Deadlocked Dollhouse


Prologue

The saw made a quick buzzing noise, and then it paused. The sound lingered in the air with the dust. His old wrinkly hand brushed some of the sawdust off of the edge of the cut. And then with a long shhh blew some air across the edge. The cut was smooth and straight. Just like it should be.

The thin piece of wood slid perfectly fitted on the tiny little staircase. It was the third tread, counting from the bottom up. The entire staircase is only six inches tall, and it had taken him five full minutes to perfectly shape each tread. He left that one, not glued in place, just sitting waiting for him. While he grabbed another tiny thin board. He carried it over to the little router, and set the groove for the front of the tread. The little router whirred to life at the touch of a button.

The dust was growing in the air, even with his expensive vacuum system running. He was wearing a dust mask, as he always did when he worked long hours. This would be his final house.

Four hundred houses. He really liked the idea of stopping on an even number, and this was the four hundredth house. He would be retiring in less than a week. This house should sell for eight thousand dollars, that was the going rate. But he had every intention of keeping it, the final dollhouse.

It was Victorian, as most of the styled doll-houses were. He loved those particular houses because they were intricate, detailed. He knew he would be spending at least a full month individually carving all of the handrails and the spindles for that staircase. And they would be gloriously beautiful, worth every second of his efforts. After the front of the tread of the step was routed, he moved it back to the tiny saw blade. He measured and re-measured, and then cut the tread to fit. He set it on the fourth stair. It fit perfectly, there was sadness pushing through the dust in the air.  A finality.  This would be the end.  Last staircase, and he was one tread closer to packing up his workshop and retiring.

When all the treads were finally cut for the staircase, he carefully glued them all into place and then hammered with the tiniest little nails until they were well seated.

Then with a soft smile, he looked at the perfectly proportioned little stairs. This would be his masterpiece. Every trick that he knew from his entire life’s work would be put into this dollhouse. He gently twisted the banister knob, and the staircase popped open as a little set of drawers. It was one of the many secret latches that he had installed in this house. He carefully pushed each step back into place. And twisted the knob again all ten stairs popped forwards, spring-loaded little drawers.

If he could’ve built that into his own beautiful home, he would have. But at this moment in his life, even with his houses selling for eight thousand dollars at a crack, he still had never purchased a custom home. Nothing at all like the houses that he built, with secret little levers. This one would have at least seven different secret letters.

One would definitely be a candlestick, and one was the stair banister. And he still had five left to decide on. The house was covered in dust, not a single bit of it painted or stained yet, just raw wood.

And he smiled brightly as he stared at the empty rooms that would come to life before his fingertips.

The dollhouse was perfection, he managed all seven of the latches worked perfectly and smoothly upon their installation. He was just finishing up coating each and every piece of wood with paint, tile, and tiny perfectly matched wallpaper.

He was carefully lining a piece of glass with glue while he held it with a pair of tweezers. He had carefully glued tiny pads on the ends of the tweezer so they wouldn’t scratch the tiny pane of glass. It was as thin as paper. He would carefully use a suction cup to place the glass into the window frame. The suction cup was about as big as an eraser on a pencil. Carefully, he set up his tools, waited five seconds for the glue to set just slightly before he pressed the glass gently into place. His wife came in.

“Is that the final house?” She said, with a sneer of disgust. She had never enjoyed his career. And now, that it was almost at the end, she seemed to have the most hate for it that she had ever had. “Is it done? Can we move on with our lives now?”

He didn’t respond, ignoring his wife, as he had done a thousand other times. Maybe ten thousand other times. She was unreasonable, that’s what he always thought to himself. Unreasonable women do as they please.

But he didn’t need to reply, she could see with their eyes that he wasn’t quite done yet. It was close, maybe twenty or thirty more hours of work. In a project that took in more than two hundred hours, twenty or thirty left was next to nothing. But she wanted to schedule that cruise.

She let out a nasty little laugh. Revealing her gums with no teeth. Even though, he had bought her teeth, she refused to wear them. And her scraggly gray hair that looked like she had just been electrocuted moments before, even though he had offered many a time to take her to the salon and get something pretty done.

They weren’t even close to poor, so why did she insist on wandering around looking like a bedraggled old homeless woman? For a man who’d spent his entire life makings tiny little intricate beautiful things, his wife had spent the entire time looking like a hobo. It disgusted him. She disgusted him.

But, he had no plans to leave. After all, he was a man of convictions. And he would not walk out on his wife for no reason. Well, for this lame reason of her choosing to be an ugly old hag. That wasn’t enough to leave her. She had to do something worse. Besides, even when she was unpleasant, she was still his.  There was comfort in having her.  Back when they were young, she was his rock, she helped him sell his first house.  But as the years had grown on, her mood towards his work had stiffened and grown cold.   He should have retired last year, to appease her, but he really wanted to finish at four-hundred houses.  He’d been doing this for forty years, what was one more?

The suction cup made a soft kissing noise as it finally adhere itself to the perfectly ready glass. The glue was nearly perfectly set, it was ready. He turned and he was placing the glass into the baby’s bedroom. As he pushed on the window frame, studying his wrinkled, trembling hand before he slipped the glass into place his wife turned.  As she moved, her big clumsy body bumbled into his.  The glass shifted, and he wasn’t dexterous enough any more to catch himself. The glass knocked from his hand and sliced into hers.

He held his breath a moment, as her eyes grew big and wide.  A trickle of red was starting to drip.

She let out a scream and shook her hand violently, as if the glass was a spider. The miniature window slipped out of her flesh from the force of her flailing.  The glass, dripping with glue and blood, spun like a Chinese throwing star smashing into the house. Tiny shattered bits of glass went flying literally everywhere all over the tiny intricate library. He was absolutely exasperated.

