The Tea Grew Cold
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It was the middle of December, a mere week before Christmas. The days had grown short and the snow in the streets was mushy and dirty while new snow kept on falling slowly off the sky.
At least it isn’t windy, Lucy thought. She wasn’t the type to cry about the hand she had been dealt with. Optimism was the one thing she still had to hold on to. She had been orphaned at a young age. Her mother had died giving birth to Lucy’s little bother who had followed their mother to the grave soon after. Lucy’s father had taken care of her as best he could up until the age of five. That is when her father died due to an accident at the factory he was working in. Nobody ever gave her the details and she was left at an orphanage.
The nuns at the orphanage had been kind enough. They had allowed her to stay up until the age of 18, as she had proven herself useful in taking care of the kids. However, the funds were low, and the orphanage could neither afford to hire her or allow her to stay there as an orphan. For the lack of another alternative, she had been given the task of selling candles in the evenings to cover the costs for her staying at the orphanage.
Unfortunately, the business wasn’t going well.
This evening, Lucy had only succeeded in selling two boxes. One of the gentlemen would’ve offered her more had she agreed to come with him to the back alley. In retrospect, she felt like it might’ve been wiser to take his offer. But the Church had no tolerance for prostitution and hence neither did the orphanage.
Despite being a pretty girl, Lucy still had managed to keep her virginity. It wasn’t that she held her maidenhood in great regard: sex just wasn’t something that she had been truly interested in. Sure, she had explored those parts of her body that men seemed to take most interest in, especially the one between her legs, but she didn’t understand what was so special about it. Or why touching it was considered so immoral, or prostitution for that matter.
This had made Lucy sigh more than once. The offer she received today would’ve easily covered her bills and ensured that there’d be plenty of food for all of them, especially for the malnourished children for whom Lucy took much pity.
The slush splashed under her snow-drenched shoes. Lucy was determined that she wouldn’t go home until she’d sold at least a few of more boxes, even if it meant skipping the dinner. Maybe the children might have a little more to eat this way.
As the hours went by, Lucy managed to sell one more box. The sun had set several hours ago as was normal for the season. Usually as it got darker, the demand for candles grew as well. Not so tonight.
Slowly the traffic on the streets got less. People escaped the chills of the oncoming night into the comfort of their homes. Lucy just kept walking to keep warm, her hands buried deep inside the pockets of the worn-out coat, her small button nose peaking from underneath the heavy scarf covering her face. The few passers-by that she came across had no interest in her candles.
“Hey girlie,” a rough masculine voice greeted.
Lucy looked around her. In the snowfall she identified a thin man leaning against the closed door of a chemist’s shop. His nose was crooked and there was a cunning smile on his lips. He had lost a tooth or two and by the yellowness of his teeth Lucy judged it was due to smoking and tooth decay.
“What ya doing here up late?” he grinned.
Lucy didn’t like the look of the man. There was also an unpleasant smell about him. A quick glance down the street confirmed Lucy’s fear that there was no one else around. Her distrust of the stranger thus made her only quicken her pace.
“Didnya hear what I said, girlie?” the stranger called behind her.
Lucy looked around her shoulder to realize that the man had begun to follow her. She sped up to a run without a moment’s reflection.
“Fucking hell,” he groaned and, to Lucy’s dismay, begun to chase after her.
She ran as fast as she could. The man coughed as he attempted to keep up with her but the years of smoking held him back. Lucy didn’t even glance back but kept running, her legs burning from the sprint. In her panic, she even forgot to pay attention to where she was heading. Something about that man had awoken an indescribable fear in her. The feeling had been so strong she didn’t care to investigate whether the fear had been well-founded.
The skirts of her dress were heavy from slush when her legs finally gave in and she fell on her face on the street. She was sobbing, hot tears flowing down her face, afraid that now he’d catch her. However, when she climbed back on her tired legs, she was relieved to notice that no one was around.
She could, however, hear sound of people approaching. Not knowing what to do, she looked up and down the unknown street for a place to hide. The neat rows of buildings allowed no alleys to hide in.
It was then she spotted a window that was slightly ajar, just there at the ground level. A warm welcoming light was shining inside. Lucy aksaray escort didn’t hesitate but ran for it, pushing the window open, sliding inside and falling hard on the cold concrete floor.
