I found her on a pale Tuesday, which is a good way to describe most Tuesdays in Scarborough. The weekend has a habit of sucking the light inside its vacuum.
The Tuesday was like any other except for random curiosity I decided to stop by the corner shop I walked past many (many) times on my way to the bakery. I’m sure it was a front for dealers. They only accepted cash and stayed open until 10pm on Sundays, selling things like joke cigarettes and cartons of milk.
They sold her too. The marionette.
After picking up (and putting down) a bouncy ball, an empty spice rack, and several tins of beans, I happened upon her. She was sat behind a stack of yellow post-it-notes, her body propped up against the wall to which the shelf was screwed.
‘Hello,’ she said.
I jerked back so hard I smacked my elbow into a postcard rack and sent it toppling to the linoleum. Up at the counter, a man with a hard nose just shook his head.
‘Hello,’ I said back, after a less than swift recovery.
A friendship was formed soon after. Sometimes things are that simple.
Habitually, I began stopping by. Pale Tuesday mornings. An easy routine. On Wednesday’s I was busy. The man at the counter with the hard nose paid me no mind. He was always writing things in a journal and recounting the cash in the till. The alleyway behind the shop smelt of copper.
‘Come here often?’ she said each time, by way of greeting. We laughed and chatted. I got to moving her around on her strings, showing her the shop, and telling her stories about the outside world. The world away from Scarborough. The one where the sun was warm and not everything migrated. Apparently, there were places where you could see your body beneath sea water and feel your lips in a blistering breeze. She said she wouldn’t know, but maybe she could give it a try.
‘Everything feels different when you’re a marionette.’
‘I’ll take you sometime,’ I said. ‘Promise.’
After a month or more had passed in which we’d grown closer, so much so that sometimes I would take her to the threshold of the entrance and help her walk on the street, she brought up the question I had been avoiding. Either that or I just didn’t realise. But of course, she remained up for sale.
‘Is there a reason,’ she asked, ‘why you won’t take me home?’
In truth, I hadn’t thought about it. But it seemed wrong to buy her. To own her like that. We were friends. Maybe more – if that was possible. I told her as much.
‘I didn’t mean ‘buy’, she said. ‘I meant take me. You know, pick me off the shelf and just take me home. We can be friends there – or more. You can show me the sights, like you keep promising.’
‘Isn’t that stealing?’
You might be able to guess how she looked at me. The week before two young men had walked into the shop and took a box of chocolate bars and a photo frame and walked right back out. The man at the counter with the hard nose did nothing but watch before going back to his counting.
She asked me again if there was a reason why I wouldn’t take her. I replied with something foolish and true, which is usually how it always goes.
‘Because then it wouldn’t be the same.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘because then I couldn’t just visit, could I? I like visiting. It gives me something to do on a pale Tuesday. On Wednesday’s I’m busy.’
She repeated my words back to me. The man at the counter with the hard nose sighed. I told her I didn’t get it.
‘Yes,’ she said. Her wooden eyes closed. The strings tied to her arms became limp and she slid down from where she was propped. ‘Your kind never do.’
Emily has spent the past two years studying for a Creative Writing MA and now she’s not sure she has any creativity left. She has had work published with X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Barren Magazine, STORGY Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Litro, Tiny Molecules and Gone Lawn to name a few. She is a onetime Best Small Fictions nominee and is on Twitter at @emily__harrison.