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Grá Mo Chroí [Part 1]Category: Stories
Wednesday, 23 July 2014
06:34:54 AM (GMT)
It started when I was on vacation in London. My memories of that summer aren’t as
vivid as the photographs, so mostly I rely on the pictures in the scrapbook my mum
put together as a timeline when I tell about this part of the story, but I don’t
feel like digging it out again right now. And anyway, the important part is the shop,
and I remember that part just fine, clear as anything. It was this weird little shop
tucked into a sort of crevice between two huge buildings in a narrow alleyway south
of Oxford street. It was all old bricks, seemingly recycled or salvaged from old
buildings because they all had engravings of different bricklayers and brick
manufacturers and companies and so on and so forth. There was no proper sign up with
a name or purpose of the shop, but someone had painted over a section of the brick
with whitewash and scrawled, “Madam S. W. Bramble’s Emporium of Oddities: Portal
86.”  Well, I never would have found it, had it not been for this one woman in
particular who I noticed passing by and wanted to get a better look at. Now before
you go figuring me to be some creep, let me tell you how she looked, because you’d
have been just as intrigued. Her hair was mostly brown, and a combination of
dreadlocks and long braids. The end of each strand was dip-dyed in various shades of
either green or blue, so that her hair looked like a piece of old, worn wood left in
the forest to be freckled with moss. And then she had these little scraps of felt in
her hair, just here and there, in all different colors, but mostly pinks and red, and
then it was all pulled back into a half-ponytail that was held with a pink
rose-shaped clasp. Her face was bold, with full, round lips, and a prominent nose,
and large dark eyes that peered out of her pale, angular face like spherically
sculpted black diamonds. There were some light freckles sprinkled across her nose, if
I remember right, and she was wearing a dress made up of a brown leather bodice and a
dark blue denim skirt. She was lovely, quite whimsical in everything, even how she
walked, which was a faltering, yet somehow confident stride, and she leaned often
against the cane she carried with her, with its little brass sparrow-shaped handle. I
watched her from the shadows as she opened up the shop, flipping the sign around in
the window to say, YES, WE’RE OPEN, and letting in the two or three equally-strange
but not as beautiful characters waiting outside the door. Then she turned to me and
held the door open for me, raising one dark eyebrow with a look that said, “You
coming in, or what?”
Of course I went in, fascinated and thrilled with the strangeness of it all. It was
truly a shop of oddities, unlike any antique gift shop you’d ever been in. There
were artworks, nests of glittering bejeweled round objects arranged on the windowsill
and labeled “Dragon’s Eggs.” 
The walls were lined with large posters depicting other worlds, silk tapestries
telling the histories of forgotten dynasties, and large antique mirrors with
intricately carved wooden frames. There was a shelf with large jars of what I assumed
from a distance to be candy, but upon further inspection I found it to be an
assortment of rough semi-precious gem stones, low-grade rubies and chucks of cut
geodes, pyrite and quartz, every shade of opal, some citrine, as well as an array of
“Can I help you with anything?” the intriguing woman asked me in a pleasant,
lilting voice that startled me from my reverie. “I’m Madam Bramble, and this is
Portal 86.” 
“Portal?” I asked, confused and fascinated, almost mystified. “I’m Fallon
Wallace, just visiting London for the first time this week.” 
“You’re Irish, then?” she said, smiling and raising that eyebrow again. 
I nodded. 
“Me too, son, and glad to meet you. Let me know if I can help you out with
anything. We’re only open for another two hours, but if you come back at ten
tonight, we’ll be open from then until midnight.” 
“Why such strange hours?” I asked, genuinely curious. 
She laughed, a deep rumbling sound that rolled out of her torso and then leapt like
flame, tossing her head back and holding her sides. I really didn’t think my
question was so preposterous. 
“Well, sonny, why not come back tonight and find out?” she said with a wink. 
I hesitated, suddenly suspicious. Portal, huh? Perhaps this was some sort of cult. 
“I can’t stay out that late, ma’am,” I said, sighing with half-feigned
regret. “My mum’s expecting to meet me soon, at an Italian restaurant on Oxford,
and then our hotel isn’t around here.” 
“Ah, well. That’s that then. But look around while you can, and let me know if I
can be of any help to you.” 
