You can’t start until I start, Nancy. You’ll be my sister, and we’ll be best friends, and we’ll play every day after Mom sets us free from dumping the vegetable peels in the garden and gathering the sticks from around the yard and folding the clothes. Don’t worry, I’ll pay close attention to your dresses and shirts. And I promise I won’t lose your shoes or laces.
You don’t understand, do you? You can’t jump floors like that. You have to step each step like a real sister would do. The walls are too short for you, but you can manage the stairs. Don’t fall. You bumped your knee. Dear, dear, what will we do? Don’t think about it hurting because you wouldn’t think that. You would say ow, so say that and don’t think thoughts like, “I feel hurt right now. My knee bumped against the stair.”
You’re a real girl, Nancy, and what would you prefer to wear today? You decide–and speak–because normal people don’t have their sisters speak for them. Oh, yes, did you mention the red ballgown? You wouldn’t talk like that if you were real. You would look at it, and you would spy the red, and you would pull it from its hanger, but then you would put it back because red ballgowns aren’t the correct clothes to wear for playtime. You would spy it, but you wouldn’t say it. You would pull it down, because real people don’t think like that, and then you would hang it up again because real people know the difference between colonial ballgowns and blue jeans with gold stitching and rainbow shawls.
Turn the knob, Nancy. The water will tumble out if you do, and you need to wash your face. Here’s a washcloth. Make sure the water’s warm enough. It takes a while sometimes, but then the water’s warm and you can wash. Otherwise Mom will send you back up the stairs. I wish you weren’t too big for your house, Nancy, and I wish my house wasn’t too big for you, but that’s the way it is. If you want to be my sister, you have to play by the rules. Try not to bump your head against the ceiling.
You’ll have to learn to do these things on your own. I can’t think them out for you. That’s not real, and I can’t see the world through your eyes. You have to see it, but remember you can’t say that you’re seeing it because that would be all wrong. Down to the kitchen now. Don’t forget to take each step. In the big house, Mom makes the breakfast, but you’ll make your own. Open the refrigerator–I wish your hands worked better. I can’t always do everything for you.
Here, lean against the microwave. It won’t hurt you because it’s not real. Real microwaves aren’t made of pink plastic, and the buttons you push on them beep, and then everything inside spins around. Lean against that, and you can make yourself breakfast.
Now let’s play the game for real. If I have to think your thoughts, I can only see what you see and hear what you hear, and that means I’m not here any longer. There, are you leaning and not falling? I’ll scoot around to the kitchen window, and I’ll peek in and see what you see. I see your eye in the window. Don’t scare me like that, Nancy! Your eyelid moved, didn’t it? You turned your eye, too, but I don’t see how you can do that because your eyes are plastic beads. I know–I saw them at the craft store. And I found a book that told how to put dolls together.
First, you take the body and you stuff it, and you glue the leg pieces on, then you snap the legs in the pieces, and you do the same with the arms. You can pick the eyes you like best. I like blue because mine are blue, too. You’re supposed to be my sister. Mom and Dad both have blue eyes, and I have blue eyes, so your eyes are blue, too.
Mom helped me put you together, but now it’s up to me because Mom won’t play with little girls. Mom would rather look at the wall. I don’t know what she sees on the wall. Maybe she sees pictures of little girls who never track dirt in the house, and they’re girls who have stories, except they don’t eat the food or smudge the glass.
What’s that on your wall, Nancy? You don’t know because I glued it there? No, you have to forget about me. You put it there. You’re real, Nancy. You’re my sister. And you glued the Eiffel Tower to cover the spot where James–he’s our brother–colored over the pink with permanent black marker. You were the one who found the Eiffel Tower in the magazine. You cut it out and glued it over the black.
Oh! Did you hear Mom call me to dinner? I have to go. She never calls twice. You can play your own story now. Don’t forget to wrap your shawl around your shoulders so you don’t get chilled. Turn the water off, and the stove, too, and shut the door when you leave. I know, I know. You can’t really fit through the door. It’s your story, so you’ll have to figure it out.
The little girl left the room and Nancy promptly fell over, crashing outside the walls of the dollhouse. The little girl’s puppy, seeing her chance, latched onto the plastic leg, sinking her sharp teeth through until the tips hit air. Puppy yanked and pulled and one leg tore free and then, bored, she dropped Nancy by the laundry hamper, and poor Nancy, who couldn’t figure out her story without the little girl, stared with sightless eyes and tried to describe the empty, cloudy spackle that lay at the top of her world. But she couldn’t find the words.