A large, elaborate dollhouse sat on a table in a basement. To the unobservant eye, it was just a dollhouse with toys scattered throughout, but one individual man saw something more. He walked over and inspected each room of the house, marveling at the care with which each doll and piece of furniture was positioned.
It was a three-story house. The bottom floor consisted of a living room, kitchen, and dining room. The second floor was split by a hallway that had stairs at either end, with a bedroom on the left and another behind an empty room on the right. Up on the top floor were two small, attic-like rooms with angled ceilings and extra beds for guests. The only bathroom was in the tippy-top of the house, inside a turret. From the outside, the house was tall and magnificent, with blue trim over white walls and a rock foundation. The front of the house was wrapped by a porch that spoke of a bygone era of southern charm, with only a few broken spots on the railing. The windows were intact, although the dust of the basement had certainly gotten to them.
The man turned the house back around on its turntable and faced the rooms again.
The children’s room on the second story had aged duckling wallpaper that peeled at the edges. The rug was unevenly cut, and failed to hide a portion of the hardwood floor by the doorway. The furniture was old and much of the finish was scratched or missing in patches. There were two bureaus, short and tall, two beds with similarly unkempt blankets, and a crib. A little girl doll sat on the edge of a bed, with a small white toy box in front of her. An antique paper book lay next to her. She was the only child in the whole house, except for a boy who appeared to be older, perhaps in his mid to late teens.
The Man’s hand hovered precariously over the bedroom rug. He looked softly over the scene before him, reminiscing about the innocent words around which his childhood revolved. I don’t understand. Lifting his hand back and breathing slowly, he shifted his eyes to the next room.
A narrow hallway connected the lower stairway to the upper staircase, and served as a no-man’s land between the nursery and a little hollow room in front of the parents’ bedroom. The hollow room led to the parents’ bedroom through an open-wall doorway. The two rooms on the right had delicate, white wallpaper with a shiny white floral design across it. The queen-size bed had a lacy, white bedspread on it and matching pillows. All the furniture in the room was white, just like the bed and walls. A golden mirror stood on the bureau, still shiny from its last polish. The room in front of the bedroom with the open wall was very plain in comparison. It had no white carpet, but instead had wooden floorboards like the nursery with a crimped rug in the center. Some wooden chairs were purposelessly placed around the edges of the room and a toy was abandoned at the mouth of the room. Two adult dolls stood facing away from each other on either end of the bedroom and the front room. Their cheerful doll faces were betrayed by their stances. The man had one hand resting on the railing by the stairs, the other hand closed and raised up to face level in the air. His head was angled down slightly and to the right. The woman was sitting on the bed, with her head bent down and in her hands, which remained in the iconic fist and wave. One foot was propped against the wall to prevent her from falling off the bed. No cookie cutter appearances could hide the evidence left behind in the form of a dollhouse.
He turned back to the hallway that had three mini framed paintings taped to the wall. The wallpaper was yellowed with age. It had stripes and flowers. The upstairs took him slightly by surprise. There was a teenage boy in a small bedroom crowded with trunks and little hat boxes. A Barbie stereo was placed on a bureau that was just wide enough to fit it. The furniture present consisted of a bed, bureau, and little red stool. The bureau and bed were worn-out wood. The quilt on the bed was blue with clouds on it. A metal train model sat at the back of the bed. The boy simply lay spread eagle on the bed, staring at the ceiling. That would be the case, except that the doll arms were only designed to move vertically, so he simply lay with his arms above his head. A gesture of freedom that came with despair from lack of control.
A familiar voice came back to the Man, a symbol of his middle and high school career. I know. I understand. He countered this aloud. “I thought I understood, but I didn’t.” He wiped the perspiration from his forehead and turned bitterly from the dollhouse. His eyes searched the floor for something to kick in a state of regret. His foot met the bottom of a cupboard door neighboring the dollhouse stand. He instinctively crouched back at the sound of something falling from the dollhouse and put his hands out to try and catch it. He missed, naturally, and it fell to the floor at his feet. His eyes remained fixed upon it in awe for a moment. He had disturbed the story. He broke the picture that held a place and time in a glass bottle of preservation.
He bent down and picked up the doll. It was an adult man with both his arms extended. The man returned to searching the house, now looking to see where the doll belonged in hopes of replacing it. It probably fell from near the edge of the building and on the bottom floor. The dining room on the bottom floor was very large and open. A coat rack by the door held a lonesome scarf, and a dirty little welcome mat had worked its way from the porch into the doorway itself. There were no physical doors in the house, only open doorways. Anyone and everyone was permitted to travel freely through the house, unrestrained, with only a suggestion that perhaps there could be barriers if the architect so intended. The Man had to bend over slightly in an uncomfortable position to see the backs of the rooms. It was not designed for a person of his stature.
