This Story Won Third Prize in Our Contest
“This one.” Mother Anna lifts the history from the shelf and places it in the customer’s arms. “As fine as any I’ve ever sold.”
The history squirms, waves its single, furred tentacle as though seeking escape, then settles, as they all do. I have seen the mother prescribe thousands of histories, and she has never miscalculated.
“And for you…” She chooses, for a little girl, a scaly, six-legged history with yellow eyes. The girl begins to cry.
“Lovely,” the girl’s father holds out a credit card. “How much?”
“See them out, dearest,” Mother Anna says to me, and I run to the front door. Then I sweep the floor and put on my gloves and put new histories in the vacant places on the shelf. The histories watch me with small, curious eyes. Those with limbs sometimes try to touch me, but I know to keep my distance.
“None of these are yours,” Mother Anna told me once. She swept her arm around the dim, dusty store. “This is our history. It was chosen for us, just as I choose for everyone else.”
“But what if I don’t want it?”
Mother Anna laughed and pinched my cheek. “You will want it, dearest.”
But I didn’t.This was Mother Anna’s history. She had never asked me or offered me to the shelves the way she did with her customers. I couldn’t imagine growing old like her in this dim, dusty room. So I argued, and refused my work, and even tried to run away, but it was cold outside, and unfamiliar, and all the people I saw had their histories with them, and I felt naked and afraid and alone.
“Wicked child,” the mother hissed, rapping my knuckles. “It is not for us to decide.”
It is not for us to decide. This is what Mother Anna says whenever a customer argues that their history is too small, or too ugly, or not as soft as they expected. Always, the customer relents, and their history climbs onto their shoulder or crawls into their pocket, and more customers come. This is the way.
The doorbell jingles. A woman puts a damp, dark, smelly little history on the counter.
“Excuse me,” Mother Anna says. “I choose the product, not the customer.”
“I’m not buying,” the customer replies. “I’m returning.”
I gaze, awestruck, at the woman. No one has ever returned a history before.
Mother Anna stiffens. She peers at the history with a scrutinizing eye. Its pincers snip toward her.
“Go finish re-stocking, dearest,” she orders, without looking at me. I drag my feet out of sight, turn, and peek around the shelves.
“No refunds,” says Mother Anna.
“OK.” The woman shrugs. “I’ll just leave it here.”
“Well,” Mother Anna brims with new enthusiasm. “Let’s find you a new one.”
“No thanks.” The woman is already leaving. “I’ll do that myself.”
Cold air rushes in as she opens the door. The histories shiver. Several retreat into their shells.
“Wait!” I cry.
Mother Anna gasps as I spring from my hiding place.
“Dearest…” She stares at me, one hand to her mouth. The histories stare too, a thousand different pairs of eyes fixated upon me.
The woman turns in the doorway. Her history plunges from the counter and scuttles toward her. She puts her shoe under it and nimbly flips it onto its back. Its legs wriggle in the air.
I step over it on my way out.