She sat on the floor as she hugged the dollhouse. One leg an inverted v along the side, her other leg like a fallen tree over the front. She pressed her temple to the gable, and caressed its vent with her ear. As she listened, she stroked the pitched roof with one hand, feeling the rise and fall of each shingle as she remembered how carefully she had carved each and all of them. With her other hand, she ran up and down the length of a perfectly made downspout. One he had never needed, not even now, as she made it rain on his front step.
“Play it again.” She imagined she heard a sigh of impatience. His words climbed the dollhouse walls from inside, and reached her hungry ear.
“It’s time. I’ve delayed this long enough.”
“Please, play it one more time. One last time.” She lowered her head enough to catch a glimpse of the music room, and its centerpiece, the smallest piano in the world. He still sat at it, but his hands didn’t move. “Please… please.” His chest rose and sank visibly as he brought his tiny fists onto the black and white keys. Eighty-eight keys, she thought, a fortune, made in Japan, and just for you, my beloved.
As he touched the beautiful instrument without heart, without love, the ceiling above her sank another inch. It was covered in black mold. She closed her eyes, and listened to nothing but him, to the spell he cast with his fingers. Behind her, the wall cracked open like curtains struggling to part, and breathed ancient dust into the room. He played on, until the piece was over. She watched him stand up and away from the piano.
“Don’t you want to take it with you? I had it made just for you.”
“I know. I know you did that. You’ve made sure I remembered every time I played. You made me hate the thing. You made me hate my music, the only thing I had left after you did this to me.”
“I only wanted you to know how much I love you! How much I’ve always loved you! Please! Please, don’t leave me! I’ll die without you!”
“No, you won’t. You’ll probably get better. You’ll stop acting like nothing but me matters, and you’ll leave this rotting house you’ve neglected for so long. You’ll have a life again.”
“You are my life! You’re all I’ve ever wanted!”
He looked at her through the window, and even through her tears she could see his disgust. He turned his back, and walked out of the music room. She peeled herself away a few inches from the dollhouse, and watched the front door with eyes unblinking. A rusted pipe exploded in the cold basement.
The dollhouse door turned on impossibly small hinges, and his small shape stepped out, only to stop at the sight of her leg on the floor, blocking the way. Blocking the view. Blotting out everything. He glanced at her, and arched his eyebrow towards the meaty obstacle. “May I pass?”
“Please, don’t go. I’ll do anything.”
“You are not!” She palmed the floor and pushed to pivot herself toward him. One leg bumped the side of the dollhouse, moving it behind him. Her other leg had given him more room, but it was pressed to the floor, and he’d have to walk its entire length to clear her foot. Instead, he faced her, his eyes ablaze.
“You can’t stop me. I gave you ten years of my life. No, you took them. You took me as though I was a thing, an object. For ten miserable years I’ve not known what happened to my wife, my mom, my dad. My pets are dead, my friends think I’m dead. My tours, my music, my sense of self: you destroyed it all!
And you destroyed yourself as well. You have no job, no friends, no family, no one left that cares about you. Look at what you’ve done to this house! You’ve neglected it, made no repairs, cleaned nothing! It’s repugnant. You are repugnant. I despise you. I may have loved you for a moment, but that moment is long gone. I-“
She brought her fists down around him, and pounded the floor with all her strength. He jumped in the air as the rotting boards cracked and sank into rounded shapes that spewed splinters and displaced dust. When he landed, he looked up at her in alarm.
“If you try to leave, I will kill you. I will hold you in my fist, and squeeze you until you’re dead. I will, I swear I will.”
Her words only seemed to displace his fear, and refuel his anger. “Do it,” he spat. “Kill me. It’s either a quick death by your hand, or a long death, waking up every morning in this hellhole, with you. Do your worst.” He turned, and started walking along her inner thigh. She let him. The ice in his words penetrated her heart, and dried up her tears. In the kitchen, the tile floor sank at the center, and spilled into the basement, bringing appliances with it. She ignored every crashing sound.
“You’re not taking anything.”
He stopped in his tracks, looked in the kitchen’s direction, and didn’t fully turn his head to respond, “I don’t have anything.”
“You’ll get cold.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Where are you going?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“You found someone else, did you. You’re going to her.”
“I have a wife. I’m going to-“ Something in her eyes stopped his lips from moving. He shook his head, and resumed his departure. She watched him pass her foot, and make his way toward the front door. He would not need to open it. When he reached it, he turned to face her, and spoke one last time.
“Leave this house. Get out of here, and save yourself. I can feel it crashing down. It will take you with it.”
She said nothing. She watched him for a moment, until he vanished under the door. As she turned to cradle the dollhouse again, the center beam that held every ceiling joist and rafter in place far above her, burst open in more than one place. It all came clawing down at her.