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Venus Merchant

by Trent Walters

The wisest woman in the nursing home was Venus Merchant--a name undoubtedly excavated from a dusty Victorian novel of Classical mythology. When I expressed delight in her name, she lied and said--always neighborly--that mine was beautiful.

She smiled with her teeth, which stood in neat, white rows--each surrounded by a halo of yellow. Ridges of skin dipped toward the corners of her mouth, a star of ridges between her brows. Her eyes were bright and filmy. On her eyelids, flakes of sleep had sat since the morning, neglected by her nurse's aides. I wanted to wipe them with a damp washcloth, but it wasn't my place, my time.

Meet your neighbors, she said. The new people, the young make the community. Grow with your community, and sell them your love at prices anyone can afford.

She asked if I had children, no doubt thinking I had a family. In her day, someone my age would have settled down to a steady job with a family and built his home in a lifelong community.

Today, community is mutable. If we can't make it here, we move on as our African ancestors had. Perhaps--because every niche is filled--starting fresh to find, to found your own community is no longer feasible.

And perhaps I only thought this to comfort myself.

She said this had been her community for three or four--(here her lips trembled to form words. I expected the word "years" to define how long she had lived in the nursing home)--hundred years and that she wouldn't be here much longer. She dipped a spoon into her Coke and sipped. "This"--the spoon shook as she set it before me--"is your community." I looked at it. What looked like mozzarella was crusted about the handle. I turned back to her, awaiting the complete metaphor. But she put the spoon in her handbag.

She pointed to a plant highlighted by the sun near the far window. "See that leaf?" I nodded. "It says: I am here, this is my home. We should leave things as we found them. Find out about those who were here before, how they lived. Know your neighbors--what they do for a living, what dishes they favor, what celestial kingdom they grew up in--even if it takes a few centuries."

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