pure mind

Sep 13 2013

Mary inherited a dollhouse from an older relative. She received it in a large, secure chest. In her childhood she had loved the dollhouse, but she had forgotten about it. Accepting the house was a completely neutral experience. She had sincerely cared for the relative, who had become poor in her later years, and had expected nothing from the death. But the dollhouse seemed like something from the past, and Mary was not a nostalgic person. Still, when she opened the house and saw the little doll that had always lived in it, she felt a pang of the same emotion that she had felt when she had played with it as a child.

She recalled that the doll had been named Jane. It was a work of remarkable craftsmanship, just like the house, and exactly the right size for its surroundings, so that living there with no other dolls it had never seemed alone. She knew nothing about it except that it was an old European doll. It was finely assembled from different materials, and obviously meant to last, as it looked no different from when she had last seen it. Its joints and limbs and trunk were wooden, and held together by metal parts that had never deteriorated, but its hands and face and feet were enamel, and so she suspected that some sort of metal was hidden beneath those surfaces too. The enamel was opaque white, but it was permeated with a pink flush in the face, and there were highlights for the fawn eyebrows and eyeliner and rosy lips. Between its slightly open mouth peeped some tiny teeth and part of a red tongue. Its small eyelids smoothly opened and closed with the orientation of its body, and its eyes were pale green glass. The hands and feet were pure white with no other colour, but the toes and fingers were fully formed and depicted as though in some refined gesture, and there were real little indentations for the nail beds. It had real human hair that was really fixed into small holes in its head, a feature which she now saw as being perhaps a little macabre, but was strangely no less attractive. It was wearing a blue silk skirt with a matching jacket and a white silk blouse with a pin at its neck. No part of the doll was damaged in any way, it was perfect all over. It was an article that had clearly always commanded respect from its owners and had been solemnly treated.

Mary became obsessed with the idea that the doll was a grand masterpiece of folk art and played with it unselfconsciously. Its little features seduced her completely. She did not find it beautiful as a woman, but it was beautiful as an idea of a woman, or a thing that a woman never could be or had to be, because she was not a doll. Perhaps the doll represented a woman that could never truly change or be changed, because it was not really a woman, it was only an object that stood for a woman so long as it remained in its particular form. These ideas and others played in her mind as she moved the doll through the house. The house was an extravagant toy, and it opened on one side, and on the other, separately. It was a complete home, a wealthy home, with bedrooms and parlours, bathrooms, porches and galleries and halls, attics, a dining room and a kitchen. There was a library where the Jane doll could sit at a desk with a real little miniature book open in front of it, and in another room all alone was a grand piano where it could sit before keys that almost looked like they might operate. It was almost possible to believe that the house had a basement, although of course it didn’t.

But the house seemed incomplete to Mary. The windows, which were real glass, had no drapes. The floors, which were real polished timber or sometimes ceramic inlay as in the bathrooms and kitchen, had no rugs. And there were too few of the things that make up a real home. There was some furniture, but not enough, as though parts had been removed or stolen or lost. And there was hardly any clutter or any of the implements we humans use to get through our daily lives. It became Mary’s special project to complete the house, and she began to create the soft furnishings she desired, using high quality fabrics, ribbons, and needlepoint. She sewed velvet curtains with weights inside them to make them hang realistically, and embroidered velvet carpets for the floors. She filled one wardrobe with little clothes for the Jane doll, and another with blankets and quilts and cushions. When she reached the limits of her skill, she discovered through the internet an international community of people who were as interested as she was in dolls and in completing their small worlds. Secretly she believed that she was different from them and superior in some important way, but she acknowledged their abilities. None of the work that was being done seemed equal to the nature of the incredible Jane doll, or even the house itself, but it was excellent. She obtained at first things that seemed fitting with the period of the house, such as a dining room table and chairs that had been constructed of genuine salvaged mahogany, and after some consideration, a tin and timber gramophone. The gramophone had a music box inside and a plastic disc on its upward facing surface that really rotated when the music played. She bought crockery and cutlery to fill the sideboard in the dining room. The cutlery was the most interesting thing, and so perfect for make-believe, because it was metal pieces such as what humans might have, but each was coated in glass so that it might last forever and never need washing or be really used. After some deep thought, she bought modern appliances for the house, including a computer and television with screens that really lit up, a refrigerator containing individually selected fake food items, and a toaster with a spring inside it that made it pop. Finally she bought a very strange object, advertised as a wall sculpture. She thought of it as a shell, but an artificial shell, what a shell would be if it were fashioned by a fantasy creature with its own intellect and creative impulses rather than by nature. Its surface was like mother of pearl, executed in shimmery metallic paints, and it was covered in strange projections of different shapes. It was larger than she expected, and at first she thought it might be too large, but she found a place for it in the entry hall of the house, where she thought it fit perfectly.