She was injured, yes, but he was furious.  This was the third time she had managed to knock something into his final creation. And this time, this time she shattered glass and blood all over the interior of the nearly completed library. He slammed his perfect little tweezers down on his desk. Then he turned and stared at his hideous wife. “Why are you even in here?” He said, anger growling out with every word. Like a rabid dog.

She was sucking on the sliced hand. “I think I need stitches. You cut me.” She said, her accusatory tone was mixed with a whine of pain. “Why the fuck would you cut me?” She said, her voice growing downright shrill. It was like she was trying to grate every single nerve of his with her pitch.

And it was working well.

“I’m going to have to order new glass! It will take weeks to get here.  Plus, I’ll have to clean up all this blood. You are why this takes so long.” He said jabbing his finger at her face. “You stupid…”

“I’ll curse you.” She said, with a painfully calm, angry voice.  The room grew suddenly cold, as he was finally pushed too far.

“You hideous bitch.” He replied. “Do you know how much I think about divorcing you?  I do. All the time.  But I put up with you because you are my wife.  And that means something to me.  But, honestly?  Fuck you.  Fuck you and your toothless, hideous face.” It was the first time in their entire marriage that he used hateful language at his wife. Though she had used cruel words to him plenty of times. Usually he’d say fine dear, or it’s okay. Or I’m sorry. But today, he just wanted to finish his masterpiece. And he was so close. This would take  hours upon hours to fix

But he was not expecting the thing that happened next. As she straightened her back and pointed her finger at him. And he felt the curse long before she finished saying it, it felt like cold water slowly being poured from the top of his head all the way down his body. A cold frigid feeling dripping across his entire soul, his entire being. He couldn’t reply, he was stuck gargling on his words like it idiot.

When she finally relented, he leapt on top of her and stabbed straight through her neck with the funny little suction cup device. It sounded like it kissed her right before it penetrated her.

A month later he was dead.

But the house was complete.


Chapter 1

Mark was sitting in his truck, pounding on the steering wheel with his fists, and his fingertips. Alternating fist pounds, and finger thumps, he was keeping time with a loud obnoxious music he was playing. As he pulled into his parking spot, he turned off the key in the louder racket he truck clinging to a stop. The door didn’t really lock, but he didn’t care anyways, who was gonna rob his truck? He hopped out of the red dusty thing, and slipped on his leather jacket. He was thirty-six, and was about to step into the familiar thrift store for the thousandth time.

Today he was on a quest. He wanted to find the girls a new bike seat. He had two beautiful daughters, Coralina who was loud and seven and Beth who was four years old. Beth was quiet and reserved, and barely spoke to anyone. She was so incredibly shy he wondered how he could be her father. He didn’t feel shy at all.

But there you have it, he had one daughter with his personality that was boisterous and loud and the other one was as meek as a mouse. He was looking for new bike seat for Coralina. He bought her a bike at the thrift store a few weeks ago, but the bike seat itself was so brittle from the sunshine, that the first time Carolina rode, it cracked in half. As he wandered up and down the aisles, he saw in the furniture section a large wooden dollhouse. It had individual shingles on the roof, and he almost didn’t look at it any further. Individual shingles, for a dollhouse. His own roof had less shingles than that tiny little dollhouse.

It was clearly a collectors item and probably over a thousand dollars. After an unsuccessful search for a pink bike seat, finally he asked one of the workers, “Any chance you have a bike seat?”

“Sure, let me see.” In the scraggly old man wandered towards the back of the thrift shop. Everything was piled fairly neatly, and Mark found himself glancing back at the perfectly shingled very expensive dollhouse.

“How about this one?” Said the old man, handing Mark a pink bike seat. It didn’t look too sun damage, and even seemed like maybe it would look good with the bike. Although looking good was never a priority. Function over form.

That’s what you do when you’re broke.

He looked at the price tag of the bike seat and it was three dollars. No problem. He could skip lunch today so that Coralina could ride a bike. Besides, he was constantly battling the nervous feeling in his stomach that maybe, just maybe he was a terrible father.

After all, in order to get his kid is used bike seat he had to skip lunch. That was not the sign of a good father, that was the signs of a fuck up. Sure, he’s fixing the bike, but he shouldn’t have to shop at a thrift store for a freaking bike seat, and skip lunch to get it for her.

“What’s the price of the dollhouse?” Mark said, before he even managed to stop himself. He didn’t really want to know, he might as well ask what the price of a Lamborghini was. He wasn’t going to get that expensive high quality dollhouse today.

Not when he skipped lunch to buy used bike seat. He stuck his hands in his leather coat and he stared at the perfect little shingles in a nice little line. The house was better than his own actual home.

“The dollhouse? Oh, I think it’s five bucks.” Said the old man as he started to shuffle away to help some other customer.

Mark’s eyes were so big from shock that they fell out of his head, rolled across the floor, and got kicked by kid who was screaming at his mother. Five dollars?

Not a second later he was running towards the dollhouse. He picked it up, without even looking inside. He could put it on Craigslist for two hundred bucks, and come out ahead. New bike seat, and a bunch of lunches.

Or… As he was standing in line holding the bulky dollhouse, his mind started to wander away from the profitablity of this purchase. What if he gave Beth and Coralina the most expensive dollhouse they ever had? Would that mean he was a good father? Or… Was he indulging them too much? Or… Does it not even count because he’s getting a dollhouse for five dollars?

In the end he decided it didn’t matter. And on a whim, just like that he brought home a gorgeous, eight thousand dollar dollhouse.


