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November 5, 2020

Other People

Benjamin Woodard

Early April. Buds on trees. School and work canceled for the foreseeable future. Nobody leaving the house except for emergencies. My young daughter is bored, I miss my mistress, and my wife can barely stand looking at the two of us. To keep the peace, I arrange two full days of daddy-daughter time in the basement. We saw and hammer. Measure twice. Cut once. Sawdust covers our clothes. The floor. I convince myself I am a good father. The project, I tell my wife, is a dollhouse. And by the second evening, we do produce a two-room abode. And, yes, once we have all the sanded pieces together, colored the rooms in marker and paint, arranged the plastic furniture, I carry the structure to my daughter’s room and say, “Fill it with imagination.” But beyond pleasing my daughter, beyond distracting her and giving my wife a breather, I use the dollhouse project to quell my own frustrations and loneliness, for the two rooms my daughter and I build are miniature elements of my mistress’s apartment, reconstructed from memory. There’s the living room, where we sometimes watch television. The bedroom, where we roll around and I feel young. My daughter’s toys are more Goodwill than Pottery Barn, so the furniture isn’t completely correct. But the placement is as exact as I can remember. The walls the right colors, or at least the colors I think feel right. I even add a mark on the floor. An inside joke. The time we knocked a candle onto the carpet. Singed the fiber. And after my wife and I put our daughter to bed, after we read her a story and she drifts off, I lie to my wife. Say I want to watch our girl sleep. Say it brings me comfort in these confusing times. My wife doesn’t care. Anyway, she likes having the whole bed to herself. So I stay in my daughter’s room and crawl to the dollhouse. Place my hand inside the small rooms. Concentrate. Imagine. Replay memories. I text my lover a photo. I wait for a response. Her across town, locked inside. Me, illuminated by a Doc McStuffins nightlight, locked inside. In this way, I can’t feel her. But maybe she can feel me trying from afar. Feel me not forgetting about the life we’ll never share.