Imagine

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I hadn’t noticed her stall at the craft market before.

She was not the kind of person who is easily forgotten.

There was a possibility of rain, but her market stall was uncovered — lacking the portable ‘gazebo’ covering that most of the stalls seem to have.

Shiny black medium length hair, and a long black skirt with an off-white blouse.

Embroidery was the theme, with her clothes and the white table cloth that covered her display bench all showing touches of colour applied by an experienced artist.

She spoke softly, which made you lean in to hear what she was saying. A slight eastern European accent completed the picture.

It sounds unkind, but she wasn’t beautiful or even pretty, but you forgot all the frivolous assessments as soon as she spoke.

When I sailed by in my usual ‘craft market mood’, three people were standing in front of her stand, making it difficult to see what she was selling. I did a quick scan for signage or a banner only to be disappointed.

“You may want to sit down,” were the first words I heard her say, “it may come over you immediately, or it may take a minute or two. Every person feels it differently.”

‘Feels what differently?’ I thought out loud — I do that, talk to myself in crowds. It rarely gets me more than a quizzical glance.

I’d separated myself from the rest of my family. Playing the doting grandfather wears a bit thin after a while, so a modicum of solo wandering is liberating. I could see them through the throng, waiting for food. My daughter-in-law is bouncing the youngest on her hip. Mothers develop hips where no hips were before, have you noticed that? Females are amazing. They accept their roles and dive right in. I’m sure they are just as pissed off as males, but generally, they seem to get on with it. I admire that, and I wonder how they do it, or are they just better at hiding their despair from the rest of us?

An old wooden, curved back, early Australian chair sat dangerously close to encroaching on the sacred space in front of the adjoining stall and a late thirties female was gingerly making herself seated. The old chair was rock solid, and the young woman seemed to sink into it, head back eyes closed, arms draped at her side. For a moment I was worried she might topple off the chair onto the hard old school ground surface. My kids played on this old blacktop many years ago, and they came home bloodied and bruised on most days — an unforgiving surface.

I saw her friend take a step towards her as she finally settled.

“It’s amazing. I’m flying. There’s heaps of blue and clouds and birds, and I can feel the wind on my face,” she said, and I wondered if she had been a ventriloquist in a previous life.

“She loves clouds and birds,” said her friend.

“And flying?” said the older lady next to her.

“She used to flap her arms a lot when we were kids, but she never actually took off. Not that I know of.”

“It not matter,” said the lady with the black wavy hair and the gentle voice. “In her mind, she is flying. It as real as if she were bird.”

“She’s driving me home,” said her friend. “How long does this last?”

“It varies. About an hour.” She turned her gaze to the amazed customers, all looking at the flying thirty-something ventriloquist.

“You must not partake and drive, or operate heavy machinery, or sign anything, sex okay though, even encouraged,” said the stallholder with the delicate embroidery.

“Is this stuff even legal?” said a skinny male with a tightly cropped beard and hand-knitted beany.

“My family has been making IMAGINE since before time. It has nothing to do with law. It has to do with what your heart wants. Would you ask lady who makes the jams if it is legal?”

She slowly raised an arm showing old bones and tight muscles and pointed at the large lady in the red and white gingham apron who looked across and smiled at us. She held up a jar and said, “Apricot. Only a few jars left.”

“Her jams are delicious, but no one asks her if they legal. Is happiness legal?” she whispered. The wind caught her hair, and it moved back from her face revealing cheekbones and a gentle mouth. Her eyes weren’t on any of us, but off in the distance.

“Buy, don’t buy. Is your choice.”

A little boy ran into the back of my leg, and when I winced and looked down, he said, “Do you like my dog, mister?”

I looked at the kid and the dog. The dog looked at me with pleading eyes.

“Yeah, cool dog,” I said.

“You want to buy him?”

“How much?” I heard the words spill out of my mouth before my mind engaged.

“Ten bucks and packet of Juicy Fruits,” said the small boy.

The dog seemed to think it was a good deal. The dog had been on this planet for several years so he would know a good deal when he heard it, I guess.

“Wouldn’t your parents object if you sold your dog.”

“Nah. They wouldn’t care,” said the small boy who sensed that I was not an easy mark.

“See ya,” he said and turned to leave. The dog held my gaze as the boy dragged him away.