She also began visiting backyard junk sales in her city to see if she could find anything of interest that was being thrown away, and one day she discovered a little man doll. Its body was wooden like that of the Jane doll, but its features and hands and feet were fine porcelain rather than glass enamel. Mary became immediately convinced that the doll was not only made in the same workshop, but had come from the same maker. It was so carefully constructed, its proportions were the same, its features were made along the same lines with the same colour accents, and it had the same glass eyes, only blue. It was dressed in a brown linen suit and a yellow cotton shirt with a white silk tie. She bought it for two hundred dollars from an owner who repeatedly raised the price when he noticed how much Mary wanted it, and she named it John, which seemed its only possible name. When she took it home and excitedly introduced it to the doll house, it seemed to have always belonged there. Placed next to the Jane doll, it appeared that the two dolls had never been apart. Mary’s belief that they were two dolls assembled by the same two hands was confirmed beyond any doubt, but at the same time she felt disappointed. She realised that she had wanted the dolls to be excited to meet each other, which was completely ridiculous. Of course it was natural that they should look like they had always been together, because they were empty material objects, and everything material about them was so alike. She wondered whether she should make them kiss, and then wondered what had made her think of something so childish about objects for which she had such reverence. It was impossible to make them kiss, or hold hands, or anything like that. But she made them bow towards each other and she moved them around the house together, from room to room. She told herself a story about the Jane doll giving the John doll a tour. She pretended that the Jane doll played the piano while the John doll stood nearby and appreciated its skill. She made the John doll open the refrigerator and food cabinets and assemble the plastic and wooden food, and she stopped from time to time so that she could make the Jane doll retrieve the plates and utensils and set the table. Then she made them sit down on the dining chairs in front of the food items, and pretended that they were eating together. She imagined what they might say to each other. She believed that the Jane doll was talking about its university education in Paris, and the John doll was talking about when it went to school in Switzerland. She decided Jane must be a fearless artist doll, and that John should be a pioneering surgeon doll.

After that she was sick and tired of playing, and she wondered how she had started playing at all. She was a grown up woman playing with dolls. She put all the items back in their places and put the dolls in the library, where they should have drinks after dinner. But she had already forgotten that she was no longer playing, and she shut the house on the dolls. Getting ready for bed, she reflected with surprise on her interest. It had crept up on her without her awareness. She would forget the dolls and their house, she would get rid of them, she would auction them on the internet and give the money to charity, she would do something worthwhile with her life instead of playing with dolls.

In the morning she opened the house again, not to play, but to decide what to do with all of the little things in it. The things were slightly out of place. The dolls were still in the library, more or less where she had left them, but a few furniture items were overturned, and some of the cupboards were ajar with the small implements that had been in them spread out on the floors. The clothing of the master bed was disturbed, “As though they really fucked on it,” thought Mary with horror, and then felt a renewed horror when she realised how ridiculous that sounded. She decided that she must have awakened in the night, and tripped over the dollhouse on her way to the bathroom, so that the things inside were knocked out of place. Mary was that kind of person, that she was always running into things and discovering bruises on herself later and wondering where they had come from. There were no bruises on her today, but that was because the dollhouse had absorbed the force of the collision. She went to the supermarket, did some housework, made herself dinner, and put herself to bed early. Her sleep was interrupted and her rest was poor.

