Journey into the realm of the forgotten with Marion Turner’s “The Old Curiosity Shop”. Brimming with rich descriptions, suspenseful storytelling, and poignant reflections on the nature of aging, this piece demonstrates Turner’s profound ability to capture the mysteries and fears that lurk in the corners of our lives.
“The Old Curiosity Shop” invites us to accompany a child’s brave, if naive, exploration of a neglected, time-ravaged store, evoking both a sense of adventure and an unnerving tension. The eeriness of the shop, captured in the grimy door, the dust-covered goods, and the ancient proprietor, serves as a potent symbol of the inexorable march of time, decay, and mortality.
Turner expertly uses vivid, sensory details to breathe life into the scene, letting us taste the dust, feel the stickiness of the door handle, and hear the hushed shuffling from the back of the shop. These elements set the stage for the child’s encounter with the old woman, an image straight from folklore that sends chills down the spine.
The story cleverly delves into the struggle between curiosity and fear, a universal experience, particularly in childhood. The young protagonist’s journey reveals not only the reality of the shop but also the stark, unsettling truths about aging and decay. Yet, it is through this shocking revelation that the story imparts a powerful message: curiosity may lead to unsettling discoveries, but it’s a necessary path for personal growth and understanding.
With “The Old Curiosity Shop”, Marion Turner reminds us that some doors, once opened, can never be closed, and some experiences, once lived, can never be unseen. Prepare to be enthralled, horrified, and moved as you step into this haunting tale.
The Old Curiosity Shop
Grime had crusted hard in the crevices of the door frame, rounding each corner. The handle felt sticky. I eased the door forward, hoping its scrape would not call forth the occupant. So far: so good.
It had become a ‘dare’ among us children to make a foray into this shop. But it was not just the challenge of a ‘dare’ that impelled me that day. Holding one’s breath underwater, seeing who could climb on Mr Green’s shed to get apples, these were our usual dares. None of these, however, had called forth my curiosity, the desire, the need to see if something, someone, was as strange as others had hinted.
In the gloom of the sickly light, my eyes traced the grey film that lay uniformly on the contents of shelves: yellowing stationery; brown parcel- paper, curling at the edges; bottles of green disinfectant; grubby coarse-knitted dishcloths like grandma had made in war-time. Tall sweetie jars were drawn up in serried ranks, their flocculent epaulettes betraying the occasional smear and revealing bull’s-eyes to be most often called into service. A small patch near the till had repulsed the invading dust; here the counter’s once polished glory, brushed by a passing sleeve.
My eyes continued to scour the surroundings. A pair of elegant bronze scales graced the counter, their surface now infected with a measly coating. The scoop-shaped pan still curved in a linear delight. I knew it was capable of slithering its contents straight into a paper bag; a knocking tumbling would ensue if it were boiled sweets; a whooshing fall if it were sherbet or hundreds and thousands. What else might be delivered along with the sweets here? A till, of equal antiquity, had elaborate curving metalwork snaking down every surface. Its gratuitous beauty had surrendered to the same mouse-grey bloom. Mice had indeed left their droppings, generously decorating the bleached chocolate- wrappers.
Time had stopped here. Maybe no-one was here anymore. Maybe ghosts were. The impulse to leave fought with my desire to see more.
Then, a shuffling sound, too slow for rodents. A pause. There it came again, soft, slipper- shod. I found my fingers gripping my purse but curiosity kept me transfixed. In the shadows, a stooped figure was slowly revealing itself at the back of the shop. It shuffled once more, stopped again. Was it male or female? It seemed to wear a skirt, but the head was bald! I gawped. Why I did not turn and run I do not know. By this time all the force of the challenge, of the ‘dare’ had vanished. This was an image from folk tales. My horror took flight when the lamp above the counter threw down its weak arms to show an old, old woman, not hag-like, though her hands clawed the counter’s surface, but seeming to have stepped out of a Japanese painting where bald-headed men drew their remaining hair back into a knot. She, for it was a she, had fashioned what remaining hair she had, in like manner. With my leaden feet, I stood transfixed. Were the old like this? Pared down so that hair and flesh retreated? I both wanted to avert my gaze and look longer in a kind of horrid fascination. No one this old had entered my world before.
‘What do you want?’ a reedy voice questioned.
A wave of shame flooded my body. What did I want? To show to my friends that I too had courage? To laugh at someone who could dare to keep a sweet shop in this state, in this day and age? To visit something freaky? I had not counted on being thoroughly shaken, riven with fear. Nor had I thought that my desire to know would disturb me so. Then I realised the innocence of her question.
‘Two ounces of aniseed balls, please,’ I stuttered.
It took an age for the figure to lift the jar, an age for the clawed fingers to twist the lid. Nails as long as that could not be helping. A passing comment of my mother’s regarding hand hygiene, flitted across my mind. This was how a Creature or a primate like a sloth might try to undo a jar.
No time to ponder over the scoop, the dust, the mouse droppings. Clutching the paper bag I found myself in the street. I knew I would not eat the sweets; they were from another realm, a realm I had no desire to revisit. Miss Ellis our science teacher was always telling us that curiosity was a good thing and that no discoveries in the world could be made without it. What I had found out that day was that vague curiosity could lead to discoveries one was unprepared for, lead to the stuff of nightmares.
We had called it ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’, but most curious, most frightening of all, was its ancient proprietor and all she told of ageing.
Creative Writer | Marion Turner