It had been a window to the basement. There was a fire burning in the furnace and sacks of coal were stored in one corner. The fire was the only source of light in the room.
As soon as Lucy had discovered her new environment empty of human life, she tried peek out of the window to see if anyone outside had seen her enter the building. Her attempts, however, were futile as she was too small to properly see out into the street. After a couple of jumps, Lucy gave up.
For the lack of a better alternative, she sat down to warm up by the furnace. The heat burned the cold off her fingers as they got accustomed to the warmth. All the time, she kept looking over her shoulder, listening if someone might be approaching.
She considered her options. She wasn’t sure which part of town this was; even if it was daytime she would struggle to find her way home. If she wanted to take her chances, she would have to find another way out of the house.
Whoever had opened the window was sure to return and close it. Lucy briefly considered being upfront about her breaking-and-entering but knew that police might be called to pick her up. Certainly, the orphanage would be notified, and Lucy would end up on the street.
She looked around nervously. The basement offered no hiding place save for the shadowy corners, and even there she knew she’d be discovered.
The lone door to the basement was ajar, with a faint light shining somewhere beyond it. Silently, Lucy sneaked to the door and peeked through the gap. As she neither saw or heard anything moving behind it, Lucy opened the door.
Lucy found herself in a narrow hallway. To her left she saw a staircase that no doubt led to the ground floor. She could distinguish some muffled sounds of people conversing with one another. The upstairs was out of question.
However, there was another door right across the hall. After investigating for any signs of movement behind the mysterious door, she placed her hand on the door knob, turning it as quietly as possible. The door screeched open and Lucy entered the dimly lit room that was heavy with the scents of carved wood.
It looked like a carpenter’s workshop. Lucy’s attention was first caught by the large wooden desk that was still covered in sawdust. The table lamp on top of it was the only source of light in the room.
As Lucy stepped closer to the desk, she noticed small wooden figurines that were spread across the surface. She took one of them to inspect it a little closer. It was a figure of a girl in a dress. Her face was yet to be painted but Lucy already recognized the immaculate craftmanship that had gone into the details of her nose and the fingers of her hands. It brought a smile on her face.
As she turned around, her mouth almosts dropped open. On the opposite wall, there was an entire shelf full of toys, large and small. There were pretty dolls with yellow curls falling on their shoulders, toy trains and cars painted in the brightest of colours and all kinds of wooden animals. Different shapes and types of masterfully painted miniature furniture were placed inside a magnificent-looking doll’s house.
But there was also one life-sized doll that outshone them all.
One reason for this large doll’s radiance was its attire. She is dressed as a ballerina, Lucy knew, having seen posters of such dancers. Beautiful crystal sequins decorated the corset and the rich lavender-dyed tulle skirt was voluminous and light.
That is not to say that the doll itself wasn’t a showcase of its creator’s talent. It is eerily life-like, Lucy considered. The doll was as big as Lucy. She had rosy cheeks and a small mouth, its lips slightly spread apart. It had no actual hair, instead the illusion of it had been carved into the head of a doll to appear like it was on a large bun. The dolls eyes were unsettlingly vacant.
As she was admiring the doll, she had the mad idea of trying on the dress. Her clothes were still freezing wet and she found herself shivering under their cold weight. Had it been an old rag that nobody would ever miss, Lucy would have already been pulling the piece of garment over her head. But this dress, its beauty luring her in like a fly to a lightbulb, made her hesitant.
It was her discomfort in her current clothes that finally settled it. She unlaced her own garbs before turning towards the doll. Her delicate fingers were shivering from the cold as she removed the corset off the doll and wrapped it around her small torso. She was very careful with the skirt, afraid that she might tear it by accident.
The dress was surprisingly uncomfortable, but Lucy didn’t mind.
She was too enchanted by the skirt’s weightlessness and the sparkle of the diamonds on her chest.
Playfully she walked around like some fancy lady, a big smile on her face, until she noticed her reflection topkapı escort on a mirror that stood in one corner. She barely recognized herself. The violet complimented the red in her blonde hair, her large brown eyes glittering in the dark like the crystals. Never before had she worn a dress that fit her as well as this one, showing off her womanly shapes. Of course, her curves were modest, but before this, she had barely been aware of their existence.
Thus, she admired her image, twirling like a girl to see the dress from different angles. She even curtsied once or twice, for the first time in her life feeling like a princess.
