Bottle of Water, Bottle of Wind

reading

Gratitude List:
1. Feeling better. All day, I have been feeling a general malaise, achy and dull. By the time school was over, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck, and I was sure I would call for a substitute for tomorrow. But I had no fever, and I didn’t want to call off if I could help it. Now, after rest and coffee and supper, I feel like a new person. It feels so good to feel good.
2. Light. Christmas lights, lamps, room lights. This is the season when the encroaching darkness makes me panicky. I could hardly bear it today, but there are plenty of lights about. I will bathe in the lights that I can get. Perhaps I’ll have to take my lunch breaks outside these days in order to gather a little more sunlight.
3. Boy and his dad playing chess here at the end of the table.
4. Boy reading with his cat under the Christmas tree.
5. Shining lights–you and you and you.

May we walk in Beauty!

A longish story today. I have been mulling it for several days now, writing a little here, a little there. I think it’s time to bring it into the light:

Bottle of Water, Bottle of Wind

Have you ever been to the Bottle Lady’s stand at Market? Oh, I can never remember exactly where she’s located. I always have to search a bit to find her. She wears a dress and a cardigan sweater like every Mennonite woman at every little vegetable stand in the building. Unlike them, her hair escapes her bun to fly in curls and wisps about her face like a halo.

The first time I saw her, she was nibbling a bit of baklava–that’s why I think her stand might be somewhere near the Greek Delights stand, and I definitely recall the delightfully eye-watering horseradish of the neighboring stand. She winked at me: “You should go over there and get some of this before it’s gone. It’s delicious!”

I paused in my meanderings to peruse her wares: row upon row of empty bottles, in stepped shelves cascading over a purple velvet cloth with golden trim. Each bottle wore a tag held in place with a colored ribbon. The labels looked to be mostly in languages I didn’t understand, some in strange scripts and pictograms. On the lowest shelf was a small dark-blue bottle with water inside. I could read its label clearly: Waters of the World.

The Bottle Lady watched me pick it up and hold it to the light. “That one’s three hundred dollars,” she told me, licking the sticky baklava filling from her fingers. I quickly replaced the bottle on the shelf, lest I break it. “The one you want is right next to it–see there? No, the one on the left, with the green ribbon. See the label? Dreams Come True. That one is only a dollar today.”

Before I’d even had a chance to register what was happening, she had wrapped the bottle in tissue paper, and placed it in a little paper bag gift bag with glitter all over it. I simply pulled out my wallet and handed her a dollar. I couldn’t help but smile. I rarely remember my dreams, but I still had flashes of the dream from the night before, in which I stumbled through a strange city, finding money in odd places.

As I stopped at the Greek Delights stand to buy some baklava, I spotted a five dollar bill on the ground at my feet. I asked all around, but no one seemed to have dropped it, and the owner of Greek Delights refused to hold it for someone who might or might not return. “You just keep it, Sweetie. You just keep it and spend it on a little something for yourself.”

Sure, I connected it to the little bottle. It was hard not to, especially when I found a quarter, two dimes, and a dollar bill on the sidewalk–all just on the walk to my car! It lasted for another week or so. Every time I walked down the street, I found at least a coin or two. I found bills tucked into my jeans, caught between the couch cushions, in the dryer hopper at the laundromat. I kept it all in a jar–over one hundred dollars by the time the luck dried up.

It was a couple weeks before I found myself at market again, and I just couldn’t find her stand. I could have sworn it was between the Greek Delights and the horseradish man–but when I went there, there was no stall between them: they’re direct neighbors. I couldn’t imagine what I had been thinking. I had almost given up, and I was standing in the really long line at the Sacred Grounds Coffee stand–my friend Zia works there, and I wanted a mocha to warm me up on a cold day–when I turned around, and there was the Bottle Lady’s stand. It must have been the baklava that made me think it was on the other side of Market. I wandered over, not paying attention to the fact that I was losing my place in line. There were fewer bottles on the stand this time. “I’ve had really good business today,” she told me, as she sipped her coffee. “How’d the Dream thing work for you?” she asked.

I told her it had been lots of fun, sort of a thrill really. I wondered if she might have a bottle with a love potion in it or something. She gave a musical laugh, then got really serious, studying me as if I were an object under a microscope. “No. No love potions for you right now,” she said. She started to sort through the bottles on the shelves, humming tunelessly to herself. At intervals, she would look up at me with a keen and studying glance, then start clinking and shifting the bottles again. Her hand brushed against the little cobalt bottle of Waters of the World, sending it tipping dangerously toward me. I had instinctively reached out to steady it, and caught it as it fell.

“Whew. That’s fortunate,” she breathed. “I have been saving that for someone. Ah, here’s the one for you.” And she reached out and scooped the tiny bottle of water from my hand, and replaced it with a larger bottle, ornately etched with a tiny dragon. It appeared as empty as most of the others, but as I looked closer, I could see that it was filled with a cloudiness, like smoke. I could make nothing of the letters on the tag. “What is this?” I asked.

