The July Special Guest Writer is PD Cacek
Please feel free to visit PD at: https://pdcacek.wordpress.com/
They looked too damned real.
Maybe that was why he hated them.
Each eyelash had been curled and placed by hand. One at a time. Individually. Painstakingly. Lovingly.
And so damned real looking it made his skin crawl.
That was the thing Ben Willowbranch couldn’t understand. Why would anyone want a solid porcelain baby doll that looked so real? He remembered how his kid sister wouldn’t sleep in the same room as her bug-eyed (bug-eyed since their dad had backed over it with the station wagon) Betsy-Wetsy doll because it looked too real.
Now that it had, even before its unfortunate accident with the snow tires; but if that had been his screwy sister’s reaction to a molded piece of plastic, then he had to wonder what a doll that looked like a real sleeping baby would do to a normal child’s psyche.
Maybe instead of a framed affidavit insuring that each lash on their baby doll had been placed individually, LUV-a-Bye, the company manufacturing the dolls, should offer coupons good for future psychotherapy sessions. One per customer.
Redeemable on demand.
Good idea, Ben thought, but one that would probably bankrupt the company in a year.
No parent in their right mind would but their kid a doll that cost almost four times as much as he made in a month.
Although, since becoming a “Sales Associate” (salesman) at Porcelain Angels (Doll and Toy Shoppe) eighteen months ago to augment (sustain) his real (non-paying) job as an up and coming (middle-aged crisis) commercial artist, Ben hadn’t noticed many right minds walk into the store. Little old ladies with blue hair and fixed incomes, harried husbands being dragged from one doll to the next until it was time to pull out the ol’ MasterCard, teenage girls plunking down half of their minimum wage earnings each week on porcelain princesses, cigar-scented businessmen smirking for investments, Baby-boomers buying memories...but not one right mind as far as Ben could tell.
Some people, he always mentally added after the transactions and thank you’s, please come again’s were completed, had more money than they knew what to do with.
He, of course, wasn’t one of them.
And, unless he got a substantial raise in the near future or some rich relative he’d never heard about suddenly dropped dead and left everything to him, would never be one.
Once, when he was draping fake ivy into what he hoped would eventually look like a wooded glade for the “Bambi© and Family Miniature Collectibles,” Ben calculated how long it would take for him to pay off the most expensive piece, The Great Prince of the Forest, should he accidently drop it.
The answer shocked him. Badly.
Even with his twenty percent employee discount (and ignoring, for the moment, since this was fantasy, all the real bills that had to be paid each month), he figured it would still take him over a year to pay off the five by seven inch, “Real Bone China” buck.
And Bambi’s dad was a mere piker in prince compared to the doll Ben was dusting at the moment.
The too-damned-real baby doll. The kind he hated.
The thought made him look down, which was a bad mistake. He had intentionally (and, up until that moment, successfully) avoided direct visual contact since lifting it from the pale blue (since “it” was a “boy”) LUV-a-Bye display box.
A really, really bad mistake. Even though he was supposed to be dusting it.
Frowning, Ben brushed the soft, multi-colored duster across the red porcelain curls and heard the soft scratch of fiber against ceramic. His stomach quivered at the sound, then tightened with envy...the way it always did...when he allowed himself to marvel at the artistry that had created the doll.
Maybe that’s why he hated them so much—because he knew he could never do anything so realistic...as breathtaking beautiful as that.
Ben stopped the duster just under the point of the second, chubby fold of chin and leaned closer. The newest addition to “The Nursery,” No-Name Boy #5786-B (LUV-a-Bye, Inc., preferred to leave the naming up to the “Adoptive Parents”) had a ruddy red face and slight frown. A tiny pout played across the extended lower lip; and the hands, each one curled into fists, were tucked in close, protectively across the front of the blue LUV-a-Bye and Goodnight one-piece sleeper.
The doll didn’t look happy. In fact, “he” looked down right pissed off.
He was, Ben had decided almost immediately (after the shock of seeing him buried beneath mounds of shipping peanuts and shrink wrap wore off), his favorite.
If he had a favorite.
Which he really didn’t.
Because he hated them.
Every last one of the overpriced, individually lashed, regionally originated, racially correct, real looking dolls.