I explored the shop then, taking in the racks of clothing, all hand-made with
softened, salt-cured leather, rough denim, intricate lace, and so many straps and
buckles that the ensembles must take half an hour just to get on. There were corsets
and cloaks, boots and high heals, leather belts and shiny gold broaches that ticked
with tiny clocks. Lace gloves and top hats, hats with feathers, hats with black
birdcage veils. Cameo necklaces. Seashell bracelets. A pinstriped gown with
cream-colored ruffles on the sleeves and blood-red corset lacing up the back. 
I moved on to the back wall where there were massive bookshelves, crammed with titles
such as, Decoding The Language of Birds, and 300 Things You Didn’t Know
Were Edible. I found a pile of autobiographies, Growing Up In Faerie, and
The Girl Who Talked To Angels: An Autobiography, and I’ll Leave The Light
On: Letters To My Nocturnal Mother. I pulled a dusty, leather-bound tome from the
shelf entitled Theories of Time Travel and flipped through it, grinning at the
wonderful strangeness of this place and everything in it. 
In front of the book shelves was an old black leather couch and a blue
velvet-upholstered chair, both worn and lovely, and a pair of white-haired,
black-clad customers sat there reading, obviously deeply engrossed in whatever
literary discoveries they were making. I stepped around them, my boots silent on the
thick emerald carpet, and I wandered over to a series of glass cases line up against
the opposite wall, lit from above by a chandelier that appeared to be made from deer
Inside the first case, there were glass animals, china dolls, insects trapped in
amber, old perfume bottles, skeleton keys, jars of glass marbles, and a taxidermic
bat encased in a green glass sphere. 
The next case didn’t have a door, and held lidless jars of various incense sticks
and vials of essential oils. 
The third case held hand-carved African beads, Tibetan pendants, Native American
dream catchers, and a shoulder bag made from the remnants of a very old, very
colorful Moroccan rug. 
“Fallon?” came Madam Bramble’s chirp from behind me. “Here, look at this.”

I turned, surprised to see her holding a doll. It looked like a handmade rag-doll,
crudely stitched with mismatched button eyes, one russet, one sapphire. Its head was
disproportionally large and covered in a mop of yarn in every color and texture,
probably scraps some grandmother saved from a lifetime of knitting, and it wore a
simple dress of dandelion-colored cotton. It must have been filled with down, because
tiny white feathers poked through the seems here and there. The doll wore black and
white striped tights and black felt shoes. Madam Bramble lifted the doll’s dress,
revealing the doll’s chest, where “Grá Mo Chroí” was stitched in cursive red
“Love of my heart. It’s pronounced ‘graw muh khree.’ A Gaelic phrase,” she
“It’s… cute,” I said uncertainly, “but…” 
“Now, I know what you’re thinking, why would you want a doll, right?” 
I chuckled a bit. “More or less.” 
“But you see, she’s been waiting here for such an awfully long time, and when you
came in she whispered to me, ‘him, that’s the one!’ and I asked her if she was
sure, and she swears it. I’ll give you a good deal on her, since she’s so
I smirked and sucked on my cheek, thinking that this was some silly marketing gimmick
this eccentric woman used on every customer. But then, she handed the doll to me, and
I held it in both of my hands, and something happened. A pulse, like a faint electric
shock, ran through my body, and a sweet taste filled my mouth. ‘Hello!’ I
thought I heard a voice exclaim, a voice from nowhere.
Now, I was perfectly prepared to dismiss all of this as my overactive imagination,
which was certainly inspired by this strange little shop, and I would have, but
still, there was something charming about this doll, about this place and about this
woman, something striking that I knew I’d never forget. In truth, I wanted a relic,
a souvenir of this place, and this doll was as good as anything. 
I carried the doll to the register and set her down, where Madam Bramble wrapped her
in a handkerchief as if she were something delicate, and then slipped the bundle into
a paper bag and taped it shut. She was grinning. 
“Now, she comes with instructions. Wait until you’re alone. That’s very
important. You hear me?” 
“Yes,” I said, amused by all of this. 
“When you’re alone, take her out, and trace your finger over the words on her
chest, reading it aloud as you go. Alright?” 
“Okay… How much for her?”
“Thirty five euros.” 
I nearly balked at the price, especially since I’d been told I was getting a
‘deal’, but I reminded myself that this was London after all, and a little
out-of-the-way shop like this had to make a profit. I paid the money and bid farewell
to the intriguing woman, the paper bag tucked under my arm, and wind chimes of
buttons, old silver spoons, peacock feathers and wooden tubes clanging and rattling
as I left the shop, a sound that would echo in my ears during my walk back to Oxford
Last edited: 23 July 2014

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