Behind the kitchen was a small, little living room with angular walls. The couches and armchairs were white with small, tan polka dots. They remained surprisingly clean and untouched. The kitchen was quite efficiently set up, to say the least. He marveled at the intricacy of the little pots and pans. They hung with little copper teacups on a solid piece of wooden furniture. The trim on the fridge was broken in one spot, the wood chipped away after a fall. Holding the doll up before him, and looking at the room again, he wondered where it may have fallen from. It had to be returned, restored. A gap existed in the space where it stood in the story and it had to be replaced.
He tried to be incredibly careful in placing the man back. His hand trembled and his wrist scraped against the kitchen ceiling. The space was too small for him. Calling retreat for his hand, he abandoned the man wobbling next to the kitchen stove. A box of Cheerios lay face down atop a frying pan. Recognizing that this scene could not possibly be the picture that was meant to be painted, he stopped for reconsideration. One need not be a detective to see the lack of meaning in this potential scenario. Unless, perhaps, that was the intent-- a scene that depicted the meaningless lifestyle and monotony of everyday tasks that are carried out by the indifferent. That could be me. Or maybe…
He surveyed the dining room again. The slender emptiness under the stairs was walled in, forming a closet between the kitchen and dining room, characterized by a rod with two empty clothing hangers. His face formed a slight smirk. Placing the man under the rod, he stepped back to look at it from afar. The little doll man appeared small and insignificant, stretching out his arms from under the stairs towards the man. He reached back in mockery. You, there, standing helplessly, hoping for a star to fall in your pocket and grant you something, anything, more significant than yourself. You, who builds your life without doors, who would let anyone in if only to hear a voice besides your own. What makes a life like that any better than what you had in your solitude? You learn what you live. The only thing different and unique about yourself is that you stay in your open-doored house awaiting a rescuer to arrive. How can you console yourself with that knowledge alone? When you reach a breaking point you hide in a carefully-arranged room and do what you can already do anywhere else. Any guests to come to you are not looking for you. You mean nothing to them. They want the same thing you do, they just think differently. Perhaps you don’t think at all. When destitute, they search for those same people you want. Yet you expect your rescuers to be predestined, bound to come to your aid. You put in no effort for them in advance. You don’t move a muscle to find them yourself. What kind of person do you think you are to have that privilege? Who’s to say anyone is a rescuer who doesn’t search for rescuers themself? What if you have one rescuer who is waiting to be saved just as you are and so neither of you shall, for there is nobody to ignite the match? An unlit match won’t light a wick on fire. And the candle shan’t melt.
His hands fell to his sides. As he rebuked the doll, standing still and calm next to the kitchen, his arms rose and nestled across themselves comfortably. I understand. He thought to himself. This is… not my past. It’s just a dollhouse. He looked contentedly across the house. It was very normal, right? A little girl played with toys in her bedroom. Two parents were in their bedroom, both mid-action. A boy listened to music in his room. A man in the kitchen was out of place. That was wrong. One irregularity. He couldn’t belong there. Impossible. The man’s eyebrows furrowed slightly. Inexcusable?
Disturbing his comfort further than the misplaced doll, he untucked his hands one at a time and extended his right hand to the house. Clutching the little man again in his grasp, he placed him in the dining room in front of a hutch. Now the man’s arms were stretched out toward a picture on the shelf. Perhaps he was placing it. Maybe his face was misleading too, and he was reaching to break it from its residence. It could be a gesture of remorse and grief in regards to the subject of the portrait. Now when the man took a step back from the house, it was complete. Whole. Normal, tragic, or a story of both, there it stood.
He left the basement. The light went out behind him. All that gently lit the room was a glow from the window. The moonlight reflected off the snow and through the window, highlighting portions of the dollhouse.
A small string hung from the bathroom ceiling in the turret. Having gone unnoticed, the air in the room seemed still and undisturbed. There was a room to the left of the attic bedroom in which there lay the boy. This too went ignored. A small plastic rocking chair was positioned in the front of the room. A packed suitcase. A trunk that wouldn’t quite shut tight. Nobody was present in this room. No interference. It was a world of its own. There was a round table off to the side of the room, with a lantern on it. The lantern reflected the light well. It appeared as a small bright light in the shadowed house.
Alexi Hastings is a 17-year-old attending Littleton High School. Having originated from Littleton, New Hampshire, she enjoys livin' lavish. That is, living life to the fullest and partaking in more school clubs and activities than she can handle. As one does. She doesn't consider herself a full-blown writer but believes that writing is fun, and fun is important.
"Before I painted it..." by lisbokt is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/jp/?ref=openverse