Especially this one.
This one that reminded him so much of Miriam. When she was pissed off.
And that made him think what their child might have looked like.
Had she let it live.
Ben put the doll into the wicker bassinet in front of him and stood up too quickly, knocking off the small, hand-printed sign that had sat on top of the display. It landed right side up, its gold-edge black lettering crisp and clear:
Please do not pick up our babies.
Ben’s hand was shaking a little when he replaced the card. Right, he thought, so much more pleasant than saying “You break it, you bought it.”
He saw Miriam again in the tiny porcelain frown as he stood. She’d frowned just like that when he told her how much he really wanted to be a father.
“How’s it going, Ben?” a voice suddenly called. It took him a minute to recognize it as M’Lynn’s, the store’s owner, calling from the main showroom. “Are the babies all behaving themselves?”
Ben managed a smile as she swirled through the thin gauze curtain that separated the “Nursery” from the rest of the store. He guessed her to be somewhere around his own mid-forties in age, although in reality she could be a decade on either side. Trying to determine a woman’s age, especially a beautiful woman had never been Ben’s forte. And M’Lynn was beautiful...tall and willowy with thick coffee-colored hair that fell just below her shoulders and eyes the color of summer grass.
Today she was wearing a pale green dress that deepened the faint rose tint in her cheeks and complimented her eyes.
A tiny porcelain fairy in matching green leaves ($19.95 plus tax) dangled from a golden chain just above the hollow of her throat.
“Oh, they’re just fine, M’Lynn,” he said when he was finally able to drag his eyes back up to hers. “Except this little one. He doesn’t seem too happy to be here.”
M’Lynn’s entire demeanor changed. It was fascinating, like watching a quick-moving storm overtake a bright spring day.
“Oh, dear,” she cooed down at it, “whatever could be wrong?”
Ben crossed his arms over his chest as she stepped back to give her room, hiding his smile behind the duster. He couldn’t fault her business sense—Christ knew where she advertised to find people willing to spend thousands of dollars on what was nothing more than painted chunks of expensive clay—but her devotion to the dolls, especially the baby dolls, bordered on the fanatic.
And that was just sad, because without that one flaw he might have fallen in love with her.
Deeply in love.
Ben felt the smile disappear and let his arms drop back to his side.
“Poor little thing,” M’Lynn said as she reached down to trace the curves and waves of the sculpted porcelain hair with her fingers. “He does look sad, doesn’t he?”
It, Ben wanted to remind her, not he...it.
“Maybe he knows he’s on sale.”
M’Lynn’s eyes flashed when she looked up—green lightning—an instant before she notice he was joking and laughed; dimples that more than rivaled the doll maker’s art adding exclamation points to her cheeks.
“No, I mean it,” Ben said, keeping the joke going because it also kept her there, less than an arm’s length away...separated only by the bassinet and its frowning (Price Reduced!) tenant. “Being a bargain’s pretty hard on a guy, especially when he’s new in town. I know.” He let his shoulders slump. “I’ve been there.”
M’Lynn leaned back on one foot, cocking her head to the side. The porcelain fairy danced at the end of its golden tether. “Oh, so you think you’re a bargain?”
Ben nodded, reshaping his mouth to match the doll’s pout. “Absolutely. With a twenty percent discount for employees.”
Her laughter washed over his chest and shoulders, lifting the hairs at the back of his neck as it passed. Maybe he really could love her, fanatic obsession with dolls notwithstanding.
“You know,” she said and ruined the whole thing, “you really would have made a wonderful father. It’s such a shame you don’t have any children.”
Ben nodded and pretended it was a compliment. M’Lynn knew about his divorce and lack of offspring, his hopes of becoming a “real” artist along with his lack of faith on ever achieving that goal. That had come out during their first lunch together after he’d been working there a month. It’d just been something to talk about, a little give-and-take, getting to know each other sort of thing.
He didn’t say much, but he never did.
He kept quiet and listened.
Just like he always did.
Just like he had when Miriam told him she wanted a career instead of children, counting off the reasons for her decision on her fingers. They were expensive. They required almost constant care until they were old enough to go to school. They needed things. They were an emotional and creative drain. They couldn’t afford kids, period.
