Beauty and the Beast by Cezarija Abartis

The merchant looked in the pawnbroker’s window: a necklace of cheap beads dangled from a hook, a thousand-piece puzzle of a zoo was propped at the front and, beside it, a stuffed dog. The dog blinked. A real dog then. But no rose.

His youngest daughter had asked for a rose as a gift. But his trip took months longer than he expected, and it was winter, and there were no roses in this small winter town. Perhaps in the city he would stay at tomorrow night, he would find a garden store that imported flowers from the south.

His daughter would understand if he didn’t bring home a rose. In his trunk, he had silk scarves, pearl earrings, gold rings from the ships that docked successfully. There was treasure enough to provide handsome dowries for all three daughters.

He wandered around the store, examining the cloisonne jewelry, the mosaic inset tables, the cut glass perfume bottles, the leather bound books. But what he liked best was the shaggy white dog that followed him around the store, barking and humming intelligently. His beloved late wife used to have a small dog she doted on, which died a long time ago. The merchant called for a clerk, but could see none. He petted the shaggy dog, the cleanest dog he had ever seen; he walked among the shelves and down the rows, now ahead of, now behind the dog, until he was at the back of the store, where, in a porcelain pot decorated with blue paisley designs, grew a red rose. He shouted for the owner, but no one appeared. The dog thrashed his tail mightily.

The merchant took a coin from his wallet and lifted the pot with the rose. He left the coin on the counter. He strolled out into the cold carrying his potted rose. Its fragrance was sweet, especially sweet on this snowy day. The snow flakes fell on his sleeves and instantly dissolved. He wrapped his scarf more tightly around his neck and smiled at his prize.

A voice boomed behind him: “You think the world is yours for the taking."

The merchant turned but could see no one. “I left money on the counter."

“Your kind thinks everything can be bought," the voice growled.

“Please, I’ll return it."

“You’ll pay dearly for this," the voice shot out.

“Only another rose can repay me. I want your youngest daughter as a servant."

The growl terrified the merchant. “I would rather die."

“Your choice: you and your daughters can all die."

The merchant left the rose at the threshold and ran into the night, but the street curved back to the front door of the shop. His heart grew cold and then beat wildly as if it would fly away. He bent toward the rose, touched the stalk, and pricked his finger on a thorn. A drop of blood fell on the snow. He collapsed and clutched at his chest.

“The rose was dear to me," the voice said.

“You’re right -- everything does have a price." The shadow grew a hand, opened the merchant’s mouth and placed a pill on his tongue.

The merchant sat up and wanted to thank the man, but nobody was around, only the dog at the doorway, thumping its tail.

The merchant rested, set out for home the next morning, and told his daughters about his mistake, and how the shadow-man saved his life.

His youngest daughter patted his hand. “I’ll freely go. No cost. I’ll indenture myself to him, and he’ll see I’m a good worker, and I’ll pay off the debt and come home."

The merchant wished he had not told her the story, but he could not prevent her from going.

She worked diligently in The Shop of the World, dusting the knick-knacks, sweeping the store, washing the windows. At first she was afraid and lonely, but she had the sweet dog for company and whispered her loneliness to him. He whined in sympathy. Once, she was writing a long letter to her father and sisters and forgot to feed him, but he was patient and loving and forgave her. When spring came, she planted flowers in the window boxes, geraniums, carnations, petunias, and he danced around her ankles in appreciation. She petted and fed the shaggy dog, who followed her and sat beside her when she rested. One year passed and the voice asked if she would like to get married.

“I’m content as I am."

“But wouldn’t you like to be a fine lady married to a rich man?"

“I’m content as I am." She rubbed her chapped hands together.

The voice snarled. “Is there any way to buy your love?"

“That’s disgusting! You’re repulsive!"

The voice swallowed his anger. “I meant is there a way to have your love forever?"

“Free my father of the debt."


“Free me."

“I’m loath to do that," the voice boomed and quieted and exhaled a sigh that curled around her. “You’ve fulfilled your side of the bargain. I understand your worth." The dog was gone and in his place stood a man. His arm was behind his back, and she hoped he did not clutch a knife. He had sad brown eyes. He looked down at the ground, ashamed.

“I was bewitched because I misunderstood the worth of things, because I got angry, was impatient. I thought wealth and success were important." He moved his hand from behind his back and extended a rose to her. “This is important."

She stared at the white rose with its soft petals. She stretched out her hand, took the rose and put it up to her nose. “The smell is sweet.! She laid it on the counter and took his hand in both of hers.


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