Winter Holidays - Story 2 - Future Perfect by Rivka Jacobs

Lilly Campbell remained motionless like a statue in her plaid frock and smudged white pinafore. She clasped her hands behind her back, trying not to cry. Her black side-button shoes were pressed together in perfect alignment and she kept her rosy, round face expressionless, her blue eyes staring straight ahead.

Her mother, in a long amethyst-colored velvet dress, hovered off to the side, making whimpering sounds as she nervously rubbed her hands up and down her skirt.

Her father, Morris Campbell, paced in front of her, marching a few steps to his left and back the other way, his hands bunched into fists. “You are a disgrace,” he intoned. “Your hair is a mess, your stockings torn. Where have you been? You won’t do your chores or help your mother. Always making things and touching things and pulling things apart... you disgust me.” He stopped and pointed at his daughter, his mustache quivering, his face red with anger. “We gave you a chance to change, to be a proper young lady. There will be no more warnings.”

Lilly slid her eyes to her right; she noted her two brothers scrunched on the stairs next to the parlor, peering at her from between the oyster-white balusters. She gazed again at her father. “I am redecorating,” she said calmly.

He seemed to shake slightly. “What? What are you talking about?” His neck darkened, the veins throbbing above his high, white collar.

She smiled in spite of her fear. “I’m almost done now, Father. You cannot believe the wonders, the magical things...”

“That is enough out of you!” he bellowed. 

***

It was Christmas Eve, an entire day after the beating and seven hours in the potato cellar. Lilly was finally able to slip out of her room and sneak into the small, unused boudoir on the third floor, where she yanked the cord to release the ladder that led to the attic over the highest point of the house.

Still in her muslin nightgown with the embroidered yoke, she silently climbed, then pulled the rope and ladder after her and shut herself in. She groped her way to the old parson’s table and lit the oil lamp she kept there. She padded quickly to her large and lofty dollhouse that rested on the bare planks of the attic floor surrounded by a jumble of scraps—lace, carpet swatches, wallpaper, fabric, and the remains of a corset she had stolen from her mother’s armoire, now torn apart for its materials. She swung around in a circle, searching for her tools—instruments she’d stolen from local artisans and shops such as the tiny tweezers, screwdrivers, picks, and Swiss pliers she’d procured from the watchmaker.

“They can’t stop me,” she said to herself. “I don’t care what they do to me.”

She brushed back her bangs and threw her wavy, auburn locks over her shoulders. She tiptoed on bare feet to the fully extended oak gateleg her family had brought with them decades ago when they pioneered westward from New England. It was on this that she had gathered a collection of empty cans and containers, as well as the small boxes filled with her most valuable treasures; she flushed with pleasure as she gazed at the piles of charms, bits of colored glass, coiled gold wire, ivory buttons, and crystal beads.

“I’m almost finished, I think,” she whispered to her family of bisque-faced dolls lined up patiently in the old baby cradle that huddled below, behind two of the table’s spindle legs. A father, mother, two sisters, and a boy who she decided was about her own age. All about a foot high, with soft bodies but perfect porcelain heads and hands.

In a decorated pantry box tucked beside the cradle, looking so cheery with its painted flowers, Lilly kept the materials gathered for her current and most difficult project. She knelt and scooped up the five wooden wheels that Gruber had carved for her, letting them slip through her fingers as she admired them. A sharp stab of sadness unsettled her for a moment when she remembered that Gruber was no longer her friend.

They sat on piles of autumn leaves under the trees at the far end of the Campbell’s property along Southwest 1st Avenue, the thoroughfare of Spokane’s best neighborhood; the eleven-year-old girl with the intense, bright eyes, and the son of her family’s housekeeper. She was wearing a navy blue skirt and double-breasted coat with a sailor collar and navy tam o’ shanter perched at an angle on her head. He was dressed in a thread-bare hand-me-down jacket. He nervously reached in his pockets and pulled out the wheels—two at a time. 

“I can’t do this anymore, Lilly,” he said as he handed her the last pair. 

“Oh, they’re perfect, Gruber. You are so good with wood,” she exclaimed as she stroked the round objects with her thumb.

“Lilly, you’re in for it, and I’m going to be blamed. I can’t talk to you anymore. I don’t want to cause my family any trouble.”

“It shouldn’t be that way,” she said firmly, her eyes deep and glistening as she watched him rise to his feet and shove his fists in his pockets. “Someday things are going to be better for you.”

“So what kind of wagon uses ‘wheels’ like that anyhow?” he asked, not wanting to leave her just yet.

“Not a wagon, silly! A ‘car’. It’s called an esuvee. It goes on a road that is brilliant and shiny and gleams in the sun, and spreads like a river everywhere, and all these cars speed along in different directions...” she said, her voice trailing off as she carefully slipped the wheels under her coat, into her skirt pockets. 

