Chapter 1: “The Novelist and the Doll”
Roswell was a city of green, ensconced in the beauty of nature. It bared itself among the foothills of tall mountains. Among those of ample resource, Roswell was known as a summer retreat; a town of villas and cottages, homes away from home.
In spring, the landscapes burst with flowers, bringing light to their admirers’ eyes. In summer, hikers there sought a moment of respite beside the city’s famed waterfall, well-loved for ages. In autumn, the rain of leaves softened the heart, and in winter the world itself was bestowed a mute tranquility. Each season’s flourish on stage was distinct; it was a land magnanimous upon the eyes of visitors at any time of year.
Vacation homes throughout the town formed a swatch of variegated wooden rooftops, both big and small. Land there was not cheap. Simply owning a home in Roswell was a sufficient sign of affluence.
In the city’s heart, countless shops courted one main throughway and catered to endless tourists. During holidays, this corridor was inevitably thronged with shoppers, and the people created a fabric of cacophony appropriate to city life, each weaving his happy bustle into the song of the street. The wares set out were nothing to scoff at–far from so, in fact, given the town’s remote location.
Most residents of Roswell sought convenience and so built their villas in the city proper. Those who settled elsewhere were the town eccentrics.
It was now autumn in Roswell. Cirrocumulus wafted in ripples high up in the sky. Far removed from the foothills was a small lake, an almost forgotten stop along the town’s busy tourist circuit. One small cottage stood quietly by its waters.
Viewed with kindness, it was a vintage home bearing a distinguished facade. To less forgiving eyes, the house was a monument to disrepair, long abandoned by human hands. One first had to pass under its arched gates, white now only by virtue of their long companionship with the sun. From there, a short path led through a garden buried in weeds and nameless flowers. Finally, at the path’s end, the home itself came into view.
The red brick walls were in such decay that one could only conclude the owner had no intent of ever patching them. Here and there a roof tile was split, once-orderly ranks now cruelly dismembered.
Immediately next to the entrance, vines had coiled themselves in knots about a swing, ensuring that it would swing no more. It was both evidence of a child and evidence that the child was certainly here no longer.
The owner of the house was a man in the prime of life. His name was Oscar.
He was a screenwriter working without pretense of nom de plume. His hair was red with a curl, and his black-rimmed glasses could hardly contain the thick lenses with which they had been charged. Oscar’s back was slightly hunched, but his face was fresh, lending him an air of youthfulness belying his real age. Sensitive to the cold, he was never without a sweater. All in all, Oscar was an unremarkable man, hardly seeming fit to be the hero of any story.
To Oscar, this house was not a villa. Quite simply, Roswell was home, and it was in this house that Oscar lived.
It was built to house not him alone, but also his wife and young daughter. The rooms had been quite spacious for three, but now they were used by only one. Oscar lived alone. Both his wife and child had already departed for the other world.
The wife had succumbed to an illness with a name so meandering it was hard to even remember.
To put it simply, her blood had coagulated in her veins, blocking them. Death quickly followed. The condition was genetic. Her father, too, had suffered that fate.
Oscar had known his wife was an orphan. He’d heard her plaintive story of the many from her family who had died young. But it was not until after she died that he grasped the true reason for this.
At the funeral, her close friend had confided in Oscar. “She was frightened. She thought if it were known, no one would ever want to marry her. So she kept it hidden.” When the words hit Oscar’s ears, only one thought echoed through his mind: “Why?”
“Why? Why? Why?”
All you had to do was say it. You could have shared anything with me.
There’s so much we could have done. We could have searched together for a cure. We had all this useless excess of money to throw at it.
It was clear that Oscar’s wife had not married him for his money. They’d met before his break as a screenwriter. She was a librarian at the library he frequented. And in any case, it was Oscar himself who first began to stare.
How pretty, he’d thought.
And she’s the one in charge of the new arrivals corner. It always has such good books.
As he fell in love with her books, so too did he fall in love with her.
“Why?” The question echoed some hundred million times. It swirled around his mind, then finally vanished.
His wife’s friend was an accomplished woman. While Oscar’s heart floundered in the wake of loss, she worked vigorously to attend to the young daughter who had been left in Oscar’s care. Left to himself, the man would go all day without eating, so she brought warm food to their home. The girl, in turn, sobbed for her missing mother, so with her she sat, gently tying the girl’s hair in braids as her mother used to do.
Perhaps, for a brief moment, there had been a spark of love between Oscar and this woman. Late one night, when Oscar’s daughter had been sick in bed with a fever and had suddenly begun to vomit uncontrollably, it was she who rushed the girl to the hospital. And it was she, not Oscar, who first learned that the girl was afflicted with the same ailment.
From there, the disease progressed gradually. But for Oscar, it was all much too fast.