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It’s a lonely, macabre little world, when you think too much about it, the little shop on the corner of Lincoln and Bishop. All of those eyes. Heads full of dusty hair. Tiny, unmoving hands. All displayed like the butcher’s finest cuts in the window. Even the stray cats slink by the door, never pausing as they venture on their scavenging way. Even the children, vultures of toy shops everywhere, come nowhere near.
Rumors abound, of course, about the little shop on the corner of Lincoln and Bishop, sandwiched between Mickey’s Bar and Grille and Bishop Books and Café. Yet no one seems to know the truth. Somehow, no one seems to come or go. No one but the delivery man, Mr. Nelson, who drops the boxes before the door and all but runs back to his truck. Yet somehow, through thick and thin, the store remains, even as more “prosperous” ones close up shop and skip out of town.
“Family money,” they say, “It must be. No one ever buys a thing.”
The people of the little town don’t ask many questions. They are people of routine, of assumptions. They wake at eight, come into town at nine, work until five. They never see her come or go.
Every morning before the sun rises, while the air is still, chill and untainted, she walks down the street in her high black boots, clickclickclick, her long coat brushing the backs of her legs, hat tipped low over her forehead to hide from the dim glow of the streetlights. Every morning the thin, white-gloved right hand takes the cast-iron key from a front pocket and turns it in the lock. Ever morning, the pale orange light of the doll shop burns into the dark street long before even the post office or the café, and burns straight through till ten’oclock, sometimes after, when finally the lights go out.
No one ever sees her come or go.
Yet there she is, everyday save Sunday, far in the back and safe from prying eyes. There she bends closely over needle and thread, fabric and yarn, needle and thimble and pins shining glancing in the thin light of the out-dated lamps. The shop is unerringly quiet, with only faint music to break the musty air. There she sits unfailingly, dark hair shining over the bent, still head. Only the hands move, and these quietly, nimbly, guiding the needle and thread through and through, over and under and over again. Slowly beneath her hands the dolls come to life. Button eyes and eyes of glass. Stitched or painted smiles. Hair of yarn or horse’s mane. Clothing made as if for life. All from her narrow hands.
They sit upon the wooden shelves, lined against the wall, and watch her with vacant, gleaming eyes. Boys and girls, aristocratic and peasant-like. And in the dim, fleeting light they look reproachful, as if grown weary of their perches. Studiously, she ignores them, turns her attention only to the newest one, resting on the black crepe of her dress. Her newest, her favorite, her only. She dresses the new, naked limbs with careful precision. Crinolines, pink velvet party dress, froths of creamy lace, a bonnet to protect the soft gold curls and shade the blue, blue eyes. Soft pink shoes, a tiny pink reticule to match the tiny, pink lips curved in an impetuous smile. A necklace of tiny, perfect pearls.
“Pearl,” she whispers, her voice rough and old as sorrow. “That’s a lovely name. Pearl.” Only the empty store responds, whispering “Pearl,” moaning, “Pearl,”
“Pearl, Pearl, Pearl,” until the word seems to have to meaning, a useless jumble of sounds
She laughs, then, and touches the tiny necklace with her scrawny fingers. “And am I Hester, then? But what’s this? No Dimmesdale to speak of! Only Chillingworth, Chillingworth, Chilling…” Her hand ghosts across the doll’s tiny face. “Perhaps I should make a dress of fire, little Pearl, bloody letter.”
She coughs, and it wracks the whole of her body, staining the white handkerchief with spots, flakes of crimson. “Scarlet,” she wheezes, and stands with effort, putting the little doll by the calendar that reads “1910”. “Scarlet, scarlet, scarlet…” She hobbles on legs too old to be twenty-five, to turn the light to dark, avoiding her reflection in the glass. She pulls the old, faded, tattered cloak around her and locks the door, stumbling like a drunk down the empty streets (though the last time she’d tasted alcohol was with HIM, that night, so long ago). And the walk from the town is long, her home hidden behind the too-bright-light of a sign that reads “January 3, 2011” and “1:00 a.m” and the tears spill as she walks because she can’t (won’t!) remember the year she was born or the year IT had happened. Tonight, she stumbles through frozen snow that fell in 1911 and pretends it hasn’t been a century since she could see clearly, her eyes as open and shining as all the worthless dolls she makes to compensate for the one she couldn’t have.