Ben had kept quiet and pretended he understood and agreed.
No. No children. Not now. Now ever.
But then ever came eight weeks later on their fifteenth anniversary—an accident brought on by one too many strawberry Margaritas to celebrate a substantial raise (hers, naturally, he’d been “downsized” back to the unemployment line a month before).
She’d frowned when she told him, the frown hardening into something else when Ben did the unthinkable and stopped pretending.
They could afford it, he said.
They’d love it.
They’d protect it.
He’d take care of it by himself.
He said. He bargained. He pleaded.
And when none of that worked, he got drunk while she was at the clinic having the tiny dab of inconvenient flesh scraped and flushed from her body and stayed drunk. A week later Miriam told him she wanted a divorce. She’d gotten rid of one baby, she told him, and she wasn’t about to let him try to take its place.
She left that night and when she hadn’t returned to their apartment after three days, he’d half-stumbled, half-crawled into the bathtub and vomited for what seemed like hours. Afterward he cleaned out the tub and took a series of HOT-hot/COLD-cold showers until he felt almost human.
Six years and three states later and he here he was, half-stumbling/half-crawling through a porcelain Lilliput filled with porcelain babies.
If only Miriam could see him now.
“Is something wrong, Ben?” M’Lynn asked.
He gave her the first lie that came to him. “No.”
“Yeah, just thinking.”
“Good, because I need you to help me set up the window display for the CAT IN THE HAT© commemorative plates and miniature tea sets. You’re so artistic I don’t know how I managed all these years without you.”
He never should have told her he was a wanna-be artist.
Ben considered altering the first lie into one that described an oncoming headache the proportions of which might well indicate a brain hemorrhage. The last thing he wanted to do at the moment was fumble around with maniacally grinning cat plates and tiny tea sets that would cost him an arm and leg if he broke them.
No, take that back. The last thing he wanted to do was continuing dusting and setting up the baby doll display.
Smiling, Ben slid the handle of the duster into the back pocket of her slacks and dragged the tip of one shoe across the variegated blue-gray-pink carpet.
“Aw, suckens, ma’am. Yer gonna make me blush.”
M’Lynn reached over the bassinet and touched Ben’s arm before she turned around and, laughing softly, glided back through the gauze curtain. The motion was captured and reflected back to him by the antique cheval glass mirror she’d had him place in one corner of the room so the “adopting parents” could see themselves holding their new “babies.” Silken vines of pink and blue Morning Glories cascaded down along the beveled edges and a tiny fairy, similar to M’Lynn’s, its chain scotch-taped and hidden behind a curling leaf, seemed to hover near the top of the glass.
He had to admit it was a magical effect.
The only thing that seemed out of place was the reflection that looked back at him.
Self-portrait of the Artist as a Loser.
By Ben Willowbranch.
A bargain. Take two. Special twenty percent employee discount.
Ben shook his head and watched the man in the mirror do the same. He decided he hated the man in the glass more than he hated the baby dolls. If that was possible.
“Okay, Ben,” M’Lynn called, “whenever you’re ready.”
Her gentle way of telling him to get his ass in gear.
“Be right there,” he said to the mirror, then turned, like the bull in the China shop he was, and hip checked the bassinet. The frowning baby doll that reminded him so much of his ex-wife shifted, bumping against the padded bumper.
#5786-B didn’t look any happier about being jostled, in fact, the change in position made it seem as if he...it was about to cry. It made Ben’s flesh crawl.
God, he hated it.
Rolling his shoulders, Ben scooped up the doll, intending only to hold it long enough to smooth down the blanket it had been resting on and then getting it back into its display as soon as possible.
He never got the chance.
M’Lynn burst through the curtain with a freckled-faced mother and daughter in tow while he was still holding it.
“See,” M’Lynn whispered as if it really was a nursery and the frowning toy he was holding really was a sleeping baby. The hairs on Ben’s arms stood up as the shiver glided beneath them. “Didn’t I tell you he was wonderful with them?”
Both freckled faces looked up at him with admiration and the doll suddenly felt heavier than its listed inventory weight of 7 lbs. 10oz.
“Ben,” M’Lynn said, “these ladies are looking to adopt one of the babies, and since you’re our expert...”
