The door jangles closed behind you as you move into the shop’s dusty, junk-cluttered aisles. You’re mentally tallying the pitifully few notes left in your wallet after food, rent, bills. The evening’s party looms before you, a menacing imposition, but you’re here now and may as well find a cheap gift. Necessarily cheap – this month you’ve skipped four days of the grey grind with no excuse save the usual uncaring haze, and you’ll be out of a job soon.
The junk isn’t interesting. Old books, battered furniture, threadbare clothes. A tray on a painted dresser holds medals, a tangle of jewellery, a meaningless muddle of useless things – just what the birthday girl deserves. Behind them stand coloured glass bottles in stupid, fanciful shapes. You pick one up idly, thinking of bath salts, and in its green and purple depths something moves.
You look more closely. The bottle is tightly sealed with wax, and full of whirling cloud. Vivid mists roil in the confined space, flexing energetically against the ornate stopper: the smooth curves of the flask vibrate in your hands, somehow tinglingly alive.
You know what this is, how it goes. The inhabitant of the bottle, his gratitude at his freedom, the wishes. Whatever you want. Yours, if you remove the stopper. Money, friends, success, happiness. Everything you don’t have. Everything you are not. You read the tag around the bottle’s slender neck: it demands only the few coins at the bottom of your purse.
You place the bottle carefully back on the dresser and move to the door. You’ve changed your mind about the party, anyway. You never go to parties. Nothing ever comes of them: you’re still alone.
The door jangles as you step out of the dusty interior into the dreary street.