‘I don’t care what you do with it. I just want it gone,’ Alex said, pointing at the dollhouse.
I withdrew my hand from the dolls’ living room and looked up at my older sister. She had a full black bin bag in one hand and a flat empty one in the other. We were surrounded by so much stuff in my late uncle’s attic it was hard to believe she could just single out one thing to just get rid of.
‘Why?’ I asked, ‘don’t you think your daughters, Sophie and Lucy would like it?’
It was hard to tell in the dim light of a single, dusty bulb, but Alex’s face seemed to pale. Her expression become tighter as if she was holding all her emotions in but I could see she was upset and distressed. She turned away, collecting herself.
‘Fine. I’ll take it for my Millie then. I’ll keep it till she’s a bit older though,’ I added.
I looked back at the dollhouse. It was a fine thing, modelled on famous Victorian ones but made more cheaply. Red brick wall paper covered the outside, only curling a little at the corners, the window frames were white but held clouded glass panes and the chimney was wobbly.
Two doors opened to reveal the inside which was divided into 4 floors then seven different rooms by staircases in the middle. The ground floor had a kitchen and servants’ bedroom. The next floor had a grand living room on the left with a fancy dinning room on the right. The third floor had a master bedroom to the right and a double children’s bedroom on the left. At the top, was an attic children’s playroom.
All the rooms were made of dark wood – walls and floor, some of which was covered by patterned wallpaper and rugs. The pretend Victorian furniture looked original and complete, sitting in the rooms I expected the pieces to be in. There were seven dolls; a butler, a cook, a maid, a gentleman, a lady, a boy and girl. They were all dressed in faded clothes and made of china.
‘You can’t,’ Alex said in a shaky voice, ‘I want it gone. Into the skip now!’
I sighed and fought back arguing, it wasn’t worth it, ‘I’ll get Michael to move it later. It’s too heavy for me.’
Closing the dollhouse’s doors, I moved on to helping my sister sorting through things. The dolls and their house lingered in my mind and when our husbands turned up at the end of the day, I had mine packed the dollhouse into our car with some other of things. I made sure to keep Alex busy so she didn’t see him taking it.
At home, we put the dollhouse and everything else in the spare bedroom to be sorted for later. Sitting before the house, I opened the doors and looked at the little dolls. They could almost be Victorian originals but I knew nothing about that. I carefully arrange them in the rooms they most fitted in; the cook and butler in the kitchen, the lady and gentleman in the living room, the maid making the beds, the children in the playroom attic. Wondering all the time why my sister had just wanted to get rid of it.
The next day, we were back in the attic again and I just had to ask her why.
‘What was with the dollhouse yesterday?’ I asked over a pile of cardboard boxes we were opening.
Alex was quiet then she said, ‘you took it home didn’t you?’
I pressed my lips together and pretended to be busy writing a label ‘glass’ to put on the box before me.
‘It’s fine. It doesn’t matter,’ Alex replied, sadly.
‘Tell me,’ I responded, ‘is it haunted?’
‘No…really, it has nothing to do with the dolls’ house.’
I waited, wanting to break the silence but knowing she needed the chance to open up.
Slowly, Alex began, ‘Before you were born, mum was sick and dad was away with the army. Uncle agreed to look after me and I moved in for a few months. His and wife daughter had long moved out but since he couldn’t bear being in her bedroom, I was put into the spare.’
Her words sparked something familiar; a family story I had heard before about the time our mum was ill in hospital. Alex had been eight then and there had been no one else to look after her.
‘I don’t know why I did it, but one night I couldn’t sleep, so I went into our cousin’s bedroom,’ Alex picked up, ‘I saw the dollhouse and was so drawn to it, I flung open the doors and began playing with the dolls. Uncle found me and he was…so angry…He took me over his knees and lifted my nightdress. He beat me with a slipper. I cried and cried. Then he dragged me out and threw me back into bed.’
‘That’s horrible! I gasped, ‘you told right?’
Alex shook. Her head was down and partly turned away from me. She was quietly sobbing. In the gloom, it as hard to tell if she was crying or not yet. Her hands were wrapped around something; a piece of cloth?
‘The next night, he came into my bedroom, saying how sorry he was. He hugged me and then he started…’ Alex dragged in a deep breath, ‘touching me…it felt wrong, I struggled against him but there was nothing I could do. He said he’d make me feel better. That everything would be okay….’
I bite my lip and tried to reach through the boxes before us, but my sister was just out of touch. She didn’t seem to care though. She was lost to her past thoughts now.
Alex wiped her face and carried on, ‘he told me to keep quiet about it. No one would listen to me anyway, mum was dying. So, I didn’t say anything and he got into bed with me often after that. As praise, he let me play with his daughter’s toys but I found no joy in them. I never told anyone, not even when dad came home and mum got better. Then you arrived and everything changed.’
‘You should have told someone,’ I growled, balling my fists.
Alex rubbed her eyes and stood up. I hurried to my feet too and crossed the distance between us. We hugged tightly.
‘It doesn’t matter now. He’s gone and so have mum and dad,’ Alex uttered.
‘But…’ I trailed, she was right, what could be done now?
‘I can finally move on,’ Alex cut back in, ‘that’s all that matters now.’
(Inspired by; https://mindlovemiserysmenagerie.wordpress.com/2018/02/16/first-line-friday-february-16th-2018/ with thanks).