He looked down at the doll. Since when was he an expert?
“...why don’t you tell them all about the little love you’re holding? We can work on the window display later.” With a wink, M’Lynn slipped through the curtain like a green mist and was gone.
Ben was trying to think of a good opening line when the smaller of the freckled faces blurted out: “Oooo, look, Mommy, he’s frowning.”
For a moment Ben didn’t know if the little girl was referring or the doll.
“What’s his name?” and “How much is it?” simultaneously followed. Applying his salesman grin and carefully transferring the doll back to its bassinet, tactfully managing to avoid the small, slightly grimy outstretched hands on the way down without seeming to. The danger of letting the child hold the doll was obvious...at least until the mother bought it. Or one like it. Then he wouldn’t care if the kid decided to kick it all the way home.
“He doesn’t have a name yet, sweetheart,” Ben told the little girl, keeping one hand on the bassinet just in case she tried to make a grab for the frowning object of her momentary affection. “You get to name him when you adopt him.”
Looking up at the mother he said, “The price is on the tag around his leg. Layaway requires thirty percent down and we can hold it up to a month.” And pretended he didn’t hear the sudden, sharp intake of breath when she saw the amount.
“Oh. Ah, my. Ah, oh look, Magda...look at all the other babies. You, ah, don’t want to get your heart set on the first one you saw, do you?”
The ploy worked as far as the mother was concerned.
Squealing with delight, the little girl began flitting around the room, pointing from one doll to the other as “this is the one I really want” kept changing. Ben didn’t have the heart to tell the mother the frowning baby was the only item currently on sale.
He also didn’t get around to putting out the Cat in the Hat display until a half-hour before closing and by that time it was too late to do more than unpack each item and check it off against the inventory list...and deal with a headache that went far beyond the one he’d thought about making up earlier.
His pain must have been obvious because M’Lynn brought him two aspirin and a can of Pepsi from the machine in the stock room.
“Thanks, boss,” he said, dry swallowing the pills as he popped open the can. One of the aspirin felt like it got stuck half was down his throat and refused to move even after three long gulps of fizz. “I needed that.”
“I could tell,” she said as she tucked her skirt in around her legs and sat down on the floor next to him. It was something she never did when there was a customer in the store, so they must be alone...except for the dolls, but Ben didn’t think they’d mind.
“You really knocked yourself out today, Ben. How many babies did you find homes for? Two?” She picked up a sheet of the bubble wrap the plates had been wrapped in and absently began popping it. “Three?”
Ben smiled. She never used the term sold, that smacked too much of reality, and he found that endearing.
Taking another sip, he lifted three fingers away from the can and shrugged. After Mom and Daughter Freckles left with the frowning baby doll, christened Billy, a half-dozen more “Prospective Parents” had been ushered into the nursery and left in Ben’s care.
He found homes for three more dolls (writing out adoption papers for Jumoke, Xiu Mei and Titania) and filled out Lay-away slips for two more.
“Just doin’ my job, ma’am,” he said and was pleased that she noticed.
M’Lynn bumped his arm with her elbow, playfully. “No, it’s more than that. I’ve had other Associates who were only doing their jobs, so I can tell the difference. You like what you do. You like being around the babies.”
Ben took another sip to keep his mouth busy. He’d already blown a marriage and chance at fatherhood by telling the truth—Liked being around the babies? Was she kidding?—he wasn’t about to lose a job (and a possible love interest) doing the same thing.
“They’re beautifully done, the craftsmanship, I mean.” No lie there, they were beautiful. “I’m envious of the artist who can create such—” creepy dead babies “—lifelike—” dead-looking “—toys. They’re...unique. No two dol— babies are alike. Each one of them is different. Just like real ones. Babies, I mean.”
M’Lynn smiled and took his hand. Her fingers and palm were warm.
“Just like real babies,” she whispered. Leaning closer she kissed him. Now he was sure they were alone. “Only our babies are loved right from the start. Loved and cherished and wanted, Ben, really wanted...not like some real babies. Sometimes a real baby isn’t wanted. Not wanted. Can you imagine such a thing?”
Ben tried to swallow and couldn’t. It felt as if the aspirin that had gotten stuck had managed to inch its way back up his throat.
