No catches, no fine print just unadulterated book loving, with your favourite books saved to your own digital bookshelf.
New members get entered into our monthly draw to win £100 to spend in your local bookshop Plus lots lots more…Find out more
The mannequins in the shop window are sitting down for tea. One wears a rabbit’s head and dangles a pocket watch from her rigid fingers. The other wears a huge top hat, pulled down over a wig of orange curls, that bounce around a yellow bow tie.
The table’s laid with second-hand crockery, cake stands and plastic flowers in makeshift vases; a clumsy attempt at the ‘Wonderland’ scene. Tiny aerosols, propelled from drafty corners, explode through the air then waft down onto Alice’s empty chair.
In the back room of the Fancy Dress Emporium, Alberto hums a tune. His long, fine fingers carefully unwrap a parcel. It had arrived first thing, ‘special delivery’, but he’d waited for the lull, before opening it. He wanted to savour the moment, the unveiling of his precious Alice, the star of the show, his leading lady.
He carefully pulled back the plastic bubble wrap. Such an intimate moment, his heart hammered, shortening his breath, his fingers fumbled. The shade of her polyvinyl body was authentic; her curves gentle and feminine. He lifted her from the wrapping; she was awkward in his arms, light and hollow. Closing his eyes, he imagined the weight of tissue and bones and the warmth of a beating heart.
‘Now, let’s get you dressed Miss Alice’. He blushed at her nakedness as he laid her on the workbench. The painted arcs of her eyebrows looked high and defined; her left eyelid had clamped itself shut, but the right, a dazzling midnight-blue orb, stayed wide open and fixed on him. His hand hovered over her golden nylon hair; shoulder length - he’d been specific about that, seeing in his mind’s eye the length, in a bob, smoothed down under a blue headband. She was just as he’d imagined, absolutely perfect. Her dress had arrived last week, it would fit her a treat. He felt a small contraction in his stomach and then a stinging sensation in his nose and eyes. A wave of emotion, pride perhaps, rinsing through him.
The jingling of the shop bell shattered his reverie and signalled the arrival of a customer.
‘Two minutes.’ he shouted.
He gently moved Alice away from the edge of the workbench. As he smoothed down a wayward chunk of synthetic hair, his finger caught on a sharp seam on her neck. He bent down to look closer, breathing in her chemical scent. He slid his spectacles from his forehead down onto his nose to enhance his vision. There was a tiny opening just below her left ear. A fault. She’d not been moulded together correctly. He jerked backwards, his hands retracting to the safety of his arm pits. Alice was defective, sullied. He grimaced and wiped his palms down his trouser legs to remove the unpleasantness of it all.
Alberto loathed incompetence. He lived alone; ran his business alone to avoid exactly that. Now irritation was scorching the inside of his chest; melting pleura into acid that dripped into his stomach to feed his greedy duodenum ulcer.
He’d have to send her back. But what about the shop’s display? The others were waiting in the window, their tea going cold. He could feel panic rising, his skin itched, like freshly cut shards of hair sprinkled under his shirt.
Then a voice called out, ‘Shop. Anyone there?’
‘I’m coming’ He shouted, his voice sharper than he’d intended.
What to do with Alice? He couldn’t bear to look at her, she’d become more gruesome with each second that passed. He threw an old dust sheet over her, ensuring her face was covered like a ghastly corpse; then he trudged out of the back room and into the shop; the weight of disappointment stitched like lead into his pockets.
Alberto watched the customer as she perused the rails of outfits. Her shoulders tensed as she considered pirates, princess’s, Batman; then paused to hold aloft a Naughty Nun, before sighing and moving on. She was average height and build, graced with inconsequential features, but Alberto’s eyes lingered on her hair, which, was fair and poker straight. He could hear the mannequins whispering their impatience, he knew they had noticed too.
He cleared his throat then asked, ‘What about Alice in Wonderland?’ The words leapt from his tongue, and hope hovered like a hungry kestrel.
The woman paused, for too long. Alberto wished he could swallow back the words. But then she began to unbutton her coat and said, ‘Okay, that might work.’
‘I’ll fetch the costume, it’s in the back.’ His voice was high, anticipation raised the octaves. He chanced a glance at the window display. The Mad Hatter winked at him. He walked towards the door, double bolted it and, with clammy eager hands, turns the sign to ‘Closed.’
The customer, unnerved by the sound, swivelled to face him. Her long blonde hair was tied back in a low plait. It swished like a horse’s tail, batting flies from around her waist.
Alberto paused, now where did he put his scissors?