Chapter 2

Mark was driving home with the radio blaring again, his hands pounding at the steering wheel as if it was his own personal drum set.

But his eyes lingered on the rearview mirror we could see those perfect little shingles in the back of his truck. He had tried to put it in the passenger seat, because he wanted so badly to keep the thing protected. It wouldn’t fit, so he was driving like an old lady now. Going barely over 15 miles an hour. That dollhouse was worth it.  Not one shingle would blow off, he told himself.

It didn’t matter the price tag, that thing was expensive. It had all of its tiny little furniture in a shoebox behind the counter.  He couldn’t believe his luck.

The shoebox was insane, Mark had barely even looked inside the dollhouse, but the shoebox… He had never seen such perfect we carved tiny intricate pieces. The drawers on the dressers all opened and closed. There was tiny little bits of food, and they all came apart and clicked together. The cherry on the ice cream sundae could be removed and replaced. He had never seen anything in his entire life so elaborate.

Whoever died and donated this thing to charity was his favorite person.

He thought about the look on Coralina’s face, he remembered when he was young he got a Nintendo sixty-four and he screamed like a maniac at Christmas, jumping and dancing around the tree. He remembered it vividly, while his dad said shut the fuck up from the other room. They even have it on tape… He thought he had remembered that part wrong because surely his dad would be sitting with them always opening presents on Christmas morning. But he wasn’t, he was in the other room according to the video. And yet, still when he watched that home-video that his mama made, he could feel the excitement exploding out of all of his limbs.

He hoped the Carolina would do the same thing – that she would jump and scream like a wild maniac, except he would be in the room with her. Because he was at least a better dad than his own dad – he hoped.

 

*****

He snuck the dollhouse into the drive into the garage, and then he popped his head into the house. “Hey Kelly?”

His beautiful bride came wandering out to the garage. She grinned as soon as she saw the dollhouse. And then, in typical Kelly fashion, she frowned and shoved him. “What the fuck! We can’t afford this.”

“I’ll skip lunch all week.” Said Mark. He put his hands up his as though they were in a hostage situation.

“All week? You mean like… For the rest of your life. Did we win the lottery? And if we did, why the fuck did you spend it on dollhouse?” Her eyes were sparkling, and even her tone had a laced amusement behind it. They cursed a lot at each other, but neither of them took it personally.

“Fuck, baby. Don’t get all touchy! I only spent eight bucks. And three was on this,” said Mark as he whipped out the bike seat.

“Oh?  So you robbed someone?”  Kelly retorted, her hands sitting on her hips like a power ranger.

“No.”  Mark couldn’t stop grinning.  “Someone priced this wrong at the thrift store.”

Kelly let out a scream of delight. Mark could not wipe away his own smile. If Kelly could get this excited, he could only imagine how Coralina and Beth were going to react. “You are insane.” She said, grinning ridiculously large.

“I want to set it altogether, and clean it it’s pretty dusty. I’m sure there’s some broken stuff on it’s a fixed it up tonight and hopefully give it to him tomorrow.”

She mimed walking her mouth and throwing away the key. Lynn she winked at her hottie husband, and went back into the house.

He spent an inordinate amount of time carefully unpacking every little piece of furniture. As he works, carefully dusting each tiny piece of furniture with cotton swabs, he wondered if Beth was quiet because she felt unloved.

Or is Coralina was loud because she felt unloved. He took a deep breath and tried to calm his stomach. He always had this feeling, like he should be doing more. Ever since he read those articles. Abuse travels down family lines. His dad was a rough man. And even though he made every effort to be gingerly sweet to his children, he didn’t really connect with girls that well. Probably why he married Kelly, because she was a tomboy at heart. They had gone hunting together plenty of times before they got married. He’d seen Kelly cut the head off the deer, like it was nothing.

It was hard for him to connect with little girls, even as he cleaned and prepped the massive dollhouse. Hell, it took all his effort not to curse in front of them. And he wasn’t even sure there was any reason not to curse in front of them. It’s like they were going to turn into serial killers if they said fuck at age two.  Or would they?  He would read parenting books in secret on his breaks, because he never wanted Kelly to know how terrified he was.

But still, it made him feel like shit when he screwed up.

The dollhouse had a bunch of pieces of furniture already inside it. There is a fireplace attached to the wall, and the stove and all the kitchen cabinets. The dining room table was adhered to the floor, and one chair on the side next to it. The chairs were in the box, and he carefully set them around the table. He tried to move the one chair that is glued to the floor, he had this idea that maybe he should break it loose so than the girls could move the chairs wherever they wanted. But as he touched it it flipped over on its back, and the table and suddenly popped open.

He was so startled he could’ve been knocked over with a feather. His mouth was agape, and he was holding back the urge to laugh really hard. He could not wait to show Kelly this. Holy shit he had gotten a good deal.

He looked inside the table, and there was a fragile table leaf, and three more chairs. Carefully pulled out the table leaf, and set it in place. Now the table was fit for a party. Carefully picked it back up to  slide it back in place, and it snapped in half.

Fuck.

Fuck fuck.

How could he do that? How could he have destroyed this intricate perfect little piece, with his big, fat, stupid man hands. He turned and clenched his fist so hard the veins on his hand in his arms started to pop. Slowly, he counted to ten. He would have to be hell of a lot more careful. With an exasperated sigh, he tried to close the table, but it wouldn’t close, not without the table leaf in place. The table leaf either needed to be inside the table, or on top of it. A pinch of anger bit between his eyes.  He barely touched it, and now the table was practically unusable.

