Was this the real secret to a long and happy marriage – gifted to her by an elderly lady with a twinkle in her eye?
“And what do you think is the reason you’ve had such a long and happy marriage, Mrs Walters?” Evelyn asked.
After ten years as a freelance journalist, she was prepared to jot down Mrs Walters’ version of give and take, or happy wife, happy life, or hard work and commitment or like the vows said, for better or worse.
The elderly lady leaned forward and whispered, “Well, do you want the on-the-record answer, dear? Or the off-the-record answer?”
Curiosity piqued, Evelyn lowered her pen. Her own seven-year marriage had hit a rough patch and if June Walters had an answer that wasn’t the usual clichés, she definitely wanted to hear it.
“I’m all ears for the off-the-record answer,” she whispered back.
“And you promise you won’t put it in your newspaper article, or online, or even tell a soul what I’m about to tell you?”
June stared at Evelyn, perhaps judging whether she was being honest, then she nodded. “Follow me.”
They walked down a hallway lined with family photos, then entered a doorway at the end.
The room was filled with a sewing machine, a single armchair, a bookcase crammed with books, and in the middle of the room was a small table with a wooden doll’s house on top. It was a miniature version of June’s own house.
June walked to the doll’s house, touched the roof, and said, “This is the answer to a happy marriage.”
Any hopes Evelyn had of finding a solution to her own problems vanished.
“A doll’s house – I see.” She forced her lips into a smile.
June laughed. “No, you don’t see… and I’m not crazy.”
She opened one side of the house, revealing the rooms inside decorated with tiny furniture. June reached inside and pulled out two miniature people.
“My grandmother gave me the doll’s house when she knew my marriage was struggling after just five years.
“Tom wasn’t putting much effort into our relationship, especially after our first child came along. Pretty soon we were like two strangers living under the same roof.
“Grandma gave me the doll’s house, along with some instructions, and within a year our marriage was back on track and it’s been wonderful ever since.” She glanced at Evelyn. “I could explain things, but you’d never believe me. So the only way to convince you is to let you take the doll’s house. I can see that you need it.”
“During the whole interview, I could tell you’re having a few problems in your own marriage. Don’t deny it. My grandmother always said when the right person came along for the doll’s house to help, I’d know it.
“I’ve had my long happily-ever-after. It’s time to let someone else benefit.”
“I couldn’t possibly take it if it’s been in your family for so long. Surely one of your daughters or grandchildren would like it?”
“But it’s not up to me, it’s up to the doll’s house. And it’s chosen you.”
For the first time Evelyn suspected June might not be as healthy as she first thought. But then June held out the two figures from the doll’s house.
One looked just like Evelyn… and the other was the spitting image of her husband, Ron.
“Like I said,” June pressed the two figures into Evelyn’s hands, “I can’t explain it. Take the doll’s house and you’ll soon understand.”
It had taken ten more minutes of persuasion before Evelyn agreed.
And during the drive home, June’s instructions ran through her head.
Only move the figures once a day; it didn’t have to be the same time each day, but always keep them together; and whatever you do, never, ever, move the figures in anger.
Evelyn didn’t understand. June’s instructions were vague to say the least, so she didn’t know what to expect.
Actually, she did. She expected nothing.
She couldn’t explain how June had managed to have those figures looking like her and Ron, but it must be a trick.
Like a magician’s trick. And Evelyn fell for it.
June and Tom were probably having a good laugh about her gullibility right now.
When she reached home she put the doll’s house on the coffee table in the lounge, then headed to her home office to type up the wedding anniversary article. It needed to be finished and sent to her editor within three hours.
Only when the completed article had been sent did Evelyn stop for coffee, but when she walked past the doll’s house she froze.
It no longer looked like a miniature version of June’s house – it was now a miniature version of Evelyn’s house.
Evelyn’s heart thudded. That’s impossible.
She walked slowly towards the doll’s house and opened one wall. Sure enough, the inside now had a layout just like her own home.
With a shaking hand, she picked up the two figurines. Was she really able to solve her and Ron’s problems with this?
She thought about one of her issues.
Since she worked from home, Ron always expected Evelyn to have dinner sorted by the time he arrived home at six. Usually, however, Evelyn had her own deadlines to meet.
Instead of Ron helping get dinner ready, he’d simply wait for Evelyn to cook something, no matter how late it was.
Sure, occasionally he’d bring some takeaway home – but they couldn’t afford that every night.
Evelyn put the two figures in the kitchen together, side by side near the miniature stove. Always keep them together, June had said. Done.
