She collected lolly sticks, The ones with jokes on them: Why did the chicken cross the road?-type stuff, Which she stained brown and used as floorboards in her magnum opus.
The Tudor house was the best one. It had servants’ quarters And a kitchen with little hessian potato sacks made of something or other she salvaged from somewhere or other; And the floorboards looked so real: painted lolly sticks but almost evoking the smell of varnish, layers of polish on a floor trodden by centuries in perfect miniature; Almost.
This was the last of the three or four dolls’ houses she built; The devil’s work for her idle widow’s hands. She built this one while you were entering into your final stalemate that doomed dance that sits so permanently on your conscience now like a sack of compost full of water. (I choose this metaphor only because I found this in my garden yesterday and it was ******* heavy.) On paper it was simple: You gave her your house, She gave you hers.
And so her house shrunk around her and became a dolls’ house of your own making, Irrationally she saw your god-hands reaching in to manipulate and extort her.
She was wrong, of course.
You were making good on your promise. You would come through for her in her old age. You did.
But it was a promise you made more to yourself than her, And she let her illogical mind never analytical to begin with now razed and blinded by grief and loneliness (there was nothing to work with) poison your good deed and you were both dolls now.
Eight years later she died lovelessly.
She was moved into her sitting room the only part of the house that stayed the same after you moved in – the walls closed in to contain it constrict it a hospital bed and vinyl chair with commode, and the brown laminate floor just like her lolly sticks.
You administered painkillers Admitted the nurses Negotiated with your estranged brother.
but her paranoia rotted everything and your hands cared with compassion but not love.
Gone, now, the dolls’ houses remain. An inheritance of clutter but in a house you bought.
You answer the phone breathlessly aggressively. You have been heaving the big one up the stairs that sack of compost that heavy conscience of yours.
You will be heaving those ******* dolls’ houses around until I have to buy your house and care for you. But I am telling you now: I am putting them in a skip the moment I have the chance.
They are not imbued with the joy they gave her any more than by keeping them safe from landfill you can imbue them with the love you withheld.
They are painted lolly sticks and sewn hessian. They don’t contain any more of her than the bits of paper she kept passwords and bank balances dates and instructions for the Sky box There is nothing left of her to protect now.
(We won’t mention her unscattered ashes which have been left with the undertaker for nearly two years now. They’re not her either but they’re more her.)
Open up the hinged false front tip out the miniatures let the little figures be free, be landfill (isn’t that what dying is anyway?) all the tangible things she touched and loved are not avatars for her touch and her love.
The past is not present through the preservation of objects. The past is not erased by the advancement of time nor can it be undone by corrective action.
Now she is on the other side of the road, (why did the chicken– behave.) She has no further use for the things she left behind.