“Tell me the story again, papa.” Chloe pointed to the trinkets that he kept on the shelf behind the cash register. “The one about the earring.”
They were seated in his tobacco shop and the last customer had left. The bell still rang every now and again, but her papa said that this place was haunted. She breathed deeply, and the mingled scents of the tobacco was like perfume to her.
“You want to hear that again? I’ve told you that tale over a hundred times. There are lots of other trinkets there.” He said, giving her a smile and gesturing to the other treasures: a little toy car with only one passenger, a woman’s compact mirror that was made of pearl; a necklace that was made of the brightest jade.
“No, papa, the story about the earring. Please? It’s the loveliest.”
Looking into her bright blue eyes, he knew that it was the only tale that would soothe her. “All right love, but another story tomorrow night, okay?”
“Well, there was once a woman that ran this very shop with her husband. Lacey was very beautiful and very sad. She had hair as red as fire and eyes as bright as emeralds. Lacey was sad because her husband and her daughter were lost at sea. She was always clutching an earring. She had given the other one to her husband so that, if they were lost, it would call them home to her.”
“That’s sad, papa. Did it work?” Chloe asked.
“Well, when Lacey was not working the store, she wandered at the edge of the water for days and weeks, hoping against hope that they would come back to her. She heard many tales from the other villagers of what had happened to their ship: a group of pirates had taken the boat, it had been led astray by a group of sirens, it had entered into a fog, never to be seen again.”
“What did happen, papa?”
“Lacey continued to wait. She pined for her husband and was a mix of hope and sadness both at the same time. She had waited for so long and the anguish had wasted her away. Lacey was no longer the young woman she had been. Still, she waited for her husband and child.”
“That’s sad, papa. I don’t like this part.” Chloe said softly.
“It’s all right poppet, it’s almost over. Lacey was very old now, so old that her bones creaked like the sea when she moved. One day, she felt her life seeping out of her. She sat here, behind the counter where you and I are now. As her last breath left her, she saw two spirits come through the door of her shop. At long last, it was her husband and daughter and they came to her side. She was overjoyed to see them, even though she could not touch them. Her hand moved right through them. Lacey let her last breath leave her and left her body, finally able to join the man and child that she had lost so long ago.”
Chloe gave her father a bright smile. “That’s lovely, papa.”
They heard the tinkling of the bell again and turned to see who it might be…
* * *
Anna opened the shop door, Stephen close behind her.
They both saw the earring floating through the air and the outlines of two people, a man and a girl upon his lap, before they faded away like smoke.
Turning to Stephen, Anna said “See? Didn’t I tell you that this place was haunted?”
Stephen walked into the centre of the tobacco shop and picked up the ear ring that had fallen to the floor with a soft click. He held it in the palm of his left hand. “It’s so cold.” He said. He handed it to Anna who put it back on the shelf with the other trinkets: a little toy car, a woman’s compact and a necklace.
“Why do you keep those things? Why don’t you just get rid of them?”
Anna shrugged. “The store belonged to my great grandmother.” She held the other earing in her palm, almost entranced by its bright blue stone. “It’s funny, but I feel so connected to her, especially with these earrings.” She made a face. “I know, I’m being silly.”
“No, not silly.” Stephen said. “Family is everything.”
* * *
Anna woke later that night.
The wind was loud tonight. It whistled outside of the apartment window. She lived over the shop. It was a fair-sized place and she owned the building. Sometimes, she could hear the laughter of a child within the walls of this place, the sound of a soft lullaby being sung to a child.
Unable to sleep, she walked downstairs to the tobacco shop. She went right to the trinkets and the earrings that lay there. Even in the darkness, they seemed to glow. Entranced, she held them for a moment and then put them on.
She rummaged around in one of the drawers and found an old hand mirror. Turning the mirror face up, Anna went to look at herself and let out a small sound of shock. There was another face looking back at her in the mirror.
Anna moved her mouth and so did the other woman in the mirror. She was frightened now. She touched her face but did not see a hand in the mirror.
“I’m so sorry.” The woman in the mirror said. “Family is everything.”
Anna knew a moment of pure bliss and then she was gone.
* * *
Wearing the skin of another, Lacey called out to the shadows. “Hector? Chloe?” She said. “You can come out now. Mama’s home.”
The spirits came at her call and she held out her arms wide.
Family is everything.