Chapter seven: Death day party
The kitchen is bright with sunlight. It dances over the freshly polished silver making the table look like a tiny ocean. Candlesticks, cutlery, cups and caddies. They all need a nice clean once in a while. And because I won’t be here for a few days I decided I should at least leave with the house in good working order so nothing can go wrong while I’m gone.
Not that I have worked here very long thus far, three months, maybe four. I’m pretty sure I started here in spring.
So they should be able to manage without me I guess.
It’s something in the air, a tension I can’t explain.
I mean I guess it has something to do with what happened a couple of days back in that alleyway but I told Melody I wouldn’t tell anyone so I don’t see what the problem is now.
Mr Viola also looks off in a way, jumpy, more alert.
Maybe he suspects something?
But then why wouldn’t he say anything?
Are there things
Or I’m making things up so I can worry over nothing…
I’m not sure, but at least I’ll be gone for a couple of days so at least while I’m off to Loptuny it will not be any of my problems.
I do hope everyone will be okay.
The bell rings.
I almost drop the spoon I’m holding, then lay it down reverently and place the cloth next to it so I can continue once I’m back.
“This man will be staying in room five, can you take care of his bags?” Melody asks while looking at the bags instead of me.
“Of course, right this way,” I tell the customer and pick up the bags to log up the stairs.
The man is small, his eyes are beady and his coat is put on slovenly. “I didn’t know this place had doll servants. How exotic.” The man remarks as he follows me up.
“Unusual, fascinating, it’s a compliment.”
“Oh…okay, thank you.”
I can hear the man crack a smile behind me. “Have you worked here long?”
“Not particularly, only a couple of months.”
“Do you like it here?”
I hum to let our guest know I’ve heard him, I’m just unsure as to what to say to that.
“What’s your name miss, are you a miss?”
“It’s Delaylah and yes I’m a woman.”
“I see, very unusual.”
It’s not really… “Ah, here’s room six.” I set the suitcases down and pull my keys off my belt to open the door.
The door swings inwards, I pick up the suitcases to place them inside the room. Then I smile and tell the man “Please enjoy your stay sir.”
“Earnest, my name is Earnest, and thank you.”
I nod politely.
And rush down again to get back to my silver.
After the silver, I beat all the mats and after the mats, I sweep the fireplaces.
They’re not getting much use right now considering the pleasant weather, but I like to clean them just in case.
And after that, it’s time for me to go.
I walk up to mister Viola’s office to announce my departure.
I knock on the door.
“What is it?” the man shouts from the other side of the door.
I open the door.
The man is bent over piles of papers as I come in. “Oh Delaylah, you’re heading out?”
“Yes sir. I polished the silver, beat the mats and swept the fireplaces.”
“I just like to be thorough sir.”
“Very good Delaylah, enjoy your holiday.”
“Thank you, sir.” I wonder if there’s anything else I ought to say but it looks like the conversation has run its course.
I nod politely and close the door.
On my way to the door, I pass the front desk again. The parlour is empty aside from Melody sitting at her desk.
“I’m going out.” It feels weird not to say anything.
“Yeah sure, have fun with your holiday.”
“Thank you…” my brain is telling me to just walk out the door but “How are you and your friend, did you make up?”
Melody’s eyes grow big, mouth pulling into a pained expression. Her eyes zip around to room to check there’s no one within earshot then she bites her lip and says “Yeah, we’re good.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Yeah but…please don’t bring her up during work again.”
“All right, I won’t.”
She nods briefly.
I take it as my cue to leave.
Our train to Loptuny departs at eight in the evening and drives throughout the night before arriving at the first stop in Tjits somewhere around noon.
Before that though, I’d like to meet up with the other dolls first, and the gallery is the best place to do that.
The gallery used to be a dilapidated building in the middle of the city.
I think the abandonment of the previous owners had something to do with either ghosts or murder.
Or both, they’re not mutually exclusive.
The point is, it was dirt cheap and Jaxogeras needed a workshop for their woodcarving.
Opening up the door I can still spot some of their smaller pieces sprinkled in between the frames.
