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My Mother's Dollhouse (Short Story)

April 25, 2018

“I found the dollhouse,” said my father. “You need to confirm it.”


It was a Wednesday morning. A school day for me. I was awake, but still in pajamas, wondering if I should have toast for breakfast. I walked out to see him already dressed, having sorted through most of my mother's things in the driveway.


“You don't have to do it right now,” he continued. “But just know...”


I could tell that he was reacting to my expression. To be honest, I didn't know how my face looked. It felt numb, as if it forgot how to move into proper position for anything; surprise, anger, etc. All I knew was that this was not how I imagined the first conversation of the day would go.


How long was I thinking about that dollhouse? How long in its absence have I been fantasizing about building my own, a replica perhaps, and teach myself how to make miniatures? I've always liked miniatures. I have friends who make them professionally. I won't kid myself. I liked miniatures because I grew up with the dollhouse.


By the time I was dressed, he was gone with the dogs for a walk. I walked outside. Laid out on the gravel of the driveway was a cluster of wrapped items. Furniture cocooned in moving blankets. Haphazard cardboard boxes kept together with peeling tape. Plastic tubs and sacks of things, all kept concealed with moving packaging, but all recognizable by shape. It was the world's shittiest Christmas.


I scanned the things. I noticed, on every item, was a sticker which read: “clutter.” My eyes bounced from one object to the next, and the story was the same.


Clutter. Clutter. Clutter.


I hovered a moment. I recognized the folding dining table. I spotted the empty stereo speaker case. Suitcases, the ottoman, the stained brown trunk that held our DVD's. It was all here. In a medium sized box near the outer rim of the pile, was a slab of plywood with wires sticking from it. I edged towards it. I remembered when we put wires through the ceiling and attached it to switches, so that the lamps in all the major rooms would light up. But the detachable roof would have had to be missing. I reached in. Between the wood and cardboard, I felt the contour of the detailed frame.


This was the dollhouse.


I sat in front of the box and pulled at the packing tape. It snapped off easily, and before I knew it, I had peeled open the side of the cardboard like a sardine lid. I hadn't realized how eagerly I opened the box until I stopped myself.


This was the dollhouse.


Hand carved. Older than me, more than likely. A staircase from the living room lead up to two bedrooms and a middle bathroom. The living room had puce carpeting. The kitchen was tiled with miniature pale orange and eggshell tiles. And scattered on both floors were handfuls of items, thrown about haphazardly. On the kitchen floor was the fallen china cabinet, the pots and pans, the dining room table and matching chairs. The tiny, porcelain animals that never seemed to break, no matter how delicate they always felt. In the wall shelf, the tiny wooden spatula and whisk stayed in place, slipped through perfectly sized holes. A tiny jewelry box in the shape of a jukebox lay on its side, and a fake honey jar, no doubt simply filled with yellow colored glue, sat label up under the debris. In the living and bedrooms held the family. The baby's crib was overturned next to the children's bunks, layered with dust. The fireplace for the master bedroom had fallen flat, and the books, perfumes and sewing tray had fallen with it. The children and parents were laying against the rough, purple carpet, their wooden faces perpetually smiling. The mother still held a spoon in the hole in her right hand. The father, smiling away, was still positioned in the gingham blue easy chair. And spread over the catastrophe was Christmas. A tiny, light up tree with dead batteries. A pipe-cleaner garland attached to the banister of the stairs, while the living room fireplace, also overturned, had flat, paper stockings attached with sticky putty. Signs like “noel” and “peace” were still attached to the walls. A wreath sat undisturbed above the half-hinged bathroom medicine cabinet.


This was the dollhouse.


Clutter. Clutter. Clutter.


I laid my forehead against the edge of the frame. Sitting down, the house came up to my shoulders; it had aways been massive. I stared through the dust at the reminisce of memories and sunny days. Peaceful days. The endless splurging shopping trips at craft stores. The dusting, and cleaning, and arranging for hours. The yearly ritual of decorating for holidays. Christmas was always the biggest. Those were the days I missed. The only good ones.


My mother wasn't dead. But there were times, late at night, alone, that I would wonder: would that be easier? When a loved one passes, the grief is understandable. People sympathize, they comfort you. There are flowers and sage words and 99¢ condolence cards. Hallmark doesn't sell a card for child abuse.


Clutter. Clutter. Clutter.


It's a funny thing, going through hell and back. You experience a phenomenon that is so alien it's difficult to put into words, particularly if the abuse sank its teeth into your emotional psyche. Your childhood memories, the things that made you smile, become tainted. As if those memories had an expiration date, yet there they are, still on the shelf. But the dollhouse? The dollhouse was pure. The dollhouse was good days. There was no yelling with the dollhouse. No glass breaking. No anger, no broken walls, no crashing doors. There were no drugs in the dollhouse. There was no wine. The family that lived there was smiling, always smiling, because why else wouldn't they?


This was the dollhouse.


I miss my mother dearly. But I miss my dollhouse mother. I miss her laugh. I miss embracing her for hours at a time. I miss the joy and excitement over finding a deal on teeny tiny dinner plates. The summer afternoons, eating ice cream and blasting the plastic fans because the heat was unbearable. The winter mornings, when my mother declared that it was time for a break from school, and we would spend the day, together, eating junk and watching movies. I miss her soft voice, and the way she would sing to put me to sleep. I miss her reading the Harry Potter books to me, or telling me a joke far too dirty for a kid my age.


But that woman was gone. Like I said, death might be easier. How many people mourn for someone who is still alive? I want so desperately to live in the memories of my dollhouse mother. To ignore the other mother; to forget the nightmare. Forget the screaming. Forget the drunken rambling and cruel words. Forget the fights. Forget the monster she brought into our lives. Forget the fear he instilled upon us both. A fear so great that even two years dead, I refuse to speak his name. Forget her endless praise for the man who destroyed us both, and her refusal to act. To protect her only daughter. Forget the endless broken promises, the lies, the deceit, the playing victim. Forget the systematic vilification of anyone and everyone who might have helped her. Including me.


The clutter will be gone soon. It'll either be donated or tossed out. I don't care either way. Dad only wants the baby photos of me. Me? I only want the dollhouse. I don't know where to put it. But I can't abandon it. I can't toss out the one untainted memory of my mother.


This is my dollhouse.


Clutter. Clutter. Clutter.

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