Zephyr’s Emporium sells everything. Most days, I buy sausages or tripe. The front room’s an old Italian deli, like the ones along Blandina. Tomato pie and parmesan, pepperonis hanging from the ceiling, strings of garlic. Shelves of wine in bulbous straw-wrapped bottles. Red, white and green everywhere you look and you’re starving soon as you walk in, even if you just scarfed down three types of pie. Anyway, my grandma likes her tripe, so I’m a regular. You know that’s cow stomach, right?
There’s a lot more to the Emporium, though I never would have seen it except my grandma, she got sick. Zephyr, he’s no bleeding heart, but he was sweet on grandma, long ago.
That last day in the hospital? Never thought they could stick so many needles in an old lady’s stringy arm. Grandma, she made jokes, and not the nice ones either. She likes raunchy humor — three men walk into a bar and someone’s always drunk or naked. Those nurses aren’t uppity though. I guess they’ve seen it all.
After I brought grandma home, set her up with her ashtray and a glass of cold Pinot — because, at that point, why not, really? — I walked down to Zephyr’s. He could see it on my face, those numbers doctors rattled off, and they were old news by then anyway. Gossip flies on Genesee. “Bad, eh?” he said, scratching at those chin whiskers. I nodded. “Humph,” he said, and crooked that tattoo-pirate arm at me. Then he’s off through a curtain I always thought led to a lavatory.
It doesn’t, let me tell you. We shuffled down a narrow hall, hardly any light and I swear old Zephyr opened doors with mumbled words instead of keys. At the last, he turned and winked at me.
Well, you won’t believe me if I tell you. I just followed Zephyr, glancing left and right, eyes popping from my head. Everything was labeled. Falcon feather coats and winged sandals. Lion skins and giant boots. Jars of dragon breath and gorgon blood. Swords and tridents. Golden apples. Flying carpets and a boat made out of fingernails. Jeweled books and mirrors and bones. I rubbed my eyes, but nothing disappeared.
Zephyr stopped halfway through the warehouse, gestured at a dusty shelf, a glass bowl filled with liquid light. “The tears of stars,” he said. “That’ll cure her.” He fixed me with that one eye of his that doesn’t stray. “Hard, you know, to get a star to cry.” He scooped three drops into a vial. “Don’t stay fresh for long outside containment. Better hurry.”
Grandma said they tasted like strawberries and cream, but they smelled like tuna, all I’m saying. She was up singing the next morning, though, making toast with jelly, so I guess they worked. I’ll put in a good word for Zephyr, when I know it’s going to stick. He’s still sweet on grandma and, if the date goes well, he might just cut the price on tripe.
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