BY MARIA MCDONALD
He surveyed it from every angle. It was battered but not too badly. The original paint colour was still intact. That old blue that had covered the garden shed thirty years ago, at Lizzy’s insistence. She said the colour reminded her of home and who was he to argue. He had brought her from the picturesque beauty of the Adriatic to the wildness of the grey Atlantic. So he painted over the grey steel shed with cobalt blue paint and Lizzy had decorated the outside walls with shells she collected with Anna on Sunday walks on the beach. Anna had been enthralled skipping over the sand picking out different shapes and colours that had caught her eye.
He had made the doll house for Anna for her 7th birthday. It had been a labour of love. The front portion was hinged and opened out to reveal the interior. Lizzy had made the furniture out of old matchboxes covered with slips of fabric left over from her dress making and used lollypop sticks transformed into lamps and bedframes.
He studied it closer. He could restore it. Anna had loved it but that was a different era. Would his grand-daughter love it? He was struck by an image of Anna’s face when she first saw it and he caught his breath. He felt the pain of her loss clench his heart and squeeze and he gasped as the wave of grief swept over him. He took a deep breath, re-focused and circled the doll house once more. Yes, this was a project worth doing. He smiled at the memory of Anna, her eyes wide and her mouth a perfect O as she peeked through the windows at the front to admire the miniature furniture, the mirror on the wall and the tiny mat on the floor. She had played with it for hours on end.
Lizzy had found a little porcelain family, a mother, a father, a baby and a dog and they took pride of place in the living room of the house. He peered in the window. The furniture was mildewed and the musty smell choked him. He opened the catch and lifted out the remnants of the home made miniatures. A spider scurried away from under the rags and down the back of the workbench.
Lucky Lizzy is busy in the kitchen, Frank thought, she had a phobia about spiders, especially large hairy ones like the one that had just vacated the dollhouse. Hiding under the rags were the survivors of the porcelain family, grimy but still intact, unlike his family. Lizzie barely smiled these days. Sometimes he glimpsed a portion of the old Lizzie, a whiff of her former joy, usually directed towards their orphaned grandchild. Jenny was the one piece of Anna still with them, a seven-year-old child with her mother’s eyes and a broken heart.
For the next week Frank disappeared into the shed every evening, oblivious to Lizzie’s puzzlement and half asked questions. During his lunch breaks he searched the internet for vintage shops and resellers until he found old fashioned handmade dolls furniture. When it was finished he walked around it and studied it from every angle. It was even better than before. An upgraded model for his granddaughter, he thought, a dolls house for a modern age.
But what if Lizzie didn’t like it? What if she had wanted Anna’s dollhouse to stay as it was, Anna’s. He stood transfixed, doubting himself, wondering what to do for the best, wondering how to repair his broken family. Tears fell as he realised that his family could not be repaired. It was broken forever. Nothing could bring Anna back.
A noise outside stopped his tears and he wiped his face with his sleeve, his back to the door. He felt Lizzie behind him, his nostrils quivered at the flowery scent she had worn forever. He heard her gasp and felt his heart beat in his throat. He turned, waiting to face her wrath but she was smiling, tears in her eyes and her hands to her face holding her cheeks.
“Oh Frank, è bella è magnifico.”
She placed her hands on his shoulders and drew him to her for a kiss. He felt a semblance of the old Lizzie in that gesture and smiled into her eyes. They held each other tight, bonds of years of love and laughter uniting them in their grief.
“Bring it inside, Frank. Give it to her.”
Frank carried the doll house inside and placed it in what was his home office but now doubled as a playroom for their granddaughter. He opened it up and tidied the furniture and the freshly polished porcelain family while Lizzie called their granddaughter from the garden. Frank basked in the joy in his granddaughters face as she traced her fingers from room to room, smiling as she discovered the miniature kitchen and the living room where the porcelain family awaited her attention and the back wall of the doll house painted cobalt blue and decorated with old seashells.