Gruber lowered his eyes, blinking back tears. He remained silent a moment, rubbing his nose once with the back of a hand. 

“Well, what’s wrong?” she asked as she came to her feet, whisking her skirt

“Lilly, that’s just crazy. People are saying, you’re crazy, and... my mama heard your pap talking... about putting you in a place for crazy people...”  

Lilly sat cross-legged on the attic floor and collected the parts she had prepared; the tin boxes she’d painted with enamel, the lenses she’d taken out of someone’s glasses, the axels for the wheels she’d made out of wire and the ear-pieces of the spectacles, the steering wheel she’d fashioned from a checkers man. She opened her jar of elastic cement and her tube of putty. In about thirty minutes, it was done. Her esuvee. She held it up towards the glow from the lamp, turning it in her hand, looking at it from all directions. She rose to her knees and shuffled upright to the dollhouse. She triumphantly put the esuvee in a parked position beside the model home.

Still on her knees, Lilly lovingly surveyed each of the miniature rooms. She was almost finished now. She poked at the cigar boxes painted silver and white with round, glass porthole doors she’d placed in a pantry off of the kitchen. “A ‘washing machine’ and a ‘dryer’,” she said aloud.

A series of knocks coming from the ceiling below startled her. She sat back on her haunches, listened. It was her older brother, Jimmy, using the four-two-four raps signal they had agreed upon. Lilly almost laughed with relief and happiness. She couldn’t wait to show Jimmy how much she’d done since his last visit. She scrambled to the trap door and hit her knuckles four-two-four times in response on the attic floor. She slowly untied the rope and let it slip bit by bit, until the door dropped completely open and the ladder slid out.

In moments Jimmy’s head appeared and he quickly pulled himself up. The two of them sealed the entrance once more. “Lil,” he whispered, “you need to come down now. Tomorrow is Christmas. They’re looking for you.” He was in his night shirt and slippers, standing slightly bent over as he was fourteen years old and growing tall.

“Oh Jimmy, look, look at what I’ve done! I want you to see!” Lilly almost sang as she took one of her brother’s elbows and tried to drag him over to the dollhouse.

He let himself be led and tried not to step on any of the snips and fragments of things scattered about.  “Lilly, we don’t have time,” he weakly argued, wanting to see what she was so excited about.

“Here,” she said proudly, her face shining, as she halted him in front of the structure. She sank down to a sitting position, hugging her legs drawn up under her gown. She rested her chin on her knees.

“Holeee geez...” Jimmy started. He bent one leg, leaned on the other as his eyes flicked over so many extraordinary details and bizarre particulars he could hardly take them all in. “How did you do this?” was all he could think to ask.

Lilly was ecstatic at her brother’s wonderment. “Wait, wait,” she gushed. “Let me show you my greatest secret,” and she scrambled on all fours until she came to one of the walls. There she plucked up what looked like an insulated electrical wire with a bracket attached at the end. She screwed this to an empty, brass light-socket hanging from the plaster above. She pushed the top button in a switch-plate. In an instant, the dollhouse was ablaze—strange tubes of fluorescence in the ceilings and more recognizable lamps and chandeliers, even dozens of tiny red and green bulbs on the miniature Christmas tree flashed to life. The bright glow reflected off of Jimmy’s face and revealed an expression of shock and dismay.

Lilly pushed the off button and unfastened the screw-base adapter as she saw Jimmy’s reaction. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought you’d be pleased. When the house was electrified last year, I talked to the workmen from the Edison Company, and they wired the attic for me, and explained to me...”

“Lilly, what are all these things?” Jimmy asked. He touched a flat square made from a box top and a piece of window pane.

“That’s the picture-vision,” Lilly said, feeling a sense of dread she couldn’t understand. “My dollies can watch plays and concerts and ballgames, and the president gives speeches on it.”

“And that?” He pointed at an empty watch case with its beveled crystal intact, in an upright position over a small, rectangular spotted slab.

“That’s computing. See, I painted a domino with keys like a typewriter. I have three of them, for the mommy, daddy, and the children.”

“But what kind of furniture is this? It looks a little bit like ours...”

“It’s modern,” Lilly interrupted, placing her wire in a safe position and crawling back over to her brother’s side.

“No, Lil, it’s 1895, and we’re modern. This is... you made this up. I don’t know, Lilly, I don’t know what to think.” He sat cross-legged and rested his hands in his lap.

“But I didn’t make this up...” Lilly started to explain, but abruptly fell silent as disappointment and sadness overwhelmed her. “I thought you would be pleased, and would like it,” she said, tears burning her eyes.

Jimmy came to his feet. “We have to go back down. Now. Mother and Father are looking for you. I won’t say anything to them, but you have to come with me immediately.”

Lilly gazed up at him, then slowly shook her head.

