The late December air outside The Abysmal Dollhouse smelled like snow; it was either a pleasant promise or a horrible threat, depending on how you felt about this turn of the weather. The Shopkeeper had been busy decorating, dusting, and defending herself inside the shop. Most of the time was spent puttering around, but there was just as many times when she had to… sidestep mishaps.
She had already frosted the windows, hung garlands of greens, reds and silver. The blue and white lights twinkled on and off, in various patterns and in complicated loops throughout the store. Many of the dollhouses were opened wide, reveling in the joyous patterns that were presented for all of them. Many, but not all. Those… Those are not ones that even the season allowed them to join in.
The front door opened with a tinkling of bells, and a heavily bundled older woman entered, closing the door behind her, checking to make sure it was firmly closed. The shop was warm and cozy, allowing her to undo her knit scarf, unzip her parka, and take off her gloves. She left her hat on, just in case.
Looking around the store, she smiled broadly. It was transformative, that smile, and The Shopkeeper could not help but smile broadly too. It was infectious.
“Can I help you, Mrs…”
“Miss. Miss Singleton.”
“Oh, but you…”
“Miss…Singleton,” she said, losing part of her smile, as she glared at The Shopkeeper.
“Of course,” acquiesced The Shopkeeper. “Welcome to my shop. How may I help you?”
“I’m not sure. I was just on my way home, and I noticed the dollhouse in the window, and the lights, and…oh, you did a marvelous job decorating. I assume it was you. Was it?”
The Shopkeeper nodded. Her smile returned, enjoying the compliment.
“Wonderful. All these dollhouses…so many different styles. I was never interested in such things when I was a child, or even as I grew older. Do you mind if…”
The Shopkeeper lifted her hand, palm up, an invitation. “Of course not. Stroll around, and if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them for you.”
Miss Singleton put her gloves in the pockets of her parka, and in an unconscious way tugged her sweater down. She ran her fingers through her fine white hair as she took her time studying the miniature displays. She said “Thank you” as an afterthought, transfixed as she was by not only the delicate craftsmanship but the stories the placards told.
The variety of the houses captivated her. Some, Ms. Singleton sensed, were not “right”, so those she avoided in as wide an arc as she could in the cramped store. She noticed some houses behind glass, against the back wall, and these radiated more ill ease. She shook her head, laughing a bit at herself. “They’re just dollhouses, silly old woman,” Ms. Singleton said to herself in a whisper.
The Shopkeeper walked around and shut a few of the dollhouse exteriors. Ms. Singleton thought she heard voices from those being closed…all sounding like “No!” or “Mine!”
“I’m sorry to distract you,” said The Shopkeeper. “I should oil the hinges of these. They make such awful little noises.” Walking over to the back wall, she drew a heavy looking black curtain across the displays.
Miss Singleton’s attention wandered back to the open dollhouse in front of her, off handedly remarking that it was all right, she understood. She was bending over an antebellum style Southern mansion: the Nottoway Plantation, the placard mentioned. “At any given time, 200-300 slaves worked the fields. Many died and were buried outside the plantation grounds. During the Civil War, Mr. Nottoway took 200 slaves to Texas. None made it back.”
With each dollhouse, Miss Singleton noticed all the details, the furnishings that looked just right. The craftsmanship was uncanny, and she deeply appreciated the work that went into what she saw.
She was most enamored of le Conservatoire d’épouvante Maison De Poupée, with its Wall of Death. Miniature skulls of differing shapes and sizes, and a magnifying screen so she could read the mini signs, each describing how death occurred. She covered her mouth when she began to laugh out loud at “Death by Stupidity,” and ended up chuckling to herself, wondering about all the stupid things she saw in her long life that could have caused someone to die from it.
The Death by Stupidity skull’s jaw began to move…
“Shhh!” The Shopkeeper tapped the dollhouse, surprising Miss Singleton. “I’m sorry to intrude, and I did not mean to startle you. I think there is a dollhouse you should see. Follow me, please?”