“Yeah,” he nodded, “I can.”
The pressure on his hand increased. “I knew you’d understand, Ben. I knew it the moment you started working here...the gentle way you have with the babies.”
She gave him another quick kiss and stood up, brushing the wrinkles off the back of her skirt with the bubble wrap.
Ben nodded, or at least he thought he nodded. The aspirin had finally kicked in, with the help of the Pepsi’s caffeine and sugar, he wasn’t in any pain but he felt fuzzy and light-headed. Or maybe he just needed to get kissed on a more or less regular basis.
Standing only made the light-headedness worse. Walking helped, but not much.
She took the can from him at the door of the storage room and hugged him, full-frontal and hard. He hugged back, kissing her cheek, mouth and neck before forcing himself to pull away. The porcelain fairy smiled up at him.
M’Lynn was frowning and there were tears in her eyes.
“Oh, my God...M’Lynn, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
“There was a problem with this morning’s shipment from LUV-a-Bye,” she said, stepping backwards into the room and pulling him along. “One of the babies was...damaged.”
Ben watched a tear fall, sliding down the curve of her cheek. He kissed it away quickly. Christ, no wonder she was upset. As with most manufacturers of overpriced collectibles, LUV-a-Bye, Inc., didn’t have a return policy. Shops like Porcelain Angels had to buy the dolls first, full wholesale price, plus shipping and handling, no questions asked, no quarter given. If a piece happened to arrive damaged or in pieces, tough.
Better luck on your next order unless you’re real handy with Super-glue.
“Hey, it’s okay. You’ve got insurance, right?” Ben asked, hoping he sounded concerned and not just mercenary. “I mean, it’s an awful loss, but...”
There was something in her eyes besides tears, something that told Ben he had chosen the wrong path and was in imminent danger of stepping off into a chasm from which he might never be extracted. He back-peddled quickly.
“I’m sorry. I know that probably sounded crass and unfeeling. It’s just that...” Ben took a deep breath and tried to mold his aspirin-dulled thoughts into something that sounded—plausible. When that didn’t work, he went for pathetic.
“Well, these little...things are special to me, too. And the thought of losing one is—” He shrugged. “I guess it’s a guy thing, we don’t like to show emotions so we pretend to be insensitive clods. Just like now.”
It did sound pathetic. Worse, it sounded contrived. And M’Lynn bought every contrived, pathetic syllable of it.
Whatever danger Ben saw in her eyes a moment earlier drowned beneath shining green waves of tears. He swallowed a sigh of relief.
“You are so sweet,” she murmured; reward the lie with another, longer kiss. It wasn’t the first kiss Ben had ever connived from a woman, but it was the first time that it felt wrong.
When M’Lynn broke the embrace and took his hand, pulling him deeper into the storage room, Ben followed without hesitation. He owed her that much, he decided when they got to the faux-antique roll top that served as M’Lynn’s office, maybe more.
A pink LUV-a-Bye shipping box lay across a scattering of pamphlets, flyers and catalogs on the desk pad; its top crushed, a red, white and blue UPS “Damaged in Transport” sticker just below the shipping label. Ben could just imagine what the doll inside looked like.
“I’m so sorry, M’Lynn.” He knew she secretly preferred the girl baby dolls. He’d seen her in the Nursey when she thought he was busy with a customer, talking to the pink sleeper-clad toys as she cuddled them to her. It was sick, but maybe if she had a real baby of her own... “What can I do to help?”
M’Lynn was crying in earnest when she finally looked up at him.
“They’re usually so careful, Ben,” she sniffed, hand reaching toward the box then pulling back, quickly, then clutched the fairy pendant as if to stop herself from trying to touch the box again. “You have to believe that. This is only the second time—”
Her voice broke and Ben had the overpowering urge to clear his own throat. Instead he moved in close, pressing against her back and kissing the top of her head.
“M’Lynn, it’s okay...really. It’s—” He caught himself before ‘just a doll’ tumbled out. “It’s going to be okay. Do you want me to...throw it away for you?”
She spun and moved from him, her hand still clutching the pendant as she moved around to the side of the desk.
“M’Lynn? What’s the matter? What did I say?”
