In Character

Ian was waiting for the next show to start. It was a rerun, so it wasn’t likely that he would have to do much, and of course it had already happened. Even so, when he was in it he couldn’t remember the future. The screen flashed on and he was there again, doing the same thing again, hopelessly in love and screwing everything up again. While he waited backstage, off to the sides of the big rectangle that comprised his world, he fidgeted. He could see Emily across the screen, waiting to come on just like he was. She didn’t look so nervous, but then she always looked calm and collected. Her skin was always smooth, her hair always curling neatly, her smile always intact. His face went crooked and twitched before he could get a grin together, and he always tried to madly pull his features into obedience while she waited with such gentle pity it broke his heart.

It was nearly time to go on now. She had the first scene, in the kitchen for a while before he burst in with, what was it this time? Something about a test he failed, maybe. He’d remember once it had happened. Once he had to go tell her it happened, anyway. As soon as he was onscreen the story settled into place and took him over. Emily was stepping on already, moving so certainly into place. The lights flared and settled on her, shaping the shadows under her chin and between her lips. She froze in place and the screen lit up. There she was. He watched her smile and turn, furrow her brow in concentration, move her hands with quick easy movements.

Even offscreen he was in love with her. Offscreen she smiled at him with the same soft look, that understanding smile that meant she thought he was a nice friend, maybe a brother, but definitely nobody beautiful. He wasn’t lovely to her the way she was to him. He had a suspicion, though, that sometime around season six she would warm to him. If she loved him back onscreen then she would at least like him offscreen, he thought. She’d lean against his shoulder, maybe, while they were waiting together before the lights went on. There was a blurred memory of that, so maybe it was going to happen. Damn, he had to go on now. He flailed into the kitchen, wincing a little at the clatter of his entrance. She was calm, just bent to pick everything up as though she expected it. Perhaps she did by now.

“Emily!” he said, catching his breath. “Emily, I have to tell you something.”

She turned to him and placed her hands on her hips. “Yes, Ian, what is it now?”

He looked at her face, turned to him with such expectation. The words almost stopped in his mouth, almost changed before he let them spill out. Her eyes were so intent on his that for a moment he felt he could say anything. He couldn’t, of course. Even if he really wanted to, there was no other way than to follow the script, keep to the story, stick to the show. At least he never forgot his lines.

Advertisements

Fates

“What are you working on now, sweetheart?”

“Oh,” said the girl. “I’m just starting something new. I’m not sure. Probably just another ordinary old bit like the last, and it’ll all look the same.” Her fingers moved over the thread, twisting it in a practiced motion as the whorls and tangles of wool smoothed in her hands. They coiled around the bobbin in a perfect circle that grew and swelled as she spun.

Wool

The mother moved closer and looked over her shoulder. With her came the scent of baking bread and a comforting warmth. When she spoke, her voice was a note below shrill. “Don’t say that, dear. Everything you make is lovely, you know that. You mustn’t underestimate nor scorn the thing created.” She held the last skein of just-spun yarn, and without looking at what she did she worked loops, knots and tangles. The fabric jumped and spread from her hands like cold water puddling on stone. It reached with tentative out from itself and then pushed out until it pooled. Its surface held designs, cables and bobbles, twists and twirls and sprays of thread. Her fingers flashed too quickly to see.

The grandmother, in her rocking chair in the corner, chuckled. She was bent over the fabric in her lap, but one elbow rested on the television remote. In a cracked low voice, she said, “Now, child, don’t pay any mind to her. She gets off spinning stories and you’ll forget to spin thread. The thing created, such as she may say. You just keep going with the creation and it’ll figure itself out.”

The house fell silent but for the mutter of the television. The three watched a reporter appear on the screen, microphone poised, waiting for the signal to speak. The woman on the television resettled her blond bob, smiled, and started to talk. The family was still, eyes intent, fingers busy. After a few minutes they bent again to spin and knot and snip. Eventually the mother murmured, “What a shame, that poor boy from down the block, what’s his name? Car crash. Terrible.”

“Oh no,” said the girl. She put her hand over her mouth, leaving the other to twirl tufts of wool lazily over her knees. “Sam? Died?” The mother leaned to her and pressed a kiss onto her forehead.

“Yes,” said the old woman, absently, her face hidden in the shadow of her hunch. “I did that one last week, I remember.” She jerked at the mess in her hands and, with a sharp scrap of sound, tugged a jumble of thread loose. She cast it onto the floor where it sprawled, a cloud of woven wool on the bleached floorboards. “People dying all over the place, there’s a genocide. And car crashes, famine and sickness and accidental falls from eighteenth-story windows. Keeps a body busy, it does.” Neither of the others answered her, and the babble of the television was the only sound for a while.

When the sun began to lower and the light was left in little stretched squares on the wall, the mother bustled behind a counter. She filled the kettle and set it on the stove, all with one hand while her other twisted thread through loops and pulled bits tight and tied. Before long it began to whistle. The shriek of it started, small and thin. It grew until it screeched enough to fill the whole house, and the mother pushed herself out of the chair again and started for the stove.

“Darling,” said the old woman from her corner, her voice high and peevish. “Get that, would you? Nobody likes a nasty thing like that.”

The mother lunged for the kettle and shifted it aside, and suddenly the wail ceased and there was silence in the house.

Inside the Dollhouse

We only move some of the time. It’s sporadic. There is silence, a long quiet relaxation. Dominique is propped up against the toilet, and Leonardo is next to her sitting on the stove. The others are all piled in what is definitively the kids’ room, as it’s the one with the cradle and the swingset. I’m in the room above, under the sofa. Then, so sudden that our breath would catch if we had any lungs, the hand of Fate swoops in and plucks up Dom and shakes her, upside down. Her hair sways, brushes the floor, and then she’s tossed to land with a clunk in the corner.

Later, when everything is over, Leonardo is in the room with me. He’s looking at me, flat eyes gleaming in his faraway face. He’s dipped in the shadow that splays across the room. I look back at him. I know he doesn’t believe in Fate, in the things that move us. Just because the hand flashes in and out of our lives, isn’t there all the time, moves too quickly to see. I’ve seen it, though. I’ve seen the pain and the destruction it causes – why, AshleyBelle was thrown half across the world. Sometimes we can hear her calling out, half-crushed, gathering dust alone under a bookshelf. Sometimes we can hear Marianna calling back. Their voices are the only noises that ever really interrupt the silence when Fate’s not around.

When Fate is around, it’s often noisy. There are shrieks and cries, from Fate I mean, but often the muted sadness that escapes us as we’re separated or bent backwards. But even the hand of Fate thumping against the floor or a body seems loud to us, with our small ears and small lives. It makes an awful lot of noise thrashing about, and then when it’s gone again the quiet presses sudden and hard against us. We collect ourselves slowly, figuring out where we’ve ended up and where our loved ones are.

The rest of the time we wait for Fate to come rearrange our lives again. We wait – AshleyBelle under the bookshelf, Dominique hanging out of the refrigerator, Marianna’s plaintive voice still sounding through the body-strewn rooms. Eventually the hand of Fate will come through and we will scatter again. We wait, upside down and sprawled on the floor, for something to happen.