This story is by Christina Weaver and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Tabatha threw the napkin on the table. “I have had enough!” her voice low and mindful of the other restaurant patrons. “Diane, you don’t seem to care about our friendship. You find fault in everything I try to do to help you. If you don’t want me around anymore that is fine with me.” She wove her way through the tables and out the door; leaving Diane to pay the bill. “She can afford it,” Tabatha muttered.
As she strode down the street, the conversation turned over in Tabatha’s mind oblivious of the window displays. Something fluttered at the edge of her vision.
A beautiful black cloak, lined in red satin and a floppy brimmed hat hung from a coat-stand. The hat fluttered in a wind she didn’t feel and beckoned her to an open door. The sign read The Curiosity Shoppe, Alice, Entrepreneur. Her feet moved to the door of their own volition.
Inside the shop, the unique aroma intrigued her. She couldn’t put a finger on the exact scent, she smiled. She’d never seen this particular store before. Many small storefront businesses catered to the eclectic taste. How had she missed this one?
The items she passed in the store appealed to her sense of adventure. A steamer trunk begged to be opened. She lifted the lid. Personal items lay inside as if transported directly from a ship’s hold. A stuffed bird sang inside a house-shaped cage; its tune somewhat familiar.
“Good afternoon. I hope you’re having a pleasant day.” The woman standing before her wore a beautiful traveling dress from the early 1900s. Tabatha admired the tiny navy stripe on a cream-colored background, accented by a navy lapel, collar, and cuff on the matching jacket. Her navy hat perched off-center. She looked, to Tabatha, as if she were ready to leave on a cruise.
“I seem better at this moment. I was feeling a bit upset, but stepping into your shop I’m,” she paused, “not peaceful but, content is the word.”
The woman smiled. “You’ve come to the right place. My name is Alice, and this is my cat.” The animal rubbed against her leg and her anger from the earlier conversation drained away. The cat moved to Alice, and with a jump, she landed in Alice’s arms. “Come, I think I know just the gift you need.”
“Oh, I didn’t come here to buy anything. I was just- “She wondered why the woman thought she needed a gift?
“I know my dear, but you need to give this to your friend. This is something that she will come to appreciate.” Alice moved along the rows of wonderful dishware. Alice seemed to finish her thoughts as if she were reading her mind. Tabatha frowned at Alice’s comment. ‘Could she read my mind?’ she thought? She reached to pick up a cup decorated with ivy that formed a handle. “Don’t touch that!” Alice ordered.
Tabatha drew her hand back quickly and looked up. Alice smiled. “Not everything in my shop is meant to be handled. They are unique pieces and meant for a special person. Just as I’ve found for you. Here it is.” The cat jumped out of her arms onto the table and sat next to an ornately carved box.
Alice opened the box to reveal a beautiful silver hairbrush. It lay nestled in a bed of fine blue satin, the color of royalty.
“Oh, that is beautiful.” Immediately she pictured Diane seated at her dressing table, brushing her hair, and admiring herself in the mirror. She rejected the thought, there would be no gifts to her former friend.
“I think you need to reconsider; this is a special brush that would mean something to the very person you thought of.” Alice shut the lid and pressed the ornate lock. The scent that had been so light before was almost overpowering her. She followed Alice to the antique register. She didn’t think of resisting the idea of buying a gift for Diane. The cat walked along the counter and rubbed against her arm. Tabatha had no resistance to the impulse that caused her to open her purse and take out her credit card.
Alice smiled and turned her back to Tabatha. She put the silver box into a decorated fiber box and tied it with a beautiful ribbon. Then placed it in a colorful bag with matching tissue paper.
“Here you are my dear, take this to your friend. I’m sure when she has used your gift, you will find she is changed.”
Tabatha frowned. “Do you think so? At one time we enjoyed the same things and had so much in common. When she married, she began to change. She began to concentrate on her looks and what her money could buy.”
Alice patted her hand as she reached for the handle of the bag. “You just give this to her. I am sure you’ll be hearing from a changed person when she calls you.”
The scent from the shop followed Tabatha as she turned toward the parking lot. It filled the car as she arrived at Diane’s house, not knowing how she drove there. She shook her head to clear her thoughts.
Tabatha left the gift with Diane’s houseman and drove home. The argument and the overpowering scent from the shop gave her a headache. Even though it was early, she curled up on her bed and slept.
The phone ring woke her the next morning. “Hello?” her voice hoarse from sleep.
“Tabatha, how could you? You have to come here right away!” Diane’s crying, frantic voice assaulted her ear.
“Just get here as fast as you can.” She heard a long wail, and the phone went dead.
Donald, the houseman, let Tabatha in and pointed up. Diane’s crying rang throughout the hallways.
She pushed Diane’s bedroom door open. Her friend sat at her dressing table. Her hand held the silver bush and shook as she struggled to resist its strokes. Long blond strands lay in a pile on the floor around her.
“I can’t stop brushing,” Diane wailed.
Appalled Tabatha reached for Diane’s hand and tried to make it stop brushing. It was as if something controlled the brush. The repeated brushing continued in spite of Tabatha’s firm grip.
“Where’s Phil?” Tabatha asked about Diane’s husband.
“He is out of town for a few weeks. Tabatha, what’s happening to me? Why can’t I stop brushing my hair? It’s all falling out.”
Tabatha found the ornate bag on the floor, the tissue ripped where Diane pulled it from its nest. She looked at the box Alice had placed the silver box in; it had nothing but designs on it. Nothing evil or sinister.
“I’ll go back to where I bought it and see if I can find out how to make it stop.”
Tabatha drove to the street. Her hands shook on the wheel as she searched the storefronts for the shop. She recognized the sign, but no lights shone inside. She rattled the door, but it was locked. Tabatha knocked on the glass but saw no movement inside. A tinkling sounded above her head and looked up to an old door pull with a gold tassel waving in a nonexistent breeze. She pulled on the cord and a bell rang far away.
