By Julia Sorensen
Artwork by Alli Rowe
I live in her dollhouse. It’s quite comfy, though a bit of a squeeze. She would always laugh when she opened it and saw me between the doorways or in the windows. Then she would make me my favorite tea and I would stretch big enough to sit at the table with her. She told me stories and I hung on every word from her little mouth. She hasn’t made me tea in a long while.
I always prided myself in my skills to grow big and shrink down. It made her happy, so I was happy. I could be tiny enough to rest on her shoulder, or as tall for her to climb up me like a tree. She can grow too, but much slower. But the more she grows, the less she talks to me. She walks right by me every day but doesn’t say my name. I don’t even remember my name. Hers is scribbled on the side of the house in red crayon: Madeline.
There’s a spider that lives in the dollhouse too. It doesn’t seem to want to be my friend. Its eight eyes stare through me, unblinking. At first I tried to get it to leave, because Madeline is afraid of spiders. But it doesn’t hear me, and she hasn’t touched the dollhouse for however long it takes to create a latticed web across the plastic dining chairs. Dust collects and shimmers in the web’s threads, and I pretend they are stars. I don’t go outside on my own, because I don’t want her to miss me when she decides to play with me again.
I don’t know what I look like. I never asked. When I look down at my hands, I see five fingers, and while I’m not sure what they’re supposed to look like, I don’t think they’re supposed to be translucent. They’ve been fading more over time. If she doesn’t see me, no one will. I do anything I can to make her notice me: subtle pranks to make her laugh. Switching where her hairbrush is with her toothbrush. Hiding her cell phone between the couch cushions. She never catches on, though, always shaking her pretty red hair in confusion and carrying on. I tried calling out to her, but she doesn’t hear me anymore, either. Why is she doing this to me?
I know I’m dying. I can’t pretend anymore. It happens to everyone, but I thought that I would have longer. I’m okay with it, but there is one thing that I want before I go. I’ve never wanted anything before, so it feels weird sitting in my chest, like a bird trying to fly out. I want to know my name again. I miss it.
Today she came home and tossed her bag on the couch in exhaustion. She looked around at the boxes that now lined the walls. Masking tape with “FRAGILE” sealed them.
“Hey hon,” Mom called from the kitchen. “How was school?”
“It was okay,” she said. Her voice didn’t hold the same happiness as it did before. I noticed that with more boxes filled, her gaze grew more distant.
Mom entered the room, wiping her hands on a dishrag. “What’s up?”
Madeline sighed and looked to the ceiling. “Just taking it all in. I’m going to miss this house.”
“I know, but think of the great things that are waiting for us after this. High school is going to be so good for you. And I’ll be closer to work so it’s a win for both of us.”
I always liked Mom, she was good at looking at the bright side.
“It’s just weird seeing everything like this,” Madeline said.
“Change keeps the brain going,” Mom said. “It rearranges the filing system up there. Like spring cleaning.” She looked at the dollhouse, and I foolishly got excited even though I know Mom could never see me. “What do you want to do with that, by the way?”
Madeline shrugged. “I don’t know, donate it I guess? I can take it to the church tomorrow on the way to school. They have that big bin.”
What? She was going to get rid of me? No, no, no. Not yet. I wasn’t ready to leave her. I looked around for something, anything to remind her. One more prank. There was a cardboard box close to the dollhouse, not yet sealed shut and brimming with trinkets. My limbs were stiff and weak, but I used the last energy I had to push the box just enough to make some of the things fall out. Books and frames clattered to the floor, and both Madeline and Mom startled. They couldn’t hear my panting, gasping for a little breath.
“Guess I made that box too full,” Mom said.
Madeline got up and started sorting through it. She held a silver-lined book with shiny pages. “Aw, Mom look at this,” she said.
Mom leaned against the wall and smiled. “Your photo albums,” she said fondly. Then she sighed, “This is why I’m terrible at packing, I get too wrapped up in nostalgia. You’re just as bad as me.”
Madeline flipped through the pages with a grin. “Your hair!”
Mom looked over her shoulder. “Hey, back then that was hot.”
“I’m sure it was, Mama.” Madeline’s gaze rested on one photo. “What’s this one?”
Peering closely, Mom said, “That was your fourth birthday. We asked you what kind of party you wanted and you said a tea party.”
Madeline pointed to the page. “Why was there an extra plate set here next to me?”
Mom smiled at the memory. “That was for your special friend. You never wanted to be without him. We had to tuck in an extra blanket every night, set empty plates for him, you even wanted to get him enrolled in daycare with you. I can’t remember what you called him, though. Randy? Ricky?”
Then, the light returned to Madeline’s eyes. She looked to the dollhouse, and my heart stopped. She saw me, really saw me. “Rory,” she whispered.
I grinned, and pretended to sip a teacup. She laughed the laugh that I had missed so much. I knew my name again. I got all I wanted.
“Bye,” I whispered. I don’t know if she heard, but she still smiled.
“You okay?” Mom asked her.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she answered. “Just thinking.”
She laughed again, and it was the last sound I heard.