My Life, the Fairy-Tale, by Vanessa Matthews

My Life, the Fairy-Tale, by Vanessa Matthews

THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP

Jemima skipped along the path and then, without warning, turned a sharp left into the narrowest alleyway her friends had ever seen. They followed her dutifully until they reached the door of the Old Curiosity Shop. She came across this crooked little place just a few hours before, and had been so delighted at all of the wonderful treasures she had seen there that she couldn’t wait to show Beatrice, Penny and Billy the place she had been chattering about ever since.

Like a magician unveiling her best trick, Jemima swept her arm out in a grand gesture. ‘Ta dah!’

Penny looked up at the faded brickwork and chipped paint on the moss coloured door. ‘It doesn’t look very interesting.’ She sighed.

‘Hmm, it’s a bit grubby.’ Added Beatrice; squinting to see through the murky windows.

‘Just wait until you see inside. You won’t believe your eyes.’ Jemima said as she reached for the brass door knocker.

Knock, knock, knock.

The friends huddled together and waited for the door to open. Nobody answered. Jemima tried again, only louder this time.

Knock, knock, knock! Still nobody came.

Billy stepped forward and hammered on the heavy wood with his first. ‘Oi, anybody in there?’ Again there was no response.

CREEAAK. He pushed open the letter box and peered inside. His wide hazel eyes flitted from left to right and back again, searching the gloomy shop for signs of something exciting. Dissatisfied, he pushed his little snub nose through the opening and inhaled deeply.

‘Smells funny.’ He said.

Beatrice pulled Billy sharply by the hand. ‘Come on silly, we’re wasting our time.’ She said, ‘It’s just another one of Jemima’s wild stories.’

It was true that Jemima did like to tell tall tales, and it was also true that she often enjoyed leading her friends on imaginary adventures, but not this time. This time she was not telling tales and she had not imagined the wonders she had discovered on the other side of the unanswered door.

She had found the extraordinary shop quite accidentally on an otherwise ordinary afternoon. Jemima’s mother had asked her to pop to greengrocers to buy a bag of apples, but as she had rounded the corner onto the High Street she had been distracted by a ginger cat with the greenest eyes she had ever seen. Not only was the cat the most exquisite looking creature, but Jemima was sure it had meowed her name before it dashed into the alleyway.

She followed the cat along the alleyway and right into the Old Curiosity Shop. Once inside, she was mesmerised. This place was so different to her mother’s house. Along each wall were a series of glimmering work surfaces. They were clear of clutter, not littered with paper and unopened letters, no sticky juice cup rings or half eaten biscuits to be found. No, the surfaces in this place were dotted with a selection of elegant ornaments, polished glass perfume bottles and pretty tea cups with matching saucers.

The walls smelt of fresh paint and there was not a dirty fingerprint or crayon scribble in sight. At the back of the shop stood a tall set of shelves, but there was not a speck of dust to be found. Just colour coordinated rows of beautiful shoes, the kind with heels and bows on - grown up shoes.

As Jemima had looked around she had marvelled at how the twinkling lights glittered against the shiny floor tiles. Not a single bulb was out. Though if one had been, it wouldn’t have mattered much as there were several scented candles flickering in the corners. The whole shop smelled of roses and lavender and there was an atmosphere so calm it reminded her of the silvery mill pool her mother always wished to visit it when her face got all twisty and red at the end of a busy day.

The shopkeeper, whose name badge read simply Mrs M, had looked up for only the briefest of moments to say, ‘I’m quite sure you don’t need any help sweetie, but if you do, there are two of us here today. Mr D is in the back office and he is happy to answer any questions you have.’ With that, she had returned her attention to the gilded pages of the hardback book she had been reading.

Mrs M wore a cream silk suit that hung delicately from her shoulders, and Jemima mused at what a perfectly flawless canvas it could have been if only she had brought her poster paints or her giant bag of chocolate buttons. As if she had read her mind, Mrs M put her book down on the small coffee table at her side and plucked a paper bag from her pocket. She loaded it with the reddest, sweetest apples from the fruit bowl nestled on the bookshelf behind her.

‘Here you go.’ She said, pressing the bag into Jemima’s hands. ‘Now you should run along, your mother will miss you if you hang around much longer.’

Jemima scrunched the bag between her palms and gave a gentle nod. As much as she wanted to poke and pry, disorganise and dishevel, she somehow knew that it would spoil a rare moment that might never be recaptured. And so off she went; she could always come back later.

As she made her way home she couldn’t but help feel as though she had been cheated. Yes, she had managed to find such a gem of a place tucked away, and she had even returned with the bag of apples she had been sent out to buy, but she had wanted to do so much more in that shop. Her hands had practically been itching with desire to rummage around, open cupboards and empty drawers. She had even had a few ideas about how she might be able to arrange the shop for herself, but she had been ushered out before she had a chance to put any of her plans into action. So it seemed sensible to go back with her friends. Together they would be brave enough to insist on helping Mrs M rearrange the shop, and the extra pairs of hands would get the job done quicker she had reasoned.

And so, Jemima was as disappointed as the rest of her gang to find the Old Curiosity Shop gone now, replaced by a dilapidated doorway hiding a smelly dark interior beyond. But as scruffy as it was, she realised that there was something comforting about the sight of the place. Perhaps it really had all been a figment of her imagination. After all, how could such a pristine space really exist without any noise or mess to make everyone feel a little more at home?

THE END