Friday 16 December 2022

The Dollhouse by Beate Sigriddaughter, hot chocolate

It was listed in the newspaper in late October. Each week in November you had to go to a different one of the four stores that sponsored the contest and get a dated voucher. When you had collected all four, you would submit them at the newspaper main office together with your age. You had to be under twelve to qualify. Then in December a drawing would be held, and on December 18, in time for Christmas, the winner would receive the most magnificent dollhouse Nina has ever seen. It was on display in a window by the newspaper's main entrance. It was two full stories high, with an additional low steepled tower in which a tiny white cat lay curled up. Stairs in the center led from one floor to the next. The first floor had two rooms, the second floor had three, all filled with exquisite old-fashioned wood-carved furniture, tiny carpets, mirrors, and draperies. No kitchen or bathroom, but dollhouses rarely had those. Nina fell in love at first sight, especially with the white cat in the attic space, because they couldn't have a real cat at home. They had tried once and had to return the cat because it had climbed her mother's lace curtains, and that was unacceptable. Nina just knew the dollhouse was meant to be hers.

            Mrs. Willow knew needing to visit the stores to get the vouchers was almost as effective a marketing strategy as the slide next to the conventional stairway that led down to the basement children's department in the shoe store on Carolina Street, with one essential difference: a growing child's shoes had to be replaced, no option for hand-me-downs there, and the opportunity for a child to slide down to a necessary purchase was priceless. In contrast, the stores that sponsored the dollhouse sold things rather less essential: jewelry, fine furniture, fabric, and liquor. She was prepared to face and resist the sales tactics in all four stores for her daughter's sake. She was more worried about the potential, and to her mind very likely, disappointment her daughter might be about to experience.

            Nina's older brother Peter, due to a visitor occupying his room, temporarily shared his little sister's room. He heard Nina's nightly prayers in early November, and he decided to take things into his own hands in case God should fail to come through for his beloved sister. At first, he kept it a secret even from their parents, but after a while his limited funds as well as his expertise dried up and he needed their assistance. He used particle board as a base, then sawed, carved, glued, and painted balsa wood for walls, and, with Mrs. Willow's help, selected furnishings and a miniature doll, to be purchased on the 19th of December, should they be required.

            On the 18th of December, Nina was disconsolate. The photo in the newspaper showed a curly-headed girl with two missing front teeth, grinning next to her prize, the dollhouse that should have been Nina's. The prize had been given a day early so that the photo could appear in the paper on the day of the official award.

            'I prayed and prayed,' Nina told her mother between sobs. 'It was supposed to be mine. I was sure.'

            'I imagine the other girl prayed too, and God had to make a choice,' Mrs. Willow tried to explain.

'You don't understand. He should have chosen me. I loved it. I wanted it so much.'

Mr. Willow for his part offered an entire chocolate bar with hazelnuts, not just a single piece, and Nina accepted it grudgingly. It did not help her get over her bitterness.

On Christmas Eve, she found and cheerfully played with a two-room dollhouse suite she found under the Christmas tree. It had sparse contemporary furniture, including a few pictures on the walls made from postage stamps. It also had a three-tree garden complete with a patio and green sandpaper lawn and a small pond made of blue paint and smoothed to a watery shine with transparent glue. There was a tiny deck chair on the patio, and a black poodle fashioned from flexible pipe cleaners lay by the chair, since Peter had no idea about Nina's love for a curled up white cat in a tower. Three little geese stood by the pond.

Peter had hoped Nina would say, 'Oh, just what I wanted.' She was, however, so young that for the longest time she didn't even register a connection between her prayers and the ranch style dollhouse, even as she played with it on Christmas Eve and in the weeks to come. Peter didn't want to say anything, partly because he was disappointed that his gift had not exactly come up to snuff, and partly because he was afraid that he had unduly interfered with God's plans for Nina by trying to help out God who was then free to assume the dollhouse was taken care of and who could now direct His attention elsewhere.

Mr. and Mrs. Willow didn't know what to say either. They wanted to explain to Nina the value of the love that had come her way, but they didn't have the right words, so they let it be.

Not until years after the event and many other discrepancies between expectations and reality did Nina realize the ways in which her prayers had after all been answered with gentleness, enthusiasm, and love to which she had been oblivious. And so the stage was set for a lifetime of blessings, some of which were instead perceived as disappointments. Indeed, sometimes she got what she wanted and barely even noticed. She stopped praying and decided it would be best to not set her hopes too high and to muddle through circumstances as best she could. Still, until the end of her days she yearned for a God who would see the world exactly the way she did. 

About the author

Beate Sigriddaughter,, lives in Silver City, New Mexico (Land of Enchantment), where she was poet laureate from 2017 to 2019. Recent publications include a poetry collection Wild Flowers and a novel, Soleil Madera. In her blog Writing in a Woman's Voice, she publishes other women's voices.

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