The doll shop always unnerved me. I went past it every afternoon with my mother. The dolls inside were dusty forgotten things, all chestnut curls and lace. They haunted me with their ceramic smiles.
But it was the dollhouse that made me the most uncomfortable. It stood in the far corner but I could still make it out from the window. There were seven rooms, all fully furnished. The room in the bottom left corner seemed illuminated, though it, like the rest, was in shadow. There was a makeshift bed and a dresser, and a miniature wooden rocking chair that held the ghost of movement. Its silent creaking brought a tiredness over me, and I would find myself wanting to go to sleep.
I wished we’d take another route. But my mother, she was always one for dolls. They were like children, she’d say. They needed looking after.
She never quite understood my fear of the place.
One day my mother stopped outside the doll shop’s door. “It’s time, Emily.” There was a sad glint in her eye. “Time for a new beginning.”
And she left me alone in the shop that haunted my dreams.
I didn’t understand why.
I waited there, unable to move.
Click, click, clack.
Someone’s heels on the wood.
An old woman, unkempt but full of energy.
“Emily,” she smiled. “”You came back.” She reached out and trailed a cold finger along my cheek.
“I have to go,” I said quickly. “My mother’s waiting for me.”
“Mother?” She gave a sad smile. “It’s time to stop pretending, Emily.” She gestured toward the dollhouse. “I kept your house the same, see? Rocking chair and all.”
The creaking entered my mind once more.
And with it, a memory.
I remembered my mother purchasing me. My poor mother, who couldn’t have a child of her own. “That one,” she’d said. “She has grey eyes, like my Emily would have had.”
She took me home, where there was a nursery waiting for me. I knew it had been made for someone else, but the only scent here was of myself and my mother.
My mother spent a lot of time with me. Every night she held me in her arms. And every night my chestnut curls collected her tears.
Perhaps it was the moisture that loosened my ceramic bones.
I don’t know.
But I wanted so much to be her daughter.
She needed me.
I felt afraid now. If I stayed here long I couldn’t help her anymore. I had to stay awake. I had to leave.
The old woman was smiling kindly. “Your mother is alright now. She doesn’t need you to look after her anymore.”
She picked me up and placed me in my rocking chair.
Could it be true?
Were there no more tears?
It had to be true. Otherwise she wouldn’t have brought me back.
I felt the tiredness roll over me again.
This time I let it come.
I settled into my rocking chair.
And I fell asleep once more.