Octopi Peddlers and the Value of a Bag of Salt

M stands at the counter filling two zip-lock bags with salt.

“What are you doing?” I ask, sipping on my tea. I quit coffee.

“You said you needed a jacket right?” M says, sealing up the second bag. He tosses it to me. It falls short. I pick it up off the ground and weigh it in my hands.

“What does this have to do with getting a jacket?”

“We’ve got to go to the market,” he says. He walks off to get dressed. I finish my tea and slip the bag of salt into my pocket. Before we leave M takes our money and places it in the bag of salt. He shakes it around and then pulls it out. I hold up the salt covered bills.

“What the hell?” I say.

“You’ll thank me later.”

We leave.

The market is close, we walk.

It is a line of tents packed into an alley between KFC and a supermarket, like toe-jam. Then, I see them. Octopi. They are all dried-out and sickly, shuffling around. Each has two tentacles stuffed into each leg of warm looking pants, two from each puffy jacket sleeve. They stand in twos and threes at the entrance to each of the apparel filled tents.

“Get your salt ready.” M says. I open the bag in my pocket so the salt is easily accessible. We walk.

As we past the first tent a tentacle shoots out and suctions to my hand. It is dry and firm like a Grandma’s dying kiss. I turn. Two puckered eyes peer at me from under a black beanie.

“Need a scarf?” it wheezes at me.

I shake my head.

“I have many scarves. You need a scarf,” it says, the tentacle beginning to wrap slowly around my wrist.

“Gah!” M cries and a great flurry of sea salt flies into the octopus’s eyes. It relinquishes its grip and slinks back into its den of scarves, hissing.

“The jackets are this way.” M says, holding a handful of salt ahead of him as he walks. The octopi keep their distance as we trudge through the market salty-palmed, and cautious. Still I hear them from their fabric softened caves.

“You need a hat. Come, I have good deal”

“Best boots in St. Petersburg, come!”

Babushkas calmly roll about perusing the merchandise, undisturbed. Even the octopi wouldn’t dare.

We find our way to the Hall of Jackets. The octopi here look fiercer, more determined. I see a jacket I might like.

I pause. A mistake. Three octopi swoop in.

One removes my jacket while the other takes down the one I was looking at and puts it on me.

“Very nice. Very handsome.”

Their tentacles slink their way up my arms and onto my chest. “I see, you like it. You want it. Come, look.” The octopi corner me in front of a mirror.

“Very nice. Very warm.” They circle around, whispering sweet nothings to the jacket. I can feel a tentacle slipping into my pocket where my money is. There is a slight sizzling sound as the tentacle jerks away.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” I say, taking off the jacket. The octopi shiver and one of them squawks like a goose.

“We give you good price. Best price,” one says as another slips the jacket into a bag. They place it into my hand.

“No thank you, I don’t want it.” I put the bag down.

They get closer, their puckered eyes bulging. I notice tentacles tightening around my ankles, my waist and around my chest. I can’t breathe.

I feel something soft and plastic placed in my hand. I plunge my fist into the bag of salt and fling it into the eyes of the closest octopus. It shrieks and recedes. M stuffs a fist full of the stuff down the shirt of another. It slips clean out of its clothes and slides under a pile of snow pants in the corner. The third tries to knocked the salt away but we dodge around him and dash away.

When we reach the gate I turn to M.

“I think I’ll just go to the store for a jacket,” I say.

He nods. “Probably best,” he says, licking his fingers.

 

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