When she finally cleared the dead and dying brush away from the dollhouse, Alyssa was surprised to see that it was, by and large, intact. The miniature Colonial had stout walls and the shutters had real, tiny hinges that squeaked when she tested them. The doorhandle was tarnished, suggesting that it was real brass, and as if that wasn’t unusual enough — she’d expected it to be rounded, like a pin-head — the miniscule latch on the handle worked, too.
Someone had taken great care to build the toy. Alyssa didn’t have the heart to put it out by the curb, without any other reason than it was still a bit spoooky. It only smelled a little mildewy, and when she lifted it out of the earth to turn it around, there was zero evidence of live creepy-crawlies. A few old webs swung from the eaves, festooned with tiny bug corpses, and she thought she recognized spider nests by the chimney. But they weren’t problematic. Just gross.
In fact, she was less disgusted by it than fascinated, particularly in the remains of the doll furniture that shifted and slid around as she awkwardly set the thing down on the grass to get a better grip. Crouching on the damp ground, careful of the wet dead leaves, she found the latch to open the back side of the house and swung the wall open. “Maybe there’re some old antiques in here worth something to a dealer,” she muttered, craning her neck to peer inside. “What shape they’d be in, though . . .”
Instead of gnawed old walnut four-posters and moth-eaten upholstery, however, Alyssa saw to her great surprise bed-sitters marvellously crafted from twigs and twine, their bedspreads of downy feathers fallen to the floor with the movement of the house. A sink made from an acorn top rested on what looked like a mushroom pedestel, although she didn’t think that could be possible. A flat stone, the kind she’d use to skip across a lake, had been balanced on frame of crossed twigs fashioned like the beds, but it had fallen and damaged its perch when she’d lifted the thing. She also saw to her great astonishment several cross-stitched and twig-framed samplers no bugger than her fingernail, some of which were still attached to the walls.
“Wow,” she said, sitting back. “Didn’t expect that.”
She poked a skillfully designed twig rocking chair, and noticed little trails of dirt down the first floor hallway and in the kitchen. In fact, there looked to be a wad of bulrush silk or goose down or something soft by the front door, markedly dirty and matted down in the middle. She supposed it could be a mouse nest, but it was curious that there were no droppings around it. “Poor thing, you probably got snapped up by some owl or a neighbourhood fox before you got to finishing it. Or a cat, those things are like serial killers.” Alyssa clicked her tongue, shaking her head.
Closing the wall back up, she debated what to do.
It was a darling thing, really. It just needed a fresh coat of paint, maybe some wallpaper samples and some cloth remnants to make it worth more than a week on the curb. Possibly the junk of her backyard could become someone else’s treasure . . .
Then Alyssa remembered that it wasn’t actually her backyard. She was just a renter, after all. What if this had belonged to the previous tenant, and she (or he, to be politically correct, she reminded herself) had not had time to come back for it? Life had a way of interfering in stuff like that. Maybe some little girl was begging her mom or dad to go back to the house before the winter buried it (never mind that the thing looked as though it had been there for several winters, or longer than that, even).
Better to be safe and build a good relationship with the landlord than to be sorry, Alyssa decided. She picked the dollhouse up again, bending her knees with the awkwardness of the load, and carried it into the house.