Earworm: Part 13 — Inside the Dollhouse

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 12 — The Treasure Chest 

September, 1992. Emily Dey sat with her cousin, Greta Knight, in Greta’s kitchen. Greta topped off two cups of tea with a steaming kettle of water, talking, as she always did, incessantly. In fact, the way Greta rambled on was similar to the breathless whistle of the kettle. “…and then Stanley, he says it must be me that’s barren, because there’s no way it could be his fault, but still, he won’t go to the doctors, no way, God help him to go and find out something like that, it’s fine for him to think me barren, but for him to be sterile, I don’t think so.” She said these last words in the manner known to her husband. She placed one of the teacups before Emily, the other cup she blew on to cool. She still somehow continued her rant, even as she blew on the tea, “…well you know Stanley, God help questioning his manhood…”

“I’m pregnant,” Emily said in a low voice.

Greta continued with her story, still blowing on her steaming teacup, which she held in two hands as if expecting it to wiggle from her grip. “Well it’s not me shooting blanks, he says, and…”

“Greta, I’m pregnant.” This time, Emily caught her cousin’s attention. The expression on Greta’s face, as she broke her rambling, was humorous, bordering on absurd. It reminded Emily of the scene in Animal House when the horse had the heart attack. But Greta’s next expression—a speechless stare from a woman that brought talking to a new art form—made Emily feel pathetic, almost cruel. Emily knew the reason for Greta’s fumbling for words. The last conversation they had at that same kitchen table a few months prior was about Emily wanting to separate from her husband.

Greta struggled for a response like an asthmatic struggling for breath, “That’s um, wonderful.” Her statement seemed in need of a question mark. They stared at one another for some time and the silence between them made Emily feel more pathetic. She burst into tears. Greta rushed from her chair and sat beside Emily. “Oh no, don’t do that, don’t cry. It’s not a bad thing. This is a good thing.”

“How can you say that?” Emily sobbed. “Here I was about to separate from Glenn, and…” she hiccupped a sob, “…and now this. It’s like another lock of a prison.”

“Oh no, no,” Greta said, “don’t think of it as a prison. A child is a gift from God.”

Emily choked down her sobs and looked at her cousin, shame seeping into her eyes. She took Greta’s hand. “You must hate me,” she said, tears glistening in the kitchen light. “Here you were telling me of your problems conceiving, and I break into tears about how horrible it is to be pregnant.”

“Oh no, stop that. Of course I don’t feel that way. But you shouldn’t view motherhood as anything other than a miracle. And it can only strengthen your marriage. Does Glenn know?”


“And what does he think?”

“Oh, Christ, Glenn, he’s ecstatic. His seed is planted and he can’t wait to show off his garden. He tells his buddies, See that, my boys can swim. He’s proud of the nucleus of a family he’s created. He’s always loved titles: boyfriend, husband, now father.”

“So he doesn’t know about your wanting to separate?”

Emily shook her head, dabbing her eyes with her napkin. “No, he doesn’t.” She looked at Greta. “Glenn’s a sweet man, but he’s a simple man. I mean, I have to admit, when I met him, I looked forward to my own safe life of titles. You know, it’s like when you’re growing up, you think how much you hate living with your parents and with their rules. All you want to do is be an adult. But then you are one, and you suddenly miss that innocent optimism of childhood.” She sniffled. “Youth is such a tease.”

Greta rubbed Emily’s arm, offering an understanding smile.

Emily said, “And now Glenn wants to move back to Mystic Island, and I just feel like…” Emily’s eyes filled with tears again, “I don’t know how to explain it, I sometimes feel like I’ve stepped into a hall of mirrors, and I can see countless reflections staring back at me. And I’m not sure which one is me. I mean, I thought I loved Glenn. But it was more that I rationally thought I must love him. Like I expected that sweep-me-off-my-feet feeling to kick in. I had nothing else to compare it with. It was comfort mistaken for love. And now I’m bringing a child into what feels like a lie.”

“Oh no, no, no, a child is exactly what you need. It will give you that sweep-you-off-your-feet feeling you’re looking for. I mean, what more is it you want?”

A tear raced down Emily’s cheek. “I guess I just want purpose.”

“What greater purpose can there be than motherhood?”

“I guess purpose isn’t the right word,” Emily said. “Did I ever tell you about the night Nana died?”


“I was just a little girl, but you remember all the stories about how Nana could get into people’s dreams and all, right?”

“Or course,” Greta said. “They said the same thing about Great Grandma and Great-great Granddad. They say the same thing about you.”

Emily shook off Greta’s statement. “Anyway, the night she died, I dreamt she and I sat in the parlor of that great big dollhouse of hers. You know, the one that was in the living room? God knows we played enough with it when we were young.”

Greta nodded and smiled. “Yeah, I remember.”

“At first, I wasn’t sure if the dollhouse had grown, or if we shrank, but when I glanced out a window, I saw Nana’s living room, huge as a universe. In the dollhouse, Nana sat in a wooden rocker. I sat on that old fashioned sofa. You know the one I mean?” Again Greta nodded and smiled. Emily said, “Nana and I talked seemingly for hours. And as she rocked and talked, she faded from sight, until finally, she said this to me, ‘Never lose yourself in another’s dreams.’ At the time, I didn’t understand what she meant. But I never got the chance to ask her. Next thing I knew, she was gone. When I woke up, I glanced at the clock in my room. It read just after 3:30 in the morning, and the hospital called the time of her death at 3:33.”

“I don’t see what this has to do with your marriage and pregnancy,” Greta said.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with my marriage or pregnancy. It has to do with my life. Don’t you see? Marriage, pregnancy, my life, I somehow feel these things aren’t connected. Somewhere along the way, I fell down the wrong rabbit hole. Somehow I became little Miss Suburbia. Somewhere I got lost in someone else’s dream.”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 14 — Fun-Fun-Fun

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