THE WALNUT HAIR BRUSH
Micah looked over at the display case one last time, before turning off the lights. He winced at one of the all too common twinges of pain in his joints. Micah sighed, if she's coming it had best be soon. He picked up his cane, locked the door to the curio shop, and began his slow walk home.
Cheryl Albans was thrilled when her standby travel club called with a chance to leave Los Angeles and fly to London for three days for pennies. The club booked special deeply discounted deals for members who could travel on a moment's notice to fill underbooked tours or charters.
She was an interior designer and consultant. She did not have any particular set work schedule, which allowed her to take trips virtually whenever she wanted. She jumped at the London trip.
She had been tracing her family roots, and had discovered that her great grandmother, Mary Wellington, came to the United States from London in the 1880's. Since her mother died, Cheryl was unaware of any other living relatives. The trip to London was her chance to look for other family. Before leaving Los Angeles, she called London and made arrangements to view archived vital statistics. Something told her that she had to take this trip, and that for some unknown reason, time was of the essence.
One of the problems with discount packages is that they did not always include world class accommodations. But Cheryl was satisfied with her room. It was clean and bright, and smelled faintly of lavender. She was exhausted after a long day of travel, and had trouble falling asleep. She kept thinking that she had been brought to London, and that she really had no choice in the matter.
In the morning, Cheryl set about the business of being a tourist. She went to Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. She lunched at a pub, and had fish and chips and a pint. She took photographs of everything, and had a wonderful carefree time, unburdened by any thoughts of any deeper purpose. However, around four o'clock, she experienced a firm conviction that she had to be somewhere in Kensington, and that she was running late. She started to hail a taxi, but stopped short when she realized that she had no particular destination in mind.
She had planned on having dinner, and then going to a show. But her need to find something, who knew what, in Kensington left her uneasy. She returned to her room, read for a disinterested while, then went to bed early. Her last thoughts before, or perhaps her first thoughts after, falling asleep were of perfume.
Cheryl devoted her second morning in London to searching public records for Mary Wellington and her kin. After several hours of hunting, she located vital statistics for her great grandmother, but was sorely disappointed to find that Mary Wellington was an only child like herself. Mary's mother had died in childbirth. Mary had one child, Cheryl's grandfather. Her grandfather had only one child, her mother. Cheryl, in turn, was an only child, and the last surviving descendant of Mary Wellington. She left Vital Statistics feeling small and abandoned.
After lunch, Cheryl decided to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. Wandering museums always inspired her. Maybe she could write part of the trip off as a business expense. She hailed a taxi, and rode to the museum. As she headed to the door, Cheryl suddenly felt that she was close to her appointment, and that the appointment was not at the museum. She turned and started walking down the street, with no idea of where she was headed. she walked for half an hour and took several turns. She had no idea where she was at when she spied the curio shop. It had a plain well aged brown awning out front. The front window read "Smithson's Antiques and Gifts".
She crossed over to the shop and opened the door. A little bell over the door chimed brightly. Micah looked up and smiled. A young woman was signing in the Guest Registry by the door. American, judging by her dress. Definitely the right age, with long, silky auburn hair, Micah was satisfied that she had come at long last. He unlocked the display case.
Cheryl began looking around the shop. The material was all of high quality, and reasonably priced. Cheryl the tourist was replaced by Cheryl the business woman. She saw two small bronzes, and a nice landscape that she knew she could place immediately. In fact, her practiced eye revealed that there were enough pieces, possibly, to justify the whole vacation as a buying trip. Still, she felt that she was missing something important. The last time she got this kind of feeling, she picked up the thirty thousand dollar gem from Edouord Leon Cortes that was hanging in her living room, for four hundred dollars. She decided to make a closer inspection of the stock.
Micah watched Cheryl surveying the stock. She had a pen and a small notebook in her hand. Occasionally, she would bend over and examine one piece or another, make an entry in her notebook, then move on to another work. He noted that she had a good eye. With very few exceptions, she examined only the best of his stock. He thought, wistfully, that if he had had a daughter, this is how she would have turned out. Of course, for all practical purposes, although she did not know it yet, this woman was closer to him than even a daughter could ever have been.
Micah knew that she was hunting. He had every confidence that she would find it without any help. He noted that his pulse was rising, and that he was short of breath. He reached into his vest and located his pills, but decided that he would be fine without them. Be patient. She is coming this way.
Cheryl nodded to the elderly proprietor, but suddenly turned away when she spied a lovely Venetian blown glass vase. The piece was exquisite, as was the price. Maybe after she sells the first shipment, she thought.
