I caught the familiar scent of roasted corn, radiating through the air. There was also a sort of cinnamon-honey smell somewhere. The market was open, as it should be. Of course, they haven’t had a day off in thirty years. I swung my house keys around my fingers joyfully as I waltzed into the haze of the market.
An alarmingly short man was standing on a stool behind a wooden cart, selling what appeared to be pillowy, sugary donuts. I was intrigued, for donuts are truly delicious. I examined my options. There was a Chromo-Rose donut, infused with raspberry; a hazelnut-covered doughy ball topped with chopped up candy bars; and a turquoise donut with maple and bacon.
I was delighted to learn that you can add toppings for only a few more guilders. “The lucky one, computer wiz, green thumb, or genius,” I read to myself. Hmmm…tempting. In the end, I bought a matcha lavender donut with royal icing and a pinch of ‘the lucky one.’
It was mid-morning, but the streets were busy as I strolled along eating my donut. A crane hovered above me, carrying a grand piano wrapped up in some rope hanging just above my head. It appears I have new neighbors. I walked a bit faster because I didn’t feel like meeting them just yet.
A few steps after the fat little man and his cart was a precarious stack of daily newspapers. I grabbed a tan newspaper rolled up in a rubber band and scanned the changing headlines. A new shipment of silk is coming in tomorrow and there’s going to be an opening tea party to welcome it. Apparently, people will be wearing the finest silk pajamas they own at this event. I thought of my blue and white cloud pajamas that my grandma got me.
The next title that flashed said, “Virtual reality news station opened up in the New Side,” while another said, “Petrol factory shutting down due to safety violations.” I shook the newspaper slightly and it went blank. I put it in my pocket and took a bite of my donut. As soon as I walked into the thick sea of the central market, the noise hit me. People were laughing and yelling and bargaining over the most peculiar assortment of items.
I immediately headed to the third booth on the left, which was my new favorite spot. Tin and wooden boxes of all styles and sizes covered every surface of the table. Every week there was a new selection. I picked up a white and pink carousel tin and pulled off the top. Inside there was a ballerina dancing around in dainty little shoes. A soft trumpet and flute melody echoed from inside. I set down that box very gently and picked up a wooden box with a painting on the front. It was an elaborate oil painting, not more than a couple inches wide.
Inside, men were having dinner overlooking an endless sea at sunset. The sky was a warm yellow but with no specific source of light. I immediately started to smell the smoke of tobacco and old wine. I looked closer at the painting. There was a man in a feathered hat, holding up a goblet as if in cheers. I was only studying him when he blinked at me. Slowly, the other characters in the painting started to move as well. One man passed a tray of cheese to a man with a very large belly, and a lady with rosy cheeks poured herself a large glass of sherry.
I pulled my eye away from the box and looked up at the vendor in shock. The blonde lady behind the table looked at me, chuckled and said, “Yeah that box sucks you into the painting. Careful. It gave the last owner quite a scare.” I quickly sat back down the box. My hand grazed some other boxes as I walked towards the next stall.
This area was a little courtyard with a lot of strange clocks. Lots and lots of clocks. A gold legged table with a jade marble top held eleven big clocks, while smaller clocks dotted other tables and parts of the floor. Some clocks were tall and some were chunky but they were all rich and shiny and gold. Each one told a different time but somehow the ticking was in sync. They gave off a sound that sounded quite like a beating heart. I could see some other customers getting a closer look at a few of them so I moved on.
The next few booths were the usual. There was the old lady that sells dead butterflies in glass boxes, a pale blonde couple who sold chandeliers, and the bespectacled orphan who sold the most beautiful paintings. One of the larger spaces I passed was a square room, with walls painted a light mossy green. Every inch on the wall was covered with mirrors of all kinds.
On the left side of the room, there was a key hook rack, holding dozens and dozens of keys. I stepped closer to get a better look. There were clunky iron keys and shiny, slim, silver keys. Each had a tag with a drawing of a number on it. I looked up suddenly and a dozen of my faces looked back at me.
The mirrors were everywhere. It was a bit distracting. But when I looked at the one in front of me, I noticed that at the bottom, there was a painted number three. The one next to it had a nine and another one had a thirteen. The labels on the keys must correspond to the mirrors somehow.
That’s totally not suspicious. I suspected that the keys might open the mirror so that someone could go in one mirror and out another. But I wasn’t about to deal with that so I glided over to another shop and another and another. Only a few things really caught my eye as I headed towards the exit of the market. One was a lamp; it had the head of a mummy of an Egyptian pharaoh, including what looked and smelled like the original wrappings. I saw a large, black, velvet lampshade above it that complimented it well. There was a very old yellow crocheted chair that looked a lot like the one I had growing up and a concerningly realistic skull in a glass case. Also a lot of stolen art. I’m fifty percent sure I saw an authentic Magritte painting.
But in the end, nothing in that flea market really made a lasting effect on me. It wasn’t the best haul. I’ll check back next week.
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