Monday

Treasures I

In The Hells you can buy and sell anything. At the Marketplace many treasures are exchanged.

One merchant sold rats.

Precious rats. Darling things.

On a bamboo table, side by side they lay on their backs, tiny bird-leg paws folded over tiny sterna. Each was couched on a bed of bright-hued crepe paper –red, pink, tangerine.

Some rats had teeth beautifully lacquered and enameled. A William Morris floral pattern on the teeth of one. Gilt and blue decoration on the teeth of another – peering closer I could see they were tiny fleur-de-lys. Marvelous!

One sleek hooded rat showed teeth scrimshawed with scenes from the life of our Savior.

Those rats of inferior quality only had painted teeth. But even these had colors that were rich and bright and pleasing.

The most expensive item on table was a trinity of black rats with tails braided together, and a coil of fine gold wire bundling them at the neck, into a little rat fasces. Their teeth were unadorned, unpainted, unenameled. But their eyes were six breathtaking sapphires. I don’t know what practical use such an object would have but it was very beautiful indeed.

I could not resist a purchase. I chose a white rat with aquamarine eyes, and teeth cunningly painted with tiny snowflakes, each one delicate and unique.

The merchant spindled the chosen rat in blue crepe paper, set it in a cardboard box on a nest of excelsior, and closed it all with a cheerful bow. A fine homecoming gift for a sweetheart far away, on a ship at sea, still many months from home.

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