“Delaylah, darling how’s the wig working out for you?” Zjeliah prances up to me the moment he spots me. I note today’s suit is a nice bright lavender with yellow details.
“It’s wonderful, thank you.”
“I’m glad to hear it, now I’m asking because I found the cutest earrings that would fit perfectly with it.” He pulls out a small wooden box and opens it to reveal a gorgeous pair of copper and diamond earrings that catch the light as he moves the box around “Interested?”
“Oh, that’s a kind offer I don’t have holes in my ears.”
“I can make you some if you like. I’m sure Jaxogeras has a drill around here somewhere.”
“I appreciate the gesture but-” I swipe my hair back to show my ears are moulded flat against my head. “You’d have to drill straight into my head and then they’d hang funny.”
“I see, well unless you want a new head-”
“I like this head, thank you.”
He closes the box “Then I know all I need to know.” He pats my head and then asks “How’s the new job?”
I’m a bit sad to see the nice sparkly jewels vanish like that but it’s not like I want to remodel my face for the sake of one set of jewellery. “The job is…” I think back on it and for some reason, the image of Melody and that lady pops up in the back of my heart “It’s… interesting.”
“Yes, very kind.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“And the salon?”
His eyes sparkle, I bet he was waiting for me to ask “I went to my first-ever auction last week and it was divine, horribly overspent myself but it was so worth it. It’s where I got the earrings and also loads of other wonderful pieces. You should come over sometime to see them. There was a walking came with a gorgeous rabbit’s head for a handle carved from black ebony. And a pair of mother-of-pearl opera glasses that well, I’m keeping those for myself. There was also a small globe inlaid with tortoise shell that would have looked divine on my mantle. I almost managed to snatch it up but got outbid pretty severely at the end.
“I’m sorry to hear that?”
“Oh it’s all right, if I had gotten it I may not have had enough funds to head to Loptuny with you now so it’s really for the best. Speaking off.” Zjeliah pulls out a silver watch with purple pansies on the lid “It’s about time we head out so we don’t miss the train, where’s Jaxy?” He turns and rushes head-first into the crowd looking for our host.
I figure that when people are ready to leave we’ll do so as a group, so I decide to have a look at Jaxogeras’ latest work.
Looks like they went into the forest for one session, then set some of my siblings down on a chair for another. I spot Kregaya sitting by the window holding a fan in her hand.
“Pretty good huh?”
I turn to find my sister standing behind me “Yeah you look divine.”
“Will you believe they took five pictures before settling on that one? I was starting to wonder if they were ever gonna be satisfied, took a whole day of posing.”
“At least then I didn’t have much to do during the day.” She shrugs.
“Singing in that club is still fun I presume?”
“It’s a blast, I love the applause the people give me and the boss is quite nice once you get to know him.”
“I’m glad to hear-”
“Okay everyone, we’re heading to the station, make sure you bring your luggage with you and keep your ticket at the ready!” Zjeliah hollers from the top of a table. Jaxogeras extends him a hand so he can get down again.
“Aww, thank you, darling.”
We spill forth from the building and take over the sidewalk. Chatting and laughing as we make our way to the station.
I feel a bit bad for the people that have to quickly cross the street or jump aside to let us through.
But I guess it happens only once a year.
“I’m so glad you’re coming along this time,” Kregaya tells me worming her arm through mine.
And I guess I’m excited too now?
There’s a power to being in a group, especially one with similar people.
An energy that’s difficult to explain.
It feels nice.
We pass the gate to the train station and look for the blue cart, it’s a second-class ticket and we have a cart all to ourselves.
The conductor’s eyes grow wide as we approach. But stamps out tickets all the same.
And then we’re in.
The benches have upholstered seats but the backs of them are bare.
The tables don’t have tablecloths.
But there are plenty of oil lamps to see by and that’s all that really matters.
The group fans out over the tables, and start pulling out their games.
Mareia on one side, dice on the other.
Kleijna brought a violin.
And as the wheels start turning slowly. A jaunty tune plucks its way into the carriage.
The party has begun.
