Polidori’s Shop

Polidori operated a shop from his house. The only outside entrance was on the second floor, at the top of a treacherously rickety winding staircase that looked like it could not be strong enough to support the weight of a person climbing it. There was no sign on the door and no bright light in the window to draw the eyes of passersby; but he had a steady trickle of regular clients nonetheless.

He worked as a carpenter during the day, and only opened the shop after he came home and ate a late dinner. He had built all of the furniture in the shop himself: the desk; the two chairs behind and in front of it; the triangular four-tiered shelf in the corner, on which he kept his emergency hammers and chisels; the elaborate coatrack at the entrance; and the spice rack on the wall behind the desk. His clients never complained about the unusual hours.

There were no reserved appointments at Polidori’s shop. All of his business was generated by word-of-mouth recommendations, and his clients were careful to coordinate their visits amongst themselves so they did not attract unwanted attention, either to themselves or the shop. Polidori’s driveway was only large enough for one automobile–his–to park in it at a time, but none of his clients drove to the shop, so this was not a problem.

One of Polidori’s oldest clients was Elizabeth Bathory, a wealthy, dark-complexioned immigrant from Eastern Europe. Elizabeth’s husband had died many years ago, before she left her homeland, and she now spent her time educating curious young women about her lifestyle. Any girl who encountered Elizabeth was never the same afterward.

She opened the door to the shop late one night and sat in the chair opposite Polidori. She had forgotten to hang her cloak at the entrance, and Polidori could tell she was agitated. As he always did when a client came to him in such a state, he took the precaution of sliding his chair back so the spice rack was within reach before he spoke.

“Good night, Elizabeth,” he said. “What would you like me to do for you?”

“Just tell me what you see. Please, just tell me how I look, and be honest.”

“You have a freckle next your left eye. It is reddish-brown, only a few shades darker than your skin color. Your eyebrows have become thicker since the last time I saw you, and they are starting to grow in towards one another; you should have them plucked sometime soon. Your eyes look haunted and thirsty. Your eyelashes are good, though; they are delicate and strong, like a kitten’s whiskers cut short and dyed black. There’s a smudge on your top canine teeth. It’s a lighter shade of red, so I think it’s from your lipstick. Your bottom teeth are clean, though. You have some lines forming around the ends of your lips, but they don’t look bad on you, except that they show you’ve been frowning too much. Have you been upset, Elizabeth?”

“Just keep going, please. Tell me about my hair next.”

“Your hair is just as red as it has always been, but I think you have some split ends, especially behind your ears. I know I’ve told you this before, but you would be able to see that for yourself if you grew your hair out and wore it longer.”

“I like it short. It gets in the way when it’s longer.”

“Could you turn to your left, Elizabeth? I see you have some scratches on your neck. They look like they’re healing, but they’re pretty deep, so you should get some medicine and a bandage on them so they don’t leave scars.

“Smile for me, please. Now raise your eyebrows, like you’re surprised. I really think you look better when you change your expression, Elizabeth. It’s as if your face gets stagnant when you don’t laugh or smile.”

“I know, but it’s hard for me to have a real reaction. Nothing surprises me anymore.”

“But at least you know what surprise looks like. You still see it on the faces of your girls, right?”

Elizabeth smiled spontaneously. “Yes, I suppose I do. I’ll try to practice more often.”

“Is there anything else you want to know?”

“No, that’s good for tonight. Thank you, John. It’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve found a new girl, and I’m getting restless. But listening to you always helps. I’m sorry I don’t have any new stories for you, though.”

“I understand how it is, Elizabeth. I hope you find someone soon. You’re starting to look a little pale.”

Soon after Elizabeth left, a German man named Max Schreck landed on the porch rail and went inside Polidori’s shop. He had a narrow, rat-like face, and fingers so long and slender they resembled a spider’s crawling legs. He was an actor.

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