“Lilly, I’m supposed to look out for you. I’m your big brother. Please, please come with me.” He held out a hand to help her stand.

She turned her face away.

Jimmy sighed and said, “All right, if that’s what you want,” and he moved to the exit.

She didn’t watch, instead listening to the mechanical sounds of the ladder unfolding that she knew so well. She heard the door close. Then she became aware of voices shouting, harsh and enraged.

Where have you been, and, where is she, and, you will obey me young man, wafted up through the floorboards from the hallway below. Tears leaked from the corners of Lilly’s eyes.

She carefully crept to the old cradle and her dolls. The mommy was dressed in a sweater and slacks, low-heeled pumps on her feet. The daddy wore a white shirt with an open collar, a brown suede jacket and matching trousers. The younger sister was arrayed in silver leggings, a short-short pink skirt, and a pink cropped jacket, while the older sister proudly displayed her fur boots and tight pants and a blouse that was half falling off one shoulder, revealing dainty lacy straps underneath. And then there was the boy doll—the one who was close to her age—in soft denim “jeans” and rubber-soled shoes and a simple blue shirt with short sleeves that he said was called a “t-shirt”. Lilly rocked them as her chest heaved with sobs. “I won’t ever leave you,” she said.

***

If she wants to stay up there, she can stay up there, the angry man in his night shirt said. But dear, you mustn’t do this, protested the tall woman with the long red hair bound back in a single braid. The teenage boy ran to catch his six-year-old brother and hurry him back down the stairs to the second floor and his bedroom. The housekeeper’s husband arrived now, having been summoned by the angry man and forced to get up, bring his toolbox and some lumber from his woodshop, and climb to the third floor. The housekeeper’s husband stood on a chair and began hammering—banging and pounding and driving in nail after nail as he sealed up the attic’s trap door. 

“Brett, Brett honey,” the sharp voice of his mother called from the third-floor landing. “You need to come down now!”

Brett opened his eyes, dispelling the scene, the story that played in his head. He could sense the tension underlying her tone; was it another meeting with the child psychologist? Or, Father Hughes. Perhaps this was going to be one of those family meetings with him and his sisters sitting on the couch while their father paced back and forth, lecturing them about his responsibilities as the new CEO of Spokane Software Development, and how his only son was an embarrassment and a threat to his current position.

“Brett Santoro, leave those damn dolls alone and get your butt down here!” his mother yelled from directly underneath him.

It’s certainly not Father Hughes, Brett thought. He eased up from the old recliner, tiptoed a few steps, then squatted down to inspect the dollhouse one more time. It was a magnificent Queen Anne style construction, with two wings that opened up—one to the left and one to the right—revealing a cross-section of each of the many rooms on three floors with two attic compartments. It stood about five feet high. Brett had discovered the model and the dolls inside it the very first day he and his family moved into their old Victorian home on 1st Avenue.  It was love at first sight, and from that moment forward he’d spent every spare minute trying to restore the interior of the dollhouse to that of a real home from the 1890s, and re-costume its inhabitants to fit. His sisters sometimes helped. He even convinced his grandmother to sew historically accurate clothing to scale.

His parents were appalled. He heard the words several times a day: boys do not play with dolls.

Brett scanned the positions of all the figures. The mother with her wasp-waist and purple velvet dress, her red hair piled on her head, sat knitting in the parlor. The father—in his wool Cassimere suit with the stiff white collar, silk cravat, vest, and gleaming, tiny, detailed watch-fob that Brett himself made—was leaning against the fireplace in the upstairs sitting room. Brett stared at him and shivered just a bit; the father doll always made him uncomfortable. In one of the upstairs bedrooms was a child, a boy dressed in a sailor suit with white shoes, riding a rocking horse. At the front entrance of the house, standing just before the grand central staircase, one foot on the bottom stair and his face half-turned to the door, was a teenage boy dressed in a tweed jacket and knickers.

Pounding started on the ceiling immediately below him. Brett glanced down briefly—his mother was using the broom handle. He turned back to check on his favorite doll. She was a lovely young girl, her hair a perfect auburn, the bisque of her face glowing with a tint of rose. She was dressed in a green and blue plaid dress with a white pinafore. In a moment of humor, Brett had positioned her in the same attic space he was in, and had given her a miniature dollhouse to play with. “Gotta go now,” he said to her. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

---

Rivka Jacobs currently lives with three Siamese cats in West Virginia. She was born in Philadelphia and grew up in South Florida. Rivka have sold stories to such publications as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the Far Frontiers anthologies, and the Women of Darkness anthology. Recently she placed stories with The Sirens Call eZine, The Literary Hatchet, Riding Light Review, Fantastic Floridas, and the More Alternative Truths anthology. Rivka has a BA in history, MAs in sociology and mental health counseling, and a BSN. She recently worked as a psychiatric nurse.

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