Wien: Home Improvement

by Elise Wien | 11/2/16 1:20am

Once, not so long ago, this very house where you sit belonged to a wealthy family. Mother, Father and Daughter in want of nothing. Every morning they would wake and eat their porridge, every night they’d tuck themselves in. But all houses have their secrets.

One night, Daughter was playing with her dollhouse. Daughter had the choice of any toys she wanted, and Father would craft the toys by hand for her in the basement. This dollhouse was made of a brilliant white, carved ivory; the dolls’ furniture of real leather, the tiles on the roof gleaming pearls and the hair on the dolls the softest she’d ever touched. Softer, she thought, than her own. As she was playing, she got a cut on her right index finger. Small, but deep enough to scar. She immediately stuck it in her mouth to soothe it but not before a drop of blood hit the floor and nestled into the space between the planks.

That night, just before she fell asleep, just in that window between the waking world and the one of darkness

(We hear a scream.)

she heard a scream — faint but distinct, recognizable only in that the voice sounded exactly like her own.

She went down to the basement, her small feet padding on the steps as she walked, ca-thunk, ca-thunk, ca-thunk. And though she was descending in space the air felt thinner in there, and it became more difficult to breathe. Step by step she was wheezing. Ca-thunk, ca-thunk, ca-thunk.

Finally, when she reached the bottom of the long stairwell and her breathing was shallow, she squinted into the darkness of the basement where she could make out a figure, a small girl, hunched over. The girl turned toward her and revealed the whites of her eyes it was getting harder and harder to breathe.

(Loud breaths in and out.)

“Sister…” said the lump in the corner, “sister,”

Daughter broke out of her trance and ran to the stairs. Just before she fainted from a loss of breath, she caught sight of her father.

“You mustn’t go into the basement,” Mother would say.

“No never into the basement,” Father would say.

“Father’s tools are in there.”

“My tools.”

Mother and Father arrived with fixings for dinner. Carrots and parsley from the garden and a fresh cut of meat, blood seeping through its newspaper wrapping. They cleaned and chopped the carrots, threw them in the pot, and turned away to do something with the meat that daughter couldn’t see.

At dinner, Daughter poured Mother and Father glass after glass of wine, she was set on learning the secrets of the basement. She would know for sure what lurked there and what, exactly, it wanted.

Glass after glass of wine and a single sleeping pill slipped into the last one, so that Mother and Father couldn’t even tuck themselves in, and daughter had to it for them.

She went down to the basement, her small feet padding on the steps as she walked. Step by step she was wheezing,

“Sister…” said the lump in the corner, “sister,”

The lump turned to stand, and Daughter stayed still, stayed steadfastly still and, the lump rose and limped toward her, it was dark, but here was a figure limp and gnarled, bald except for wisps of baby hair, naked and goosepimped, pocked and missing large swaths of skin on her thighs and forearms. Some pieces were blistered over, plump and scarred and threatening to pop. Some pieces were newly taken, the bright pink of the freshly hunted. She was in some places was so thin that the single light coming from the window shown straight through her and blinded Daughter.

Daughter wheezed.

The figure limped.

“Put out your hands,” whispered the figure.

And she did.

The figure put its hands over its face and

— a scream —

tore something out, tore two somethings straight out of its face and placed them in daughter’s hands. They were round and gelatinous like something suspended in an aspic.

“Sister,” said the figure, “sister. Take my eyes, I’d rather you have them, sister. I’d rather you keep them safe yourself, than for those terrible people to take them, sister.”

And Daughter looked up at the face of the figure and saw to gouged-out bloody holes where its eyes had been.

Daughter turned around and ran as quickly as she could up the stairs. Catching her breath, she opened her hands to find the two eyeballs the figure had given her. One had burst as she squeezed her fist tight, blood running down her wrist and between her fingers. The other, as if accusing, stared straight. At. Her.

Daughter went out to the shed in the backyard and grabbed a shovel, she dug a hole three feet deep and put the eyeballs in, she covered it up with dirt and grass and went inside to scrub her hands raw.

Exhausted, she fell straight asleep and slept for three days.

And in that space between the waking world and the one of darkness

(We hear a scream.)

she heard a scream.

That night at dinner, Daughter asked her parents, “did you hear a scream?”

And Mother said, “no”

And Father said, “no.”

But Daughter was sure of it so she poured Mother and Father glass after glass of wine and slipped four whole sleeping pills into the last one — she believed they were not to be trusted.

And Daughter went down a step, ca-thunk, and another, ca-thunk, and on the third step someone grabbed her from behind and said,

“Sissster. Hello sisssster. I have been calling for you, but you did not come.”

Daughter wheezed.

The figure limped.

“You did not keep what I gave you safe. You did not keep them, sister. You did not do as I asked. You disrespected me just as the terrible people who come and mine me, one who holds me down while the other pulls out my teeth for roof tiles, strips my skin for sofas, tears my hair for dolls, and rips out my fingernails for their walls, oh, sister, I have never played with toys and now you, you give me my chance to build a dollhouse for myself. And how lovely your parts will be.”

And the wheezing daughter raced up the steps as fast as she could, ca-thunk ca-thunk ca-thunk, and ran to the kitchen where Mother lay face-down without a pulse, and Father lay with lungfulls of his own vomit, and behind her:

“Sister, sisssster, it seems like four pills were too many. But don’t worry, I have my own methods for you.” And the figure slipped seven icy fingers around her neck.

(a beat)

Sometimes this jealous daughter stalks the basement of this house, looking for parts she can use to build dollhouses of her own. She has hundreds by now. Rooms full of replica buildings made of parts of people too slow to get away. So use caution when you walk.