The Man Who Buys Giggles
by Cassandra Khaw
"Four hundred and five in the Year of Our Tyrant. Fabulous year, yours. Very rare."
Gunmetal stare warms to blue. "Very exquisite."
Annora blanches. Blushes under the scrutiny, skin boiling. It has been decades since anyone looked at her--desirous, feral, unblinking--this way. "Will it be enough to buy --"
He straightens, liquid unknotting of sinew and vertebrae, sublimely lupine. At full height, the salesman towers. "--your grandson an exit?"
She nods, fists hands around her fae-skinned bag. Annora loathes it, loathes the way it simmers so warmly beneath her fingertips, loathes the implications of its history. Were it not for the love of her grandson, she would have plunged it into the midden and then burned it all to ash.
The salesman cocks his head. Around them, the market chuckles and shudders, spewing sights and secrets and smells too fantastical to be trapped in names.
"Perhaps." His mouth cracks apart. Flash of needle teeth; of avarice in drowsy, dangerous eyes.
Annora fights her discontent. Perhaps is the best answer she has heard in years. "All right. I'll sell. I'll sell. I don't know why you want to buy, but it's your money. Not mine."
The old woman's insolence harvests a laugh. "Joy, my dear lady, is the rarest of all commodities in the City That Belongs to Yesterday. Even second-hand, it is worth more than the world's weight in gold."