The dollhouse was the reason I came to Ashley’s house in the first place, because I certainly didn’t come over to play with her. She was always pouting, always running home to mother when she was allowed to play with us (which wasn’t often). The rest of the kids in the neighborhood wore shorts and had scabby knees and smudges of red clay on our faces and legs; she had to wear dresses every day, not just on Sundays like the rest of us. Ashley was merely tolerated, invited to birthday parties because our mothers insisted, but her dollhouse was legendary. I was the first one to actually see it in person. Our mothers had arranged a playdate, and my mother sat in the spotless kitchen downstairs with Ashley’s mother, a smooth, perfected, deeply Southern woman named Maisy. They were going to drink coffee and try to fill uncomfortable silences while I got to see just what all the fuss was about this big dollhouse that Ashley was always going on about.
After a brief snack of apple slices and homemade oatmeal cookies and milk, Ashley finally asked me to come up to her room. The steps were carpeted the color of a pink rose, and the perfect rectangular groom-lines from the vacuum are visible at the sides of each step. Her room had three alcoves with round windows, a big bay window to the back with a blue and white gingham fabric seat, and a canopy bed draped in white dotted swiss fabric. Small lamps illuminated a soft, golden light, but the day was rainy and overcast, so the room was dim. Her walls were papered in metallic grey paper, and botanical prints of peonies and wildflowers framed in gold were hung evenly and primly around the room. There were no drawings or notes tacked onto the wall with Scotch tape, like in my room. Instead there were low tables and chairs, entire cities made in blocks for dolls and Barbies, and the intricately crafted, mythical dollhouse.
At the sight of the dollhouse and in the warm glow of her room I had completely forgotten that I didn’t like Ashley and the fact that she was a spoiled brat who called the rest of us dirty and gross and never wanted to come out for hide and seek. The dollhouse was perfect and Victorian; its outside painted white with pink shutters. It even had little stained glass windows and a wrap around porch lined with white wicker furniture and tiny flowers and ferns. What I could see of the inside was a little girl’s dream: flowery papered walls, tiny quilts on black scroll iron beds, a cradle the size of my pinky finger, a claw-footed tub. My little four year old chest fluttered with excitement and I said, “Oooooh, it’s so pretty. Can we play with it?”
“No! Mama says friends can only look. Only I’m allowed to play. You can watch me, while you sit there on the window seat.” She gestured with her tiny hand to the pretty gingham window seat, which when I sat on it was cold from the lack of sun that day. Outside the window the rain drizzled and I could see the street through the trees and fog. I began to wish my mother and I were walking home right that instant.
She played by herself, opening little doors and setting out little china plates (with roses on them!) for about five minutes before I cried, “But this is boring! Let’s play something else!”
“NO!! I want to play with my dollhouse! You came to play with me and do what I want to do. Now look, see all my little dolls? This is the family that lives here. They are all blonde headed like me, see? There isn’t a doll with black hair like yours so you can’t play.”
“You’re mean! I want to go back downstairs with my mother.” And I got off of the window seat, walked across her plush pink carpet and gave the dollhouse a final, sad, winsome backwards glance, trying to drink up one last good look at it.
Ashley barely looked up from putting the blonde baby in its cradle as she said, “Fine, don’t play then. I’ll never ask you over to my house again.”
She didn’t follow me when I went back down the long, wraparound staircase to the foyer, then into the beige and gold living room where my mother sat on the couch. She looked surprised when I sat next to her and snuggled against her side and whispered, “I’m ready to go now.”
“But we just got here, aren’t you having fun looking at the dollhouse?”
“I’m not allowed to play with it.”
Ashley’s mother got up from her seat across from my mother, and took her cup of coffee to the kitchen. We heard the sink turn on and the clinking of china. My mother put her own cup of coffee, only half-full, back onto a glass coaster that sat on a glass coffee table, free from smudges and streaks. When Ashley’s mother returned to the living room, wiping her hands on her slim camel skirt she said, “Yes, I’m afraid we’re a little fussy about the dollhouse. It’s very old and was made for me by my grandfather when I was a little girl…Only Ashley is allowed to play with it, and only recently did we start letting her get the dolls out. We hope you come back and see us again, Chrissy. I’d better go tell Ashley it’s lunchtime. Thank you very much for coming, both of you.”
As she turned and walked up the long staircase my mother took my hand and we walked out of the front door together. My mother shook her head and said “What a…”, caught herself, and smiled at me and said, “Let’s go home and eat some lunch of our own.” I don’t think we ever asked Ashley to another birthday party. But then again I could be remembering things more dramatically than they actually occurred.