Miss Singleton let herself be led away. She looked back, once, and thought she saw tiny movements from the Wall of Death, and thought she heard tiny sing-song voices coming from the dollhouse. She shook her head and looked away, back to where The Shopkeeper was taking her.
“Here, Miss Singleton. I think you might appreciate this dollhouse.”
The Shopkeeper gestured, and Miss Singleton stood stock still.
“That looks like the house I grew up in,” she said. “How…oh, look.” Examining the exterior, she was filled with memories of climbing out of windows, running in and out of the doors, anything to play wild outside. She turned the dollhouse around, inspecting all the sides.
She stood up and made eye contact with The Shopkeeper.
In a whisper: “This IS my house!”
The Shopkeeper bent over the house, touched a part of the roof, and the house opened up.
Every room was identical to what Miss Singleton remembered. Details in miniature were exact, from wall coverings and paint colors to the furnishings. She explored every room, one at a time, picking up items from each location, and then carefully putting them back.
“My room…” and it felt, to Miss Singleton, like it had been forever since she had been so happy, so free, as her eyes wandered around “her room.” Bed, books, desk…all there; and, lying next to the bed…
He rose up on his hind legs and barked at her, waiting for her to get off the bed. She dove off the mattress, giving the large German Shepherd a huge hug, driving her hands into his fur. He wuffed and tried to wiggle out of her embrace, but the dog was no match-this time-for the strength of a girl who loved her dog.
Wiping away tears, she got up, looked out the window, and noticed what a beautiful day it was outside. Dressed already for it in tee-shirt, shorts and sneakers, she opened the door.
“Come on…let’s get out of here!”
The dog bounded after her, as she ran past her sister’s room (knocking on it really hard), flew down the stairs and bolted out of the front door. Her laughter was mixed with her companion’s barking the whole way.
Catching up to her, he ran circles then between her running legs. Down she tumbled, her smile broader and her laughter deeper, and they wrestled together on the lawn, and she didn’t care if she got grass stains on anything. She was happy, and she was with her dog. The dog.
The thing she loved most of all.
The Shopkeeper had been watching all of the joy and merriment happen before her. She heard the squeals of giggles and barks…straitening up, she knew she was not alone.
Turning to her right, The Unfolding Doll was motionless, fixated on Miss Singleton’s escapades. The Shopkeeper noticed there was no knife present, and she relaxed a bit. She had never seen this behavior before from the doll, and never had felt this sense of…calm, either.
They stayed like that for a short while. The Shopkeeper’s attention was brought back to the dollhouse with a slamming of the front door, and she noticed the young Miss Singleton now seated in the dining room, her companion lying at her feet, and she doing her best to put her feet on him. He grumbled and moved; she did as well.
More than satisfied, she closed the dollhouse, snapping it shut. The Shopkeeper had kept The Unfolding Doll in her line of sight. The doll’s head turned slightly, its glass eyes locked onto The Shopkeeper’s, who was expecting the worst. They stood that way for close to a minute, neither moving.
“I…,” began The Shopkeeper, but the moment she spoke The Unfolding Doll faded back into the dark parts of the store. The Shopkeeper was alone. She patted Miss Singleton’s house, and before she walked away, she heard the sound of feet running up stairs-both human and canine-doors being knocked on and then slammed…and always laughter mixed with barks.
Going to the front of the store, The Shopkeeper looked out the front window. It was snowing; that deep heavy looking all white snow that covered all outside. She smiled, enjoying the silent pleasure before her, and the pleasure that she had experienced, and shared. It brought back her own memories, before she took over the duties of overseeing the shop. Good memories, mainly, and knowledge that she found comfort in her life, then and now.
“Well, that was a start,” she said, turning away from the window, speaking to the back shadows of The Abysmal Dollhouse. “If you can hear me, you can have pleasure too. It does not always have to end in violence. You can have what she has.”
No answer. She had not expected one.
But, as she said, it was a start.