4. The Day Before

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On the day before, seven years after the myth collector Egle told Assol the story about a ship with scarlet sails, she returned home from her weekly trip to the town's toy shop with a very sad face. She brought back home all her toys and was so upset, she couldn't even say anything at first. Only after guessing by Longren's troubled expression that he was expecting something much worse than reality, she began to talk, absently gazing at the sea, while her finger doodled on the window pane.

The toy shop's owner had started by showing her his ledger, and she shuddered at seeing an impressive, three-digit number of their debt. "That's how much you owe since December," he had said. "And that's how much was sold." He had planted his finger on the other number with only two digits. "Pity, isn't it?" She saw by the merchant's face that he was angry. She would have run away gladly, only her shame wouldn't let her.

She continued her recital: "He said, 'My dear, it's not profitable anymore. Nowadays, only foreign goods are fashionable; people don't buy your simple toys.' He told me more, but I don't remember everything. He probably felt sorry for me because he advised me to try the Children's Bazaar and the Aladdin's Magic Lamp." After letting out the most important news, she turned her head, looking timidly at her father.

Elbows braced on his thighs, Longren hunched over his hands, fingers interlaced tightly between his knees. Sensing his daughter's regard, he lifted his head and sighed.

The girl fought off her own heavy mood and ran up to him, snuggling at his side and slipping her small hand under the leather sleeve of his coat. Laughing and glancing at her father's face, she continued with pretended vivacity.

"Now, listen. I went to the Children's Bazaar. It was huge, with lots of people. They pushed and shoved me, but I jostled through them towards a manager, a black man in glasses. I don't remember what I told him. He looked at my toys, but he didn't take anything, just wrapped them all as they were and gave them back."

Angrily, Longren listened. He could almost see his dumbfounded daughter in that rich crowd at the counter, which was heaped with expensive toys. A neat man in glasses condescendingly explained to her that he would bankrupt himself if he started selling Longren's unsophisticated toys. Adroitly, he presented to her the new construction models of buildings and bridges, miniature automobiles, and electrical airplanes. They all smelled of paint and school. According to his words, children in their games only mimicked the adults.

Assol had also visited the Aladdin's Magic Lamp and two other toy shops, but she didn't sell anything.

After their supper and a mug of strong coffee, Longren said, "If the toys don't sell, then we have to find something else. Perhaps, I'll sail again, on the Fitzroy or Palermo. Of course, they're right," he continued thoughtfully, thinking about the toys. "Children don't play now. They only study. They study and study, but they never start living. That's a shame, really. Will you manage without me for one voyage? It's unthinkable, to leave you alone."

"I could serve with you, in a buffet perhaps."

"No!" Longren nailed the word, hitting the shuddering table with his hand. "While I live, you won't serve. But we still have time to think." He fell into a grim silence.

Assol settled beside him, on a corner of a stool, and he knew without turning that she was readying to calm him down. He almost smiled but restrained himself, so not to frighten or embarrass her. Murmuring something under her breath, she smoothed his tangled grey hair, kissed his mustache, and plugged her father's fuzzy ears with her thin fingers, saying, "Now, you don't hear that I love you."

While she beatified him, Longren sat frowning, as if he didn't want to inhale smoke, but hearing her words, he burst into his bass laughter. "You dear," he said simply, caressed the girl's cheek, and went out to check on his boat.

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