[Originally posted on Trimmings, my now-abandoned Tumblr blog.]
There are maps, but it’s still easy to lose yourself: you pass the honey seller, the flower seller, the baker, the fishmonger, and there is such a riot of smells and colors that it’s no use remembering which way you came. There are shops in the center of the market that you’ve never seen. You make your way around the edges, keeping the doors in sight.
There are two bookstores in the market. One is run by a cheerful woman with a young son. The other is always closed. Its books are dusty and yellowed, crammed into shelves and stacked in haphazard piles, draped with an enormous net that allows you to look but not enter. There are two hand-written, faded signs taped to the bookcases. One says, “do not touch.” The other simply says, “don’t.”
Once a week, an entire section of the market is deserted. Other stalls are bright and bustling, but the northeast corner is darkened and covered in net. Its stalls remain empty for three days. The following morning the entire section returns, rolling dough, pulling taffy, mixing and stirring as though they had never left off.
A woman at the wine store told you a story about a ghost. She says that once a row of wine bottles unshelved themselves and slid sullenly to the floor. It was as if a mischievous child ran his or her hand along the low crates, but no one was there–just the woman and one of the market men, standing at least fifteen feet away from the broken bottles and the pooling red stain.
You know that the market is more than a hundred years old, but you don’t believe in ghosts. Right?
If you did, though, you’d imagine spectral disturbances emanating from the market’s dark, cobwebby basement. You have never been down there, but now that you know it exists, you think you can feel it, yawning and dark beneath your feet.
You’ve been coming to the market for years, ever since you first moved to town. At first you were awed by the exotic fruits you found at the produce sellers, edible delights you had never seen before. Now other shoppers watch you as you fill your basket. They tap you timidly and ask how to prepare the strange spiky vegetables and blank-faced winter squashes. They look incredulous when you mime scraping the tender meat from a leaf with your teeth, or using a fork to fluff a squash into a vegetal spaghetti. But they ask anyway.
Someone wonders aloud about the store that sells colorful sugars and pungent spices. You tell them how to find it and comment offhandedly that you preferred the store that was in its place before.
What store was that, you are asked.
You pause. You no longer remember.