Lined Up Like Scars
I was standing in a deserted aisle of candy and dolls at Albertsons. My niece wanted a doll. I wanted candy and not to buy a doll, but it was her birthday and there was no ‘no’ in our relationship. She was seven years old, lived in another state.
She had my number.
‘You need to quit your job,’ she said when I picked up the phone.
‘Okay,’ I said.
‘Come over,’ she said.
‘I wish I could, but I’d have to get on a plane,’ I said.
‘That’s okay,’ she said. ‘Planes are all over the sky. They come here all the time. Just tell your boss to finish the work. I need you at my house. I have games.’
‘But what about school?’ I asked.
‘Oh, that,’ she said.
‘Yeah, that,’ I said.
‘I was a smurf in a play,’ she said.
‘Well that’s cool,’ I said. ‘Were you blue?’
‘What do you think?’ she asked as if I was an imbecile.
‘Listen. There’s a plane flying over the house right now. Run and get on it. I’ll see you at lunch.’
The screen went blank. I sighed. She would always be disappointed in me.
Her mom was my sister. ‘She wants an AMERICAN GIRL DOLL,’ she said.
I could hear the CAPITAL LETTERS spelled out by Chinese manufacturers.
‘Any special kind?’ I asked.
‘You know she loves you, babe. Whatever you get her will be a winner. Just make sure it’s an AMERICAN GIRL DOLL. They have names. Don’t get her a ‘Carpatina,’ or an ‘Isabelle,’ though, she added. ‘She already has those. Loving you. Got to go.’
The screen went blank. I sighed.
I stared up at the line of plump doll faces behind cellophane in boxes. They all looked into a future without bills or wrinkles, although I hoped some kids might decapitate them and cut their hair.
I thought of suicide. How would I do it? I’d always imagined a noose when the subject lodged in my head, but had no idea how to work a knot and saw myself knocking over the chair, hanging for a moment and then crashing to the floor. I couldn’t even tie a bow on a goddamn birthday package.
The dolls pouted and beamed, as though they would punch out of those cartons singing show tunes, twirling batons, ready to parade down any pageant walkway with a smile and a wink. Blondes, redheads, brunettes with blush-bleeding cheeks, dimpled and grinning as wide as a family portrait. Not one of them slouched, bit her nails or took anti-depressants. Their star-spangled blue and white eyes were flags full-mast, blinded by no shadows.
‘Can you really see them?’ someone to my right asked. I turned, thankful to see a person there and not a doll out of its cage.
I thought this was a good time to remain silent and see where this movement of hers would take us.
‘Each one of those precious faces was a baby once,’ she said. ‘Aren’t they magnificent?’
I flipped off the switch in my head that said ‘get the fuck out of here now,’ as my neck squeaked on its hinges. I leaned toward the woman for a better look. She was light years away from any planet, with a thin, chalky face and floating dark circles like oil slicks under her eyes. She was eighty or she was thirty. Either way she was an artifact from another time.
‘Look at that one,’ she pointed up to a box. ‘You never think of clinics killing babies, but they do.’ She hummed like an elevator when her eyes settled on mine. ‘You got any kids?’
‘No,’ I said.
She smiled. ‘You’re a collector, like me, then.’ She nodded her head, which I noticed had empty patches where more brown hair should have been.
‘Did you know they molded each of these faces from a dead child?’
I saw babies falling from the sky like a colony of locust. I started thinking about suicide again.
‘That one,’ she pointed up at that same box again with a brunette inside named Hildegard. ‘That’s not her name,’ she laughed. ‘Hildegard,’ she smirked. ‘Does she look like a German to you?’
AMERICAN DOLLS made in China with German names. I wondered what it would feel like to cut myself. Lots of girls were doing it. They even bought special knives and wore long sleeves. It was as common as getting tattoos or doing heroin.
The lady’s tiny body elongated. Her shaky, white hand clawed out of a red sweater and pulled Hildegard down from the row of unblinking faces.
‘Here,’ she said, and handed me the doll. ‘This is Teresa.’
I took the package, crinkled sound of empty lives, emergencies that didn’t know if they were life or death, the smell of licorice and years forgotten.
‘Teresa,’ I said. ‘What a beautiful name.’
The pale lady smiled and closed her watering eyes. ‘She was an angel,’ she said.
Teresa stared up at me. Her fat, German arms pleaded with splayed, beige fingers for something I could never deliver.
I saw babies dunked in plaster of Paris.
My cell phone blasted Nirvana. The lady and I were both unnerved.
‘Sorry,’ I said as I answered.
‘Five planes have flown over my house and you aren’t here. Why?’ my niece asked. ‘Are you still working? Mom said you need money. I’ve got tons in my cash register. Do you know how to play STORE? It’s all set up. Hurry!’ The screen went blank.
‘400 bucks for the operation,’ I whispered. The doll, detached and tense, spit broom-edged curls out of drilled holes in her colorless scalp.
The lady patted me, eyebrows a memory and the withered wisp of a moustache dusting her quivering lip. “If you keep them in their packages they’re worth a lot more money someday,” she said.
I nodded, smiled, watched her slippers slither out of the aisle before I started dialing.