It was late November when Lettice Morris stood outside the toy shop. She was seventeen, a small girl with small feet. She had her brown hair tied back in two braids, her smart green pea coat buttoned up to the neck, and she watched her breath fog the darkened windows and drew hearts and stars with her gloved fingers until they faded away.
A thin layer of frost covered the city street. People walked carefully in big, slow strides with their arms out like tight-rope walkers. Lettice checked her watch out of habit, but she knew what time the toy shop opened.
The lights turned on.
The old man who ran the toy shop was called Duncan. He unlocked the door and popped his head out, smiling down at the young woman. “Good morning, Letty,” he said. His eyes glittered behind his gold-rimmed peepers. His bowtie was blue.
She greeted him with a smile that split apart her chapped lips. She forgot again to rub on her vanilla chapstick; it always got lost in her purse, no matter how small and how few pockets were inside. For this reason, Lettuce believed that all purses were hungry monsters – a notion she had held onto since she was a child. But more importantly, for this reason, her lips were chapped and aching.
When Duncan let her inside, she darted past the train set display and the mobiles of butterflies and space ships to the cash register. She pawed around in one of the small fishbowls filled with tiny, inexpensive trinkets and found a tiny, round container of chapstick. The cover was decorated with swirls like a melting candy cane but it smelled like roses when she opened it. She quickly swiped an un-gloved finger across its smooth, sticky surface and flinched as she carefully dotted her lips.
“Did you come out here for just that?” Duncan said, looking at her over the display of rag dolls. He gently adjusted a fallen teddy bear.
“Not at all. But I’ve forgotten to put it on again. Or my bag ate it. I can’t tell which is true yet,” Lettice said. She took out her wallet and pulled plucked out two crisp bills. “That’s for the sweet relief. I can feel my lips healing already.”
“So what are you looking for?”
“A measuring spoon set.”
“There are kitchen stores for that…”
“No. I mean, I want a tiny one. Dollhouse-sized.”
Duncan laughed. “Well, that’s different. Follow me.”
They walked down one of the cluttered aisles, stuffed with train wheels, menageries, broken china dolls and faded scraps of clothing. The labels on each wooden shelf were faded by the years. Some peeled off and joined the dust on the floor. Duncan stopped at a shelf lined with tiny couches, paintings from Picasso and O’Keeffe on bigger than a thumb, and a bathtub realistic enough to have a ring. He extracted a small box, and from that box, amongst forks, brushes, and necklaces, he offered Lettice a flower-painted measuring spoon set. She held it prudently in her hands.
“I gather you’ve wanted to add to your mother’s dollhouse,” he said, watching Lettice gently turn the set in her hands, hearing it jingle. “It’s a worthy cause. It’s almost like building a real home, from the ground up. You’re lucky your mother boxed away most of her collection so that, when she passed, they would belong to you.”
He spoke easily about this because it had been five years since her mother died. Lettice was comfortable with it. She thought of her mother often, but not sadly; she had her cheerful, older brothers always making her feel safe. But although she did have a keen interest in putting her mother’s dollhouse back together, there was another reason why she had started to spend her money on the tiny delicacies. So without hesitating, Lettice said, “There’s that, Duncan. Yes. But my boyfriend is living in the dollhouse, and he’d really like to bake a cake.”