205.348.7264 mfj@sa.ua.edu


Emilee Boster

“I’m—I’m not quite sure where it went,” the lady mumbled. She kept stuttering on her words and running her hands through her greying hair. “I assure you, ma’am, Johnny just said it was here in this case.” She pointed her thin, wrinkled hooked finger toward the wooden box.

The case should have been renovated years before. The wooden slats on the top were decaying rapidly, and a thick black goop was growing in the wood’s crevices. The lid looked wobbly and like it could fall to the ground at any moment. Some child had drawn squiggly lines on the side of it.

“It’s fine. Don’t you worry about it at all,” I told the woman. “I didn’t come here for that anyway.” I turned my body toward the back of the room. I pointed past the bent-over ventriloquist dummies, smiling baby dolls, odd-shaped boxes, and faded trinkets. I pointed at the floor-to-ceiling box that said “Fernando Fortune Telling.”

“Oh, yes ma’am. We can look at that,” the woman told me. She hobbled herself through the boxes and items in the room. I was afraid she would trip and fall at any moment.

I didn’t care to see the fortune teller, of course. I just told her that, so we could walk away from that horrid case. I’d seen it far too long.

“I just assumed you were here to see Esther,” the woman said. She turned her neck around slowly to face me as she said it. I watched her feet. She almost tripped over a spinning top on the ground. “You know, everyone always comes to see Esther, and I just tell them to be very careful. We’ve had some real odd things happen here since we got her. I told Johnny ‘no’ the first time he asked if he could bring her here. I said, ‘Johnny, I told you I’d help run this store. I think it’s history that we’re here sharing. But in no way am I living in a home with possessed dolls or whatever.’ But he assured me there was no harm in bringing her here. I said as long as she was boarded up, it was fine.”

“Is that not what all these other things are? They’re just like Esther was,” I asked her. I fumbled with the spinning top that I’d found on the ground. I’d always wanted to play with a spinning top.

The woman breathed in deeply. “I suppose so,” she said. “I suppose. But see that Esther was different. Her past scared me to be quite honest with you. And then, we had some dolls disappear after Esther arrived. Some of my food went moldy— food that shouldn’t ever go moldy.”

“Then where is she now?” I asked.

“Johnny. Johnny takes her for a cleaning once a month. She gets her hair brushed and styled. Her skin gets retouched with paint, and he washes her dress.”

“Well, it’s fine that I couldn’t see her today. I know everything about her anyway.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” the woman said. “Everybody does. But I’m glad I don’t.”

“You don’t?”

“No, no,” the woman told me. She even took a few steps back like she was fearful of the doll just by mentioning it. “No, ma’am. I’ve never even seen Esther. Johnny tells me she’s not scary. He tells me I need to get over my fear of her, and I tell him it’s not a fear. I just don’t want to see that thing.”

“Oh,” I finally said. I wasn’t sure how to respond to her.

“So, I’ll leave you here with Fernando for a few minutes, and then I’ll be back to check on you.”

She opened a red curtain into a hallway and left me alone in the room. A room that felt far too small and far too comfortable. I was ready to leave immediately, and so I did. I waved goodbye to the tiny dolls.

“Goodbye, Esther,” they said to me. “See you soon?”

“Maybe,” I lied to them. I didn’t want to tell them the truth. They’d never get to leave, and they knew that. I at least wanted them to stay hopeful.

I reached down and shook the tiny hand of one of them. I had only seen them once a month— whenever Johnny would take me for cleaning.

I turned back around to the room, taking one last look at the treacherous place I had to live in. The awful case sat broken in the corner. It’s back latch was broken— I’d pried it off with a bobby pin I’d stolen from Johnny’s last cleaning.

I smoothed out my slightly tattered blue dress, which had caught on the corner of the box’s lid, and stepped out of the room, down the stairs, and out the front door.