It’s dark outside. I managed to trade books with Naja, a sibling we picked up in Tjits.
It lays open in my lap, but my eyes keep gazing outward at the trees and hills that roll out beyond the track.
As the house of my father comes closer and closer my mind gets tugged towards sad and painful memories.
The day father didn’t open their eyes again.
There was panic at first.
The older dolls tried to keep us calm while they assessed the situation.
Then they told us father was gone.
But he was right there, it made no sense! He just…wouldn’t get up.
The idea of a soul or a lifespan was slow to dawn on me.
And when it did.
It all felt so pointless.
Why create all these children, these immortal beings?
Just to leave them behind?
I still don’t get it if I’m honest.
It’s not like I’m angry to be alive. I’m grateful it’s just.
I wish I was more prepared.
The world is so large and I know so little.
I wish I knew how it all worked before getting thrust into the thick of it.
But I guess no one really gets that luxury.
The old house is enormous, daunting even.
Kregaya was right, I haven’t been home in ages.
It’s not like I didn’t try.
Going along those first few times, but…
That place, this place.
It’s just not home anymore.
It looks just like home, the place I’ve spent countless years playing, reading, and learning.
But that feeling of joy and discovery as we explored the countless rooms and strange non-rooms, climbing behind things and exploring the darkness beyond. Finding trap doors to the ‘below world’ and half-sized passageways behind the walls.
Now that it’s clear we merely found the cellar and other storage places in the house.
It just doesn’t feel magical anymore.
Father gave the place life the same way he gave it to us.
The house used to breathe.
But now it’s just a building.
Nevertheless, my siblings rush past me to the door calling out ‘we’re here, we’re here.”
And Tiborah opens the door with a grand gesture, inviting all of us in.
Kregaya takes my arm “Come on darling don’t just stand there, the party has already begun.”
I shake my head back into the present.
I get pushed inside with the throng and the moment Tiborah spots me with his raven eyes he steps towards me with open arms “Delaylah, it’s been so long, I’m overjoyed to see you.”
I draw my arms close to my chest as he embraces me “Hi Tiborah.”
“How have you been? Are you still a bartender?”
“Delaylah works at a hotel now, and she’s not the only one who got a new job?” Kregaya cuts in.
“Yes, I found stable employment at Memento as a singer. And it wasn’t easy let me tell you-” Kregaya sends a look my way that roughly translates to ‘I got this, enjoy the party’.
I nod subtly and extract myself from the situation to have a look around to who else made it here.
Musical instruments have always been popular with my siblings, I never really found the patience to learn anything of the sort, but it means several clusters have formed around the ones who did and I sit down at a group I haven’t seen in a while.
“Ah Delaylah, how have you been?”
“I’m good Lara. What about you?”
“Oh well, I went to the mountains of Asheru and helped the sick and wounded there, it was Karokko’s idea and it truly was a precious experience.”
My eyes grow big “You know human medicine?”
“Yeah, quite by accident honestly. I was looking for a library and walked into a medical university instead. I liked the atmosphere so I decided to stick about and one of the teachers asked me if I’d like to enrol. It all happened so fast that I never even considered how strange a doll doctor might look. Turns out that if people are bleeding and scared they’ll take help from anyone so as a field medic I was perfectly suited. Not to mention the ‘cannot die’ part. It’s a very good arrangement and I’m glad things turned out this way.
My mouth hangs open in awe “Wow, that’s very impressive.”
“And before you ask, no I never went out of my way to harm the enemy, I get the whole ‘all is justified’ bit when it comes down to wars but I was quite clear to my commander that I’ll only help never harm. There were of course moments they tried to sway me, I get it, short sightedness is a human skill. But I never did.” The story concluded she looks at me for a moment.
I look back dumbfounded.
“So what have you been up to?” she then asks.
“Me? Oh…I work at a small hotel back in Unebre.”
“Really? How quaint, do you enjoy the work.”
“Yes, yes I do.” I know she’s trying her best to make me sound comfortable. But I can’t help but feel quite useless in comparison to her achievements. “The people are very nice and the work is enjoyable enough.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
We go back to listening to the music.
