Few customers visit my shop. They watch the animals in the cages and seldom buy them. The room is narrow and there is no place for me behind the counter, so I usually sit on my old moth-eaten chair behind the door. For hours I stare at frogs, lizards, snakes and insects. Teachers come and take frogs for their biology lessons; fishermen drop in to buy some kind of bait; that is practically all. Soon, I’ll have to close my shop and I’ll be sorry about it, for the sleepy, gloomy smell of formalin has always given me peace and an odd feeling of home. I have worked here for five years now.
One day a strange small woman entered my room. Her face looked frightened and grey. She approached me, her arms trembling, unnaturally pale, resembling two dead white fish in the dark. The woman did not look at me, nor did she say anything. Her elbows reeled, searching for support on the wooden counter. It seemed she had not come to buy lizards and snails; perhaps she had simply felt unwell and looked for help at the first open door she happened to notice. I was afraid she would fall and took her by the hand. She remained silent and rubbed her lips with a handkerchief. I was at a loss – it was very quiet and dark in the shop.
"Have you moles here?" she suddenly asked. Then I saw her eyes. They resembled old, torn cobwebs with a little spider in the centre, the pupil.
"Moles?" I muttered. I had to tell her that I had never sold moles in the shop, nor had I ever seen one in my life. The woman wanted to hear something else – an affirmation. I knew it by her eyes; by the timid stir of her fingers that reached out to touch me. I felt uneasy staring at her.
"I have no moles," I said. She turned to go, silent and crushed, her head drooping between her shoulders. Her steps were short and uncertain.
"Hey, wait!" I shouted. "Maybe I have some moles." I don’t know why I acted like this. Her body jerked, there was pain in her eyes. I felt bad because I couldn't help her.
"The blood of a mole can cure sick people," she whispered. "You only have to drink three drops of it."
I was scared. I could feel something evil lurking in the dark.
"It eases the pain at least," she went on dreamily, her voice thinning into a sob.
"Are you ill?" I asked. The words whizzed by like a shot in the thick moist air and made her body shake. "I’m sorry."
"My son is ill."
Her transparent eyelids hid the faint, desperate glitter of her glance. Her hands lay numb on the counter, lifeless like firewood. Her narrow shoulders looked narrower in her frayed grey coat.
"A glass of water will make you feel better," I said.
She remained motionless and when her fingers grabbed the glass her eyelids were still closed. She turned to go, small and frail, her back hunching, her steps noiseless and impotent in the dark. I ran after her. I had made up my mind.
"I’ll give you blood of a mole!" I shouted.
The woman stopped in her tracks and covered her face with her hands. It was unbearable to look at her. I felt empty. The eyes of the lizards sparkled like pieces of broken glass. I didn't have any mole’s blood. I didn't have any moles. I imagined the woman in the room, sobbing. Perhaps she was still holding her face with her hands. I closed the door so that she could not see me, then I cut my left wrist with a knife. The wound bled and slowly oozed into a little glass bottle. After ten drops had covered the bottom, I ran back to the room where the woman was waiting for me.
"Here it is,” I said. "Here’s the blood of a mole."
She didn't say anything, just stared at my left wrist. The wound still bled slightly, so I thrust my arm under my apron. The woman glanced at me and kept silent. She did not reach for the glass bottle, rather she turned and hurried toward the door. I overtook her and forced the bottle into her hands.
"It’s blood of a mole!"
She fingered the transparent bottle. The blood inside sparkled like dying fire. Then she took some money out of her pocket.
"No. No," I said.
Her head hung low. She threw the money on the counter and did not say a word. I wanted to accompany her to the corner. I even poured another glass of water, but she would not wait. The shop was empty again and the eyes of the lizards glittered like wet pieces of broken glass.
Cold, uneventful days slipped by. The autumn leaves whirled hopelessly in the wind, giving the air a brown appearance. The early winter blizzards hurled snowflakes against the windows and sang in my veins. I could not forget that woman. I’d lied to her. No one entered my shop and in the quiet dusk I tried to imagine what her son looked like. The ground was frozen, the streets were deserted and the winter tied its icy knot around houses, souls and rocks.
One morning, the door of my shop opened abruptly. The same small grey woman entered and before I had time to greet her, she rushed and embraced me. Her shoulders were weightless and frail, and tears were streaking her delicately wrinkled cheeks. Her whole body shook and I thought she would collapse, so I caught her trembling arms. Then the woman grabbed my left hand and lifted it up to her eyes. The scar of the wound had vanished but she found the place. Her lips kissed my wrist, her tears made my skin warm. Suddenly it felt cosy and quiet in the shop.
"He walks!" The woman sobbed, hiding a tearful smile behind her palms. "He walks!"
She wanted to give me money; her big black bag was full of different things that she had brought for me. I could feel the woman had braced herself up, her fingers had become tough and stubborn. I accompanied her to the corner but she only stayed there beside the street-lamp, looking at me, small and smiling in the cold.
It was so cosy in my dark shop and the old, imperceptible smell of formalin made me dizzy with happiness. My lizards were so beautiful that I loved them as if they were my children.
In the afternoon of the same day, a strange man entered my room. He was tall, scraggly and frightened.
"Have you... the blood of a mole?" he asked, his eyes piercing through me. I was scared.
"No, I haven’t. I have never sold moles here."
"Oh, you have! You have! Three drops... three drops, no more. My wife will die. You have! Please!"
He squeezed my arm.
"Please... three drops! Or she’ll die..."
My blood trickled slowly from the wound. The man held a little bottle and the red drops gleamed in it like embers. Then the man left and a little bundle of bank-notes rolled on the counter.
On the following morning a great whispering mob of strangers waited for me in front of my door. Their hands clutched little glass bottles.
"Blood of a mole! Blood of a mole!"
They shouted, shrieked, and pushed each other. Everyone had a sick person at home and a knife in his hand.