Doll BabyJan 21, 2015
Her left eye socket gaped wide, empty of the delicate blue glass that had gazed back at me only hours before. Cradling her in my arms, I scooped her off the bed and heard an echo round the inside of her porcelain skull. I closed my left eye andpeeked my right against the hole, still framed by perfectly painted eyelashes. A white orb glowed as it slid around the cavernous blackness.
The wrapping paper still fanned around the box she came in, both abandoned to the floor after I had placed her on my bed for safekeeping. My friends and I were celebrating my tenth birthday in the garden, not with a tea party—befitting the kind of girl who would ask for such a doll—but with water balloons, muddy feet, and grass stains.
We—I—had left my sister, Ali, out of the fun. She was four years younger than me, but neither her age nor her lisp kept her from bossing me around. It didn’t matter to her that I was now officially in the double-digits. Excluded and alone, she rushed upstairs and into my room where she found my perfect doll propped against my pillows, prim and proper. Her anger had nothing to do with the doll itself. But, since she couldn’t poke out my eye, Ali pressed her pudgy thumb against the glassy pupil and pushed. The eye fell free, beginning its endless massage of the doll’s empty cranium.
I knew she had done it. Brit, my youngest sister, was too little to find my friends interesting and not yet strong enough to maim a doll.
“Mom! You’re never going to believe what Ali did this time!”
I fought back raging tears as I pounded down the stairs and into the kitchen, my little cyclops clutched against my chest. The guests had already left and all that remained of the party were the shreds of balloons sprouting like polychromatic dandelions all over the lawn. Ali loved dandelions and often twisted one of their sunny heads under my chin while asking, in her singsong voice, “Do you like butter?” If a yellow tinge reflected under my chin, the answer was “yes.” This was an amateur trick compared to her favorite dandelion routine, involving decapitation. “Hey Manda! Watch this,” she’d sing. Her thumb, grubby and sticky from all that sucking, poised beneath the blossom. “Mama had a baby and her head popped off!” The blossom launched in my direction, but I never asked whose head it was–the baby’s or the mama’s.
Prior to my tantrum Ali disappeared, which is exactly what I had wanted all day; however, she resurfaced for supper, throughout which she lisped her innocence—committed to the lie that the eye must have “just fallen out.” I silently fumed, willing her eye to just fall out. By bath time, she cracked.
“Mom, I have to tell you something,’” she said, peeking over the edge of the tub.
I squinted between the crack in the door, ears poised for the confession.
“What’s that, Ali?” Mom wrung out a washcloth. A silver stream of water cascaded into the suds.
Ali frowned at the bubbles, brow furrowed.
“Well, Manda thinks she’s so smart and I wanted to play with the water balloons, too, but she wouldn’t let me.”
Mom nodded, smoothing the washcloth over Ali’s back.
I stifled a groan. How long was she going to whine about something that wasn’t my fault? I couldn’t help that I was older, and I wasn’t going to have her tag along and lisp at us all day. Whenever anyone else mentioned or mimicked Ali’s speech, I became their enemy and her bravest defender. But today was my birthday and I deserved a break from translating and policing. Keeping her away from my friends spared me both tasks.
“I was so mad. So mad!” She practically growled as her initial anger resurfaced, singeing her cheeks.
Reaching for the towel flopped over the radiator, Mom smiled, eyebrows lifted. Expectant. She already knew how this story ended.
“I couldn’t help myself.”
From behind the door I realized I wasn’t going to be able to help myself when that urchin finally oozed out of the tub.
Mom stretched her arms wide, spreading the towel to receive Ali. The water skimmed the side of the tub as Ali stood, moping, shoulders drooped, beads of water dripping from her curls. She leaned forward into the towel Mom hugged around her. As Mom lifted her out, Ali began to sob, resting her head on Mom’s shoulder. Mom stood rocking Ali back and forth, a slight chuckle accompanying every sway.
She looked less like a five-year-old and more like a baby, swaddled and wailing. Catching her breath, she turned her hiccuping face to Mom’s. “Can I sleep in your room tonight?”
“What for?” Mom asked, her laugh challenging Ali’s sobs.
Ali’s voice squeaked to a near deafening pitch with every word. “That doll scares me. I’m afraid she’s gonna get me.” She surrendered her head onto Mom’s shoulder and choked the rest of her tears into Mom’s neck. Apparently, it didn’t occur to her to feel scared of me or afraid that I would get her, given half the chance.
Mom turned and caught my eye. She winked at me and I exhaled, surprised as the anger seemed to disappear, the heat in my face cooling. Unburdened, I skipped to my bedroom and settled against my pillow, calm and content in the knowledge that tonight Ali would sleep with one eye open. But my conscience sparked to life behind my droopy eyelids, and so, when a shadow with damp ringlets tiptoed to my bedside, I let it tuck in with me. Relieved that I had never gotten in trouble for acting like a monster in the first place, but awakened to the reality that curled next to me was a child with porcelain skin and a taste for butter, around whom dolls and dandelions didn’t stand a chance, I closed my eyes. Wrapped in my arms her latest victim rested partially blind, one eye perpetually open. But I knew Ali slept soundly.
Amanda Forbes Silva received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Her work has been published in bioStories, Empty Sink, Emrys Journal, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal, later anthologized in The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2012. A native of New England, she was raised overseas and often writes about her expatriate childhood experiences. Amanda spends times away from her own pages working as an adjunct professor and freelance writer. She is addicted to traveling and is most inspired when she is on the move. Interested readers are invited to check out her website at: www.amandafsilva.com.