Her moment of joy was cut short. Her heart almost stopped as she heard the approaching footsteps and the voices accompanying it.
“…it is my finest work. You’ll be amazed,” a deep male voice was saying.
Lucy panicked. She looked around for a place to hide but could find none. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she desperately looked around her for a way out or at least out of sight.
There was some laughter from the hall.
“Am I not a little too old for Christmas presents, Uncle?” another male voice asked.
“Nobody is ever too old for a present,” the other voice replied.
Lucy went to stand by the now-naked mannequin. It was a desperate attempt but her only hope. Half-hidden behind the mannequin, she stood still, anticipating the opening of the workshop door.
The first person to enter was an old man, his back hunched from age. His wrinkled eyes were kind, his round glasses having fallen down his nose. He had a bold grey moustache and a short hair to match it. Behind him followed a tall young gentleman with jet black hair that had been combed back. His hair shined like polished leather in the yellow light of the workshop.
The younger man was watching Lucy. His gaze seemed cold, evaluative. He stood in silence, his lips slightly apart, while the old man studied his expression with a friendly smile on his face.
“This… is what you were talking about?” the dark-haired gentleman whispered, an incredulous smile appearing on his thin lips.
“Yes,” the old man laughed, clearly pleased with the young man’s reaction, “Impressive, isn’t it? You can’t imagine all the hours I spent on this doll. Mrs. Helström sewed the dress according to my instructions. She’s stunning, isn’t she?”
To Lucy’s horror the young man stopped right in front of her. The stranger’s face appeared unusually angular to her. He had sharp cheek bones and a Grecian nose that made him undeniably attractive but also strict looking. His face ended in a powerful jaw, made more prominent by the thinness of his lips. His blue eyes felt like they were piercing right through her. His hand landed her cheek.
“God, how did you manage to make her feel soft?” he amused.
“White cedar,” the old man replied. “I had it ordered from the Americas.”
“Exquisite,” the man said, pinching Lucy’s cheek. She was holding her breath, hoping that the flush rising to her cheek wouldn’t betray her. He turned to face the old carpenter. “How did you make the eyes? They’re so realistic.”
“Very fine glass work,” the old man replied, pride evident in his voice. He walked up to Lucy. “If you see here…”
He stopped on his tracks, lifting the glasses to his eyes. With his bushy eyebrows furrowed, he stepped closer to study Lucy like he was seeing her for the first time now. Lucy shivered.
“Yes?” The young man looked at the two of them, clearly amused.
“Ehm,” the elderly man muttered. And then, as if just he had simply forgotten about himself, he went on: “Yes, the eyelashes… very fine synthetic hair.”
“But why the ballerina costume?” The younger man eyed her attire. “It’s a pretty dress, uncle, don’t get me wrong.”
“Oh why? It’s because she dances.” The smith looked at Lucy with a worried look.
“She can move?” The young man raised his eyebrows in amazement. “You truly have exceeded yourself this time.”
“No, she should dance,” the man’s uncle said, adding carefully, “That is if nothing is wrong with the gears.”
Lucy stood perfectly still as the bearded man walked up to her and tucked her left ear leaf very gently. As he did so, he winked at her encouragingly. Then he stepped back in anticipation.
Hesitantly Lucy blinked her eyes. Then, very cautiously, she took a step forward and lifted her arms for a dance.
The only dancing Lucy had ever done had been with the children at the orphanage. Quite uncertain of what she was doing, she did her best to appear graceful in her movements. She made several turns, easy steps that she hoped to resemble those of a ballerina, for she had never seen one perform herself. All she knew was that on the posters they were all prettily posed, one leg extended in the air.
“I suppose that resembles dancing,” the young man allowed.
“I may have to see if I can still do something about that,” the old man sighed. “To be frank with you I don’t know much sarıyer escort about dancing either. Better make her stop.”
The old man clapped his hands which Lucy took as her cue to stop dancing and stand quite still. She did her best not to appear breathless.
“Even so her movements are incredibly smooth. Impressive!” the young gentleman smiled. “How does she work exactly?”
“Oh,” the elder shrugged. “Just like a normal human being.”
“What do you mean?”
“She can understand speech and move, do tasks that are possible for her… others she will try. This machine can be taught like any human being. But it takes time.”
