Here is another story, originally published in Fantastic Femme Fiction (a now defunct ezine). It is a ghost story of sorts, but not the kind you are probably thinking of; and while it qualifies as weird fiction – it is also just a tale of two women becoming friends, and then choosing to be family for one another. It is a bit longer than my usual – but still is a flash fiction. Enjoy!
The dollhouse sat displayed in the little antique shop window. Every time Cassie walked by it (going to work and coming home), she would linger by the window and peer inside the little Victorian. Marveling at the craftsmanship, and the fine furnishings – she imagined what life might have been in such an age, where everything was so tidy and beautiful.
After weeks of this, one day she finally decided to go in and see what it looked like from the other side. The little bell at the top of the door announced her arrival as she entered the shop. The smell of old books, lavender and some exotic woods assailed her nose and it crinkled in pleasure.
“May I help you?” An old woman asked, and then smiled at Cassie, “Ahhh, the dollhouse finally lured you in, I see.”
Cassie blushed, but stepped further in to the shop and nodded.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you, my dear…you’ve actually been a comfort to me, seeing you every day. Would you like to see the house a bit closer? ”
“Actually, yes, please, I would love to see it closer if I may.”
The old woman pulled a set of keys from her dress pocket and fumbled through them as she walked over to the display window, and finally finding the correct key, unlocked the case and swung the glass door open a bit. From this angle, the house was open. Where from the outside she had to peer into the windows of the dollhouse to see the furnishings within, from this side she could see the draperies, the tiny oil paintings of unknown but stately people, and the rugs! The rugs were intricate, and thick. She’d only seen rugs like this in museums in full size. And oh, the furniture. So delicate and dainty and yet so fine!
While mesmerized by the details in the wood scroll work and the designs in the tin ceiling, she saw out of the corner of her eye, the old woman was smiling.
“Do you have a space to display the house, if you were to buy it?” the old woman asked.
“No, I’m afraid not. I live in a small one bedroom apartment. It is fairly cramped with the little bit of furniture I already own. Sadly.” Cassie suddenly felt she had been rude to ask to see something she couldn’t possibly own. “I’m so sorry to have troubled you. I was just curious, you know. It is so very beautiful.”
She turned to look at the old woman, who was still smiling.
“It’s quite alright my dear. As you can see, my shop is hardly busy. I am happy you chose to stop in. It makes a nice change from dusting everything.” She chuckled. “My name is Mrs. Mason, but please call me Luisa. Feel free to stop in anytime to view the house, and to say ‘hello’ if you would.”
“My name is Cassie Landry. Nice to meet you Mrs. Mason – I mean – Luisa. Perhaps I can help you dust, and that way if I come by to visit you and the house, I won’t feel as though I am wasting your time.”
“That would be lovely Cassie. Anytime you wish…please just come on in.”
Cassie and Luisa visited regularly. And each time, good to her word, Cassie would first help Luisa dusting all the antiques in the shop, before opening the window case and peering in to the dollhouse. Once in a while some item or another would have been sold, and Cassie would help Luisa rearrange the displays.
As Cassie was dusting the various pieces of furniture in the dollhouse, she often thought she saw movement, but could never focus fast enough in the area to see what it might be. Sometimes she thought she saw the face of a young man in the mirrors, but eventually she chalked it up to reflections from the street.
Weeks turned into months, and the two women got to know each other fairly well. Luisa was a widow; Cassie was an only child whose parents passed away when she was a teen. Luisa inherited the antique shop and the building from her parents, and much of the stock came from the store rooms in the basement. Cassie worked in an insurance office, mostly filing and typing up reports. Both women loved the romance of the Victorian age, and often flipped through the large coffee table books from the library that showed pictures of palaces and homes of that age.
Cassie started to bring dinner or lunch with her to the shop – for both of them. And one day, Luisa mentioned that the apartment over the shop had become vacant. Luisa lived in the back of the shop and her tenant upstairs had been transferred to another State. It seemed preordained that Cassie should move in upstairs.
Each day Cassie would check in on Luisa on her way to work, each night she would help clean the shop, and then spend time with the beloved dollhouse before going upstairs to her apartment. Luisa always smiled, it was a shared love – this dollhouse and the two women had become a family of sorts.
After a particularly boring work day, Cassie came home to see the shop was very busy, so she put her things away, and came back down to assist with the shop. When the last customer left the shop, Luisa thanked Cassie and said half-jokingly “Maybe I should make you my partner.”
“Maybe you should” answered Cassie and they both smiled. By the end of the week, which had seen a lot of busy days – Luisa handed Cassie an envelope. Luisa had papers drawn up to grant Cassie half the business, and also half the property – with all of it going to her in the event of Luisa’s death.
Crying, she hugged Luisa and said “yes, yes, please!” They got the paper work signed, Luisa had a set of keys made for Cassie as well… and the next Monday Cassie quit the insurance office.
Years passed happily by, the dollhouse remained in the window, and eventually they placed a placard on it stating it was not for sale. The business prospered and sometimes Cassie would go to local estate sales to buy items for the shop.
By now Luisa was quite old, but their ritual of looking at the dollhouse and dusting it remained a part of every evening, and they caught each other up on the news of the day. On one such day, when Cassie had returned from a trip to buy items, and after they had dusted the last piece of dollhouse furniture, Luisa told Cassie that she had been diagnosed with cancer.
Luisa had drawn up the papers to transfer all the accounts into Cassie’s name, and when it was all said and done, she lingered only a few days more as she imparted all that she could to Cassie about small things she may have forgotten to tell her. One of the last was about the dollhouse.
“Take good care of the dollhouse, please Cassie… I plan to live there after I die.”
Cassie thought this was the illness talking, and just nodded.
“If you stay in the shop, if you keep the business, you can come live there, too – when your time comes.”
Through her tears, Cassie just nodded at Luisa, and did her best to comfort her.
Luisa died on a Friday. Cassie closed the business for the following week, and did her best to clear out the apartment in the back of the shop, and move downstairs into it. She put the upstairs apartment on the listings to rent. And she tried to stifle her grief by maintaining their evening rituals.
As she dusted the dollhouse furniture, she had the old experience of seeing movement in the corner of her eye. She happened to glance at one of the tiny mirrors in the dollhouse foyer and thought for a moment that she saw Luisa in the mirror, much younger and waving to her.
As she shook her head to clear her mind, she noticed a young woman at the window, staring with longing at the dollhouse. She waved at the woman, the woman smiled and waved back.
“I must’ve seen the reflection of that young woman in the dollhouse mirror”, she thought and remembering Luisa’s kindness to her, she hoped the young woman would be back some time to view the dollhouse.
Luisa, in the dollhouse, nodded her approval. And turning back to her husband, who had lived in the dollhouse for many years before Luisa was able to join him – took his hand – and they enjoyed the quiet solitude of their slice of heaven in the dollhouse waiting for Cassie to join them.