The House of Broken Dolls
Sophie remembered the tall trees in the winter time, bare blackened branches stark against the snow filled sky. She heard them rattle and scrape their
spiky branches, sounding as if they were scratching and ripping at the cold winter clouds that December, almost two years ago, when she first arrived
at the big mansion house. It was a long journey to get there, in more ways than one. The house was set away back behind the woods, completely secluded
and most people would not have known of it's existence at all. She had been bumped around a few children's homes and orphanages before ending up
here at Hope Manor House for Girls. Her case worker had arranged a place for her here and had been very optimistic that she would be adopted out to a
good family. But that was two years ago, and she was still here, still waiting.... and all the while getting older and less adoptable.
Hope Manor House was regimental in routine. Awake at 6am, chores and cleaning duties for two hours and then breakfast. They had to be in the class
room for 830am when lessons would commence, a 15 minute break for lunch at 12.30 pm then further classes until 4.30.
Dinner was at 5pm clearing up began at 5.30 followed by more cleaning and housekeeping duties until bed time at 9pm, lights out at 9.05pm.
The girls were responsible for laundry, cleaning and general kitchen and garden duties. It was a large mansion house split into two separate wings and
needed a lot of upkeep even though the entire west wing was closed up. There was a long dark corridor behind the main staircase at the entrance to
Hope House and at the very end of the passageway a tall set of double doors which were always locked and secured with a heavy chain and padlock. This
was the internal entrance leading to the West Wing and as long as Sophie had been here she had never known it to be opened. The corridor was strictly
out of bounds for all of the girls, although the girls who had swept and polished the long corridor spoke of hearing music and people talking.....and
sometimes late at night the muffled sounds of crying from behind the padlocked doors. The House Mother kept a large band of keys fastened to her
'punishing' belt which she wore around her waist and she was only one that had access to the West Wing. Or so they said.
There were lots of stories about the west wing. Stories that were told only in whispers and only after the lights went out in the dormitories.
Day to day, nothing ever changed at Hope House..7 days each week the routine was the same. The staff were cold and distant, even the tutors showed
little enthusiasm and rarely engaged with the girls at all. It was very easy to feel like a shadow within these walls. As if you didn't really live
They called themselves The China Dolls because they only time they really came alive was on the last Sunday of each month, when it was Visiting Day.
On Visiting Day they were taken out and looked at and if they were lucky, maybe admired a little. Then after the visitors left, they were put back
upon the shelf, until the next time.
So here she was, one of The China Dolls at Hope Manor House and tomorrow was Sunday, the 30th, Visiting Day.
As always they had to lay out their special dresses the night before, always white, and scrupulously cleaned and starched, they had to bathe and brush
their hair until it shone and they had to be on their absolute best behavior during the Visit.
All of the girls here were orphans with no extended family to take them in, some had been abandoned as babies, most had been kicked around the system
for a long time before arriving here. Sophie was one of the older ones at 13...she and the other older girls had been through many Visiting Days, and
they took it upon themselves to help the little ones and make sure that they were presentable and ready. It was better that they helped because if
anything was out of place or there were any mistakes made, punishment was severe and indiscriminate at Hope House. The House Mother, Ms Chalmers was
vindictive and enjoyed beating the girls, the little ones especially. She would make sure that she never left marks on their faces, and any girls who
still had fading bruises on their bodies were excluded from attending Visiting Day.
Once all the girls were ready and gleaming in their pristine white dresses they were to assemble either side of the large curved staircase,with the
smaller ones at the bottom of the stairs near the large statue of an angel in chains. Once they were all in their assigned places they resembled an
evangelical chorus ascending up each side of the staircase.
Ms Chalmers would remain at the base of the staircase standing right beside the statue and call out each girls' name as she presented them to the
Sometimes a certain girl would appeal to one of the Visitors and Ms Chalmers would immediately have the girl escorted into the large drawing room,
where the Visitors could sit and talk to her for a while before they decided whether they would adopt her or not. This had happened twice to Sophie,
but each time after answering a few questions she had been dismissed by the Visitors and had returned to her place on the staircase. She always tried
her very best to smile and look special but regardless of her efforts she remained at Hope House. An unwanted China Doll.
Today she was going try extra hard, smile extra big, be extra special. She did all of those things while she stood in place on the stair case, and
finally it was her turn, Ms Chalmers called out her name and she began her descent down the staircase, counting the stairs down in her head while
holding tightly onto the curved, polished banister..... as she reached the Angel Statue at the bottom, Ms Chalmers told the assembled Visitors that
she was 13 years old, could play violin and excelled at languages and had just began studying classic English literature.
She heard the Visitors' murmuring among themselves, and caught the words " too old " and " maybe damaged " and then "not really what we made
the trip out to Hope House for " And she stood there, cheeks burning, while the Visitors performed their appraisal. But even through the humiliation
and shame, she yearned for a few kind words. To hear someone say that they would take her as their own and love her. It was all any of the China Dolls
wanted. To one day be taken off of the shelf and taken home.
Sophie knew in her heart that this was not that day, not for her. Someone within the group of Visitors cleared their throat....no one spoke, then
finally Ms Chalmers took her by the shoulders and guided her out towards the dining room and told her to wait inside until Visiting day was over. This
had never happened before on Visiting Day.
Sophie sat and waited and as she did her fear grew......what would become of her now ?