“Those things creep me out,” Alex said as he sat up. I wasn’t hearing him, too distressed by the jarring halt to our intimacy and the loss of his warmth. He clicked on the bedside lamp as he pulled on his boxers.
I ogled his backside, I’d earned the right. We were newlyweds, married less than a month when Aunt Bess passed on. She’d left us the house, an old green and red victorian on Orange Grove Boulevard. It sounded nicer than it actually was. Aunt Bess was somewhere between a pack rat and a hoarder. We’d spent a solid week hauling away enough of her stuff to be able to move through the house without having to climb or trip over something.
It was our first night sleeping in the house. I couldn’t bring myself to sleep in Auntie’s room so we were in the least cluttered of the five guest bedrooms. It was the room Auntie used to keep her antique doll collection.
They were kind of creepy, I’d give Alex that. They had eyes that seemed to follow you around the room. And their expressions were so adult--no innocence in their faces. I kept the fact that most of the dolls had human hair and teeth to myself. Alex didn’t need to hear that. I laughed as I watched Alex turn all the dolls around so they wouldn’t bear witness to our lovemaking with their glass eyes.
“Ow!” Alex jumped.
“This one-– it bit me!” He pointed to an exquisite blonde French Bebe doll in a red velvet dress.
“Don’t be silly,” I laughed, as I sat up.
“No seriously. Look.” He held out his hand for inspection. Sure enough, there were little teeth-like marks in a half circle pattern between his thumb and index finger.
“A rat?” I guessed, even though the pattern of the marks didn’t make sense. “Maybe you should get a tetanus shot.”
“For this?” Alex scoffed, his machismo making a reappearance. Still he grabbed the offending doll and put her outside the door before climbing back under the comforter. I huddled against him, my human hot water bottle, but his skin was unusually cool. Maybe he was coming down with something. I made a mental note to force him to the doctor in the morning.
A sliver of sunlight hit me directly in the face, forcing me awake. The alarm clock had failed to go off. I nudged an elbow into Alex’s shoulder blades before getting up, pulling open the heavy damask curtains.
“Alex?” He hadn’t moved. “You’re going to be late.” I went over and kissed his shoulder, gasping at the cold skin against my lips. He fell backwards, his face bluish-grey, his eyes unseeing. My eyes darted to the ring of small bruises around his neck; almost as if he’d been choked by a child’s hand.
That is when I saw her, the red velvet doll. She was back in the room and she was smiling.