The Doll House
He was a silent man who lumbered around in the dark, hands searching the wallpaper roses when the light bulb had long flickered out. Someday, he would replace it, but for now, he liked the gloom.
Kettle switch, paracetamol, the low hum of radio. The bark of the dog that feared him. This is the start of days, and the end of days. There is a nothingness to him, a bleak, bland mundane stretched out with little purpose between unpaid tax returns to HMRC and the faceless exchange of change by the long peer that slurs into the mist. He is a stretch of numbers, a bank account, citizen insurance number 1093819, someone to be deleted off a spreadsheet after a heart attack one January, alone. He dwells on that, sometimes, the fact the next person to touch him will be the person to check his pulse. Whether they’ll be repulsed, too, like everyone else he had ever touched.
He wondered if she’d always been repulsed by him.
He’d stolen her.
She’d been pretty, then. Blonde, white faced like a lily, arms rolled in glitter that tasted of saccharine glue. The kind of women men like him were never allowed to have. He’d watched her from the corners of the party, an outsider, infiltrating the bright lights he longed for of normal. He’d never be that. Darkness infested him, the maggots and slow rot of his putrid cruelty lingering in the edges of his moth black eyes and at the angle of his small shoulders. The fat, schoolboy kid the girls had beaten up until his nose had bled. But he never told anyone why they did it.
Your grandad is a crook, and so are you. The words addled him then, and they stained deeper than he cared to admit. He’d stolen her, like everything in his life from his little black book to the forced act he’d put on for his victims before prison. Everything was rehearsed, watched from a sitcom or boardroom and practiced with an immaculate coldness that left people wondering what went on behind those cold eyes. He’d slipped his number into her phone that night, and played the part of a forgotten friend. She was vulnerable, he tasted it in her glances and the whispers in the room. Vulnerable was easy. Vulnerable could be bought.
He’d won her with the dolls house. The perfect country house, the perfect birdcage in the country. She was immaculate, part of his collection, a purity he’d never had. He could own her, after what had happened to her. He controlled her completely. He needed that in a woman, like he needed that in everything. Control. She couldn’t love him, so he made her need her. Every bite, every conversation, every glance and introduction was carefully performed on his puppet stage. If she had to see someone, she could see her mother. Or he could be there, watched, greasy jowls and shark stare from the corner of the room. If they travelled, it was performative, a photograph or two by the icons before being locked up alone in a lonely hotel room while the New York taxis rolled out golden in the dark below. Soon, depression had wrapped his long fingers around her throat and she began to fade, wilt, recoil into her own sadness. The glittering lily in the light of seventies youth became a lonely, fragile creature, broken by him.
He had always broken everything he touched.
He’d broken them, too. The little girls. Some had cracked into his façade despite his own rules. How many were there? As many as remember his creeping touch, his hard stare, the drip of his saliva and the graze of his stubble. Fourteen years old, maybe fifteen. They were easier to control, then. Grateful for the attention and praise of a real grown up. He’d watch until he could cut them away from their friends like a minnow in a shoal. Then he’d gnaw on their flesh while they shivered at disgust with what he had done.
They knew too much, but that’s not what had got him in the end.
Too many unpaid bills to the wrong men, too many sly backhanders to accountants ready to spill. When he’d riled the interest of the economic unit at the metropolitan police, it was the beginning of the end. The press feasted on the disheveled unshaven faces of him and his enriched circle, the illusion of success crumbled to theft and money laundering. Seven years. He served five.
She’d left him, when they lost the house and he was too far away to pull at her feathers and inspire the fear of what lay ahead, alone. She’d run from him, as she’d run before. He was her monster, not her saviour, as he had been a monster to so many women before.
And now, in the gloom of a detached crumbling suburb, the monster feasted alone on the memories of what had been. The beast with the gleaming dark eyes and rancid soul had been shut up in the dull quotidian, safe from the glitter and magic he used to lure his victims into his grip.
In the dark, he pulled back the blanket that covered the plastic corpse that lay unblinking over the couch. She didn’t move. Rigid, unfeeling, unable to run. She never looked at him with repulsion or disgust, never responded to festering decay of his absent soul. Her arms were flecked with glitter, blonde hair tied high at the neck. Perhaps, he thought to himself as he pulled his victim to the wall, this was the woman he had needed all along.