July 18, 2015
I lumbered down the cobble-stoned street, filled with aching grief, holding my tweed jacket closely to my body in order to shield the chill of the night. I could not plumb how I would ever be the same man without the woman I had spent these last glorious years with. I never even considered she may not be with me through my twilight years. We were a team. We were soulmates. We expected to always be together. My heart ached beyond anything I had felt before.
Cancer! I hated cancer and what it was doing to the beautiful woman I loved. The doctors informed us there was no more to be done. My wife would succumb to the disease within three months. I felt in utter shock, not wanting to believe our new reality. She did not deserve this pain and I wished I could take it from her, but we had exhausted every avenue to find her successful treatment. There just was nothing to be done. I could not bear to be home while my wife remained stoic and resigned to her fate. She gracefully accepted her truth, and her calm demeanor made staying in the house unbearable. I made an excuse to leave with some fabrication of needing fresh milk and eggs from the neighborhood market, but I really just wanted to walk and clear my head. I had to be strong for her.
I had ventured out for at least two hours with no destination in mind, just walking and hoping I was in the middle of an unwelcome nightmare. As I turned down an old, weary boulevard I had never noticed before, I felt compelled to continue. I was walking to nowhere, a bit lost, but unable to retreat to more familiar pavement. In the midst of my jaunt, I glanced up and observed a completely unexpected site. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and peered up again. This is when I heard a roar of laughter and, although my heart was heavy, I realized the bluster came from my own lips. There it was in large, old-fashioned lettering on a old, withered board. The sign clearly read in large letters, The Black Emporium. Underneath, in smaller type was, Oddities to Astonish and Amuse. My wife’s great-uncle had spoken of this magnificent place he inadvertently stumbled upon years ago. His vociferous gabfest about the treasure trove of items in this magical outlet would go on for hours. Knowing my dear’s great-uncle with his unbelievable anecdotes made this tale just another inconceivable declaration from an old, imaginative man. But here it was!
I hesitantly extended toward the threshold, both afraid and intrigued at the same time. I continued across the doorway into unknown territory. The aroma of incense emanated throughout the store. It was a fresh smell of musk and bark, with a hint of vanilla, the same kind my love had chosen for me in the gift of cologne last Christmas. The minute I made my way through the entrance, it was strangely obvious this was no regular market. There was something peculiar about the place. The scent was inviting, but the objects placed neatly on shelves all over the store were a mix of beauty and fright. There were shelves of freakish oddities, just as advertised, but also books with strange pictures and colors on their covers, and oddly shaped boxes of what I was unaware. There was no writing on the cover of any of the books and no explanation of what the puzzling novelties were. There were objects that resembled a sort of twisted trees, different sizes and colors, some of rough texture, others very smooth, nothing I had ever seen before. I noticed various shaped bottles with peculiar looking liquids inside. These liquids were different colors and consistencies, some quite thin, others thick, and even more cloudy, like a gas, not a liquid. I was not clear what emotion I felt, but I knew the love of my wife and my own curiosity pulled me in and would not let me go. This odd place actually appealed to all of my senses as a wave of tranquility washed through my body.
I continued to browse the various items on shelves throughout the small emporium when I suddenly realized I was alone. There were no clerks, no other patrons, only me with this force that wouldn’t allow me to leave.
I called out, “Is anyone here? Hello. You have a customer.”
I tried again, “Hello, I would like to buy something. Is anyone here?”
No answer again.
My perplexed mind could not grasp what everything in this establishment was, but the intense desire to know would not allow me to depart. I was mysteriously drawn to the various objects in the store, and continued down each shelf, too nervous to touch anything, but mesmerized by what I examined. Without warning, I was startled by a sound coming from the back of the store. I gingerly stepped towards the noise, expecting the merchant, and hoping for an explanation of the curiosities I had perused.
“Hello, is anyone there?” quickly taken aback by how harshly my voice carried through the still boutique of strange and wonderful riches.
Still no answer.
Hurriedly, a ball of fur shot out from the darkness, and passed through my legs. I yelped and was nearly thrown off balance as the rodent’s slimy pink tail whipped at my ankles. As I struggled to keep upright, I hurled my arms out to my sides for balance. In doing so, my fingertips grazed an unfortunate curio, which then rocketed to a distant corner of the room. I quickly pivoted towards the door hoping to catch a glimpse of the furry fiend. Almost as to mock me, the creature stuck his snout out and shot his beady eyes in my direction, after which he darted away as quickly as he had arrived.
I continued to watch out the door wondering what I had gotten myself into. Being a responsible man, I knew I had to return the misplaced artifact to its original home. I paraded toward the relic. As I bent down to retrieve the item, I caught a glimpse of something in my periphery. I cocked my head to see a nearly unnoticeable alcove in the wall. I immediately abandoned my initial chore and strutted directly towards the cavity.