Cheryl was beginning to feel a little frustrated. The stock was great. There was plenty of room for profit, but there were no apparent steals to be found. The owner clearly knew his business. She smiled at herself. She was acting like a spoiled child turned loose in a candy store. Surrounded by sweets, she was fussing because she could not find a particular chocolate. But Cheryl was certain that that particular chocolate was, indeed, here! With a slight pang of regret, she put down the vase, and walked back to talk to the owner. She needed to talk about volume purchasing and shipping.
It was time. She had seen all she needed to see, but not what she wanted to see. She would come back at any moment. Micah again considered his pills, but decided that this meeting would not take very long. He would close the shop as soon as she left. He could go home and take a nap, and rest up for her return.
Micah rose to greet her, "Good afternoon, I am Micah Smithson, III, at your service." Cheryl shook his hand and introduced herself. She started explaining that she was an interior designer, when she found the object of her desire. She stopped speaking right in the middle of a sentence. Naturally, Micah was not surprised or offended. Cheryl leaned closer to the display glass. She found herself short of breath.
Cheryl knew that she had found the source of all of her recent confusion. But she could hardly believe that this piece was worth all the trouble. It was an old fashioned wooden hair brush. The brush was well preserved. It was a dark, hard well-polished wood. The bristles were all in fine condition, definitely natural, probably boar.
"What kind of wood is the brush?"
"Walnut. It was made here in London in 1876."
"It's lovely. May I see it?"
Micah handed her the brush, and watched. As Cheryl took the brush, she was overcome by waves of emotion. First, she felt unconditional love. She felt warm and content, enfolded in a sea of lavender. But just as quickly, the brush turned icy in her hands. Cheryl cried out, then almost fainted, overcome by fear, pain and a sense of betrayal. A thin sheen of perspiration appeared on her forehead. She quickly passed the brush back to Micah. She apologized to him, saying that she just felt a little dizzy for a moment, but that she was better. He told her to sit for a moment, and offered her some water. She refused, assuring him that she was fine. In fact, she was anything but. She definitely did not want to touch that brush again, yet knew that she could not leave the store without it!
"How much is the brush?"
Micah smiled. "In many ways, the brush is priceless. I have refused offers of up to sixty pounds. But that is because the brush was not intended for those individuals. It was meant for you. It is my gift."
"Oh, I couldn't! No, really, I'd be happy to pay for the brush. Please, how much is it?"
"Then, the price is one pound. And if you are unhappy with the brush, for any reason, bring it back."
Micah carefully wrapped the brush in tissue paper, and placed it in a gift box. With great ceremony, he accepted a one pound note from Cheryl, and placed it in his antique cash register. He escorted her to the door, then closed the shop, and left for the day.
After drying her long auburn hair, Cheryl took her expensive Crabtree and Evelyn brush out of her travel kit to give her locks their nightly one hundred strokes. As she was about to start, she paused and set the brush down. She went over to her suitcase and took out the Smithson's gift box. She sat on the end of her bed, her back straight, her feet flat on the floor, the box held with two hands in the middle of her lap. Sitting there barefoot and in her nightie, trembling slightly, she resembled a naughty little girl awaiting impending discipline. Cheryl sat like that for several minutes, afraid to open the box, and equally afraid to set it down. Steeling herself, she opened the box and removed the dark walnut hair brush. Nothing happened.
Cheryl realized that she had been holding her breath. She released it with an audible,
"Whew!" Setting the box aside, she began brushing her hair. The brush felt like it was made for her hand. It was firm and strong, and separated the strands of her hair without any pulling or tugging. The brush massaged her scalp, and felt tremendous. As the strokes mounted, she increased her speed and the power of her strokes. At times, she imagined that she could hear a little girl laughing and singing. As the nightly ritual drew to a close, she became aware of a strong scent of lavender. With the final strokes, she clearly heard a child's laughter, and a little girl's voice counting with her own, "Ninety-eight... ninety-nine... One hundred! See Miss Wellington, your hair is so pretty!"
Suddenly Cheryl was very sleepy. She carefully placed the brush back in the box, and went to bed wondering why a little girl was talking to her ancestral link to London. She slept, or least lacked consciousness. The contentment that she experienced while brushing her hair, gave way to darker thoughts as she entered Morpheus's realm. She was in a long, poorly lit hallway. She could not see to the end. Somewhere up ahead, she could hear a little girl crying. Cheryl called to the little girl, but the girl continued to cry. She started to walk down the hall, but could get no closer to the girl.
