into flesh and blood—the reverse of its more well-known power—allowing the cockatrice to feed without the need for Mr. Grinde to keep live rats or other delicacies on hand.

He didn’t want an animal, though; he wanted a plant, a miniature tree growing in a pot all on its own, branches heavy with small plum-sized golden fruits. He plucked one and took the fruit to the counter, put on a pair of thick rubber gloves, and cut open the fruit with a silver knife, carefully removing a single seed, which he placed in a clear plastic bag and handed to Ms. Stuart. “There you are. A seed of Arcadia. Plant it anywhere, water it, and… you’ll see.”

“Thank you, Mr. Grinde.” She was solemn, but also hopeful, and he was hopeful, too.

* * *

The bell rang and she returned with leaves in her hair, smears of dirt on her face, dressed in what appeared to be leaves and vines cunningly interwoven into a dress that was, he noticed with a hint of regret, quite modest. “Here, this is all that’s left.” Opening her palm, she dumped a handful of soil on the counter. Mr. Grinde sorted through it until he found a single seed. She’d returned the item, or its equivalent, which meant she was eligible for an exchange. That gave him an unexpected flutter of lightness in his chest—the thought of having to send her away disappointed would have been intolerable to him, but rules are rules.

She leaned heavily on the counter. “I’ll say this for the tree of Arcadia. When I chopped it down and the forest receded, I was standing right where I wanted to go.”

“You chopped it down?”

“I had to make an axe out of a branch, vines, and a sharpened rock—actually five axes, they all broke eventually.”

“But why do such a thing at all?”

“I’ll tell you,” she said.

* * *

Being alone in the woods drove her insane with loneliness.

That was the short form. In the long form, which he insisted she tell, she took the seed to her favorite little park, a tiny place that had once been an empty lot, bought by the city decades before, filled with grasses and trees and a couple of concrete benches and a little bubbling fountain, all ringed in a wrought-iron fence. She scooped out a shallow depression in the soil, planted the seed, covered it, carried handfuls of water from the fountain to sprinkle the soil, and sat on the bench to wait. She’d expected something dramatic, a beanstalk rocketing into the sky to open passage to a cloud kingdom, but nothing much happened, and she read a magazine she’d brought, and eventually dozed on the bench.

When she woke, the bench was wrapped altogether in ivy, and a great tree rose before her. Her knowledge of trees was fairly limited—she knew Christmas trees, and lemon trees, and beyond that, trees were all mysterious. This one had pale white bark and leaves of shimmering silver, and in growing, it had somehow brought a whole vast forest with it, because the city was nowhere to be seen.

The sun was still up, though it was shady under the canopy, and she went exploring, wishing she’d thought to bring a bottle of water or a sack lunch. But as Mr. Grinde had suggested, the streams ran clear and delicious, and delicious fruit—some she recognized, some she did not—hung from branches all around her. The ground somehow sloped so that she was always moving either level or gently downhill, even when she doubled back. There were animals, but nothing ominous—rabbits, squirrels, flittering birds. The woods weren’t silent, as she’d expected, but full of rustlings and bubblings and the song of wind over branches. When the sun went down and she grew tired, she stopped at the base of a tree and settled down on a mound of fallen leaves that proved surprisingly comfortable. It’s like a fairy tale wood, she thought, only not scary at all.

Over the next days and weeks she explored, and the woods had no edge. There were clear deep pools for swimming, trees she could climb, branches wide enough to sleep on, waterfalls of towering magnificence, bird trills more enchanting than any pop song, sunsets so dazzling they made her eyes water, flowers with scents to rival all man-made perfumes.

What there wasn’t was anything to do, besides admiring the admittedly glorious glories of nature. She read the magazine she’d brought to tatters, even though it was just a dumb fashion thing. Pissing and crapping in the woods didn’t appeal to her, either, and even though it only rained in late afternoon, and gently at that, she resented the lack of real permanent shelter, and also profoundly lamented the lack of pedicures, blueberry scones, episodic television, library books, cheeseburgers, high-speed internet, espresso, and vibrators, among other things. How had she been unhappy back in civilization, with access to all those hundreds, thousands, millions of small pleasures? What the hell had she been thinking? Coming to the Arcadian wood had been good in one respect—it gave her the realization that, crappy as her life might have been before, it was a lot better than living in the woods and wearing leaves because her real clothes got shredded by time and weather.

Worst of all, there was no one to complain to, no other human voices at all, and so she made her way back to the original Arcadian tree, crafted a number of axes by trial and error, and started trying chop the tree down. She wasn’t sure she’d ever manage it, but at least attacking the tree gave her something to do besides going crazy with loneliness.

* * *

“And I mean crazy, Mr. Grinde. I was telling rabbits about my childhood. I was talking to the moon. The creepiest thing was, I could sense intelligences there, sometimes I thought things were listening, but I knew they weren’t human. I don’t know if they were tree spirits or water spirits or animal gods or what, but they didn’t have any more in common with me than I have in common with a rolling pin, so I’m glad they never spoke up, really. I’m so happy to be out of there—yes, happy, I said it, though I know it’ll pass. The Arcadian wood is perfect for a weekend, lovely for a week, endurable for a month, but after that, knowing you can’t leave, at least not easily, that it’s a walled garden…no good. Not for me. I’m an introvert, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need any people. I just need the right ones, in small doses, at appropriate intervals. Nobody at all is worse than too many people.”

He passed her a damp rag, and she began washing the dirt from her face, and it was, really, a face he’d grown rather fond of.

“All right,” he said finally. “Why don’t you sit and have a drink and talk with me for a while?”

* * *

“As much as we’ve learned about happiness, you’d think we’d do better at finding it,” he said. They sat in a pair of rocking chairs, side by side, with a round table between them holding a sweating pitcher of iced tea and a pair of glasses; the ice came from the moon, which for him was closer than any grocery or liquor store, but it was quite pure. Mr. Grinde, who’d seldom seen the same person more than once—and never before more than twice—in all the many years since he took over the shop, was pleased beyond measure to have something resembling a friend, or at least a regular visitor. It helped that she was someone he could admire: a woman who’d devoted herself wholeheartedly to a probably hopeless quest—not unlike his own hopeless attempt to inventory the shop’s contents—and who’d given his own life a bit more purpose by enlisting his help in that quest.

“I don’t know.” She swirled the ice in her drink. “Philip Brickman, the scientist who discovered winning the lottery doesn’t make you happy? He committed suicide. Dedicating yourself to the study of happiness doesn’t mean you’ll find it.”

“Mmm. I hope the pursuit didn’t itself hasten his despair.”

“I’m not despairing yet,” she said, but she didn’t look at him when she spoke.

“Good. We haven’t even come close to the end of my list.”

“You’ve got more ideas?”

“Of course. There’s an equation I found that some experts use to calculate happiness. H = S + C + V. That means, basically, happiness equals your genetic set point, plus your circumstances, plus what you voluntarily change. Genetics are beyond us—at least, changing them is dangerous—but we can certainly continue to alter your circumstances and your voluntary behaviors. Eventually we’ll hit upon a combination that has the desired effect.”

She took a sip. “There’s refined sugar in this tea, isn’t there? Forget everything else—refined sugar is happiness.”

“Oh, good,” he said, deadpan. “Then my work here is done. I’ve got a five-pound bag of the stuff you can take home with you.”

“Ha. Seriously, though, if you’ve got more ideas, I’m willing to try. I’ve spent this long and done this much, it seems silly to give up now.”

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