She entered without knocking, a peculiar expression on her common and unattractive face. Her lips quivered in motion reminiscent of the manner in which my whole body vibrates when I wake with a case of the Night Shivers. Her eyes were rimmed with tears, and I dared fantasize for the briefest of delicious moments that she had been sacked and was only coming to the nursery to bid me a final farewell. No such luck for your dear Winthrop, though, gentle readers.
"Oh, my poor little China doll," she said, addressing me with the hated endearment. "Your grandfather has passed."
"You horrid old cow!" I exclaimed, throwing a wooden block as close to her as I could manage. "You interrupted my merrymaking to tell me that?"
"I... I..." Nanny stammered, infuriatingly.
"You act as though this were some sort of uncommon or monumental occurrence!" I shouted, stamping my foot for emphasis. "The old codger passes constantly! I counted seven times when last we dined with him alone and those were only the audible ones!"
"Oh, Winthrop..." Nanny said, nonsensically as the first tear escaped her left eye.
"Did you think I wanted to come investigate?" I demanded. "Do you believe I fancy the odor of rotting chicken's eggs?"
"You poor dear," Nanny said, the tears now rolling down both of her weathered Irish cheeks. "I mean to say, your grandfather has died."
It still took me a moment to process the news. At first I thought she meant that the violence of his latest passing had been the cause of his expiring. Then I realized that she had intended the initial phrase as a euphemism to protect my precious innocent nature.
"I see," I said, the true meaning of her message clear to me now. "Shall I be permitted to see it?"
I did not realize that one received presents when their relatives died, but I was given a brand-new black velvet suit to wear for the occasion. I must admit, I would cut quite the handsome figure at the post-death remembrance festivities.
Father is currently visiting the dark continent, hunting rhinoceros, and mother was so overcome with grief that she locked herself in her room (I believe the grandfather in question was her father, and not father's father) and refused to come out during the visitation, so I alone (with nanny to mind me) was sent as the representative of the immediate family.
At the funeralarium, I was placed for a time in a room with a few of my little cousins, though I have never known them very well as mother's spirits are rarely high enough to entertain nor travel. My cousin Percival, one year my junior, was overcome with grief and wailing something fierce and sat balled in a corner. He was a rather sorry spectacle of a little gentleman and I determined to tell him so, especially as his cries were paining my thin eardrum disorder.
"Do shut up, Percival," I shouted over his cries. "We're all sorry to be down one grandfather, but you don't hear the rest of us carrying-on like bedwetting babies!"
"I'm sorry, Winthrop," he said between sobs, looking up at me with bloodshot eyes. "I was just recalling a visit to grandfather's last spring, and how we'd spent the day talking over my plans for a grand dolls house I should like to make. How it would be five feet tall with a great many rooms, and how there would be secret passages between quarters and hiding places behind miniature bookshelves and suchlike. And do you know what he did?"
"Boxed your ears for being a crying ninny?" I ventured.
"He had the thing built for me. He remembered my every fancy and had it put in, just so and even better. He kept it in the playroom that I might enjoy it whenever I came for a visit. He was such a kind soul! Grandfather!"
And then Percival was in his fits again and there was no consoling him.
Finally, I was taken to the room where Grandfather's remains were being displayed. When my turn came to approach the coffin, I took a good long look at what had been Grandfather. Still and silent, it was easier to see each of the individual hairs of his bristly mustache than when he had lived. I thought back to the week last year when Nanny went to tend to her sickly brother and I was sent to stay with Grandfather for the week. He had let me indulge in various behaviors forbidden at home. He let me eat a full plate of strawberry tarts and did not scold me when I vomited them back up on my bed sheets. He had been a kind man.
I had heard others telling stories of how agreeable grandfather's nature, and decided to share my own. My cousins were still off playing together elsewhere. I was alone in a room full of adults as I told the story of my last visit to grandfather, how I always loved the sweet lingering smell of pipe tobacco on his clothes, his gentle smiling eyes, and how we'd played together one long afternoon with the huge elaborate dolls house he had built, and how he promised me that I should have it one day when he passed. Of course they were moved, what cold heart wouldn't have been?
I have the dolls house now, and why shouldn't I? He was my grandfather too, after all. It is every bit as grand as Percival described, and though I have already owned it for three days, I am not yet weary of the sight of it.
Nothing lasts forever and you must enjoy the things you have while they're still with you, that is what I have learned from the precious and brief time I have shared with the dolls house. I know the time will come when Percival speaks again of his grand gift from Grandfather, and likely the truth will out about its origins and his claims on it.
That's why I'll have to smash it into tiny, tiny pieces in the morning. Farewell, sweet dolls house. I shall miss you.