The little store was next to the filling station at the edge of town. It looked dusty and abandoned. I was able to peer in through the grimy window pane. It was a corner store and its display window continued around the corner. Every time I shook it in disbelief and defiance, the door was locked. We usually came by late in the afternoon and filled up at the gasoline pump half buried in sand. One could look across the plateau from there. Silvery cactus clumps rose in the twilight between the flickering tongues of dust the wind swept down from the faraway, rounded mountain peaks. Mountains as on an ocean floor. The man who owned the gasoline pump would very slowly come out of the house behind the cacti on which the laundry was drying. He’d observe the sky as though checking the weather for the next stage of our trip. “Un norte,” he generally said as he started to rub our windshield with a dry rag.
“Isn’t anyone in the store?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he would answer, shrugging his shoulders.
Just once – I think it was the third time – I’d asked who owned the store, and the man had studied me closely, stroked the brim of his hat and spat, not in contempt, but lost in thought. Just when I believed he would silently turn away, he said, “I haven’t seen anyone.”
I walked over and put my hands next to my face on the window as a small protective barrier, so I wouldn’t see my reflection.
Inside, fossilized salmon pink ammonites the size of wagon wheels leaned against the wall. Next to them, clumps of whitish glittering rock mazes ran rampant with plantlike buds and stalks. Brown desert roses like crystalline peach pits, bulky like ostrich eggs. Green slabs of slate with oily impressions of primitive beaked fish glistening on them, and right before me on the windowsill lay geodes like super-sized river stones. Their sparkling smiles suggested that they had already been split in half and had hundreds of crystal needles growing inside them – in the dark and unobserved.
The evening light cast inky blue shadows around the stones, and my yearning to enter and place my fingers on the crystal surfaces turned the little store into a paradise.
Whenever I walked back to the car, I did so slowly and uncertainly, always hoping someone would run outside with a key, beckoning to me to follow him into the store.
That was many years ago. I’ve forgotten the name of the town; I’ll never find the store again.
Sometimes I dream of opening the door and stepping inside. The door opens just like that.
“Traurigkeit”, by Keto von Waberer, from Der Mann aus dem See, © 2006, Berlin Verlag, Berlin
Translation © Ingrid Lansford