Elizabeth was the first to see it - in our family anyway. After all, it was in her possession, and she had kept the secret for a while before she eventually let her desires get the better of her and sought the attention that comes with the envy of such an artefact. Of course, she always believed that it was hers, that she ruled over it and could decide who could and couldn’t look at it; but such a thing could never be owned. It was almost as if its own soul emanated from it, making it far more worthy of admiration than a usual toy.
I’m talking about the dollhouse of course, not to be confused with the manor house hidden away in the corner of her room with its soft creams and faded hues of pink that used to take centre stage. The dollhouse exudes a melancholic feel from it, as if it could be situated in the south-eastern countryside of England as the setting of some gothic novel. It felt misplaced in the bright bedroom of a nine-year-old but Elizabeth soon became infatuated with it and studied every fine detail the house had to offer. The monochrome mansion is what my father called it, the rooms encapsulated by stone walls and surrounded by small bay windows that let a glimmer of light spill onto the dark wooden floors and the dim white walls. The small amount of colour the toy possessed lay in its delicate, scaled-down furniture, in its floral chairs, its gilded chandeliers suspended in the rooms and its stain glass window that covered the back wall of the main entrance. Elizabeth had positioned it so as to allow the light to pour through and leave a faint array of colours glowing on the staircase that severed into two, leading to the upstairs of the house. Each room was sheltered with pointed arches, layered in grey tiles and ornate iron fences that ran across it. And let’s not forget the dolls, of course.
They seemed to be made of fine porcelain with lifeless faces gently painted onto them. They were embellished with suave suits and velvet dresses of rich blues, red and greens and adorned with soft locks of hair that flowed in waves of beige, chestnut and amber. The other dolls, located in the lower areas of the house, wore dull clothes of black, with white and grey and hair that felt wiry to the touch, leading Elizabeth to feel it was only natural to assign them the post of servant, positioning them to cook in the kitchens, serve the others and clean the opalescent sinks and baths of the house.
It was around four months after Elizabeth first received it that she told me. It was while we were playing around with it, as I took the role of the gentlemen in the blue suit and blonde curls that was attempting to woo Jessica, the doll Elizabeth always chose to play with. I didn’t believe her of course, such childlike imagination eventually is grown out of and I was in no mood to be fooled by her. But she persistently insisted and so, with anticipation and intrigue, I decided to lay in wait until the temptation to close my eyes and fall asleep overcame me and left me unconscious in the room.
I am unsure whether it was Elizabeth relentlessly shrugging me that awoke me or the clock in the hallway’s midnight chime but as I rubbed my eyes to awaken from my light slumber, I soon realised Elizabeth’s sincerity. As the lights in the dollhouse flickered alive, and a faint orange glow leaked out of its windows and onto the bedroom floor, the light from the chandeliers radiated and unveiled the dolls animating as they steadily moved into their positions to tell their story. The story they had told every night when the clock struck twelve. A story of love, murder and revenge.
Original Illustration by Madeleine Bentley