Cheryl cried out in her sleep. She kicked off her covers, and dug her fingers into her pillows. She found herself near the end of the hallway. Running just ahead of her was a little girl, clutching an overly long night shirt. Cheryl called out, and the little girl looked back over her shoulder in her direction. As she looked back, she lost her grip on the night shirt. The little girl tripped over the night shirt , and fell forward and down a flight of stairs. Cheryl and the little girl screamed in unison. She awoke, sobbing and drenched in sweat.
After some time, Cheryl became aware of someone knocking on her door. "Hello, in there? Miss, are you all right?"
Cheryl called out, "just a moment, please." She peeled off her drenched nightie, and quickly threw on jeans and a tee shirt. She ran into the bathroom, splashed cold water on her face, went to the door, and found the Porter checking out reports of a guest screaming. Cheryl blushed deeply, and apologized for disturbing the other guests. She explained that she had been reading horror stories before bed, and a moth landed on her face just after she fell asleep. Naturally, the moth became a fierce creature of the night. The Porter, who already knew that all Yanks had too much money, too little common sense, and no manners or sense of propriety (but the no bra look works for you), just smiled and told her he understood, and was there anything he could get her--some tea perhaps, and no-- then I'll be on my way, and good night (and try not to wake the rest of the guests, and tomorrow read a bloody romance novel).
Several hours passed before Cheryl was able to go back to sleep. As she drifted off, she swore she never touched the perfume!
Cheryl sees herself sitting in a huge cathedral, with two young children, a boy and a little girl. No, it is not Cheryl. But the woman could pass for her sister. The little girl is poking at her brother. The woman leans over and whispers to the girl. After several moments, the girl again starts poking at her brother. The woman places herself between the siblings.
Cheryl sees a drawing room. A man in a waist coat is seated reading a newspaper. The door to the room opens. Cheryl sees her look alike leading the little girl by the hand. The little girl's face is red and wet with tears. The man folds his newspaper as the girl comes to his side, and says, "I'm very sorry that I was naughty in Church today, Poppa, but I never touched the perfume. Really!"
As Micah expected, Cheryl was waiting outside the shop when he arrived. She held the gift box with both hands. "You knew I'd be back."
"Yes, I did. Please come in."
Micah opened the door and let them in, but left the blinds drawn, and the closed sign on the door. He told Cheryl to place two straight backed chairs by the rosewood coffee table in front of his desk, and to place the walnut hair brush in the middle of the table. He then walked back to his office and started boiling water for tea. When the tea was finished, he poured two cups, and rejoined Cheryl.
Micah sat down painfully, and set his cane aside. He took a long sip of his tea while he studied her. He began slowly, "I did not know your name, of course, but I have known of you since your conception, just as I knew of your mother. I know that you are the last of your blood line." Cheryl shuddered and her eyes widened, but she dutifully remained silent. "Even though you are still young, and may yet have children and many descendants, my bloodline dies with me. A war wound ensured long ago that there would be no blooded Micah Smithson, IV. And my health is failing rapidly. So it was time for you to come and break the cycle, since I am Micah Smithson the Last. I waited for your mother, but she never came. But God has sent you to save our souls."
Cheryl was watching the walnut hair brush. It glowed, with an intensity that varied with the cadence of Micah's words. She knew with absolute certainty that whatever the old man was telling her would be the truth. And that thought petrified her! He paused and took another sip of his tea. She desperately wanted to sip hers also, but was certain that her hands would shake too much to hold the cup. Micah continued, "I am the last direct descendant of Micah Smithson, the brother of the little girl in your dreams." Cheryl gasped.
"Oh yes, dear, I am quite familiar with the dreams. I have had them every night for the last forty years since my father, Micah Smithson the Second, died. He was quite mad by the end. But he never knew that there is a way out, which has saved my sanity.
"It was shortly after the onset of the dreams, that I first became aware of your mother. She was still too young. But her mere existence filled me with hope! At that time, your mother was the sole living descendant of Mary Wellington. As she came of age, my spirits soared. But her window of opportunity came and passed all too quickly. Your mother never came. I fell into a deep depression. Just when I thought that I would soon follow in my father's footsteps to the sanitarium, I saw once again the faintest glimmer of salvation. Redemption came from across the sea, as I sensed that your mother was pregnant. I remember that day. It was thirty years, two months and four days ago. Yes, dear, I even remember the time of day. And your twenty-ninth birthday brought me indescribable joy."
Micah winced over a twinge in his hip. He paused and took another sip of tea. "The little girl in the dreams is named Sarah. She was aged nine. She would have been my great-aunt, had she lived. But you already know that such was not the case.