Ben took a step toward her and the hand at her throat flinched. When she released the pressure a tiny pink leg and part of a leaf-green wing fell to the floor and shattered.
“Throw it away?” she repeated, eyes wide, tears poised like rain, ready to fall. “Ben, throw her away? That’s what her parents already did, Ben. They threw her away.” Another tear broke free and fell into the shadows that suddenly lined her mouth. “And we weren’t there to catch her.”
Ben took a deep breath and held it a moment before letting it out. All this fuss over a broken doll. The woman was nuts, beautiful but nuts. What a waste.
“We have to bury her, Ben,” the crazy woman sobbed, stepping back toward him again. “We owe her that much.”
Ben stopped himself from backing away. It was an odd feeling hearing his previous thought about owing her that much used for a damned broken doll, but he nodded and pretended (again) that it was a reasonable request.
Like stringing up fake ivy and Morning Glories or setting up miniature tea parties. Or selling baby dolls that look too damned real.
“Okay,” he said and reached for the box.
M’Lynn stopped him before he could touch it.
“We can’t bury her in that,” she whispered, “not wrapped in plastic and packing peanuts. Wait!” A smile, of sorts, came to her lips. “I’ll use one of the quilted blankets we just got in.”
Ben watched her go and waited until she was out of the room before shaking his head. Fine. If she wanted to wrap a broken doll in a hand quilted crib blanket that retailed for $37.50 and then bury them both, fine. No skin off his nose, no pennies out of his pocket.
It was such a shame she was crazy, he really could have fallen for her.
He’d all but decided to start checking the Classified “Help Wanted” section when he got home as he took out his pocket knife and sliced the crushed box open, then began scooping handfuls of packing peanuts onto the desk. He didn’t think M’Lynn would mind and even if she did, he’d practically decided he wouldn’t be working there much longer. He was still thinking about it, weighing the Pros and Cons of finding another job, when he picked up the broken doll and tore the plastic wrap from its face.
And dropped it back into the box.
Christ, not only was the doll damaged, but something must have spilled on it. It smelled rank!
Ben tried breathing thought his mouth, until the smell became a phantom taste on his tongue. Almost gagging, he took short, shallow breaths as he leaned forward to survey the damage and see if he could figure out where the stench was coming from.
The head had suffered the worst of the damage—shards of peach colored porcelain spider-webbed the left side of the tiny face. The left eye was completely cracked in half, the dark auburn lashes (individually placed by hand) matted together with some kind of thick, yellowish resin that puddled beneath the tiny, still perfectly formed ear. That was where the smell was coming from, Ben decided after a slightly longer sniff.
It was like rotten meat...or something.
Ben tried to rub the stink from his nose as he stood up. Whatever damage the good folks at UPS thought they did, it was possible the doll might have been broken before they got their hands on it. Might even have happened at the factory, which would explain the resin...if that’s what it was.
“M’Lynn?” Picking the doll up by one arm, he held it as far away from him as he could. The neck was broken as well. The smashed head hung at an odd angle, chin pressed against one shoulder. “I think you might be able to get your money back on this—”
He took a step toward the door and the doll’s head turned on its broken neck, a shard of porcelain falling from its crushed cheek. Ben didn’t notice where it went or even if had shattered like the pieces of fairy, he as too busy staring at what the missing shard had revealed.
Ben knew the dolls weren’t hollow, but he didn’t expect this.
It had to be some kind of soft plastic, he heard a soft, rational voice inside his head explain, or malleable rubber they used as a mold before dipping it in its final porcelain skin. Okay, good, that made sense and it had to be something like that because it couldn’t be...
...what it looked like.
Ben couldn’t feel himself breathe as he touched the patch of pale, almost colorless (rubber, plastic, something else) flesh the broken porcelain had revealed. It was cold to the touch, the texture of old rubber (rubber, yes), soft and giving but lifeless, holding the impression of his fingertip, the tiny blue veins beneath the skin unchanged, undisturbed...empty.
He looked at the hardened resin covering the side of the tiny face and felt his stomach turn.
When he finally was able to take a breath and release it the noise it made sounded like sobbing. He was cradling the broken baby...not a doll, my God, it’s not a doll...against his chest when M’Lynn came back with the quilt.
