The medicine shop looked like it had been there since the beginning of time, the shelves haphazard as if added year after year. There were apothecary jars so dusty it was hard to tell just what was inside, the labels inscribed with black ink long since faded.
The shopkeeper appeared from out of the dusty haze as if from some bygone era, white beard and moustache, wire-rimmed glasses, and yet his eyes were bright and blue and unwavering when he asked me what I was looking for.
I wasn't sure until I saw what I thought was a mistake, a trick of the mind, no doubt. But no, the letters I read on the shelf, just above several jars of an unusual kind, were right: Spirits For Sale, they said.
“Spirits for sale?” I laughed, my nervousness perhaps a dead giveaway, because deep down inside it was exactly what I had hoped to find, though I didn't know it until that moment.
And the shopkeeper knew it too. “Yes. Spirits. Did you have anyone particular in mind?”
His eyes, like I said, didn't waver one bit, not a flutter of an eyebrow or a twitch of his lip. He was dead serious, as dead as the spirits that were bound in those jars on that rickety shelf.
So I played along, though not very well. “As a matter of fact,” I stumbled and stammered, and all the while my heart hammered a deep beat of regret in my chest, “I was thinking of my recently departed wife.”
There, I said it. It was out of my mouth before I could reel it back in, and if I'm not mistaken, I saw on the shopkeeper's face a grin as devilish as a cat that had just left an offering on the front porch steps, with a look in its eye that said it was mine whether I wanted it or not.
The shopkeeper made his way slowly to the spirit shelf and reached up, and I could swear I heard his bones creak with each inch that he reached, until his thin gnarled fingers snatched the one jar that my mind had lingered upon, and he brought it down and held it like a prize.
“Magnificent choice,” he said, his paper skin hands and roadmap veins rubbing the jar of its dust like an aged Aladdin trying to conjure a djinn.
“How much?” I asked.
And there it was again, that devilish grin that laughed without a sound. He placed the jar on the counter and said, “How much is it worth for you to have her back?”
I opened my wallet and handed him all of my cash.
The shopkeeper's fingers nimbly grabbed every bill. “Just remember,” he said, his eyes blue like the skin of the recently dead, “have a piece of her ready when you open that jar, a lock of her hair, a dress she once wore, even a photograph that captured her smile, her essence, and once again, she will be yours."
I grabbed the jar without as much as a thanks. I didn't look back as I left the old medicine shop and returned to the home I once shared with my wife, a home she'd forsaken for a night of passion with a stranger that she claimed “just happened.” But I knew better the root cause of her cold indiscretion: she no longer loved the man I'd become.
And her death that night, I had come to believe, was an accident, though I couldn't recall how she fell down the stairway and twisted her neck and broke all those bones. And the blood, the blood that pooled on the landing like an apron of death as red as the lipstick that kissed her lover and forever broke our vows.
It was time. For death, accidental or otherwise, was too easy an escape for the pain she had inflicted upon my heart.
So I dug a grave in the yard under the light of the moon and slid a coffin I'd made out of rough-hewn pine in the now empty space, and in the coffin I placed her favorite dress, the one she wore that night she came home and confessed, and a photograph of our wedding day when the smiles were genuine and the future so bright, and a lock of her hair from the hairbrush she stroked through her hair every night before bed, just to be sure.
And when all was where it was supposed to be, I opened the jar and tossed it into the deep and into the dark of the coffin, and as quick as could be, I nailed the lid shut.
But a curious thing happened. It soon became apparent I hadn’t been quick enough, for the spirit that resided in that old apothecary jar found a refuge instead in the living as it snaked its way into my lungs, to that part of her that still remained bound to my heart.
And now we are one as one should never be, two spirits entwined like two serpents fighting for control over the same tree of wisdom in an unearthly garden in which I planted the seed. Needless to say, we returned to the medicine shop the following day and found it empty as the grave in the yard, a grave that looks more and more like an escape than an end, if only I could get her to agree.
But she likes her newfound home inside my body, inside my head. I know now she enjoyed punishing me, and she knows now that I wished her dead. Perhaps it's for the best. And yet, it does get lonely, even in the company of someone so close and yet distant as the stars. It will drive us both mad, I'm sure. But if madness is measured by the acts we perform, then both of us got what we deserve.