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Once past the sign, he stepped on State Street to merge with the sea of football fans. The Farmers Market on the Capitol Square was only moments from Johnson and in full bloom now.
Predawn preparations, the glimpse behind the veil, felt like weeks ago, part of another dimension altogether. Premarket ghosts blown out over Lake Mendota by a gust of football buzz, mummers, art vendors and gawkers.
Diversity and doing defined the market.
Being on the square during the market was intoxicating.
This day allowed but a brief visit to the Mifflin Street section.
Of all the vendors, one snagged his attention, set back from the others by several yards and hemmed in by its neighbors. The location poor, even hidden, and the female attendant quite apathetic. Approaching the table required maneuvering through the throngs gathered around the adjacent Wisconsin Honey stand and Hmong vegetable tent. Marc wiggled and excused his way to the curious stand and stood before it. The selection she offered was limited, but magnificent. Housed in three chipped and chaffed five-gallon buckets, set atop a worn plywood table, were the most breathtaking flowers he had ever seen. Each flower featured brilliant colors, fabulous gemlike facets and leaves of the most distinct design, so ornate they demanded awe and inspection. Ancient curiosity stirred and propelled him forward until he was inches from them.
Why he was there remained hazy until a tender breeze launched from the iced waters of Lake Mendota drifted up State Street, meandered amidst the crowd, made a final push, pried heavenly aromas off velvet petals, and delivered them to his nose.
“Excuse me,” he coughed out much quieter than intended.
“Excuse me.” Louder but still covered by the racket of the crowd.
The old woman behind the plywood, seated in a crooked wooden chair, roused in response, revealing gray hair tucked beneath a wool cap with wide flaps tied under a prickly chin. Her level of disinterest in peddling her wares was betrayed by her filthy clothes, torn snow pants, stringy scarf, mud-caked boots and gloves that left more skin exposed than protected.
“Excuse me, can you tell me what sort of flowers these are?” he asked, pointing to the middle bucket.
“Yellow,” she said through pallid lips.
“Yellow, yes, but the name, I’ve never seen anything like them before.”
“Don’t know,” she said, shifting her weight extracted a severe crack from her chair. “If you like em’, buy em’, only twelve bucks a dozen. Fair price. Bundle em’ for ya?” She strained to rise, no easy task.
“Actually, these here,” he motioned toward the bucket to the right of the yellow, “what kind are these?”
An icy wind slurred his question and he asked again.
“Blue,” she answered.
“Alright, how much for the blue ones?” he asked after being bumped from behind by other shoppers for the umpteenth time.
“You want the blue? Only ten bucks a dozen. Bundle em’?” She grabbed a bag designed to hold a bouquet of flowers.
“Yeah, I guess so, bundle em’ my good woman, Bruce will enjoy their perfume. It will remind him of summer.” He smiled under frozen breath and dug cash from his parka. “I only got a twenty, can you make change?”
“Of course, good merchants make change,” she said, reaching for a beaten abacus.
“Yes, I’m sure you’re a good merchant.” He corrected his misstep and handed over the money. “Do you come to the market much?”
“Not much,” came the vacant reply while she arranged the three buckets. “Enough. People need flowers. No?” She plucked a bouquet from the bucket on the right and presented them to Marc. “These?”
“Those will do just fine,” he replied during a scan of the market.
“Not yellow? Blue?”
“The blue ones, yes the blue ones.”
“Blue then.” And she continued the process.
Bundling the blue flowers proved to be a slow process. He quickly saw why her gloves were shredded. Hidden under oaken leaves, running up the stems were needle-like thorns at least three inches in length. These required skill in handling. Her tattered gloves granted fleeting glimpses of scarred hands. Shreds of cloth concealed the bulk of each hand while their motion hid the remainder. Still though, he picked up snaps of flesh when they slowed to adjust her scarf or wipe a drippy nose. Without warning, those snaps congealed in his mind and became whole. Like a black rampaging wave, the image staged a coupe on his senses, seized them by the throat, pitching his soul to and fro. The wave stifled the whir of the market. A drone flooded his skull, extinguished thought, eyes fixed, unblinking. Blood battered his eardrums, thrumming in time with racing heartbeats. Nausea twisted his gut.
The hands within those gloves, the ones working the flowers, the skin, the blotches, tendons, each bony knuckle, every stray hair…an exact replica of the Siberian witch, Thuban-Pol.
A clot lodged in his arteries, the chill numbed his synapses, the genesis of the black wave there, under tattered gloves, the realization crystallized. Seeing these hands was seeing the hands of his true love at the distant point of Reunion.
Stabbing pain struck his fingers like lightning, cracked him from the trance.
Slammed into his hand by the old woman, his bouquet of thorny stemmed blue flowers. Blood bulbs blossomed on three fingertips where the spikes ripped a furrow in his skin and fell, splashing to the concrete.
Shaken, he turned for home and resumed a brisk walk down Mifflin, this time determined, stopping for nothing.
“Sir! Your change!” Came a call from the other side of the buckets.
“Keep it,” he said with crimson fingers between chapped lips, too garbled for anyone to hear.
One Lucky winner will receive the following:
- Stuffed white tiger, print copy of Emerge Beyond Circles, and a $25 Amazon gift card.