‘Three hundred, five and seventy for this is quite a reasonable price,’ the woman in the Antiquitäten assured me. My German isn’t very good but I was able to follow most of what she said. She was young, had long yellow hair and the kind of wan prettiness that made me think of a little dark house by the road at dusk and a face seen from a car window. ‘It isn’t actually an antique–the furniture is maybe sixty years old or a little more but the pots and pans and implements are newer. These dolls’ kitchens I collect but I have already three others at home and there is no space for so many.’ She had two little yellow-haired sons in the shop; they looked away when I smiled at them.
Three hundred and seventy-five Deutschmarks was a little less than 132 pounds at the current rate of exchange, certainly a bargain. ‘Where will you find space for it?’ asked my wife, Gisela.
‘I think I might get a story out of it,’ I said. The dolls’ kitchen seemed to be offering itself in some way. The human urge to replicate human and animal activities and their settings in miniature is something I’ve always wondered about. A clockwork figure of a porter pushing a trolley piled high with luggage; a tin rabbit icecream vendor on his ice-box tricycle; a cooker for a doll to prepare a meal on–such toys are strange and mysterious to me, they seem to be communicating more with the unseen than with the child for whom they are ostensibly intended. I still remember being given a beautiful stork that flew around and around a tin lighthouse; after a time it became too much for me and I had to put it away. I tend to feel uneasy with dolls’ houses and dolls’ rooms. The air in a room, the air between and around things–most people take it for granted but I never have; who knows what’s moving in it? The silent conversation between tables and chairs, cupboards and shadows–who knows what’s being said? And when everything is small like that, the air and the silence are concentrated in a particular way that isn’t the safest thing in the world. No. So although I wanted this dolls’ kitchen there was a certain amount of dread in my feelings about it.