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The Purple Line

Atsushi Ikeda

So I went back to the guy and I said I didn’t ask for the image of a burning fox running through my head and away from me constantly, even there when I sleep, scrambling my memories of the day—I wanted a real fox. He promised me he had everything in that bag and really, I held back, I was testing him. I thought an animal would be innocuous. So when he pulled his hand out in a wriggling fist and opened it to an empty palm, I knew he was a fraud. Don’t worry, it’s just shy, he said. I said listen man I have places to be so what am I to do, I asked as a lark last time but now I can’t get the fox out of my head. He said okay he’s not here now but when the market gets busy head towards the far end, but not all the way, just the middle, where the people in blue thin out and you start seeing the people in red, there’s a man with a stall who has everything else in his bag. I said what the fuck are you on about and waited till Saturday to find the Purple Line.

You asked him for a fox? Yes I asked him for a fox it was to make a point which is that I don’t believe him. Why not? Too good to be true? I stared at him. Because what the fuck does it even mean? To have a box with everything in it? Wait, please, my friend, don’t switch your story, first you said it was a bag now it becomes a box, like he is a clown? What? You know, the clowns have boxes and they are spinning the wheel and then BOOM, a flower comes out. That’s called a jack-in-the-box. And usually it’s a smaller clown that comes out of the box, not a flower. He stared at me. Sorry, I only have the ones with flowers.

So I went back to the guy and I said you know, when you said he had everything else, I thought you meant everything that you didn’t have, and he scrunched his face to say What? I meant all the other things you’re not looking for—everything else. To which I said let me look in that box, I mean bag. He said no, your brain would explode and I don’t want to clean it up, and I said okay, fuck it, how about a turtle, which made him smile. He rummaged through his bag for a long time, too long, just for show, and lifted one up by its carapace, its legs slowly batting through the air as a few children stopped to stare. What else? An airplane, I said, which didn’t land with him.

My friend… look at two things. The size of my bag, and the size of my hand.

You asked him for an airplane? Yes I asked him for an airplane it was to make a point which is that he is trying to trick people. Okay, but if I say, ‘Doctor, please make my hair grow back by tomorrow or I will curse your whole family,’ how do you think the doctor feels? Did he study all his life for this treatment? But the doctor I’m dealing with is waving at pedestrians and saying he has the cure for everything. I never said I was on his side, my friend. But I am saying that it’s just his business. And that you should know better as a loyal customer of his. I don’t think trying to exchange a purchase time after time makes me a loyal customer. Big mistake, eh? No receipt Anyway, do you want these pumpkins or not?

So I went back to the guy and I said my friend, how long have you been doing this for? And his smile lost expectation, something sagged. A few years, he said, throwing the answer at me like breadcrumbs, then he paused, smiling again: And you? How long have you been wandering without a name, just free to walk around, and ask for more? Then I said who says I’m free, I show up here always don’t I and he said well you don’t have to and I said yes, yes I do, because I’m not letting you put one over on me. You tell people you have everything, everything, and some of them wait in line an hour just to ask for a hairbrush or a spoon, things they could get anywhere else. Either they don’t believe you or they believe you but don’t care. That or they just don’t know what ‘everything’ means. It’s not something they know how to want. He laughed and pulled an hourglass out of the bag and set it sideways on his counter. You know what that means, friend? Time to close, see you tomorrow.

You didn’t ask him for anything? No I didn’t have time to. You should’ve gone earlier. He has nothing for me. Oh. Must have been busy! What I mean is that I’m never going back again, and the same goes for you. Ah, but I don’t believe you, you’re content to leave empty-handed? You know, you’re not the only person who’s gotten stuck in this game and lost his spirit and cried all the way home. What I always tell the other people is that I am on their side. You know why? Because the other guy may have everything you want but I have, remember, everything else—that’s what lives are made of! So when he closes shop, my door is still open, it’s like a refuge. He sells you fantasy, I sell you reality. But that’s the last thing I want. That is the very last thing I want. I hear your plaints and cries, my friend, and I would give you my sympathies, but I believe I have something even better…

And he reached for his bag which started wriggling, and I knew how to look it in the eyes this time, because as it bolts straight away in front of me and I blink, startled, that millisecond of darkness is the only chance I will have to see its face: the grin at the void’s bottom, the wood-crackle under everything. No, this time, I wouldn’t miss it. I would pull the fucker back to me.

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Atsushi Ikeda (@ah_daradara) is a writer/musician in Montreal whose work has appeared in Apocalypse Confidential, new_sinews, ergot., Expat Press, Spectra Poets, and more.