Tuesday, 4 September 2012
The Little Shop
There are not many who remember it. It was a strange building, not quite Greek temple and not quite neo-classical church. It had been built in the 19th century as a chapel, but it was not quite that either. When I moved to the town, the grounds around it and the steps leading up to its grand portico were overgrown with weeds and grass. The few trees had run a little rampant and their roots pushed up the paving around the building. I was not the only one who passed by it on the way to work. At first I used to murmur, 'Poor thing' as I passed, then as the sight of it grew more familiar I began to bow my head as I passed.
But one morning when I passed there was a signboard over it that read 'THE LITTLE SHOP'. It did not seem as if the owners had quite the idea for the sign was worn and the rivets that held the letters to the board were rusted. My curiosity was such that I could not wait for the weekend. My neighbours, a mum with young children on one side and an elderly couple on the other were talking in the street on my return from work and it became clear that they were talking about the shop.
I was the third atheist in my street, the rest were all worshippers of one religion or another. I noticed the small steel crucifixes worn as necklaces on the women as well as their clothes and shoes. The mum still wore stiletto shoes and it raised her height to a little over five foot four. Despite the differences in belief, I was greeted kindly and asked about the shop.
"Very strange it was," the old lady said, "I felt very uneasy in there, even though the food looked lovely."
"My kids were scared to go in," the mum said with a little laugh.
I remembered a poem suddenly,
"“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,... "
Goblin Market, that was it. Still, now I longed to go to the Little Shop to see it. I quoted the poem and they laughed.
"The lady in the shop has lovely red hair though," the mum said.
"I knew a red-haired girl at school and she was gorgeous to look at, but this lady's hair was really...luxuriant. That's the only word for it - luxuriant. I wouldn't mind hair like hers, mind you I've got no grey hairs yet despite the kids scaring me every day with what they get up to," she added.
I left them after a little and went in for supper. Pasta and tomatoes with mushrooms and pine nuts again. It wanted a little time yet until pay day.
On Saturday morning however, I was up early and ready to explore. I bought a loaf of bread and a newspaper. I stopped for a coffee and two croissants at The Flying Cup & Saucer and read the TV guide. On my way afterwards, I headed towards the Little Shop. Outside the Shop I saw a tall red-haired woman in a nut-brown dress and leaf-green boots. She was offering a little girl a beautiful red apple. On the face of it I was not looking at anything unusual, but there was something menacing about the woman. She did not instantly appear threatening, but I was suddenly reminded of Snow White's stepmother.
The little girl was about to reach for the apple when her mother came striding up the street and took the girl by the hand.
"Vera! I've told you once if I've told you a thousand times, don't take things from people you don't know," she told the girl.
Vera was about to cry and the face of the red-haired woman had darkened with anger. The mother turned to her and smiled obliviously.
"No offence, but you tell them and they just don't listen. You're clearly a nice woman but you know, there's all kinds of weirdos around these days. I tell Vera all the time. It's very nice of you to offer but she's had her breakfast and you just have to watch them. Come along Vera, we'll be late for your grandma," the mother said and strode off with Vera rushing to catch up.
I strolled towards the Shop slowly and as I did, my foot caught in the pavement. As I tripped and steadied myself, I looked up and the beautiful red-haired woman seemed to be an ancient shadowed woman and the apple seemed to be rotten - almost the shadow of an apple. I was wearing an old steel key about my neck on a ribbon and it banged against my chest as I regained my balance. I took it in my fingers as I straightened up, my heart thumping in me. As I did I saw the old Chapel as it had always been, grubby and overgrown with weeds and grass. Also, it seemed surrounded by strange shadows that seemed to move around the building. Insects scurried over it and spiders spun elegant webs across the entrance and over the woman's nut-brown dress.
As she saw me coming she smiled and offered me the apple. I caught the look in her green eyes, a look of menace as if I were a lamb before a starving tigress. Her smile was somehow wild and dangerous. I smiled nervously.
"Won't you come buy our orchard fruits my love?" she asked in delicate melodious tones.
Won't you step into my parlour? I thought to myself. I held up one hand while clutching my steel key and her eyes flickered as she saw the key and frowned quickly.
"I'd love to but I've only just had breakfast and I don't get paid until the week after next," I answered regretfully.
Suddenly my curiosity had evaporated like the dew on the grass.
"Taste them and try: Currants and gooseberries, Bright-fire-like barberries, Figs to fill your mouth, Citrons from the South, Sweet to tongue and sound to eye; Come buy, come buy," she said, her voice like a song in my head.
A song that wound around me like smoke - like ivy or jasmine, drawing me in somehow and yet I felt uneasy. Queasy and nauseous as if I wanted to throw up from too much food. The coffee seemed acidic in my stomach the croissants ashes in my mouth, dry and horribly burnt somehow. And while that song wound about me, gently, caressing me like a lover, the woman seemed to sway a little as if she were about to faint. I stepped forward and inhaled a green grassy air deeply. She leaned back against the stone pillars leading into the Chapel grounds and put a hand to the pale curve of her neck. Was it my imagination or my nausea that lent her skin a greenish hue?
"Are you alright?" I asked even as I struggled to master my own nausea.
She moaned softly and whispered, "Come buy, come buy."
I was tempted then and she seemed to know it, proffering the apple to me. Her sleeve fell back from her forearm and the same greenish tint to her skin was there. I sought to make sense of it. The light through the trees, I told myself. She is unwell - I am ready to be sick that is why I am seeing this greenish tint to her. In a sudden instant she was the old woman of shadow again for I had grasped my steel key tightly and I knew what she was.
The shop was not there on Monday morning when I walked past in a state of nerves. But I have not forgotten when the faeries had a shop in our town. Unless it was goblins of course.