backhand stories the creative writing blog

North Street was lined with boutiques, rare book dealers, and antique shops. Laura walked along slowly, looking in each window, savoring the moment. It was like a street of dreams, filled with oddities and beautiful things from the past. The clock on the bank building across the street said 9 AM.

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When she saw the little brass bowl in the curio shop window, Laura knew immediately that she wanted it. Since James left her last month, she hadn’t treated herself to anything, and the shiny brass bowl would liven up the apartment. A small white card placed next to the bowl read: Circa l400.

Laura hoped it wouldn’t be too expensive. She still had a little bit of her inheritance from her grandmother’s estate that she came into last year when she turned twenty-one. Laura stared at the bowl, fascinated by the strange handle. Was that handle there when she first looked? It must have been. Probably just a trick of the morning sunlight. She saw herself reflected in the window, insulated from the traffic noise on the street. The world vanished in silence, and Laura’s mind drifted. She tumbled back in time and saw the brass bowl as it had once belonged to the Pharaoh.

Laura blinked. The little brass bowl had an etching of a Pharaoh’s face on the handle. She didn’t know why, but she had to have that bowl. It called to her.

On the door of the curio shop a sign was posted: WELCOME. COME IN. When Laura entered, a beautiful East Indian woman in a green sari padded over. Her jet black hair was braided and wound tightly around her head. “Yes, Miss, we have it,” she said.

Laura frowned. “Have what?”

“Whatever you want.” The woman smiled. “Beauty. Love. Money. Death.”

“What did you say?” Laura asked. The woman’s English wasn’t very good. Surely she meant something else.

“Yes, Miss. We have plenty of jewelry. Jade, emerald, stones of blood.” She bent forward in a little bow, and thin black snakes were coiled tightly around the top of her head.

Laura stepped back with a small cry. The woman raised her head again, and Laura saw no more snakes, only braids. What was wrong with her? She kept seeing things that weren’t there. James always told her she didn’t keep her mind on the moment, but kept dreaming of other things that she wanted, but that they couldn’t afford. Perhaps he had been right. She said, “I don’t want any jewelry. I’d like to see that little brass bowl in your window.”

The saleswoman shook her head. “Have no glass bowl. I’ll get the jewelry.” She turned quickly and went through a doorway.

“Not glass, brass,” Laura called, and heard her voice muffled by the dusty sunbeams of the window display. From this side she couldn’t see the bowl. It was probably behind one of the other items, the statue of Buddha or the wicker trunk. She peered through the clutter. No bowl. She’d have to go back outside to see its exact location.

Laura opened the door and stepped through. There was no outside. She was in a basement, filled with antiques and bric-a-brac, all jumbled together. A dangling light bulb cast yellowish shadows across the huddled items.

What a foolish mistake, to have chosen the wrong doorway. But how did she get into a basement? These old buildings had strange passageways. When she turned to go back, the doorway was gone. A tremor of alarm washed over her, for she was surrounded by teddy bears, weather vanes, quilts, rag dolls, toy trains, and a carousel horse.

This was impossible. She had come in through a doorway; there had to be a doorway out. Everything was in her way, blocking her view. She placed her foot in the stirrup and mounted the carousel horse.

The basement looked exactly like her grandmother’s attic, when Laura was a child of five. It had always frightened her, because everything was so big and threatening. Dark shapes slid across her memory: a stuffed owl that stared at her with evil amber eyes; a jack-in-the-box that erupted with screeches of menacing laughter; a baby doll that cried “Mama! Mama!” over and over, while one eye hung loose in its socket.

No, wait – – Laura squeezed her eyes shut and remembered now. She had beaten up the baby doll so that her grandmother would give her a new one. Laura kept pestering her grandmother, whose face that day was muddy gray. “Get me a different doll,” Laura had demanded, pointing to the attic.

“I can’t go up,” her grandmother said, leaning weakly against the table. A little bass bowl slid to the floor. “I don’t feel well. You’ll have to go up and get one.”

Laura cried and made a fuss and saw her grandmother trying to reach the phone With the pit of her stomach held tightly in, Laura went up into the mysterious attic. She burrowed into the tangle of toy drums and dead puppets The owl watched her, his head turning to see where she went. The jack-in-the-box shrieked with laughter. A hurdy-gurdy wheezed tinny music.

Laura grabbed a doll from the trunk and hurried back down the stairs. Her grandmother was lying on the floor. A Pharaoh’s eyes glinted at Laura from the little brass bowl.

She watched as he whirled about like a demon. Shaking with fear, Laura kicked at the bowl and the demon swirled back into the shiny metal.

Threads of blood trickled from her grandmother’s mouth. While Laura played with her doll, her grandmother lay on the floor, not speaking or moving. Laura knew it was some kind of punishment the demon did to her grandmother for not going up into the attic to get the doll. Laura didn’t care, because she got punished too, sometimes. After a while, somebody came, picked up Laura, and took her away. She never saw her grandmother again.

The basement grew cold now, and Laura shivered. She had always been haunted by the memory of that selfish little girl.

She opened her eyes. The smell of mold hung heavily over her and spider webs trembled from the shadowy ceiling. Broken toys were scattered about. A jack-in-the-box lay on its side, the spring crushed. An old rag doll leaned in a corner, its wooly hair faded and dusty. The paint on the carousel horse was brittle with age and flakes crumbled off as Laura climbed down.

She saw a doorway on her left, and went through. She was back on North Street, looking into the window of the curio shop, with someone standing beside her. The little brass bowl gleamed in the morning sunshine. The woman in the green sari said, “Yes, Miss. Old Egyptian brass bowl. It has strange powers, to show us who we are.”

“And who we once were,” Laura said, as the woman faded.

The clock on the bank building said 9 AM.

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