Slightly Spooky Reads #2: The Flea Circus (Part 1 of 2)

When my mom announced that we’d be moving to her hometown of Laguna, I was shocked. She explained that she had inherited the ancestral house, and since we were cutting down on expenses, we’d be moving there permanently. I had never seen my grandmother’s place before. It was always my grandmother who visited us whenever she had errands to run in Manila. Having lived in the city all my life, I didn’t know what to expect. And it wasn’t like my lola was any help. She never talked about Laguna. She spoke to me only to ask about school. She never cracked a smile, never loosened the tight bun her hair was imprisoned to. I tried showing her some of my drawings, but all she ever did was raise an eyebrow.

“We’re near,” my mom said as we passed through a concrete marker that read Pila. Rows of beautiful old houses and a church made of bricks greeted us along the way. I felt transported to another time. I quickly grabbed my sketch pad and began drawing.

We stopped in front of a white house with wide capiz windows and wooden moldings.

“We’re here,” my mom said.

When we entered, my mom pointed to a room with double doors. “That was hers.”

I stroked the carved details of the heavy narra door as I slowly pushed it open. The room was immaculately clean—the wooden floors gleamed, as if it were polished daily. A four-poster bed with a daintily crocheted cover was at the center. To its right was a dresser with an oval mirror and crystal knobs. On it were lola’s hairbrushes, arranged by height. Two framed black and white photos hung on the wall. With her hair down and a curious smile on her face, the woman in the portrait hardly resembled my grandmother. The other frame was that of my lolo. He looked very much like the respected doctor that he was in his white shirt and black tie. I wished I had gotten to know him. He had passed before I was even born.

“Mom, let’s check out the other rooms,” I said, tugging at her sleeve. I was itching to find the perfect space to draw.

“Sorry, Elsa. I need to unpack. You can explore on your own, just don’t leave the house.”

I nodded. I dashed to the dining room and found a long table that could sit twelve people. Beautiful plates were on display in the cabinets. I crossed the other end and spotted a smaller room, identical to my grandmother’s. When I entered, I spotted on the dresser what appeared to be a photo of my mom when she was my age. She was playing the piano. Then, something caught my eye—a keyhole beside the dresser. When I looked closely, I saw a well-hidden outline of a door.

“Mom,” I hollered. I ran outside to look for her. “May I borrow your set of keys?” She grabbed it from her purse and handed it to me. I quickly went back inside and searched for a slim key. I got the door open on my second attempt. With no window in sight, the room was completely dark. I patted the walls to look for a light switch, and when I found it, I flicked it on.

“What the…” my voice trailed as light flooded the room. Walls of shelves covered every space. In them were odd-sized bottles, brushes and canvasses filled with color. The floor was covered in thick dust as if it hadn’t been swept in ages. At the center was an easel and when I looked at what was mounted, I was captivated. On it was a young woman with dark circles around her eyes and a painted smile on her lips. But there was something about her that reminded me of someone.

“Mom,” I gasped, trying to catch my breath as I rushed back to my mother.

“What is it this time?” Mom asked as she handed our luggage to the housekeeper.

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