After a moment she pulled it again, harder, and more urgent. This time Alice walked toward the door.
“You have come to find how to reverse the spell of the silver brush.” She spoke after she opened the door and turned to walk away. Tabatha followed close behind her. “What happened? Is she cursed?”
“In a way. The things that became important to her cursed your friendship. One of those things was her beauty which she spent a fortune to enhance and keep. She thought nothing of your situation or what she could do to help those less fortunate than herself. The brush is showing how little these things mean.”
“But I caused it.” Tabatha cried at the memory of what happened to her best friend. Diane may need an attitude adjustment, but she didn’t deserve this degree of punishment.
“No, my dear, she could’ve returned the gift, left it as a thing of beauty to be observed, had it appraised and sold, giving the proceeds to the poor. But her selfishness overcame her.”
“What does she have to do to stop all this and how do you keep reading my mind?” Tabatha added.
“Contrition. She must ask forgiveness from you and have a change of heart. She needs to see the error of her ways and want to change. When she does that the brushing will stop.” Alice ignored the latter question and ran her hand over the back of the cat. It arched into her palm as she moved it along its back and tail.
“That’s all? She just has to ask forgiveness?”
Alice gave a chuckle. “It’s harder for her than you think. She must really mean it. The brush will know when that moment comes.”
Tabatha worried as she left the shop then turned back to ask Alice a question. The shop disappeared. She looked to each side of where it had been. It was as if the shops on either side moved together eliminating Alice’s Curiosity Shoppe. There was no going back; she had to get to Diane.
When she entered Diane’s dressing room she hesitated and wondered what she was going to tell her friend.
“Did you find her?” Diane’s arm was still in movement, brushing the few patches of hair left. The rough bristles left red marks on her scalp where thick blond hair used to be. “What did she say? I’ll have to get a wig; I can’t be seen like this. It’s all your fault, how could you do this?” Diane began to berate Tabatha.
The brushing picked up in intensity, the bristles dug into Diane’s scalp, and bubbles of blood began to appear. Worried, Tabatha sat next to her friend, “Diane, the only way this will stop is for you to say you’re sorry for the way you have treated me and others; to be really sorry.”
“What?! Sorry for what? I haven’t done anything wrong. This is your fault. You sent me cursed brush! Ow, ouch, this is hurting me.” She cried and reached her hand to the back of her head. When she brought it down to look at it, her palm was streaked with blood. She cried harder.
“Diane, listen to me,” Tabatha was frantic, “We’ve been friends since high school. After you married Phil and he was promoted to CEO, you changed. You began to act differently.”
“What are you talking about?” Diane was sobbing, holding a towel to her bleeding scalp with one hand while the other held the brush that continued to stroke her scalp.
“You became obsessed with your looks, had implants, plastic surgery, hair plugs, skin peals and I don’t know what else. I tried to tell you that all this was not the Diane I knew. We volunteered at the shelter for abused women, but you couldn’t be seen there, you just wrote a check for them. We used to do the Walk for the Cure, but you only went when you wore these cute pink outfits and when you were left behind because you were out of shape, you quit. Every time I make an appointment to meet you for lunch, you talk about your latest improvement or where you’ve traveled. When I try to share what’s going on with me, you make excuses and leave.” Tears flowed from Tabatha’s eyes as she watched her friend suffering from the brushing.
Diane stared at the mirror for a long time and then at Tabatha who held her hand.
“I’m a bitch.” Tears filled Diane’s eyes. “I’ve been totally engrossed with myself.” She dabbed her eyes with the blood-speckled towel. “When I married Phil and he was promoted, I felt inadequate; that I wasn’t good enough to associate with the other wives. I had to look as good as or better than they did. They told me all the things their doctors could do to improve me. They even gave me the number of a woman who would show me how to dress appropriately. It made me feel unacceptable and I needed to do all these things to be included in their group.” Tears flowed down Diane’s cheeks.
Tabatha noticed that the brush strokes slowed. “Are you still mad at me?”
Diane didn’t answer right away. Tabatha could see the war waged on in Diane’s mind. Her expression revealed anger because of the brush and its curse, but love pushed strongly to overcome.
“You did buy me this awful brush,” She accused.
“I didn’t know it was cursed. The shop drew me and the owner compelled me to buy the brush. I think I must have been under some kind of spell.” Tabatha whispered, “Maybe fate stepped in to save you.”
“Save me from what?!” Diane shouted, “I’m happy the way I am.” The speed of the brush picked up.
“Are you really? Are you and Phil happy together with the way you were when you first married?” Tabatha’s kept her voice low.
“No! I’m not happy, and Phil and I argue all the time.” The words burst out of her like a geyser. “Oh, Tabatha, I’m sorry for the way I treated you.” Diane cried and the strokes slowed again. “I want us to be friends like we were before. To do the things I thought were important. I want Phil and I to be happy like when we were first married.” The brush lay limp on her lap unnoticed. “I really am sorry.” Diane sobbed in true contrition.
Tabatha reached out and hugged her friend. The brush fell to the floor unheeded.
A year later, Tabatha and Diane walked down the sidewalk from their lunch. “This is where I saw Alice’s Curiosity Shoppe.” Tabatha pointed and then stopped. There was the shop. She looked at the businesses on either side and they were the same. The coat stand, the floppy hat, and red-trimmed cloak outside enticed shoppers to enter.
“Let’s go in, I’d love to see what’s in there.” She started to the doorway.
“No, believe me, you do not want to go in there. It might lead to a fate worse than death.” Tabatha took Diane’s arm and steered her down the street. She caught a whiff of the shop’s scent and began to walk faster.