Sitting alone in the cubicle was a suspicious looking object. I advanced closer, slightly bending forward at the waist, elongating my neck and head in a cockeyed fashion. I wanted to inspect the enigma but felt compelled to leave a gap of security, in case I sensed the urgency to turn quickly and dash to a protected distance. Upon further investigation, the feature I discovered was completely white and smooth, immediately identifiable as an ordinary bar of soap. I sighed in a confused state and wondered what a normal bar of soap was doing hidden away while all the strange relics were open for browsing.
I moved my entire body closer to the bar of soap, no longer apprehensive, and could not believe my eyes. A thick layer of dust had settled in a circumference around the normal bathing piece found in every home, but the bar of soap itself remained pristine without any signs of age or wear. It appeared to be of no real value, but was as shiny as the chrome found on a polished, brand new automobile. It was such an ordinary thing, a surprise in such an extraordinary place. I was drawn to the soap, but afraid to disturb its existence. It was then that I heard the voice.
“I have been waiting for you.”
My eyes peered in every direction to see who was finally speaking to me only to see no one. “Who’s there? Please show yourself.”
“I’ve waited a long time but knew you would eventually find me. You wonder about the soap, do you not?”
“Yes, yes,” I rapidly answered displaying my fascination.
“The bar is no regular soap. It is quite special. Listen carefully and you will fathom the wizardry before you. Take the soap from its home of many years and have your wife wash her body three times. She may feel a shock, even a little pain, as she cleanses, but that is a favorable sign. Tell her not to be frightened. There is an exclusive restoration that comes from this exceptional soap. You will find that your troubles will vanish once your wife purifies herself. Remember, she must wash three times. Do not be astonished when after each wash, the soap returns to its pristine and original form. It will look and feel as if it had never been used.”
The voice continued in an ominous tone. “There is a critical part of this task you must know. Listen carefully to fully absorb my words. You must never divulge the grace you have found here. You and your wife must preserve this secret for eternity.”
I nodded in agreement assuring comprehension of the warning.
“Something else you must know. After the third cleansing, you must return this soap to its authentic home. If you do not, the benefit it offers your wife will be lost, and there will be no second chances. Take the bar and do what I say.”
I hesitated, unsure of this voice that came from a presence unseen.
“Go ahead. Do not fear. Take the soap.”
I carefully gripped the object in one hand and slowly placed it in the pocket of my tweed jacket. I checked to be sure it was securely stored while I ventured to find the familiar streets that led me back to my household where my wife patiently waited. I could not believe what had happened to me on that difficult day, but I had a distinct sense of hope.
All the way home, I could utter only the words, “Please heal her. Please heal her. Please heal her.”
Walking quickly into my home and directly to my mate, I asked her to put her quilting aside and listen carefully to my story. Her large, blue eyes stared intently into mine as she concentrated on my words. The blue of her eyes became more acute as she heard my tale, a trait of hers I had always admired in her when she became delighted. Interrupting me mid-sentence, my spouse cried out her great-uncle’s name, with firm recollection of the elderly man and his fictional accounts of adventures he experienced only in his extravagant mind, or so we once believed. Could these elaborate fantasies expressed for the entertainment of his gullible family actually be true? My obedient bride smiled with glee and agreed to do as I asked. I explained every detail of my experience in what I now assumed was a magical place. My wife watched me carefully with a look of awe, aware I had not lost my mind. She knew me too well and agreed to do exactly as the unseen voice had instructed.
After three careful scrubs with the enchanting soap, each time the bar returning to its original unused form, my wife felt energized. The strength she had lost due to cancer invading her body had returned and she felt better than she ever had before. After visiting several of her doctors, there was no evidence of the illness my partner had previously suffered. The doctors were all astonished and spoke only of miracles as they found no cancer in my wife’s body. She had been cured. We, of course, could not share how such fortune came to be, as we remained silent.
Shortly thereafter, I returned the soap carefully to the pocket of my tweed jacket. I headed in the same direction as before and found the magical shop without much difficulty. I walked in and again was greeted by no one. I was once again alone in The Black Emporium. Looking around, I observed that nothing had been disturbed; even the curio that I had knocked over was now in its original site. I walked gingerly to the hidden alcove, reached for the soap from my pocket and cautiously returned it to its place of greatness. I heard no voice. I saw no person. I only felt a sense of peace, relief, and happiness.
I never found emporium again. In fact, the cobble-stoned road I had suddenly discovered was now gone. I did not know why I was chosen for this gift and why my wife was revived, but I knew it was no accident. I was certain my wife and I had been selected by a force I would never clarify.
It is now forty years later and my soulmate and I are still in great health. We are enjoying our twilight years together, taking advantage of each day. I will always remember that wonderful great-uncle of my love and the bewildering excursion many years ago. I will always appreciate the blessing bestowed on us. As a result, and, more importantly, I would never lose faith in unforeseen possibilities again.
Written by Niecy and DAnthony2, mother and son