by Anne Skalitza
“Wasn’t your Aunt Elda just a little touched in the head?” Mrs. Casey asked, tapping her forehead.
Mary Beth Quincy’s eyebrows shot up. “A little? Oh no. A lot, I’d say! Always talking about curses and such.”
The two women snickered. Mary Beth’s husband, Andy, joined in the laughter. Their daughter, Kimmie, looked around Great-Aunt Elda’s living room. So many grown-ups but no one cared now if her brother, Jack, put his wet glass directly on the table. No one cared if someone sat in her great-aunt’s favorite chair or spilled coffee on the rug. Kimmie remembered: Great-Aunt Elda had told her that everyone considered her to be a strange old lady. She even said that they couldn’t wait ’til she, Elda Warren, died. “Then they’ll see,” she said. “They will see.” Well, now she did die and Kimmie thought that maybe her great aunt truly was off her rocker; she had never let anyone—not even her, her only great niece (who really was very careful), go near the dollhouse that stood by itself at the top of the attic stairs.
Kimmie pulled on her mother’s sleeve.
“The dollhouse,” she said. “The one in the attic. Can I have it?”
He mother raised an eyebrow as she thought of that old wooden house. “After the will is read, and no one claims it, I guess you could.”
Two months later Kimmie came home from school and stopped short at the entrance to the living room. There, sitting on a table, was the dollhouse. Its clapboard siding was a dingy white and the red roof faded to pink. But it was the most beautiful sight ever. The back part, the part open for playing, faced her. And it came fully furnished and with a doll family of four: Mother, Father, Brother, Sister. And another doll that didn’t belong who wore an apron. A maid, maybe.
The mother doll sat at the kitchen table, Father stood at the open front door, Brother leaned against the the sink in the upstairs bathroom, and Sister stood in the living room, near a table. The doll with the apron had been placed just outside the house.
As Kimmie studied the contents of each small room, she heard a scream from the upstairs bathroom where her older brother had gone when they came home. Their mother dropped something in the kitchen and it clattered to the floor. She dashed up the steps and cried out, “Oh! Here, run it under cold water.”
Jack yelled, “You can’t! It comes out hot!”
Now her mother’s voice: “Come on, we’ll get you to the doctor.” A few minutes later they both came downstairs, her brother sobbing, holding his left hand up. It looked like a wet red lobster claw.
“Stay here, Kimmie,” her mother commanded, “while I take Jack to Doctor Kearn. Your father’s here. He just pulled up.”
Fine by her. She had her dream come true to play with.
Kimmie turned back to the dollhouse. Brother doll lay on the bathroom floor, its left hand raised. She carefully picked him up and placed him on a bed in the bedroom, not touching his tiny now-red hand. She feared it would feel hot. She heard her father come in the front door and rushed over to greet him. He placed his briefcase down in the foyer, and said, “That’s some burn Jack got.”
Kimmie nodded but her mind was on other things.
“Dad, look!” she said, pointing toward the doll house in the living room.
As he followed her, his foot caught on the the rug in the foyer. He stumbled and fell, hitting his face on the edge of a wooden chair. Kimmie scrunched down next to him and helped him up, realizing he sported a swollen lip. She ran into the kitchen, shoved some ice into a freezer bag, and wrapped it in a cloth. Her father sat on the chair with the icy compress on his mouth while Kimmie went back over to her treasured dollhouse. The Father doll must have fallen and he now lay face down in the miniature foyer. She sat him up on a tiny chair and looked for the Mother and Brother dolls. They weren’t there. Puzzled, she searched the small rooms. Nothing. She peered around at the front of the wooden house. They weren’t there, either. Only the doll with the apron stood outside.
The phone rang. It was near her father on the hallway table, so he answered it. He listened for a few moments and his face paled. “Okay.” Then he clicked it off, staring straight ahead. He mumbled to Kimmie, “Car accident. Your mother and brother are okay though. Gotta go. Get Mrs. Casey from next door to mind you.”
Kimmie’s heart beat fast as she raced to get their neighbor who was outside gardening. Breathlessly, she told Mrs. Casey what happened. They both watched Dad pull away, driving with one hand while the other held the bag of ice to his mouth.
Mrs. Casey wiped her hands on her apron and followed Kimmie back inside the house, leaving the front door open. “I have to watch my house,” she said. “I’m expecting a delivery.”
Kimmie pulled her on her neighbor’s arm. “Oh, but you have to see my dollhouse!” She led Mrs. Casey over to the dollhouse and as she did, Mrs. Casey’s gardening shear fell out of her apron pocket. Kimmie picked it up by the handle to give it back just as her neighbor bent forward to look inside the wooden house. The sharp end jabbed Mrs. Casey in the stomach. Blood covered the neighbor and covered Kimmie’s hand and the neighbor slumped to the floor. Kimmie screamed and was still screaming ten minutes later when the police officers had been called by a passer-by. Between screams, she heard Mrs. Casey mumble, “Only an accident,” and she saw blood coming from her mouth. The ambulance came and rushed Mrs. Casey to the hospital but Kimmie heard them say it might be too late. She felt frozen in place, standing there, her mouth open but now silent, the relentless scream echoing inside her brain. She heard someone say that she, Kimmie, should go to the hospital, too, to be evaluated, whatever that was. And to find her parents.
Someone picked her up very carefully and placed her on the clean white sheet of another stretcher and buckled her in, nice and tight. Before they took her away, she saw her Great-Aunt Elda’s dollhouse. Sister still stood in the living room but now a tiny silver gardening shear was at her feet. The doll with the apron lay on the floor near it. Father, Brother, and Mother weren’t there.
Days later, when Kimmie’s mother visited her in the children’s wing of the psychiatric hospital, her mother told her she threw away the dollhouse. “So dirty and worn looking, sweetie. It’s better this way. But you have two of the dolls, at least. We couldn’t find the other three. Oh, honey, if only you’d open your eyes more often.”
Yes, Kimmie had the Sister doll that creepily looked just like her, and the doll she now knew was the neighbor, Mrs. Casey. The apron was red. Her mother had brought them to her the day after everything bad happened. And there the two dolls stood, perched high up on a shelf on a wall across from Kimmie’s bed. Little did her mother know that every time her daughter looked at those seemingly innocuous dolls, she thought of how her Great-Aunt Elda had said, “They will see.” And she silently screamed.
Anne Skalitza is a freelance writer with many short stories, poems, and essays published in magazines, online, and anthologies. Her lighthearted eBook, Looney Dunes, was recently published by Musa Publishing. At one time, Anne did own a wooden dollhouse, handed down among family members. The doll family, though, resides in a box tucked away in a corner of her closet. As far as she knows, they haven’t moved.