Alice stretched her small arms up to grasp the cupboard handle, her pink fingertips only just managing to brush the brass ring. She was standing on tiptoes, legs quivering. Her back was arched so that her new violet frock wouldn’t brush against the counter. Every surface in the house was covered by a film of dust and grime. Her ma would be furious if any stains appeared on the bright cloth of her skirt.
“Alice, what are you doing there?” Ma asked.
Falling back onto the heels of her feet, Alice lowered her gaze to stare at the mucky tiled floor of the pantry. Her shoulders hunched forwards, expecting a rebuke. “Grandma asked me to get her old sewing box down for her.” She said, pouting at the injustice of being caught red-handed trying to do a good deed.
To her surprise, Ma’s hand lighted on her shoulder in a gentle, reassuring grasp. When she spoke, her voice was soft as lamb’s wool and sweet as raspberry jam. “Sweetheart, you know your grandmother is…” She began, before seeming to think of a better way to express what she was thinking. “Grandma forgets things, Alice. She gets confused. You needn’t go around fetching her things.”
“But I want to see what’s inside.” Alice said, her voice rising to a high pitch and her lips closing in a stern pout. “She said I’d find it interesting.”
“Do you like sewing?”
“No… But maybe there’s treasure inside.”
Alice shuffled her feet. Her small toes brushed away grey must to reveal strips of ivory white tile. They looked like the stripes on a zebra’s hide and she had a sudden desire to visit the zoo. There wouldn’t be any zebras, but perhaps she would see a fierce lion stalking its enclosure. Alice always enjoyed watching the big, hairy apes swinging around their cages. If her parents agreed to leave grandma’s house early, she might persuade them to spend the rest of the afternoon at the zoo. Her round face lit up in an absent-minded smile.
“Alright, here you go. Take it to grandma.”
Ma chuckled as she handed Alice the faded mahogany box. From the sinking expression on her face and the way she slouched out of the room, Ma could tell that her daughter’s interest in sewing box treasures had fast faded. Had she been as fickle in her childhood? She tutted under her breath. Firm in the back of her mind was a memory from her eighth Christmas. She had begged for months to have a china doll in a baby blue dress. When it came, the ever-watching eyes and frozen, chilling face had haunted her dreams for months. It had likely found its way onto a rubbish heap somewhere, and good riddance.