Maybe he could get a replacement part?

He just couldn’t believe that he would break it right off the bat like that. What was wrong with him? He is why they can’t have nice things. He is why. Mark himself, not Beth, not Coralina,  not Kelly, Mark was the reason why they can’t have nice things.

He did not touch another item on the dollhouse, instead leaving it going inside.  Let it rot and grow dusty. He was too angry to touch the thing again today.


Chapter 3

In the morning when he was driving his red truck to work, he was not drumming on the steering wheel like normally did in fact he turned the radio completely off. All he could think about was that damn dollhouse.

It was in perfect condition except for the now broken table the leaf. It bugged him just the same as a splinter in his hand. This table leaf was a splinter in his brain. If only he could replace it. And once the idea caught hold, it was all he thought about. He needed to get home and see if there was some sort of label on the dollhouse, then he could just order a replacement part. Even if it was fifty bucks for the replacement table leaf, at least the table wouldn’t be stuck open, mocking him.

He was really excited, plus spending money was half the point! Real dads provide for their kids, no matter the expense. If things were too easy to get, were they even valuable? He really wanted to make it perfect for Coralina, and Beth.

He want to make sure their lives were perfect. That they had everything they ever dreamt about, unlike him. Their childhood would be nothing like his own childhood. Work today was the same as every day, he had to carry heavy things, hammer things. Do construction work, usually sawing wood and hammering it together. It often made him in a good mood to use his body to build beautiful things, but today he was in a lousy mood. He was building a big, beautiful house for someone else to live in – again. Someday he be able to make something beautiful for his wife.

Mark wanted a 3800 ft.² house, he’d been staring at the floor plans for at least two years already. He’d never built one quite the same as the one he wanted to build her, but someday, maybe even after they had another baby. It was one of the things he dreamed about, and resented, alternating. Today he resented the man and wife who owned the house he was building.

Jealousy didn’t consume him too often, but he wanted to make his family happy. He want to live in the kind of house that made the dollhouse look cheap. It was quitting time, sooner than he expected, and he had built two new walls.

He found himself back in the red truck driving his sorry butt home, despite having plan to skip lunch he did eat two apples. He felt kind of like a jerk eating the only two apples left in the house, but sometimes that’s how it went. Sometimes you just gotta eat.

Mark didn’t go in the house and say hello to Kelly or to Coralina or to Bethany. And instead scurried to the dollhouse. He carefully looked over the shingles and walls, but didn’t see any a print mark. He lifted it with a strong mighty hands and held it above his balding head and saw… Nothing.

He scoured the pieces of furniture, looking for just any indication as to who made this house. But nothing. As he was scouring the inside, carefully looking for some indicator of who made this dollhouse, he noticed that a book on the bookshelf is sticking out just slightly. He touched it with his finger and it fell backwards and as soon as it did the bookshelf swung open. He was back to all grins, the bothersome table that he had broken suddenly fading into the background. It had a secret room!

Inside the secret room was three dolls. They were also wooden, and had blank faces with no eyes or mouth, and only the slightest carving that indicated where nose would be. They were very plain looking, and he wondered with this ornate house why the dolls themselves looked so unexciting. He carefully set them up so one was sitting in the library one was sitting in the kitchen and the final one was sitting in the bathtub up the stairs.

“Are you going to have dinner with us or what?” Said Kelly she was frowning at him. How long had she been standing there?

He felt like an idiot instantly. “Sorry, I broke part of the table I was trying to figure out if we could get a part for it.”

“Who cares, you can just make a different table.” Said Kelly, completely disinterested in the broken part. “The pizza is getting cold.”

“I can’t make one like this. It’s really… Difficult. It’s a crazy thing I just need to get a part.” He said running his hands over his thin nearly nonexistent hair.

“There is no way we can buy a part for this dollhouse. I bet it’ll cost hundreds, you dork.” But she smiled with a happy grin. “Pizza?”

He grabbed her ass and they both went into the house. Coralina and Beth were already at the table munching down pizza slices as if they were going to run out. In fact, they might at that rate.

Guilt immediately wrought washed over Mark. He stayed in the garage all day yesterday, and now today again? He was going to miss out on their entire childhood. “How was school today ladies?”

Between bites of cheese pizza Coralina said, “Good. I’ve been doing quite well in my class, and I am going to get a solo in the choir this year. I’ve already decided.”

Beth looked up at her dad smiled and waved, mutely not saying anything. She didn’t like talking out loud, as far he could tell.

“And you Beth?” He encouraged, trying to get at least a few words.

“Yep.” Was all she said, and then immediately shoved a giant bite of pizza in her mouth. As if to end the discussion.

“You know, you can’t just decide you get a solo Coralina.” Said Kelly, as she grabbed herself a slice and shoved the rest of the pizza towards her husband. “Your teacher gets to choose.”

“Yeah, but I can make her choose me. By practicing.” Said Carolina and she took another bite of the hot stringy cheese mess.

Mark thought about the little doll house again, and it’s shattered little table leaf. He frowned and chewed his lip a little bit. Maybe he should just give them the dollhouse as is, and he’d have to figure out the table later?

He bit his tongue quietly, contemplating. He didn’t want to be one of those dad to didn’t care that he broke something of his child’s. Never, he would never be like his father.

It was driving him crazy like a splinter he couldn’t get out of his skin.


Chapter 4

As always it was Kelly who resolved to solve the problem. “After you finish your pizza, your dad has a present for you.” And she winked at Mark.

He winced, imagining that the children would say oh what a beautiful dollhouse, and then immediately retort but who broke this table!