“You can see it right there on the label,” she said. “Gumption. That will be two dollars.” And as I looked again, the letters resolved themselves in my brain, and I could read the word in its elaborate script.

Yes, I certainly had more energy, more get-up-and-go, in the coming days. She told me to keep my door closed that night in my room, and to take the cork out of the bottle just before I drifted off to sleep. The next morning, I felt more rested and ready for the day than I had in years.

And that’s how it went. Every few weeks, I’d find my way to Market, search around for the Bottle Lady’s stand, and only find her when I had given up and decided to do something else. I don’t have a good sense of direction, and Market can be confusing. I can never remember whether that bakery with the German-style bread is in the third or fourth row down from the entrance, and there are always a few little stands that are empty, and then there’s just something about the way all the women who work there look sort of the same. Still, I always seemed to find her just when I had decided to give up the search.

She always seemed to choose for me. Oh, I asked for something specific each time I went, but she always had some suggestion or idea that seemed right for me, so I just went along, paying one or two dollars each time. Once I bought a plain little Mason jelly jar with a screw-top lid labeled Common Sense. Paid five dollars for that one. Oy, did that one ever get me through a week of weirdness.

The bottles and jars began to accumulate on my bedside stand. Sometimes I would try to re-use them, and there were often some minor effects, but nothing like the pure moment when I first opened the bottles themselves.

Each time I saw her, I asked about the lovely blue bottle of Waters of the World. Had the buyer come for it already? Why was it still there? What were Waters of the World? I could never quite get an answer out of her about it, but she always gave me a good tip for what treats to buy myself:

“The samosas over at the Middle Eastern stand are really spicy today! You should get two for your supper.”

“You have to try one of these fresh fruit smoothies from the smoothie stand–it’ll be good for what ails you.” She was right, of course.

“Mrs. Stoltzfus over at the bakery has some really nice whoopie pies today. Just the regular traditional kind without any funky flavors in the fillings. They’re so much better that way, don’t you think?” And I agreed, and bought one for my dessert. It was so big, I had some left over for the next day’s breakfast.

One Saturday last month, I met Zia when she got off work at the Sacred Grounds. Zia had been feeling sort of depressed, like she was spinning her wheels, stuck like molasses in her job at the Grounds, and not sure how to take the next step to anywhere. “Let’s go see this Bottle Lady you’re always talking about,” she said.

It was sort of embarrassing–I couldn’t really say where the stand was exactly, but we wandered around, bought some German chocolate from the German stand, and I bought Zia a little potted narcissus from the Plant Man. We had given up searching for the Bottle Lady, and were making our way toward the exit next to the fishmonger, when I spotted her purple cloth, tucked between the celery folks and the woman who sells gourmet dog biscuits.

She was nibbling on a cookie shaped like a dog bone. “Oh yes,” she said when she saw my wide eyes. “I can see that it would be confusing. No, the cookie stand on the other side of the aisle is celebrating Adopt-a-Dog week at the Humane League by selling these incredible dog-bone cookies. They have chocolate centers. You should try some.”

Zia was poring over the labels on the bottles, trying to read the cryptic writing. “Can my friend buy one of your bottles of Dreams Come True?” I asked.

The Bottle Lady gave Zia her studying look, over the tops of her glasses. “No-o-o-o,” she said slowly. “I think this one has not been having such good dreams lately.” Zia crinkled her forehead and nodded.

“How about. . .this one!” Her hand paused above a little green bottle with swirls and spirals embossing its surface. “Yes, I think you could use a Bottle of Wind.” Of course she was right, as right as she’d been about samosas and smoothies and whoopie pies and every bottle she’d ever sold me.

We paid and were putting the little package carefully into Zia’s bag, when the Bottle Lady turned to me: “It’s high time you took your Waters of the World, don’t you think? I’ve got that one on Special today for three dollars.” I barely had time to gasp before she had it wrapped in tissue paper and was plopping it into my hand.

She told me how I needed to keep replenishing the waters: a tear here, a raindrop there, a drop of water from the River I crossed each day on my way into town. How I was to give it a gentle shake when I had added a new water. How I needed to keep releasing the waters, too: water a plant with one drop, put a drop behind my ears or on my forehead, offer a drop to the palm of a weeping friend, give a drop to the River. How it all balanced out when I was careful and thoughtful and full of gratitude. “I know you are ready for this,” she said with a wink. “I don’t think I will be seeing much of either of you again here for a little while. Don’t forget to buy yourselves some cookies on the way out.”

The Bottle of Wind blew through Zia’s life with a beautiful chaos, and now she’s off to New Hampshire for a three-month writing residency at some kind of artists’ camp. I’ve never seen her so happy. And my Waters of the World? I am tending the waters carefully, replenishing them regularly, releasing them with gratitude. And tomorrow I am catching a flight to Iceland–I want to see glaciers. And then to wherever the waters seem to take me. I’ve packed up all my empty bottles in a padded box. Who knows what I may find to put in them?

Market opens at six o’clock tomorrow. You should go see if you can find the Bottle Lady. I can’t honestly tell you where her stand is, but if you look around a while, I am sure she’ll appear somewhere.

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