He parked his car in the multi-story, got out and breathed the cold air in. The rain swayed in through the upper open plan area like a slow swarm of midges. The sky was the colour of a 4B pencil. He walked to the lifts and rode the grey box down to the ground floor. He came out of the car park and walked the brown brick path. Tall brick buildings rose on either side of him and met the dull sky with a shrug. When he arrived at the building he was heading to he could see people dodging the rain and checking their itineraries, and their phones, their heads all down and their eyes busy.
He found a stall that made murky tea the colour of a building site, served in a plain paper cup, and he looked for where he needed to be.
He entered the room through the double doors that creaked and seemed to resist. Inside, he was faced with rows and rows of stalls and people moving from one to the other like they were searching for the right lock to their key. He moved past displays of bright colour and bold shapes, each artist he passed pushing forwards with smiles and hopeful ‘hello’s.
He looked down at his itinerary. Table 21. That’s where she would be. He edged his way around more stalls, some artists sketching in soft pencil on plain paper while he passed them, the tiny movements like the shudder of leaves in a sudden breeze. He didn’t see her until he was at the table. She was so small, so slight, so unnoticeable. When she uttered a few words her voice rolled around the foreign phrases like the rain round rocks.
“It’s so cold.” she said, and he smiled. How English to talk about the weather. He wondered if she’d done it on purpose.
“Could you draw for me?” he asked.
And he watched, mesmerised by every tiny movement her hand made, as she drew the things his eyes needed to see and his heart needed to feel. A tree, a bow of branches heavy with luscious green leaves and berries. The ground like a sea mist, pea green with the flow of turquoise sweeping through it. And an elf sitting on the lull of the tree trunk. She smiled and nodded as she handed it over and exchanged it for his waxy new bank notes.
He carried his treasure carefully from the room, looking at it every three steps he made. He walked back out into the rain and he shielded his precious gift like it was necessary, like it was essential. Which it was. He walked back past the high brown brick buildings, all the way to his car. And he sat inside and he was barely aware anymore of the grey sky and the swarm of rain and the cold dank car park. All he could see was the pocket of the forest he held in his hand. The green of the leaves so sensuous he could feel them. The swirl of the land and the forest mist from a foreign place so real he felt he was surrounded by it. He stepped into her world and he never wanted to leave.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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