But, that’s the way it went sometimes… Sometimes stuff broke, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Okay, it was his fault. But…

“Hey dad. What did you get us?” Said Coralina, her smile bright and wide.

Beth even had big bright eyes staring up at him. She looked so curious and he wondered, like he often wondered, what was she thinking?

“Are you done eating?” Said Mark with a big smile.

“Yep, I am.” Said Beth. And he knew she was really excited if she would answer him with three actual words.

“All right, run to the living room and close your eyes. I’ll be there second.” Mark said, and he stepped into the garage. He lifted the giant dollhouse carefully, like a cake. He didn’t want to knock over any of the tiny little bits of furniture in the inside. He had this ongoing fear, that maybe they’d see through him. They’d see that he was the impostor, not a real dad. Not a good dad. But one just pretending to be that way. Perhaps that’s why he felt so bad about trying to give them nice things.

But Kelly, ever present with her smile said, “What the fuck? Stop taking so long.”

She held the door wide open as he carefully walked into the house through the tiny kitchen and into the living room. He set it on the ground in both girls were sitting on the couch hands covering their eyes. Beth was clearly peeking. But Coralina was absolutely determined not to see the surprise before she was told it was time.

“Here it is.” Said Mark. And he waited, he waited to see if this would be Nintendo sixty-four screams, or if they just be the regular variety. He wanted to know would they love him forever?

Both little girls screamed, Coralina did a full on cartwheel she was so excited. And they both dove right in fiddling with the little dolls, and running them up and down the stairs. Coralina made her little doll slide down the banister and is a got to the end it hit the knob at the top of the rail. The knob spun just slightly and there was a loud click. And all of the stairs popped forward suddenly. Each one was a tiny little drawer, and inside each drawer was tiny bits of plates and spoons, and tiny other accessories for the dollhouse. It included clothing for the dolls, and tiny little paper books with actual paper pages.

Coralina screamed even louder, with a high-pitched excited squeal. And Mark, even with his ears ringing from the brutal pitches that she was able to make, found himself grinning endlessly. Kelly reached around his shoulders wrapped herself tight around him. She kissed his ear and whispered, “you did it. You made them so happy.”

And Mark knew he was gonna get laid.

 

******

In the morning when Mark was in an excellent mood.  He managed to play doctor with his hot wife all night, and his little girls were both happy as larks.

He got up at the early time of five, usually left the house by five twenty. Working construction had many perks, but sleeping in was not one of them.

He was surprised though to find Beth sitting in front of the dollhouse carefully playing with each of the dolls. She was quiet, barely making any sound. But he could see her mouth opening and closing as she made them talk to each other. No sound came out of his daughter, but he was happy that she was even pretending conversations. Perhaps that would give her the confidence to say what she was thinking in her pretty little brain.

“Hey Beth, why are you up so early?” Said Mark as he quickly pulled on his shoes.

“I found this.” She said, and she turned her head just slightly and flicked her eyes up at her father. She was so adorable, four was his absolute favorite age for little girls. Maybe for all humans, they were innocent they were wild. And yet… They saw the world as something good. He longed for that softness to be still within his soul. He held out his hand she dropped a little paper in her his hand. When he opened it it was a certificate that said authentic dollhouse from the maker Pierre Vlad Amar, underneath it didn’t have a website, but it did have an address. And he was so excited, maybe could finally find that replacement part!

He drove to work, and started building another wall for another home that he would never get to live in. They were sent home a little bit early, because they end up needing a dumpster that wouldn’t arrive until morning. It was fine by Mark because he wanted to drive down to this address on the paper the Beth had given him. He was so excited, even though his truck was rattling even louder than normal, and his brakes suddenly started squealing. Even though all of that was going on, he was back to drumming on the steering wheel like his life depended upon it. In his head he was a world-class drummer, but in reality he was pretty mediocre. If not, completely inept.

He was looking for 919, and not a few moments later he finally spotted it. The building said under construction, in a bright yellow sign on top of a faded one that read custom dollhouses. He stood, clearly baffled. This was the place – except the interior of the building looked like it’d recently been gutted.

He shielded his eyes from the sunshine and peered into the glass. He was hoping that it sees some sort of indication that maybe they were just remodeling and he could come back next month and… He felt a tap on the shoulder.

“Hi. Did you need in my store?” Said a very perky young lady. She had purple hair, and pigtails. He probably wouldn’t have even noticed that her eyes were bright green, and her lips bright red, except that she looked almost like a clown. He stepped back.  Her top was so tight with her cleavage popping out, and he could hardly pay attention to anything she was saying.

“What?” He said, completely flustered by this clownish looking girl standing in front of them.

“I’m opening a bakery here. Why are you peering in my windows?” Said the woman again, tossing her head and sending her purple pigtails waggling back and forth.

“A bakery? I was looking for the dollhouse place.” He said, immediately turning bright red. How is he going to explain that he was looking for dollhouse furniture? Especially to this cute, entrepreneur.

“The dollhouse guy? I’m pretty sure he’s dead. But I do have the phone number of the guy leasing it to me… Here let me give it to you.” And with that she handed him her purse. Completely bewildered he held it for her, while she rummaged through it. Not two minutes later she yanked out a business card. On the front was printed blue and purple stripes with the name cupcakes with candy. On the other side it was blank, and she scrawled from a scrap of paper written in lipstick. “There you go, pretty sure that’s his number. Go away now.” She said with a bright smile, and a wink.

Mark wasn’t quite sure how to respond to any of that, but he thanked her and climbed back in his truck. He sat in his truck, staring at the girl unlocking the door very slowly with her purple pigtails. She was definitely going to run an entertaining bakery. That’s all he knew for sure at this point.

