by Christina Dalcher

 

Isabel tucks into the coldest of his mansion’s rooms, surrounds herself with the smallest of objects: a dolly, a child’s chair, a menagerie of miniatures. It is the only space not too large for Isabel’s heart, once the size of a great cat, now squeezed to the size of a field mouse. Sometimes, she thinks her heart will contract further and become pea-like, shriveled, lost.

She skitters down wide hallways while he is away, counting her steps until she reaches the safety of corners, shrinking from gauntlets of highboys and hutches. His furnishings dwarf her; Isabel knows this is why he purchased them.

The staircase looms—a mountain bookended by banisters oiled to slickness. Isabel avoids its steep and slippery slope, lest a foot fall wrong, hurtling her into the foyer, which is not a foyer, but an arena, wide and expansive and covered in a sea of Persian wool.

Most of all, she avoids the kitchen. There are things in the kitchen that burn.

On market day, Isabel escapes to town, lingers at the window of a dusty shop run by a dusty woman and filled with dusty things. Small things. In the corner stands a dollhouse, its three stories reaching to Isabel’s hips. Prices, faded and lined out, cover the tag that hangs from a shingled roof. A window winks at her, and Isabel inches open the panels, peers inside.

Her fingers slide along smooth banisters, never slipping, play lightly on stair landings and carpets woven from microscopic fibers, soft as kitten fur. In scarred palms she holds a cooker of cast iron with no power to sear flesh, a canopied bed with enough room for her and none left for him, if only she were smaller.

She slinks an arm further inside, laying it on the coolness of a marble floor. Resting.

The shopkeeper’s keys jingle their closing time tune. Over three hours have disappeared, and Isabel is late.

She dashes to the big house, arms full with the new purchase. He asks where she has been, why the supper isn’t ready, where the grocery money has gone. The dogs crawl under a table at the thunder of his voice. Isabel would like to go with them, but she knows that she and the dollhouse are on their way to the kitchen.

He turns on the cooker and hurls her toy into the hearth. Isabel’s eyes float toward the two sources of heat. Deciding, she climbs in after the dollhouse, folding herself as small as she can fold, clutching the tiny furnishings, protecting them from flame. Her heart expands, filling the space within the house’s walls. One hand finds the cold iron of the cooker and cradles it as the world outside shrinks and spins, and Isabel is finally larger than the man watching her from the kitchen stovetop, its burners glowing their blue fire.

 

***

 

Christina Dalcher a linguist and writer from Norfolk, Virginia. Her short work appears in Bartleby SnopesThe Molotov Cocktail, and New South Journal, among others, and has also been nominated for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions.

 

 

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