As the sun sets Tiborah pulls out boxes of candles and we all help out filling the chandeliers and lighting them until the place is filled with lights again.
Dolls dance, play more games or take to the woods beyond for a walk underneath the moonlight.
I sit down on one of the sofa couches and quite exhausted with niceties and small talk proceed to just stare out over the masses and look for a bit.
One hundred and twenty-eight dolls in total, and at least eighty made it here tonight.
I must have explained at least twenty times what I do nowadays and each time it feels less and less impressive.
Everyone has such amazing stories to share. From mastery in some skill or other to heroics to unexplored bits of the ocean floor and having to battle mermaids on the way.
I didn’t even know mermaids were around anymore. I thought they all got extinct a long time ago. But it turns out they just went deeper into the oceans of the world to avoid man’s destructive tendencies.
Meanwhile, I clean rooms and carry luggage.
I watch Kregaya as she flies over the dance floor singing at the top of her lungs, eyes sparkling like they’re filled with joy and diamonds.
I’m glad she’s having the time of her life at least.
I look at the person who sat down next to me “Karokko, hey.”
“Hey, Kregaya said you wanted to see me but you’d probably forget.”
“Right.” I mean she’s not wrong “How have you-”
“How about we play a game instead? I’m kind of tired of explaining the last decade to people.”
I chuckle at that “Fair point. You have a deck of cards with you?”
“Lara has one, hold up.” She jumps up and rushes off for a second.
She drops the deck on my lap “Here. What are we playing?”
“Have you ever played jinx?”
“It’s a collection game, just give me a second and I’ll explain.” I pull the cards from the sleeve and look at them. “These are really nice cards.”
“I think she got them from a baron.”
Of course she did, I grumble to myself.
I explain the rules as best I know them and fill in the gaps with educated guesses.
Then deal out the cards and find it works.
“What are you two playing?” Kregaya asks as she floats our way.
“Sit down and I’ll explain.”
“It reminds me of mahjong but in card form and a lot less complicated,” Karokko explains.
“I…never heard of that either but sure, I’ll bite.” Kregaya sits down.
I deal again.
The door opens and a group comes in from the woods.
Three of them join the game while chatting about the grounds around the house and the things they’ve seen.
“There are fewer squirrels nowadays, it makes me sad to see,” Rala notes.
“I bet it’s because of the foxes.”
“I haven’t seen many foxes, actually I think it’s cats, there’s a village someway out right?”
“Thayo, but that’s miles away.”
“Well, I heard cats can walk pretty far.”
“And I heard squirrels are delicious, probably worth the trip.”
“Humans eat squirrels?”
“Who said I heard from a human?”
“He has a point you know.”
I listen to the stories and explain the rules to whoever wants to join.
And then the bell tolls and Kregaya says “If we wanna have the next train back we should start collecting everyone about now.”
“Aww.” The table sighs at large.
“Oh, you can continue playing if you like, the cards aren’t mine after all.”
Kregaya and I pull people from games and pluck them from the dance floor.
Some of us assure us the next train is early enough for them and they want to stay a little longer.
We wish them a good trip back and continue our collecting.
Going home later isn’t really an option for me, I want to be back at work on time.
I also feel like it’s about time to leave again.
I had a surprisingly good time.
Especially when we started playing jinx. But I’m tired of all the socialising and quite eager to get back to Unebre again.
At the door, Tiborah acts all heartbroken that we’re about to leave.
“Please know you’re always welcome here, just send a letter beforehand. There’s room for everyone.”
“Thank you for hosting.” Kregaya curtsies gracefully.
“Of course, and I hope to see you all next year again.” Tiborah looks meaningfully at me, I shrug noncommittally.
Next year I’m off the hook.
I’m not about to tell him though.
The train shrieks loudly before departing.
The cart has divided into two groups one side of the aisle occupied by the ones who still like to get the party going.
And the other isle, me included, of people who are quite exhausted.
I stare out the window the entire trip home.
Wondering if I missed anything interesting.