I already miss home. As expected, moving was a mistake. This house is big and empty. I don’t like big houses; my mother knows that. They make me feel small. And I don’t like feeling small. So, I really don’t like big houses.
Houses are unquestionably different from homes. A house can be anything from an extravagant mansion to a decrepit shack; from a mobile home to Buckingham Palace. They function as the confine between myself and my outside, which is where all wickedness takes place. My father made that clear before he died. This house doesn’t suggest safety, it advocates for isolation. I can see it now: me and my mother, every day, idly moving from room to room, speaking only through her bitter lack of words, secretly hoping by some stroke of luck that something might necessitate our separation.
A home, on the other hand, is a place of refuge. Secure. My home protects me, and I protect my home. My father flipped houses before building our home. He was on his sixteenth when he told me and my mother he no longer felt the need to strive for improvement; he had finally found perfection in 237 Steamer Parkway. I agreed. We lived there for six years, happy to have a place to call home. Not everyone does, and now I’m one of them.
Not many of my friends have lived in houses. But granted, I don’t have many friends. I once knew a girl who lived in a house nearby. Katherine Morris. It was horrible what happened to her. She deserved better than that house. It’s no wonder someone broke in.
As I walk around the space, I inspect the different rooms. There are two bedrooms, so I select the smaller of the two. Not only do I favor small spaces, but I’m very used to them. My father made sure to teach me the value of making the most out of a very little area. And my mother would certainly be furious otherwise (though she might not tell me). This room is a dull shade of blue—perfect for a baby boy. My mother told me I killed my brother because I was too hungry inside of her. I know that’s why she doesn’t like it when I eat. But this room feels like the closest thing to home in this house.
I make my way to the first furnished room in the house: the kitchen. My mother is leaning against the marble countertop reading the news on her iPad. She seems very content with this activity, so I’m not going to disturb her. But I will open the fridge. To nobody’s surprise, it’s empty. Not a crumb.
The doorbell rings. I open it.
A young girl, maybe ten or eleven years old, is standing in the front door holding a basket of baked goods. She’s wearing a summer dress and has curly plaited brown hair and cartoonish blue eyes, almost like a toy. I can’t help but notice a collection of purple bruises on her right arm.
“Hello, I’m Layla. Me and my parents live next door. “We’re the yellow house,” she says pointing to a grand four-story manor, far too big for three people. “These are for you.” As she hands me the basket, I look at her, I look at her arm, and I look at her house, deciding that she does indeed live in a house. I take the basket from her hands, but my nail gets caught on her dress. I quickly pull my finger away, ripping its delicate material. She looks at me with glossy, confused, eyes. I apologize, but she doesn’t respond. She just stands, seemingly frozen in time. So, I close the door.
I walk back into my bedroom, but there’s something different about it. It’s not empty. Now, there’s a nearly life-size doll sitting on my floor, and it looks remarkably similar to Layla. Had someone put it there? It certainly doesn’t belong to me. My mother would have never gotten this for me. She gets angry when I play with dolls. She made me throw mine out before moving. I’m confused, but my mother is still reading, so I might as well take a walk around the neighborhood. It’s no safer out there than it is in here.
I wander into the local park where the neighborhood children are playing. They look like they have homes, so I continue on. As I get deeper into the woods, I notice a boy sitting under a dying tree, which obscures the crumbling entrance of an utterly dilapidated house. His house. It’s beige and bitter. I don’t like it. This boy is tall, thirteen or fourteen (around my age), with shiny black hair and dark brown eyes. He has pronounced dark circles and his shirt has been ripped. Out of empathy I introduce myself. And without looking up, he tells me his name is Alex. I decide to sit next to Alex. He looks confused, which frustrates me. I’m trying to help. He doesn’t realize we’re one in the same. I try to shake his hand, but he continues to me. So, I reach out and force our hands together. He looks worried and sits still. It’s probably getting late.
Yet again I return to my bedroom. This time, in addition to the first doll, there’s another one sitting beside it. Just as before with Layla, this doll’s appearance is remarkably close to that of Alex’s. How does this happen? And why? But I like these dolls. They’re my dolls now. Seated together in the corner of my room, they have a home.
I hear a knock.
“Can I come in?” My mother opens the door.
She walks into my room and pauses to look at the mysterious dolls. She begins to cry. It’s rare that my mother expresses emotion beyond frustration.
“Just like Katherine Morris . . .” she utters.
We really shouldn’t have moved into this house.