"Sarah's mother died in childbirth leaving Sarah and her older brother with a father who loved them, but could not care for them. My great grandfather took on a nanny, a twenty-year old named Mary Wellington, to raise his small children. Mary was the only mother that little Sarah ever knew. And they adored each other! Every night they would brush each other's hair, one hundred strokes each."
Cheryl heard a little girl's voice echoing "ninety-eight...ninety-nine...one hundred!"
“Mary was very loving to both children, but at times seemed to dote on little Sarah which would make Micah jealous.
"My great grandfather was a bit strict with the children. However, it devolved on Mary to administer discipline. Mary was always fair, but firm. As by now you've come to understand, severe infractions received an application of Mary's walnut hair brush, which was always received in the bare.
"On several occasions, Mary had found a curious little Sarah playing in her room with her personal belongings, particularly her cosmetics. Mary was partial to lavender. After several warnings, one afternoon she once again found Sarah seated at her vanity, sampling her toiletries. Although Mary admired Sarah's perseverance, she nonetheless promptly turned Sarah over her knee for a light smacking, but promised her a dose of the hair brush if it happened again.
"On the night of the accident, which was her night off, Mary returned home late after an evening at the theater. Upon retiring, she discovered that her toiletries had been moved about on her vanity. In particular, Mary observed that the stopper to her favorite lavender perfume was setting next to the bottle. She was shocked! Only days before, she had warned Sarah of the consequences of playing with her belongings without permission. Despite the late hour, Mary decided that correction could not wait until the morning. Wrapping herself in righteous indignation, she stormed down the dark hallway to Sarah's room. She pulled the sleepy and thoroughly bewildered Sarah out of her bed, and quick marched the little girl back to her room to view the scene of the crime."
Micah paused again for another sip of his tea. He felt a pang of sorrow for Cheryl as he watched the tears forming in her eyes. He wanted to hold and comfort her, but there was precious little time left!
"Poor little Sarah was terribly confused. She cried and begged, 'Please, Miss Wellington! I never touched your perfume. I swear it! Oh, please, please, please, not your hair brush! I really did not touch it this time!' But Sarah's protestations of her innocence fell on deaf ears. Mary picked up the walnut hair brush, took little Sarah by the ear, and pulled her over to the bed. However, in an unheard of fit of defiance, Sarah broke away from her and ran from the room. Mary could have caught her easily enough had she tried immediately, but she paused, astounded by Sarah's insolence.
"When Mary started after her, Sarah was half way down that long dark hallway between their rooms. Sarah looked back to see where Mary was, and dropped her hold on her night shirt which was too long for her. She tripped over the night shirt. Her momentum carried her down the stairs, where she fell, and broke her neck."
Cheryl was crying openly now. Micah paused and reached across and patted her hand. He handed her his own handkerchief, which she unashamedly filled. When she had regained some of her composure, he concluded his story, "The Coroner's inquest ruled the matter an accident. No one, but Mary herself, ever blamed her for anything. But Mary could not live in that house with her memories of Sarah. She resigned her position, and shortly thereafter moved to America.
"In fact, of course, Sarah never touched Mary's perfume that fateful day. It was my grandfather Micah, who craved an application of the walnut hair brush every bit as much as poor little Sarah feared it. And that is why Mary's walnut hair brush, the lovely brush there on the table in front of us, serves as an anchor for Sarah's restless spirit, and for ours as well. This hair brush was a symbol of Mary's and Sarah's unconditional love, and the focal point of their nightly bonding ritual, but it was also the central focal point of Mary's betrayal of Sarah's love and trust."
Her voice choked with tears, Cheryl asked, "B-but what am I supposed to do?"
"In order to release Sarah's spirit, we have to acknowledge our ancestors' guilt, and reaffirm their love for poor Sarah. I had hoped to accomplish this exorcism with your mother when she was twenty-nine, the same age as Mary Wellington on the night of the accident. But your mother never came. You are my second and last chance."
Cheryl suddenly understood the ultimate purpose of her trip, and her awesome responsibilities. She rose, and without saying a word, lifted the walnut hair brush and kissed it. She handed the brush to Micah, who had pulled back his chair, and removed his jacket. She started to place herself over his lap, but Micah held his hand up. "I am afraid, dear, that the walnut hair brush was always applied to the bare bottom."
