The Shopkeeper

A beautiful girl opened a shop. She sold all manner of beautiful things—paulownia fireboxes and chests of drawers, cherry bookshelves and coffers, books of hemp, tobacco and rice paper, inkstones, inkwells, and a thousand different kinds of brushes. There were boxes to store type, boxes to hide things gathered from the shore, and boxes of candy, marbles, flutes and porcelain, to name a few of her treasures. As years went by, very few people came to see her, despite her good wares, fair prices and cheerful manner. Those who came showed little interest in her goods, but instead rambled on about old shops long since closed, new shops announcing their grand openings, bygone products, cutting edge products, or the products they were peddling at the moment. Some would bring numerous parcels full of samples, and start exhibiting them or demonstrating them right in her shop, as if she did not know what a tea whisk was, as if she would be interested in bottled saltwalter. Her closest friends and kin refused to purchase so much as a sheet of paper from her, even though she would have charged them next to nothing. To make matters worse, even the thugs ignored her. She possessed the only shop on the street that had not paid protection fees in a hundred years. The only people who were kind to her were travelers, pilgrims and strangers who sometimes strayed into her shop, and the orange and white cats of the street. The woman wanted to burn her shop and run off with a signboard seller down the lane, who was good with a carving knife and brush, who was rumoured to have returned from exile in the islands for unknown crimes in the black rope trade. She always pictured the islands as beautiful, stark places of gray boulders and topaz waterfalls, with dark firs stabbing at the snowy skies. The islands were just down the lane. The islands were far, far away.

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