“Can she talk?”
“Why, see for yourself!”
The younger man stepped closer to Lucy, his eyes studying her eyes and the lips.
“Do you have a name?”
Lucy’s mouth was dry. “Yes, Sir,” she muttered, “I’m Lucy.”
The young man looked at his uncle triumphantly, then turned his cool eyes back to Lucy. “Nice to meet you, Lucy. My name is Eric.”
– – –
The carpenter’s name was Johan Nilssen. As he had been ushering Eric out of the workshop, he had given Lucy a slightly frustrated look and gestured her to stay where she was. He then hurried behind Eric.
It must’ve been almost an hour later that the toymaker returned to the basement, and to Lucy’s surprise he was carrying a dinner tray. The old man wasn’t mad as she had expected. Instead he demonstrated much sympathy as he listened to Lucy’s tale of how she’d found her way into his workshop. Kind-hearted as he was, Mr. Nilssen insisted that Lucy should spend the night as his guest. It was agreed that Lucy would get a ride home come morning.
While Lucy’s breaking-and-entering didn’t trouble the old man, Mr. Nilssen was upset that Eric had paid no heed at the actual doll he’d prepared for him. He had shown Lucy that the doll was indeed supposed to dance but that the feature simply hadn’t been finished yet. Her curiosity and admiration for his work seemed to cheer to old Mr. Nilssen, so Lucy took care to ask many questions on his creations. The toymaker beamed as he explained of all the mechanisms and Lucy listened closely.
Eventually, the conversation turned to Eric. Mr. Nilssen explained to Lucy that Eric was his godson and not an actual nephew despite the boy affectionately calling him “uncle”. He was sorry for having allowed Eric to believe that Lucy was for him to have, since now Eric seemed to be looking forward to his present.
“Eric has to travel a lot because of work,” Mr. Nilssen explained to Lucy. “He is doomed to the life of a bachelor. Absolutely hopeless. I had hoped that maybe the doll might act as a surrogate for an actual home-life whenever he’s home.”
“He can’t marry?” Lucy inquired. The young gentleman had fascinated her from the moment she had laid her eyes on him.
“He could. There are plenty of young women out there who would happily bear his name. But he claims he would make a poor husband.” Mr. Nilssen shrugged and then looked at Lucy quizzically. “He is a handsome young man, isn’t he?”
Lucy flushed. The old man boomed into laughter.
As Lucy was finished with her dinner, Mr. Nilssen escorted into a tidy guest room. The small room was modestly furnished and contained little more than a bed and a drawer. Yet it was cosy with its Indian carpets and laced lampshades. To Lucy, a bed that she didn’t need to share with others was in itself a luxury.
After Mr. Nilssen had left her in her own devices, she carefully took off the doll’s outfit and put on the flannel pyjamas that Mr. Nilssen had borrowed her.
Once snuggled between the sheets she began to wonder at the events that had taken place that evening, her thoughts repeatedly returning to the carpenter’s handsome godson. There was something about him that Lucy couldn’t put into words, a sense of authority that he seemed to radiate with his mere presence.
His icy stare had felt uneasy on her. But it wasn’t the sort of uneasiness that Lucy was familiar with. While it made her want to shy away, the sensation was still welcome.
It was then that she noticed the growing moisture in her undergarments and slipped a hand inside her pyjamas.
– – –
“Step right in, don’t be shy! Poor child,” A plump woman greeted cheerfully as Lucy lingered at the kitchen door.
To say that she was modestly dressed would’ve been an understatement. While it looked like her clothes had seen years of good use, her dress was bright red with white polka dots. Her hair was black and neatly done on a bun, her skin a light shade of yellow.
“Take a seat,” she urged, “I’ll fix you with something.”
Carefully, as if afraid that she might break something, Lucy picked a place at the end of the table. She felt out of place in her own ragged clothes.
Donna was the nice maid’s name. She also cooked for Mr. Nilssen, and at that she was terrific. She served Lucy self-made bread buns with butter and jam, bacon and boiled eggs. All of it tasted delicious and Lucy ate with a healthy appetite that made Donna smile in approval.
Eventually, Mr. Nilssen joined them wearing his apron. He wished them both good morning and, despite his reassurances that he wasn’t hungry, seated himself in the table for some breakfast. Donna insisted on it.
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