I looked up and there she was staring down at me again. My breath caught and I chocked on a bit of water I hadn’t swallowed. A coughing fit hit my chest and I had to turn away whilst it felt like I was coughing up a lung. I couldn’t breath and panic shot through me.
I sat down, luckily landing on Harriet’s bean bag or else I would have been on the floor. I rubbed my chest and calmed myself. Most of the coughing subsided and I was able to think again. I took a few depth breaths and tried not to think about anything other then my breathing.
Reaching up to the small desk, I took down the bottle of water I’d brought upstairs with me. Unscrewing the cap, I took a sip, testing my throat. It seemed okay. I took a few more and shut my eyes. Music was still rocking through my headphones. I slipped them off, wanting a few moments without Meat Loaf singing his love to me.
The coughing stopped and I took a mouthful of water. Feeling better, I put the cap back on and tried not to look up again. I scanned my ten year old daughter’s bedroom. Taking in the bright pink princess wallpaper, Harriet’s collection of unicorn teddies, all her books, the doll’s house and all her fake looking dollies.
The vacuum and cleaning bucket stood in the middle of the room like intruders. I should get back to cleaning. Harriet hated anyone cleaning her room, luckily she was a very organised and her bedroom was always tidy. Still though, there were things a child couldn’t clean.
I went to stand up and my eyes began drifting up to the top shelf again. I stopped myself, not wanting to look at her again. Those piecing blue-grey eyes were a death trap and all that blonde curly hair wasn’t as innocent as it looked. I focused on the floor and the vacuum, planning what I was going to do next.
I couldn’t escape her though and I lifted my eyes upwards. She was sat on the corner of the highest shelf above Harriet’s bed, where all the precious things Harriet was too young yet to play with sat. There were things like pot ponies, glass teddy bears, a paper weight with a real flower inside and the doll.
My breath caught again and I was taken in by her as if she held power over me. Her china face was snow white and perfectly heart shaped. Her red painted lips were a tight bow as she faked a smile. Her glass eyes had little black eyelashes brushed on which give a frame to her glaring gaze. Her face was framed by all that blonde hair which there appeared to be far too much of. She was wearing a pale blue dress, trimmed with white lace at all the edges. Her limbs had been arranged so that her arms and hands rested on the shelf and her feet hung down. She had on tiny white lacy socks and blue leather shoes.
‘It’s just a doll,’ I said aloud, breaking the spell.
I took a deep breath and looked away. I got up and went over to the vacuum. I plugged it in and turned it on. I cleaned the carpet and I tried to let the noise of the vacuum drown out my thoughts, but it didn’t work.
The doll had only been here two weeks. A late birthday present from Harriet’s grandmother. The woman was almost a hundred and in a care home down south, near the coast. The doll was probably around the same age as her. Harriet had only meet her twice, as a baby, so Harriet wouldn’t remember. Mrs. Perkins did though! And every birthday and Christmas Harriet would get something in the post from her. Normally, they were suitable gifts, but that china doll totally wasn’t.
Even though, Harriet had cried and moaned, I had put the doll on the shelf and told her could have it when she was older. It hadn’t worked though. I had been hearing Harriet talking to the doll as if it was her best friend. Also, I kept finding the doll about the place. Yesterday, it had been in the bathroom, on Saturday it had been on the sofa and this morning, I swear the doll was in the kitchen, but then I hadn’t been able to find it.
Now, the doll was staring me down.
Ignoring it, I finished my cleaning. Then as I was leaving the room, I reached up and pulled the doll off the shelf. She slide easily enough down. Stuffing her in my cleaning bucket, I took that and the vacuum downstairs again. I put anything away then debated what to do with the doll.
Finally, I got a plastic bag from the cupboard and wrapped her in that. Her creepy face didn’t seem to happy about that. I didn’t care! Then I went up into the attic and left the doll on an old wooden chair that had belong to my great-granddad.
The rest of the day was normal and I had this strange peace of mind. However, when Harriet came home the world collapsed.
‘Where is she? Where is Esme?’ Harriet wailed.
‘Who?’ I asked.
I was in the kitchen, sorting out dinner and my husband was in the living room. I’d picked Harriet up from school two hours or so ago and she’d only now just noticed her doll was missing.
‘Grandma’s doll,’ Harriet clarified.
‘I’ve not seen her. Did you leave her laying around some place again? I’ve told you not to play with her, remember? She’s a special doll,’ I replied.
Harriet puffed out her cheeks, trying to hold back tears as she thought.
‘Why don’t you ask you dad to help you look?’ I suggested.
With a huff, Harriet stormed off.
For the next few minutes, I heard my husband and daughter searching the whole house. I busied myself with making the meal. When I called them both to eat, Harriet declared the doll was still missing.
‘I’m sure she’ll turn up,’ I said.