Cheryl blushed deeply, but dutifully unsnapped her jeans. With great embarrassment, she pulled the jeans down to her ankles and stepped out of them. However, she could not bring herself to lower her panties while standing in front of the old man. Micah understood and nodded. She placed herself over his lap. She lifted her hips slightly to allow him to roll her panties down to her thighs. She whispered, "I love you, Sarah," and nodded for him to begin.
Micah raised the walnut hair brush, then brought it down with considerable force given his infirmities. The brush landed squarely across the center of Cheryl's upturned backside with a resounding crack! The crack was accompanied by a lightning flash of pain for both Cheryl and Micah, emanating simultaneously from her bottom and his shoulder. But the pain immediately was subjugated by a sense of cold, darkness and isolation. Cheryl could smell lavender perfume, as Micah raised the brush to continue the spanking. Although one part of her mind duly registered each smack, she was barely aware that she was being spanked over the next dozen blows. She was lost in a long dark hallway, drowning in the overpowering scent of lavender.
Cheryl heard her own voice as a little girl of nine, pleading over and over, "I swear I did not touch your perfume! I swear it!" Her own little girl pleas became a sort of mantra which she sobbed out after each blow. Crack! "I swear it!" Crack! "I swear it!"
Micah was not counting, because he knew that he would sense when it was time to stop. Sweat soaked through his shirt and vest. The pain in his shoulder felt like a hot poker. He was certain that he had torn something that would have taken months, if he had had months, to heal.
Micah feared the strain on his heart, and for the briefest moment considered stopping. But this pain was only temporal, while damnation was eternal! So ignoring the telltale signs of an impending coronary event, he continued to raise the walnut hair brush again and again, only to send it crashing once more down onto Cheryl's crimson mounds.
After thirty or forty cracks, Micah's arm lightened, and the blows started falling in a natural rhythm. He felt a kind of bond with Cheryl as if they were sharing something special. He even imagined that he heard a little girl's laughter! However, after several more whacks, that sense of closeness was supplanted by feelings of anger and disappointment. He became aware of her chanting. Crack! "I swear it!"
Although she did not know exactly what Micah was experiencing, Cheryl could tell that something had changed by the sudden increase in the intensity and rapidity of the smacks. In addition, she had experienced a similar shift in her perceptions. For the briefest period, she imagined that she heard a little girl laughing. She felt incredibly close to him, almost as if they were lovers. During these periods of virtual respite, Cheryl found herself raising her bottom up meet the next kiss of Micah's brush, then crashing back down to grind her pelvis against his leg. But all too soon, those periods would dissipate, and the laughter would turn again to cries of sorrow and repentance. Her mounting pleasure would once again turn to shame and embarrassment, and an instinctual desire to flee.
There came a point as the spanking drew to a close, where Micah's and Cheryl's separate visions coalesced into a single reality. The smell of lavender filled the shop. An overall sense of comfort and well-being filled both Micah and Cheryl. She sobbed openly, tears spilling down her cheeks, both as a result of the extraordinary pain radiating from her scorched bottom, and as a result of a sense of immense pride at having fully discharged her ancestral debt to poor Sarah. The little bell over the door started ringing, and the Venetian vase resonated harmonically. The shop was filled with a little girl's laughter.
Crack! "One Hundred!"
Micah set down the walnut hair brush. The back of the brush was hot to the touch. The fullness of the little girl's laughter bounced around the shop, then slowly faded away. Cheryl smiled through her tears, and sobbed, "Good-bye, Sarah! We love you!" He lifted her up and held her while she cried.
Poor Cheryl's bottom was too sore and swollen for her to squeeze back into her jeans. So Micah gave her a lovely antique 1880's floral dress, which fit her perfectly. Cheryl looked at Micah who smiled and said, "Of course, it was one of Mary's favorites. But now, it is time for you to return to America."
Cheryl shuddered at the thought of sitting on the long flight home. Micah carefully wrapped the walnut hair brush, and packed it in a new gift box. At the door, he took her face in his hands and kissed her on the forehead. As he closed the door behind her, he felt in his coat pocket for the paper with the name of his Solicitor who held his final will signed yesterday afternoon, designating his God-niece Cheryl Albans of Los Angeles, California, United States of America, with her full name and address carefully copied from the Guest Registry, as his sole heir.
Micah locked the door to his shop for the last time. He could no longer see, but it hardly mattered. Instinctively, after fifty years of practice, he turned off the shop lights and made his way slowly back to the rosewood coffee table. Settling himself in his chair, he felt for his tea cup. He took a sip, then carefully found the saucer and replaced the cup. His last thoughts were of his love for Sarah and Cheryl, that the tea was cold, and so was he.
KC Copyright 1997
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