There’s a house at the bottom of my street, a really ramshackle old place. The doors and shutters hang from crooked hinges, and paint peels from the battered old boards like it can’t wait to jump ship and find another house to cling to. It’s the kind of house that everyone avoids, except on Halloween, when fifth graders dare each other to knock on the door. They’ve given up for the last couple of years, but mostly since there’s not much of a door left to knock on.
Every six months or so, a realtor arrives and a ‘for sale’ board appears in the yard. I never see the realtor actually go inside, they just stand in the yard and tut. The board is only up about a week before it goes down again. My mother laughs and shakes her head whenever it happens.
“They’ll never sell that old place. She won’t let them,” she’ll say.
“Who? Won’t let them?” I ask, even though I know she’s going to give me the same answer that she always does.
“Why, it’s Doll’s house, muffin. Ol’ Doll won’t let that place go.”
“Who is this Doll? Does she still live there?”
My mother just smiles and wanders off to do something else. My father knows less than I do, and cares even less, and no one on my street seems to know anything. They’re all soccer moms who are too wrapped up in following Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest fad, or men in suits who work in the city and keep their head in the clouds.
The board is in the yard for two days before I work up the courage to go and check out the house myself. I’ve always kept away from it, worried it’ll fall down if I get too close, but I can’t stop wondering who Doll is, and who owns it now. Part of me wonders if she’s a crazy old lady who won’t let her grandkids sell her house from under her, the kind of woman who has an army of cats trained to attack on command. Then I worry about her, and wonder if something’s happened to her. The rest of me wonders how she died, and where her family are now.
It’s a sunny Saturday morning when I creep out of the house so as not to disturb my mother, and I head down the street. The lady who lives four doors down is doing yoga in the front yard so we can all see how health-conscious she is, and the guy who lives opposite is watching from his window while trying to pretend he’s fixing a broken set of blinds. These people are nuts.
A thick cloud the colour of gun smoke drifts in front of the sun when I reach Doll’s house. A sudden burst of cool air gusts up the street and I shiver when it makes contact with my bare arms. I stand in the shade and look up at the house, with its crooked window shutters and cracked porch.
“Hey, Doll,” I say, without really knowing why.
There’s movement inside, and a shadow moves towards the downstairs window. I can’t make out any features, but in my mind’s eye I see a tall woman with shining hair cut like Lucille Ball. She wears a checkered dress of red and white, with an apron around her waist. She frowns at me.
“My mom says hi.” I speak aloud, and raise a hand in greeting. I even manage a small wave. I notice the mailbox is leaning to one side, and I nudge it upright with my knee.
I look up at the window. The shadow breaks into a smile, and for a flash, the silhouette and the woman in my mind are one and the same. My hands start miming an action before I know what I’m doing, but I realise I’m asking her if she wants me to mow her lawn. The shadow nods.
“I’ll be back soon. I’ll get some of my dad’s tools to sort out the hinges too,” I tell her.
She waves and I turn away. I think my dad keeps the mower in the garage these days. It doesn’t matter, I’ll find it. I have to take care of Doll’s house now.
This flash was inspired by a story which can be found here!