Dollhouse

by Denise Long

From her mattress on the floor, the girl tries to block out the noise from downstairs, the music, the glass breaking, the laughter too loud for anything to have been funny. The sounds that sometimes push past the lock of her bedroom door and the dresser she pushes against it, hunting for her in the tangle of blankets that used to swallow her whole.

But as the night grows darker, the girl turns out her lights, unfolds herself, and climbs into the small wooden house in the corner of her room.

She slides aside the tiny staircase and the miniature couch with matching side chairs. She stacks the end tables on top of each other and balances them atop the coffee table. She moves the beds to one side, careful not to disturb the family that lays under handkerchief blankets, each member touching another. And she pulls her legs underneath her, curves her back to the slope of the roof, stretching into the pinches of what might no longer fit.
She runs her hands over her skin, bloomed with delicate hives, finding intricate patterns in her scabs. She feels the gentle teeth of the bugs in her unwashed hair, waiting for them to settle into the crevices behind her ears, imagining it’s their voices that echo in her head.

As she tucks her chin to her chest, she waits for morning, when the darkness will bend and break, letting in the cool light of day. And she will pull her fingers free from the grate of the tiny windows and dig her toes into the soft wood of the house’s floors. She will touch the family’s impossibly tiny smiles and wish herself smaller, fit for of their world.

Denise Howard Long’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Tishman Review, Pithead Chapel, Crack the Spine, Five on the Fifth, Burrow Press Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Denise lives in Nebraska, with her husband and two young sons. You can visit her online at www.denisehlong.com.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Dollhouse”?

    The idea of the character came to me first, a little girl in a troubling living situation. I wanted to give her some sort of agency in the story, something physical she could do that was reasonably within her means as a child. And that’s when the dollhouse came to me.

    It took a few drafts before I could identify her true motivation: that she was trying to force herself into the family life she didn’t have. It broke my heart a bit, when I finally figured out why she was climbing into the house, but I was also hopeful that she could find a little peace there too.

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