He was dialing the phone number not two minutes later. “Hello?” Mark said, pausing as the other I replied hello. “Hey, I’m looking for the dollhouse repair guy. I need a replacement table leaf.”


Chapter 5

Twenty minutes later he was at a yellow over-sized house. His truck looked out of place in the driveway, considering that the house appeared to be even more expensive and fancier than the ones he customarily built. But, he climbed out knocked on the front door. A few seconds later the giant wooden door with the perfect stained-glass windows swung open. In front of him was standing a young woman. “Hello?”

“Hi, I was coming about the table for my dollhouse?” Mark swallowed awkwardly, trying not to choke on the words ‘table for my dollhouse.’ He was getting tired of meeting beautiful young women, who judged him for his dollhouse. Not that he played with a dollhouse! He just had a splinter in his hand that he needed to get taken out so he could concentrate on other things. And in this case that splinter was the broken dollhouse table, and he needed to fix it so he could stop thinking about it, and be a great dad.

The girl stared at him with a blank, dumb expression. Finally she open the door much wider, and turned behind her and shouted. “Dad! Some guy is here.”

And then she walked away, not even caring to see if her father showed up. Mark uncomfortably waited, he tried not to stare the interior of the house. It was absolutely immaculate, as if it was a hotel, as opposed to home. Even the smell of jasmine flowers was filtered through the air, perhaps from actual healthy flowers freshly watered in the house. Mark felt immediately shabby, as if his bald head an old leather jacket and tired jeans belonged in a place this fancy.

A man who appeared to be about in his late fifties came to the door, “hello, Mark?”

Mark nodded. His face turning red again, he could just imagine the young girl answering the door earlier.

“Hello I’m Mr. Vladimir and I have sadly taken over for my father. Of course, the old storefront is closed. Will be opening a new one soon, downtown.”

“Okay.” Said Mark, not totally sure what else to say. The man turned and started walking away from the front door pausing maybe ten feet away, and then looking back at Mark. He waved his hand in Mark quickly followed. e felt like a cloud of dirt must be falling off of him just like pigpen.

“Sorry, I just came back from work.” He said, “I brought you the part that’s broken, I’m hoping that you just have a replacement piece.”

“I’m sure I do.” Said Mr. Vladimir, and he opened the door to a room that was filled to the brim’s with shelves and boxes. He calmly walked over and pulled a line of boxes off of the back shelf. The box was long and thin, almost long enough for gun. But when he carefully peeled the top off, inside were tiny little table leaves. There had to have been thousand of them in there.

He plucked one, as if it was a peach from a tree. And handed it over to Mark. “No charge. My dad made way too many of these anyways.”

Mark stuffed the table leaf in his pocket. “I heard he died?”

“Yes.” The older man looked down at his feet and then snapped his eyes back up at Mark. “He made a dollhouse that wasn’t like any of his other dollhouses. It was… Special. And unfortunately, it was the death of him.”

Mark let out an uncomfortable cough. “A dollhouse killed him?”

“I think it killed him. My mother was very superstitious, so perhaps she has rubbed off on me. But he just died suddenly and violently as soon as the last piece was placed.”

“Yeah.” Said Mark, uncomfortably. He was barely even paying attention to this crazy man ranting about a dollhouse. He was trying to think to himself a polite way to make his way out of here. But, he also wanted to be grateful for the tiny little table leaf. The free table leaf.

Mr. Vladimir and turned and looked at Mark. “I’m sure you don’t believe me. It’s just… I can’t stop thinking about it. I need to move on. But my father died so horrifically. And with my mother missing… And with that dollhouse being put with two separate families who all ended up dead. I just… I just can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Yeah.” Said Mark, getting more uncomfortable. “Well thank you very much for this table leaf. I’m sure my daughters will be very impressed.”

Mr. Vladimir nodded, and allowed Mark to leave. Mark’s final thought before he got into his big red truck was that all the money in the world could not save that man’s sanity.


Chapter 6

Mark drove home with a smile on of his face. Even though the brakes on the truck were suddenly squealing much louder, and the engine was making a terrible clunk, clunk sound. The whole truck was starting to shudder every time the engine tried to turn over. But even that could not damper his good mood. It was like that splinter the that had been digging under his skin, driving him absolutely mad, that feeling had finally left him. He had a replacement part.

And he couldn’t wait to get home and put it in the table, and then he could focus on important things. Like his wife, and like trying to be the dad that he hoped he could be. He did it. He successfully took care of Coralina and Beth. They might not understand how important it was to them him that he took care of little things like if he broke their toy he would fix it. He could still remember his dad for taking that Nintendo sixty-four and slamming it into the wall cracking it to smithereens. It was never replaced. It wasn’t even his fault! His dad picked up the Nintendo and he smashed it into the wall repeatedly because he lost his job. It had nothing to do with Mark.

Who paid the price? Just that little ten-year-old kid. And he still remembered the pain of his wonderful present being destroyed before his very eyes. And he was probably overcompensating by running all over town looking for a tiny little dollhouse table leaf, but… Abuse runs in family lines. And Mark was terrified that he would catch it.

The truck rumbled into the garage, and finally was grateful for his turning of the key. He got out, closed the garage door and immediately went into the house. Coralina screamed, “Daddy!” And charged at him leaping into his arms. He smiled and couldn’t hardly stop grinning at the child.

“I got that part of your table that was broken. It took me all day.” He said.

Coralina did not care. She just said “Oh. Can you teach me how to get a solo in the choir?”

He ruffled her blonde little curls with his big meaty hands. “Go sing a song.”

