Wish You Were Here
Every day is market day.
It was a key. A brass key. It was old-fashioned. Probably antique. I ran my fingers over the intricate inscription along its length. The writing was tiny, far too small to read. “What does it say?”
The stallholder was watching me. The fingers of his left hand beat a staccato rhythm on his thigh. His eyes darted away when I looked up. “Wish you were here,” he said, his voice rough as sandpaper.
I ran the tip of my finger along the cool metal. “Wish you were here?”
He nodded gruffly and waved a dismissive hand at another customer trying to get his attention. “That’s what it says.”
It was perfect. “I’ll take it.”
Today is market day. Every day is market day. But today could be my last. I no longer believe in Gods. But if I did… If I did believe? Then I would pray that today is my day. Just like I would every day.
The Lady Eloise de Marco was not to be won over by sweet words and pretty flowers. She demanded something special from her suitors. Something exquisite. Something expensive.
Her other suitors had money, and land, and prospects. I had nothing but the purity of my love and a near-empty purse. But I was determined to win her hand nonetheless. So I made my way to the Market of Fleas. I would find her something unique.
And I did. I found a brass key that fit no lock, but bore a sweet inscription.
It was perfect. I would give her the key to my heart.
I scan the crowd. I am always looking; hoping. Once, I had a chance. I could have walked away. But my sense of honour betrayed me. There is no fear of that now. My honour has long since died, along with my love and my faith.
“I’ll take it.”
The old man fought back cough. His gaze locked with mine for a moment, and then he looked away. “You’ll take it?” he repeated, his voice cracking halfway through the question.
“Yes, “I said. “How much?”
He licked his lips, his eyes darting left and right as though he didn’t know what to say next. Had he never made a sale before? I jingled my purse to hurry him along, and he coughed again as he looked back at me. He named a figure, a mere few francs, and then held out his hand.
As I placed the coins in his palm, I realised he was crying.
Sal works the stall next to mine. Her voice is often raised. Sometimes in jest, often in anger. But today is different.
“What did you say?” she yells above the noise.
I don’t hear the response, but I hear the catch in Sal’s voice when she answers. “Wish you were here.”
I turn to look. So does everyone else. Not the customers, mind. Just us.
“Yes,” Sal says, her voice more shrill than normal. “That’s what it says.”
I sense her eagerness to close the deal, but she waits. She has to. Asking is against the rules.
“You do?” she asks. “Um. Two dollars.”
I look away. I can’t bear to see the tears I can hear in her voice. I can’t bear for it to be her last day instead of mine.
The coins fell into his outstretched hand. His tears fell to the ground. The world moved. I fell into the market.
A teenage boy tries to get my attention. He has long hair, a pink shirt, and a stupid expression. I wave him away with a gesture. I’m watching the new guy in the stall next door. I’m watching him try to understand what happened.
I had no idea what had happened. One minute I was paying for a key, the next I was behind the stall.
“Do not try to flee,” said a strange voice that seemed to come from the inside of my head. “You are in the market.”
The woman in the next booth called, “Welcome aboard. My name’s Sal. Wish you were here?”
I looked at her stupidly. “What?” I said again.
She pointed to the key in my hands. “Wish you were here?”
I looked down at the key—the key I was going to give to Eloise—and then back to Sal. “Yes,” I said.
She gave me a wry smile. “You’re here until someone else wishes the same thing, sugar. You may as well get used to it.”
“Hey!” I call to the guy at the next stall. “Welcome aboard. My name’s Pierre.”
The girl couldn’t have been more than fifteen. “What does this say?” she asked, looking up at me through her lashes.
I stared at her. She was so young. So very young. But she reminded me of Eloise. “Wish you were here,” I said. I could barely breathe.
She breaks into a grin. “Wish you were here?” she repeats.
I nod. My chest was tight. “That’s what it says.”
“No.” I reached out and grabbed it from her hand. “No. You’re too young. Go away.”
She did, taking my chance for freedom with her.
The long-haired boy is still trying to get my attention. He can’t be more than fifteen. “Hey, dude! What does this say?”
My breath catches. “Wish you were here.”
“Wish you were here?” he repeats.
I nod. “That’s what it says.”
He grins. “Cool! It’s perfect. How much?”
I open and shut my mouth a few times, trying to make the words come out. “Two dollars.”
The boy sticks his hand in a pocket and then offers me his money. My hand is shaking. Tears fall like coins.
The world has changed. My sweet Eloise is long gone. But I’m free.
Market day is over.