The Dollhouse

Two stories, made from a kit. A summer project with my dad. Sanded, sealed, glued, painted, miniature wallpaper hung. The furniture, also from a kit, adorned with blankets my mother taught me to crochet, tiny pillows made from scrap. The bendy plastic dolls were no more than six inches tall. Specifically not Barbies. Mom’s insistence. “Barbie gives you low self-esteem,” she said, not realizing that’s what junior high was for.

I was twelve. Too old really. But I was new to the small town, had no friends yet. Playing pretend occupied happy hours. I could slip into a world of story as if passing though a gauzy doorway. The world on the other side held hours of absorbed attention. Storylines emerged, developed. Whole arcs lasted a week. What was the fate of the plastic family? Their joys and sufferings? While playing pretend nothing else permeated that sacred space.

Kyle Kaumeyer was coming to visit. My older brother’s friend from the big city we’d just moved away from. Our first visitor in the new place. He was beautiful, like a surfer.

I hid the dollhouse in my closet, behind my collection of puffy-paint sweatshirts, where it remained for all ten days of Kyle’s visit. For ten days I tried to have good hair and wore my best puffy-paint creations with my pouchy peach shorts that showed off my sort-of tan carefully acquired by sitting in the full sun, bored, flipping sides every twenty minutes for an even bake.

We moved to the tiny Central Valley town a month before, our lives transformed from normal family to pastor’s family. Moved into the parsonage across the street from Waterford Community Baptist church. A new career for my dad, new roles for the rest of us. A lot we couldn’t know yet about all that would mean. My mom began to accumulate a number of mysterious symptoms. Part of the transition we assumed.

My brother and Kyle rented videos, sat in the air-conditioned living room to watch. I was allowed to join. I can’t remember a single title watched but I can remember the feel of bare thigh on couch, of the scrutiny I gave that thigh, willing it to be smaller. The way I learned to perch my legs to hide their size. The rigidity of my whole body as I tried to black-hole his attention onto me.

Kyle had a younger brother. Younger than me. I’d babysat him once. Kyle was good at ignoring him too.

The ten days passed. Kyle Kaumeyer flew home without once asking me a question.

I returned to my closet, pulled open the folding doors. Pushed aside the carefully hung collection of sweatshirts unbearably unfit for the hundred-degree Central Valley heat. Pulled out the neglected dollhouse.

The large bedroom around me echoed with being new in a place, my stuff not yet settled into scenes resembling familiarity. I set the dollhouse down on the moss green carpet, sat cross-legged, free from self-examination. Picked up the mother doll, prepared to set a story to life.

I moved the dolls about the dollhouse, pushing them here and there. Tried to make them talk to each other. They remained mute objects. The passage from reality to playing pretend was shut. Forever.

Elsewhere in my house, my mother’s grasp failed. A leg spasmed. Her symptoms would soon coalesce into a diagnosis that would break each of us in turn.


Christin Rice’s work has appeared in The Fictional Café, Pif Magazine, Ray’s Road Review, SoMa Literary Review, Prime Number Magazine, and elsewhere. Her short story Bring Your Soul to Work Day was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, NC and a Masters in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.