And Carolina did exactly what her father said, standing on the couch and singing at the top of her lungs. The song she picked, was a raunchy dirty number about drinking a lot of liquor. And Mark made a mental note to stop allowing the children to listen to the public radio.

“Hey Beth. Do you want to see the part I got you?” He said to his littlest daughter.

She smiled at him and nodded.

“Can’t you just say yes?” He said, holding out his hand with it covering the little table piece.

“Yes.” She said. But she didn’t say any follow-up words, Mark wondered if she was going to need to be in speech class. At some sort of counseling class. Was this his fault? Should have talked to her more as a baby? Did have something to do with him not reading? Because he hated reading to kids, but if reading would help, he would read.

She let out a squeal of delight when he dropped the table leaf into her hand. She immediately ran over to the dollhouse and carefully placed it in between the ends of the table. And then she turned and came back and put it back in his hand.

“What’s wrong?” He said he asked, his stomach turning with frustration.

“Don’t fit.” Said Beth, and with that two word speech, she went back to playing with the dolls.

“I’m sure it fits, I’m sure.” He walked over to the dollhouse with her and sat on the ground. Very calmly he set the leaf in between the two ends of the table. It was clearly the wrong size. He turned it and tried to put it in the location that it it had been stored. Hoping that at least the table clicked shut again, with the added weight of the tiny little table leaf. But it wouldn’t fit that direction either.

It was like getting a splinter out, and realizing that he only got half of it out. The other half is now buried deep under the skin, maybe infection will push it out. Or it could be dug out with a knife.

He started to heat up nuggets and french fries for dinner. But he was so disgusted. He didn’t even bother to heat any up for himself.

He have to go back to that crazy guy.


Chapter 7

He went to bed, and barely spoke to Kelly. He couldn’t seem to find words, the anger of rumbling deep within his skin. He was a failure.

That was the only thing he could think about. He was a disappointment, and he was a failure, and he broke his child’s toy. And that same betrayal that he felt when his dad destroyed his Nintendo sixty-four. He betrayed his own children.  The abuse continued.

And he fell asleep with that restless word lingering on his mind, with that half broken splinter, digging through his skin.

It was not shocking that he had a nightmare. But, he had never had a nightmare quite like this before.

He was walking down town, and the girl with the purple hair with big pigtails and giant breasts turned and stared at him. “It is cursed. My business is going to fail, and I’m going to kill myself.” She said, with a sad smile. “My name’s Candy, I make cupcakes with candy. I hope you come and buy some, before it’s all over.”

And in the dream, Mark stared at her, her colored contacts sliding around her eyeball, so the iris did not look centered anymore. He looked away. And he saw the other young gir, the one from Mr. Valdimir’s house. She was pointing at him and laughing. “You idiot. You didn’t even think to find out if your dollhouse is haunted.”

“Cursed. Not haunted.” Said Mr. Vladimir, and they were suddenly at a board room table. It was circular, and Mark sat on one side feeling awkward in his leather jacket, and Mr. Vladimir sat in a tuxedo on the other side. His hands were full in front of him, as if he was a lawyer at a deposition. “Black magic.  Two families killed, and my father,  he was killed too.” And with that Vladimir lifted his hands into the air and slowly did an incantation. And in front of them they both saw the little wooden dollhouse figures start walking around. A long thin needle slowly floated through the air and stabbed one of the wooden figures in the heart. And at that same moment they both turned and looked.

Candy, the purple haired girl with the wandering irises, was in the middle of cutting her own head off with a guillotine. Except, she had dropped the blade and it gotten stuck in her spinal cord. And she couldn’t seem to quite get it all the way through her head., “I just need the right tool.” She said. And then her hand turn into a long rubbery snake and started slithering through the building she was in. It took finally found a toolbox. And she grabbed a large fat sledgehammer. Her long sneaky arms slithered back to her head, still stuck in the guillotine. And with slow long blows she hit the guillotine blade deeper and deeper into her neck until it finally popped through. Her eyes spun in, but her face looked wildly relieved. As if that splinter had finally been removed.

Mark, completely nauseated by the sight of her head slowly getting sliced off by a blade. He turned back and stared at Mr. Vladimir. “Why would she do that?”

Mr. Vladimir leaned forwards and slammed his hand down in the center of the table. The table cracked open and popped apart and inside between the two tables ends was chairs and a splintered up table leaf. “Nobody can stop the dollhouse.”

And Mark awoke in a sweat, with a scream. And he knew he would have to go back and fix that damn table leaf, he couldn’t stop thinking about it.It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but then he realized he wasn’t in his bed. He stayed perfectly still, his body shivering from sweat. And his face damp from tears that he apparently had been crying in his sleep. But he couldn’t face it, where was he? Slowly he turned his head to the left and then he turned his head to the right. But his eyes would not make sense of what he was saying, but she still dreaming? He reached up and slapped his face really hard, and the sting was incredible.

Slowly he sat down. Waiting for his eyes to finish describing the scene to him. But it just seemed unbelievable. Why was there a tree to the left?

And there was a second tree to the right.

And as he sat there, in the dark, his eyes slowly told him the truth. Somehow, he had climbed on the roof. And his toes were hanging right over the gutter. If he took one more step he would’ve fallen off the roof. That scared the shit out of him.


Chapter 8

Kelly woke up earlier than normal and was making waffles. He woke up his normal five am time, shocked to see Kelly awake, and out of bed. The first thing that she did, was shove him. So he did the thing that he did, and grabbed her butt so hard that she nearly hit the ceiling. It was one of the many ways that they played rough with each other. He loved his wife, and her silly ridiculous behavior. She pulled the frozen waffle from the toaster and placed it on a plate for them. Then she dumped some syrup on top. “I thought you’d be hungry.”

