The Dollhouse

Tímea Gulisio

The roads were covered in thick ice that day. I kept grasping for window sills and lampposts as I made my way towards the equastrian shop. I was in dire need of some proper shoes and gaiters. Back then, I didn't know it would be several weeks before I could go riding. And that I would be ridden before that.
 I asked a red-haired woman in her seventies wearing an expensive coat for directions. It wasn't a coincidence that I chose her. She answered helpfully, a false smile in the corner of her mouth. And then she kept on walking. They all keep walking. But what was I supposed to say? “Wait for me, love me please, take me in, I will bring you pleasure, just take care of me?!”
 I was hoping we would meet again, but I didn't realise how soon it would happen. Two days later she was right ahead of me at the self-serve scales. She smelled of candy floss. She was buying banana and pineapples – I bought potatoes. I bumped into her with my basket and apologised. The clever ploy to catch her attention proved successful:
 − Ah, you again! – she exclaimed. Her fearful black eyes gleamed at me. The eyes of a kestrel, ready to dive. Her nose like the sharp beak of a falcon. I wouldn't struggle to escape her talons.
 − Pleasure to see you again! – I courted, and I wasn't lying.
 − The pleasure is mine! Hanna Grünfeld – She extended a hand covered in deerskin gloves and decorated with moles.
 − Tímea Gulisio.
 − What fancy names we have! – she laughed, her hand touching her breasts.
 − Are you in a hurry? – I asked.
 − I'm retired, so I don't have much to do. Just the groceries. A cup of tea with some friends, sometimes. The landlady does everything else. Well, the parts that are her business – There was a hint of teasing in her voice.
 − Would you have a cup with me, too?
 − I would. But I need to put the sour cream in the fridge before it goes truly sour. If you'd like...
 I knew what she was about to say. We both bought a few more things. Her: whipped cream, hot sauce and tuna. Me: bread and discounted liver pate. She glanced into my basket and saw I wasn't too well off. That's what her kind always looks for.
 She took her time, as if she wasn't in a hurry. As if her tongue wasn't already itching. She paid by cash, her snakeskin wallet fat with banknotes.
 − Do you live nearby, too? – she asked.
 − Yes, by the bridge.
 − Renting, I suppose.
 She meant that I couldn't afford my own apartment in these parts.
 − Yes.
 − Alone? With your family? Or a boyfriend?
 − With a girlfriend.
 − I see – She winked at me.
 Friendly and condescending at the same time. Just my type. I was already imagining my teeth on her wrinkled neck. And the banknotes in my pockets. I would buy equastrian pants, a nice brand. I could go to Transylvania.
 − Watch where you step! – She hit my back lightly.
 − Yes, sorry. I'm paying attention!
 − Oh, I noticed.
 We held onto each other on the slippery roads, maybe a little more than necessary. It would have been nice to fall on her, but I didn't dare risk it. Then, we took the tram.
 − I have a car, but I don't drive. Having a driver is always safer.
 She reminded me of my ex-girlfriend Sára, and the black driver who served in more ways than just one.
 An old, wooden door lead to her apartment. Inside, the soggy smell of saltpetre. A familiar atmosphere. To me, it's all part of the pleasure cave of a wealthy witch. I didn't believe Hanna was innocent for a second. I was longing for the laces of her bed, and the feeling of her sharp nails.
 The door opened with a horse creak. The anteroom painted an almost stereotypical picture of the upper middle class. The kitchen was simple enough. I saw faded, fluffy carpets everywhere, even on the walls. We drank our coffee black, with biscuits hard as pebbles.
 After a short reminiscence of the good old days, she lead me to a small, warm, dusty room behind a locked door.
 − This is my dollhouse!  I was facing a hundred or two dolls, their empty eyes all staring at me.
 − Well... they are... beautiful!
 What else was I supposed to say?
 − These are my friends. Ever since my husband died and my children left me, my only company. They are all I have. There used to be a cat, but she jumped out the window and run into the road. – She points at the black cat in the armchair. Stuffed.
 Any sane woman would have come up with an excuse and left right there and then. But I was intrigued, even aroused by her insanity.
 − I'll be your kitten! – I said, rubbing against her.
 − No, you'll be my doll – she said.
 She put me to bed and covered me carefully. Her hands gently caressed my hair, my face, my neck. She uncovered me gradually, little by little. She undid my belt and peppered my stomach with dry kisses.
 − You graceful China doll, you! – she whispered in awe. Her hands grasped at her own, wrinkled breasts.
 − Won't you undress all the way? – I asked.
 − No talking! You're breaking the illusion! – she scolded.
 Hanna took off my sweater. I helped with my T-shirt. I felt her cold, wet nose on my skin. I was reminded of my dog, and it took all my self-control not to laugh.
 It's been a long time since I was last an active participant. I would let them do anything to me. I liked it. Even if I don't, I would still let them.
 She never took off her clothes – that made it all the more exciting, all the more memorable. Her tongue wasn't very talented, but her fingers made up for it. I came in her mouth.
 Finally, I was made to say goodbye to her dolls and promise them I would visit again soon. I promised. Hanna slipped a wristwatch in my purse. Antique, gold, wind-up type.
 − I give one of these to all my dolls, so they know when I expect them back.
 − How?
 − For example, if it stops next week in the afternoon, then call me. I'll be waiting. – She scribbled her number on a piece of paper.
 The watch stopped that very evening. I felt cheated. What a piece of trash! Maybe it's not even gold. Or maybe even Hanna, the old witch can make it work again.