Danny was almost sure he had never seen this small vine-covered house before. Every Wednesday and Saturday evening for two years he had walked along this street delivering pizza to Perry’s Pool Palace. Saturdays were great. There was music and laughter, and Perry would often invite him in for a slice. But this was Wednesday, and Wednesdays were cheerless, especially tonight with a slow, steady drizzle soaking everything that was uncovered.
As he walked back to his scooter, he looked again at the little house. Maybe he hadn’t noticed it before because it was set back farther in from the street or because the solitary light on this side had been extinguished by the storm. As he came nearer, he noticed a sign in the window: ‘CHARMS FOR SALE – OPEN.’ The sign seemed to draw him to the doorway. After all, with an Astronomy test tomorrow at the College, he needed something to help him get a good mark. Maybe a charm would do the job.
The door was unlocked. Danny was not a tall man, but he had to stoop to enter the hallway. He immediately noticed a haze, which increased as he moved along the passage. At first, he thought it was smoke, but there was no smell, and there was no dampness, so it wasn’t mist. It was just a haze. It got so thick he was unable to see beyond a few feet. His decision to turn around and leave was interrupted by the appearance of a small sliver of light, which was escaping from the base of a heavy wooden door. As he debated whether to go any further, the door began to swing slowly open. He walked tentatively into a small room. An elderly lady was seated at a rickety table on which were spread several trinkets. She was tiny, with sparse, stringy, gray hair and a deeply lined face. Her voice echoed with a deep, almost masculine tone.
“We have been waiting for you.”
Danny looked around the room trying to identify who the ‘we’ were.
“My friends here knew you were coming,” she said as she looked down to her assortment on the table.
Danny was getting freaked out. His common sense told him to leave, but he couldn’t move. Some force beyond his control drew his attention to a pair of clear glass seals on the table, each balancing a colored ball on its nose. They seemed to glow with an inner warmth, which he could feel as he brought his hand near them. Maybe if I buy these seals, he thought, I can leave without hurting her feelings. He picked them up and experienced the oddest sensation; a wave of joy and serenity washed over him. “How much do you want for these seals?” “You do not pay for them. They have been waiting for you.” “I would like to pay you something.”
“No, you do not understand, they are free. If you pay for them, they are no longer free.” Danny was confused but thanked the old lady, put the seals in his pocket and walked out of the room into the hallway, now totally without haze. Outside, the drizzle had stopped, and a warm wind was blowing.
When he returned to his rooms above his brother’s pizza shop, he was tired, but he knew he had hours of studying to do before he felt confident about writing tomorrow’s test. He opened up his study materials and began reading, but somehow, it was different. He knew what the passages in his notes and the text were going to say before he read a single word. It was as if his mind had absorbed all the course material and was poised to spit it out on demand. It convinced him he was ready. Before he went to bed, he placed one of the seals on each side of his dresser.
He slept soundly, but in the morning noticed that the seals were in close contact at the center. That was odd. He was sure they were separated when he retired. With other thoughts on his mind, he put them in his pocket and again experienced that feeling of warmth and euphoria. The Astronomy test was a success. He finished early and graded a perfect score.
That evening he remembered the seals changing position during the night. So, this night he put one seal on the dresser and one on his end table. In the morning they were together on the table beside his bed.
Danny was puzzled, fascinated, and somewhat fearful of what was going on. Each day he had carried the seals together in the same pocket. On Friday he placed them in separate pockets, and all morning his clothes were so tight he could hardly breathe. At noon when he joined them in the same pocket, all was well.
After Saturday night’s pizza delivery, Danny wanted to celebrate, so when Perry invited him to the party, he readily accepted. After far too much to drink, he managed to make it home and fall into bed. The next morning was spent in pain and regret over the excesses of the previous night. When he looked around the room, he saw the seals were gone.
Frantically he searched his pockets, but could only come up with one of them. He looked all over the apartment without success. The single seal sat on the table radiating waves of sadness.
The rains had come back, and Wednesday’s delivery was another wet soggy ride through the city. On impulse, he went to the little house, but it was no longer there. Had he imagined it? However, the lone seal in his pocket told him it had been real. As he walked back toward his scooter, he spied a young woman begging on the corner. She was sitting against the wall with her empty dish in front of her. She wore rags that barely covered her thin body. Her hair hung in clumps, caked with dirt, and her face was a landscape of blemishes and pits. She was not a pretty sight, but somehow, she looked familiar. Danny felt immediate pity for the young lady’s condition. When he walked over to offer her some money, the first thing he saw in her dish was the other seal. He couldn’t believe it.
“Where did you find this?” He asked.
“It was here all the time. It was waiting for you to come.”
Somehow, Danny was not surprised.
“May I take it with me. I can pay you for it.”
“You know it cannot be bought. It and its partner must be free. You can take it home, but there is one condition. You must take me with it.”
Danny agreed although he wasn’t sure how he was going to deal with this young street person. He helped her to her feet as she picked up her bag of meager belongings and climbed on the back of the scooter. Once in his apartment, she put the two seals together on the kitchen counter. She then went to clean up.
When she reappeared, Danny had to sit down; she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
“I am Quiara,” she said.
Danny was speechless. Ever since he was a small boy, he had trouble talking to girls. Now, he was tongue-tied. He looked over at the seals for moral support, but they were now at opposite ends of the counter. Something was wrong. He was sure she had put them together. Was this girl messing with his head? To further his confusion she answered the question in his mind.
“They are not together because we are not together. They are now ours, not just yours. You will see.”
Danny made up the spare room for his guest and retired for the night.
As the moon cast shadows across his room, Danny was awakened by a rustling sound. He could vaguely make out movement in the room Suddenly, his covers parted, and Quiara slipped in the bed beside him.
“Just hold me,” she said.
A feeling of confidence and joy overcame him as she wrapped him in her arms. He quickly descended into sleep.
In the morning, when he awoke, he discovered she was still holding him, and the seals were together.
The winter passed quickly. Quiara stayed, and the seals were always together. Danny’s confidence grew; he finished at the top of his class and landed the job he wanted at NASA. When he returned after his first day at his new job, Quiara was gone. No trace of her, except the seals, remained in the apartment.
Danny was frantic. He searched all their favorites spots, even the street where he had found her. But it was if she had never existed.
He was awakened from a fitful sleep during the night by a voice.
“Danny, I am here in your mind, where I have always been. I was your muse because you needed me. No longer is that true and I must move on to guide other good people whom I can help. Our minds can always talk. Focus on the seals, and I will hear your call.