The shopkeeper lifted their head as the doorbell chimed. “Welcome.”
An old woman entered, her face a map of laughter and tears earned over a life well lived. She kept her crimson shawl pulled tight as she wandered the shelves, eyeing the shopkeeper’s wares. Many customers took time browsing, gathering courage before asking for what they truly wanted.
The woman paused and ran soft fingers over a stuffed bear. “A baby’s first laugh,” the shopkeeper explained. “It was sold for a new car.”
With a careful reverence, the woman picked up the bear and cradled it in her arms. “What a waste,” she mumbled, squeezing it before returning it to the shelf.
“Everyone has their reasons,” the shopkeeper said. “And everything has its worth.”
A moment passed and the woman sighed. She was ready.
The shopkeeper studied her as she approached the desk. It had become something of a pastime to try and guess what the customer wanted to sell. The shopkeeper had seen it all: first kisses, wedding days, funerals, friendships, favorite recipes, a mother’s voice. What had the old woman brought to sell?
She clutched at her shawl, finding some invisible comfort in the frayed woolen threads. “How much for a life?”
“More than you can give.”
She shook her head, “How much for my life?”
Interesting. “Do you understand what you ask?”
“I see. A lifetime of memories is not a simple thing to lose. What do you ask in return?”
“My grandson is sick. A heart defect. My sweet boy has fought hard, but he’s losing the fight. Unless something happens, he won’t see another month.” The woman’s voice was painted with emotion, but her eyes were dry. She had cried enough tears to know that they wouldn’t change anything. “I am old and have lived a good life. I will give you all my memories, every moment of my seventy-nine years, if you can make him healthy.”
“I can fix his heart, but I can do no more than that. I can’t promise him a long and happy life.”
“He only needs a chance. He will make his own happiness.”
The shopkeeper considered the offer before them. “Very well. If you are sure, sign your name in my ledger.”
They opened the book to a blank page and the woman signed without hesitation. When she looked up again, her eyes sparkled with tears. “Thank you.”
“You have until tomorrow morning. Until then, you will remember. I suggest you make use of today.”
The old woman nodded and the shopkeeper was alone once more.
The doctors will find a healthy boy with a healthy heart in the morning, but the woman won’t remember anything. Not her name, her family, her face.
But the shopkeeper is not cruel. Even when she has forgotten everything else, the woman will remember the sound of her grandson’s first laugh, and that will be enough.