The sceptic in her didn’t believe this would work, but then, she could not explain why the house now looked like her own, including the miniature furniture.
Was it magic? Real magic, not a magician’s sleight of hand? For the sake of her marriage, she hoped so.
Two hours later, Evelyn had just switched off her laptop when Ron arrived home.
“Hey, what’s this?” he called out.
“A gift from a lady I interviewed today. Amazing, isn’t it?”
“It looks just like our place. You gave her a photo, did you?”
You won’t tell a soul, June had said.
“Mmm, yeah. Look, I couldn’t start dinner yet, I had an urgent interview to do. Phone interview thankfully, but the copy needed to be in before six.”
“Damn, I’m pretty hungry. Have we got anything that’s quick?”
“I was thinking hamburgers.”
“Sounds good. Need a hand with it?”
Evelyn was speechless. He had never before offered to help, and if she ever suggested it he would storm off in a huff, citing how hard he had worked all day.
She glanced at the doll’s house.
She had placed the figures side by side in the kitchen. Was this really going to work?
“Sure.” She smiled. “Can you cut up the tomatoes, wash some lettuce leaves, and maybe chop some onions, while I get the patties cooked?”
“No problem.” He kissed her cheek. “Glad to help.”
Glad to help. It was the first time he had said that in their marriage.
And over the next few months it was a phrase she heard frequently.
All her issues were being solved. He was helping more with the housework, and cooking, and being more thoughtful – and once she placed the figures in the bed side by side, instead of staying up watching TV or working on his computer, he was going to bed with her. So things improved in the bedroom too.
The best part was that once something was solved, the issues didn’t return, even when the figures in the doll’s house were moved elsewhere.
Evelyn was thrilled, except… wasn’t there a niggling, uneasy feeling too?
Yes, he was doing all the things she had ever wanted – but it wasn’t really Ron changing, it was more as if he was a puppet on a string. With Evelyn manipulating him without his knowledge.
Guilt gnawed at her – that was, until she found some texts on his phone while he was having a shower.
They were flirty texts from a colleague… and they spoke about meeting for lunch on Friday.
Evelyn stormed to the dolls’ house and broke two rules in one action. She separated the couple by flicking Ron’s figure in anger. It went flying across the lounge room and hit the wall.
When Ron left the shower, she confronted him. “I’ve seen those texts on your phone. What’s going on? Are you having an affair?”
“What? No, I’m not. Look, I’m flattered by Sarah’s attention, I admit it. But I’m not interested in her.”
“Then why the meet-up on Friday?”
“That’s a work lunch. A meeting. There will be ten of there. I swear it. I can send you a photo with everyone there, OK?”
“But I’m still upset about the flirting,” Evelyn said. “You should have stopped it.”
“I know. I’m sorry, it’s just that for a while now my mind’s felt so foggy and weird, but when I talk to Sarah I feel like me again. I know that sounds like a pathetic excuse, though.”
But it wasn’t pathetic and the guilt hit Evelyn hard. She had no idea the doll’s house was affecting him like that.
“It’s OK.” She patted the space on the sofa next her. “Come here.”
Ron crossed the room but before he reached her he slipped and went flying across the room, hitting the wall hard.
Evelyn ran to him. He was unconscious.
With shaking hands she dialled 999, and during the conversation she stared at the doll’s house.
Never use it in anger. But she had, and now Ron was hurt.
She bet Mrs Walters had used it in anger too, and wished the elderly woman had never given her the doll’s house. It wasn’t real magic that powered it, but something darker. Something evil.
She stayed with Ron until he regained consciousness, but he needed to stay at the hospital overnight.
By the time she arrived home, Evelyn knew what she had to do. She took the doll’s house into the back yard, stuffed it full of newspaper and lit a match. Slowly the flames grew bigger.
Then a strange popping sound from behind her made her spin around. Smoke was pouring from her own home.
The flames quickly spread. She lifted her mobile to dial 999 again, but stopped. If firemen doused the flames too soon, she feared the doll’s house would survive.
No – she’d have to let her home burn, to make sure the doll’s house was destroyed.
When it was nothing but ashes, she took the two figures from her pocket.
They no longer looked like her and Ron. They were totally blank.
Evelyn smiled. Their house could be rebuilt and their marriage could go back to the way it was. Not perfect, but they were free to be themselves again.
For better or for worse.
Don’t forget – you can find brand new, exciting short stories every week in My Weekly magazine! Subscribe now for a great money-saving deal.