“Why are you even awake?” He said scarfing bits of waffle between putting on his shoes and socks.

“I wanted today to start off well.” She said, hesitantly.

And he knew, before she even said the next sentence. He knew there was some big trouble. “Tell me.” He said short, and sharp. “I have to go to work soon, blurted out.”

“Well you know how Emily is.” And Kelly paused.

Kelly had this infuriating way of starting in the middle of the story. And Mark had no time for that, both because he had to leave for work any minute now, and on top of that, Emily was her boss. “Shit. Don’t tell me.” The waffle was no longer edible. He couldn’t even force the frozen half warm waffle down with even of waterfall of syrup.

“Fine I won’t,” said Kelly and she slammed her dishes in the sink.

“The truck, its brakes are squealing! The engine is probably gonna blow any minute now. And you,” he pointed with his fork, “you lost your job! How could you do that! We need that money.”

“I don’t even believe that dollhouse cost only five dollars. I think you’re a liar. Maybe if you stop spending money on ridiculous toys for children because you’re all caught up in ‘am I a good dad’ all the time. We don’t even need two incomes. You make fine money.” She said furiously. But she was lying, and they both knew it.

But he didn’t want to fight to stood up and he stomped out.

 

******

There was no drumming on this steering wheel today, his nightmare would have probably given him a foul mood no matter what happened this morning, but Kelly losing her job was no joke. And now! She would get to stay home all day with Coralina and Beth. And he would have to go to his shitty job, and build shitty walls, for stupid houses that he never got to live in.

This time, he remembered to grab the broken table leaf and the wrong size one, so at least he could show the crazy old man which kind he needed. It wasn’t until lunch time when he sat down and ate his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that he wondered how he had climbed on the roof. He wasn’t naturally a sleepwalker. It seemed so surreal and so strange, that he probably would’ve forgotten it entirely and dismissed it all as dream – except that it took him forty-five minutes to figure out how to get off the roof. He still had no idea how he got up there in the first place.

Surely he only dreamt about the dollhouse being haunted because Mr. Vladimir was acting so weird about it the whole time they talked yesterday. Then again – he’d never sleep walked before.

Kelly would have another job in a couple of days, she was usually pretty quick to apply for a new job. Plus the job it sucked, and they both knew it. She’d been doing hotel maid work for a while. So she was constantly covered in blood and semen and who knows what else from other people. It was disgusting, and he didn’t like Kelly working disgusting, shady jobs.

But he couldn’t just let her stay at home and play with kids. That wasn’t good for either of them.

Especially not their finances, and he wasn’t kidding when he thought that that truck was going to be undrivable soon. Sure he could drive Kelly’s minivan around a little bit – but they were still making payments on the minivan, and it was a piece of shit too. What were they going to do?

He didn’t know, he didn’t know at all. But, he was definitely going to drive down and see if he could get Mr. Vladimir to give them the correct table leaf. Then at least that horrible feeling of a splinter stuck in his hand would go away.


Chapter 9

Even though he was really determined to drive down and fix the annoying splinter – the table leaf problem right away, it turned out that he just couldn’t get it done. He ended up being asked to stay late at work, to help make up for having left early the day before. They also received their next large delivery, and he was going to be hanging the siding on the house soon. Framing was wrapping up, and the next step was waterproofing. It was boring, he had done this so many times it barely felt like work anymore. It was the kind of thing a zombie could do, no brains needed

Since he was working so late he ended up driving straight home so he could have dinner, with his kids. He wondered for the millionth time if they noticed his efforts to be a good father. He joined them at the table, but both girls were just finishing up their bowls of cheap soup. They giggled together and ran off to play with the dollhouse, long before he even got started on his own soup.

“How many jobs did you apply for today?” He asked, while eating his chicken Ramen soup.

Kelly wrinkled her nose, “about that, none.”

Mark paused, mid bite with the noodles hanging off his spoon in a big splattery mess. And he glared at his wife. “What?”

“I was thinking I’d take a day or two to myself before I started applying for shit jobs again. You know how it is – I just… I just don’t…” she paused, midsentence. And ended up looking at her fingertips. She did never did intend to finish that sentence. And Mark, uncomfortably stared at her.

“Take a few days? Like a gap year? We can’t let you take a few days. You’re not a kid. We have bills.” Mark said and then he shoved a bunch of hot noodles in his mouth. Chewing them down with frustrated, tasteless enthusiasm. It was like they were falling apart at the seams, like his truck.

Beth came running over, her little four-year-old eyes looking bright as sunshine. She tugged on his sleeve. “Did you get the dollhouse table?” She asked. A full sentance, his nearly mute child asked a full sentance. And the question was about his utter and unrelenting failure. The splinter in his hand.

Mark bit his tongue so hard he thought it might slice it into two pieces. It was threatening to bleed even as he sat there., “Sorry baby, probably tomorrow.” His stomach flipped over, that’s the kind of shit his dad would do- promise to do stuff and then never get around to it. He just couldn’t live like that. He didn’t want to be a bad father, he was trying to break the cycle. He was trying so hard, but it wasn’t working.

“Okay.” Said Beth, seemingly completely unfazed by his lack of solving her problem. And she skipped her little blonde hair back to the dollhouse, and continue to play with her sister, Coralina.

But Mark was hurt, and sick to his stomach. It really pissed him off to let her down. He’d have to fix it tomorrow. He turned and stared angrily at his wife, letting his emotion poor out in one single, angry sentence, “get a job.”

And they both went to bed silently again.