The next morning she awoke to find the two dolls arranged in seated postures on her bedside table with their tiny mobile glass eyes fixed on her. They had been watching her while she slept. No – she corrected herself – their glass eyes had been pointed towards her bed while she slept. She did not know how the dolls had come to be there, but she would not allow herself to turn this into some sort of horror story; she preferred to believe that she had begun sleepwalking, and playing with the dolls while she slept. Inside the house, some of the fittings had been partially dismantled, and she couldn’t find the parts. A table was missing a leg, a curtain had been pulled down and was gone, and some of the little cutleries had disappeared. But worst of all, the shell of the beautiful fantasy creature had been destroyed. Its largest and most prominent protuberance had been snapped off, which was the part Mary regarded as its chief ornament. But it had been neatly ruined, rather than vandalised; the only part that had been touched was the part that had been removed, and what remained of it was still fixed onto the wall.

A terror arose in Mary’s heart and she stared at the dolls with dread. She put them in the main parlour and closed both sides of the house. She put the dollhouse back in its chest, and she padlocked the chest. She knocked on the door of a neighbour, and asked if the key could be taken care of overnight. Her neighbour owed her a favour, and didn’t seem to mind; she probably thought Mary was strange anyway. Mary admitted to herself: she was strange. She wondered when she had become so strange, and what was wrong with her. She had not always been so strange. For the rest of the evening she sat in her living room and silently watched the box as though it might break its lock and spring open or start jumping around the room. She thought she would sleep more easily knowing that the dolls were locked away and she was safe from them, but she didn’t sleep very well. She had assumed that the dolls had somehow come alive, but what if it was the house that was haunted, and controlling the dolls? She awoke several times during the night to check that the box had not moved or changed. She had no idea what she would do with the dolls, but she found it difficult to believe that she had been the one manipulating them and destroying their house. She had never been used to questioning the integrity of her perceptions.

In the morning she collected her key and opened the box to see if anything had changed in there overnight. Opening the side of the house where she had left them, she found her two dolls laid out on the shining parlour floor, dismembered and grotesquely reassembled. An eye had been plucked out of each face to reveal shiny metal hollows. Both dolls had lost limbs, and the limbs had been replaced with other objects – the legs of tables and chairs, and the little forks and spoons, which had been stripped of their glass casing and twisted into configurations resembling hands and feet. The shattered glass surrounded the dolls in tiny smithereens, as though they were the victims of some shocking suburban home invasion. Mary began to shriek. She didn’t know why she was doing it, and in a detached way she regarded it as a little comical, but it felt good, and it seemed to be a proper expression of some confused emotion she truly felt, so she continued.

“whats wrong Mary”, said the Jane doll, and both dolls sat up. “we thought you would be happy”. Mary screamed even harder. “whats wrong with her?” said the John doll to the Jane one. “shes afraid of us”, said the Jane doll. Mary fell quiet for a moment. “calm down Mary” said John, “we arent going to hurt you”. Mary thought that the expression on its face looked sorry and sad, and she decided not to scream anymore, but she started crying instead. “But what has happened to you?” she asked. “The most beautiful dolls in the world, and you’re both broken! What has happened to your other parts?”

Through a door from the hidden side of the house shyly emerged a new doll. It had one porcelain arm and one enamel arm, and one porcelain leg and one enamel leg. Its head was made from the missing part of the unreal shell, which Jane had never thought of as resembling a head and neck until now, and the removed blue eye and green eye from the Jane and John dolls had been inserted into cavities that had been painstakingly hollowed out. It had no hair. Its body was draped in a velvet curtain, and there was no way of telling what might be underneath. “What did you make its heart out of?” Mary sniffled, surprising herself.

“it doesnt have a heart” said the Jane doll, “because dolls dont have any blood to pump. it is pure mind.” The new doll shifted its gaze between the other two and Mary. It had no mouth to say anything with, and she wondered how they might get it one. But even though she felt it was somehow wrong, she couldn’t stop feeling curious about its hidden body. “Is it a boy doll, or a girl doll?”

“we dont know”, said the John doll. “we think you should be the one to name it”.

No responses yet

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.