She nodded. “I know it’s hard, Ben,” she said, holding the quilt open as she cajoled the baby from his arms, “but we have to bury her.”
“But...but—” All he could do was point and watch M’Lynn wrap the small body in the quilt. “It was real. She’s a real baby.”
M’Lynn looked up. “Was, Ben. Of course she was...is a real baby. All of LUV-a-Bye babies are real...were real until their parents got rid of them, threw them away like they were trash, like they didn’t matter. They never had a chance when they were alive and growing. Ben, but they do now.”
Bending forward, M’Lynn parted the quilt to kiss the broken face.
“The people who would have bought her would have wanted her, Ben,” she said, covering the face. “You’ve seen them, our customers. You’ve helped them...you know how much they want these babies. Want them, Ben. If this little one had lived, we don’t know what her life might have been.” M’Lynn ran her fingers gently over the quilt. “She might have been abused or tortured because she was never wanted. She was a mistake, that’s how her parents saw her from the start...just a mistake to get rid of. But this way she would have been wanted and cared for. And loved. Forever and ever.”
She looked up. “You understand, don’t you?”
Ben felt himself nod. It almost made sense, the way she explained it. Unwanted babies suffered. Wanted (expensive) dolls were cherished and prized and cared for. He nodded again as M’Lynn gently hugged the tiny quilt wrapped corpse.
“I knew you would, Ben, you really would have made a wonderful father. There’s a place I know, a small grove of trees not far from the children’s playground by the lake. It’s so pretty there.” M’Lynn wasn’t looking at Ben anymore, all her attention was on the bundle in her arms. “Oh, yes it is, it’s so pretty and peaceful and there are lots of squirrels and bunnies and ducks to play with.”
She was smiling, her face glowing and radiant when she finally remembered he was standing there and looked up.
“She won’t be alone, Ben. She’ll have a brother to play with.” M’Lynn lifted the bundle to her shoulder, cradling the broken head and neck as if it...she was still alive. From its chain, the broken fairy smiled at him. “I named him Geoffrey after my father. He was one of LUV-a-Bye’s first babies. They didn’t have the technique down as well as they do now and he was.... Well, he wasn’t in the best shape when he arrived. I had to bury him all by myself, Ben, and that was so hard. I’m glad you’re with me this time.”
Ben smiled and nodded again. There wasn’t much else he could do. He’d been selling the dolls...the babies for how long? His stomach did another tuck-and-roll and tried to crawl up his throat. He swallowed it back down.
“And I don’t think we’ll have to worry too much about this sort of thing happening again,” M’Lynn said, picking up one of the flyers from the desk and handing it to him. “LUV-a-Bye is starting a brand new line and we’ve got the exclusive rights to sell them. Isn’t that wonderful?”
M’Lynn rocked the baby, beaming at him as Ben took the flyer and began to read. At first he didn’t feel anything, almost as if he’d been dipped in porcelain, too, then his stomach fell through the soles of his shoes.
Ben looked at M’Lynn as the weight of the paper pulled his hand down.
Fetuses. Tiny unwanted dabs of flesh that had been scrapped and flushed away.
He wondered if one of them might be his and what the cost would be after his 20% employee discount.
“You want to drive,” he asked, “or should I?”
M’Lynn handed him the baby and kissed his cheek. “I’ll drive, I know the way. You can think of a name for her before we get there.”
“Already have one,” Ben said as he walked with her to the back exit. “Miriam.”
StarsEnd Creating, 1998
The winner of both a Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Award, P.D. Cacek has written over a hundred short stories, six plays, and five published novels. Her latest THE SELKIE, is currently available on Amazon.com.
Her work has appeared in Cemetery Dance Magazine,
Cacek holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English/Creative Writing Option from the University of California at Long Beach and has been a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Camp.
A native Westerner, Cacek now lives Phoenixville, PA…home of BLOBFEST, and only a short walk away from The Colonial Theater where the famous “Run Screaming From Theater” scene was filmed.
When not writing, she can often been found either with a group of costumed storytellers called THE PATIENT CREATURES (www.creatureseast.com), or haunting local cemeteries looking for inspiration.