I turned back to the quiet drama that was still unfolding at the market stall run by the gently spoken lady.

Some of the crowd were now surrounding the young woman in the kangaroo backed chair. They were listening as she narrated her adventures — something about perching on a mountain range with snow all around.

I took the opportunity to peruse the merchandise.

The table was partially covered in tiny clear glass jars about the circumference of a fifty-cent piece. She had arranged them into one small pyramid. The tops of the jars were golden and unbranded. There wasn’t any branding anywhere on the stand, just gold-topped glass jars.

One jar was open and sitting on the table in front of the stallholder. Next to it was an empty jar full of toothpicks.

“How long have I been gone?” asked the lady in the chair. She was attempting to sit upright, straightening her skirt.

“About ten minutes,” said her friend who put her hand on the young woman’s shoulder for reassurance.

“It felt like hours,” said the young woman. “I know what I have to do now.”

She reached in her handbag, pulled out her purse and produced a handful of cash.

“How much for a jar?” she said, looking at the dark-haired stallholder.

“Fifty dollars.”

“I’ll take two jars please,” said the woman snatching two jars and putting them in her bag. “Can I have your card, please?”

“Olga doesn’t have card. But be back again soon.”

The young woman seemed dazed for a moment.

“Don’t bother smear it on; doesn’t make it last longer. Do just as I showed you.”

The woman and her friend disappeared into the crowd, and the young lady who had been flying only minutes ago seemed determined to get somewhere.

“Don’t let her drive,” the old woman said as they rushed away, “give her vodka and potato soup, then she can drive.”

The others in our group pushed money at the lady, and she gave them each a gold-topped jar.

“You want wrapped?”

“No. Thank you, I’ll just pop it into my bag,” said a slender woman with grey-blond hair.

“Good luck, and don’t worry. He’ll be okay.”

The slender woman stared at her before melding into the crowd of craft market shoppers.

The young bearded man who was concerned with legality held out a fifty-dollar note, and the stallholder placed a jar in his upturned palm. She looked him square in the eye. “You know what happiness looks like, and it knows you.”

The young man closed his fingers around the jar, bumped into a lady with a pram before heading off in the direction of the windchime stall.

“Would you like to try IMAGINE?”

I stared at the chair before looking to see if my extended family were still in sight. The little bloke on the hip was stuffing a hot dog in his mouth — little kids always get fed first.

“Yes,” I said, “what do I have to do?”

The woman delicately chose the right toothpick from amongst a jar of identical toothpicks and dipped it into the pale green mixture. The breeze wafted a scent of menthol.

“What adheres to tip of toothpick is enough. Any more and it a waste.”

She awkwardly handed me the toothpick. My large old fingers were reacting to the cold afternoon air, and I was momentarily afraid I would drop the pick.

Thumb and forefinger did their job as they have for more than seventy years, and I rolled the toothpick applying the sticky substance to the back of my hand and rubbed it in with my little finger.

After putting the pick down, I sat on the chair, but not before rubbing my fingers across the pressed pattern on the back. In my youth, I had restored chairs just like this one. Sitting on it felt like coming home.

 

I fully expected the school ground to be empty of stalls and people with only the occasional paper wrapper blowing in the wind. But, instead, it was as it had been when I sat down.

I didn’t go flying, there weren’t any clouds or birds and no snow-covered mountains, but I knew I had to find that kid and the dog. Nothing else was more important.

I handed her money, and she gave me a jar from the pyramid.

“Your destiny is not yet written. It has soft edges,” she said.

I wondered what the ‘soft edges’ meant, but I let it go.

The smell of menthol was in my nostrils as I picked my way through the crowd.

It took a while, but I found my sprawling family near a pottery stall. The little one had smeared tomato sauce across my daughter in law’s shoulder, but she didn’t seem to mind. Mothers blow me away.

“Where did you get the dog grandad?”

I’ve always hated being called grandad, but this was not the time for an argument.

I looked down at the straggly dog with the golden eyes, and he looked up at me.

His lead was a length of stout string that was biting into my hand.

The dog stood patiently by my side, sniffing the air for any interesting smells.

“It’s a long story,” I said. “Do we have any toothpicks at home luv?” I said to my wife. She looked at me in that way she does and said, “I think so.”

The dog licked my hand, and we all disappeared into the crowd.

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