It is the transience of beautiful things that makes them so beautiful. How the beauty you see and the beauty you feel is so fragile, so impermanent… and seeing or feeling beauty is always bittersweet because it is also in part a feeling of loss. A numb sense of loss, at knowing that it will someday fade, and be gone forever; and a poignant feeling of loss, at knowing that it would have changed you and you’d never be the same.
There was a beautiful cloth doll propped up against a cardboard box of rubbish outside a run-down set of flats; she had hair of red yarn, and a little snub nose, and her voice when I heard it in my head was a pleasant, young voice, with the optimistic innocence of untainted youth- innocence of eighteen once, innocence of fifteen now, but without the lightly ringing, raucous aftertone of a real voice; but then again it was only in my head after all. She didn’t say anything- she saw me and read my mind, and blushed, and laughed, and sighed, and didn’t say a word. I looked at her with wonder because dolls didn’t talk, or so I thought; and because it’s always easier to think back to forgotten pills than to open your eyes to magic, even though I believed in magic.
I was walking home, through a series of old apartments, rusty railings and grimy walls and drying, dripping clothes on indoor lines visible through the dirty, cement-specked panes of glass; and among a pile of rubbish left out by a doorstep, alongside tied-up black bags of waste food and a row of dark beer skittles in a group like a pile of bottles, using a cardboard box full of tiny broken toys and old dirty rags and drawn-on papers as a pillow and a sofa, was a beautiful red-haired rag-doll with rounded hands and long lanky legs ending in little oval feet wrapped in soft felt shoes; her skirt ending where her knees would be if she had had knees, shoulder-length hair of red woolly yarn, unblinking, wide-open gray eyes.
I felt so sad looking at her. The throwing out of dolls always made me sad. It reminds one of the temporary nature of love. As a child you love something so much, so completely, with all your heart- as a best friend, a mock-baby, a playmate, an eternal visitor to every tea-party, and you know it loves you back as unequivocally, and with more permanence- for as you get older you get bored of her, and then embarrassed of her, and then hate her for no fault of hers. You throw her out because you change, and morph into age, and loath to give all your heart freely… but she always stays the same, and waits hopelessly as she collects dust in a corner and is thrown out to become a nest for the rats and a home for the birds, still waiting for a reciprocated love again.
I knelt down in front of the beautiful little thing, and touched her cheek lightly with the curved inside tips of my fingers and sighed at her beauty and how lonely she would be; and how horrible the world was, a world where losing the ability to love wholly with all your heart is seen as the marker of transition from childhood to maturity, and I sighed, and she blushed, and giggled, and sighed.
I jumped, startled, and checked myself and looked at her again. She tilted her head up and looked at me and spoke to me in a laughing voice.
‘Yes, I’m magic,’ she said. ‘Is it that unbelievable?’
I looked at her, at her eyes, her nose, the slight upturn of her left lip in a half-smile in such a human expression, the pale rosy flush of her pale fuzzy cloth face.
‘You’re not going to leave me here to be thrown away.’ She said it as a statement. ‘The disposal here is straight to an incinerator.’
‘Do you mind if I pick you up?’, I asked carefully.
‘Well, I can’t exactly walk down the street with you’, she said. ‘Other people can’t see me move. Other people can’t hear me speak.’
I reached out a hand to her waist gingerly, and she shifted slightly and stood up a little straighter. I put my other hand on her waist and tried gently lifting her up a few inches first, and her head lolled backwards and she half-screamed. I quickly put her back down.
‘Lift me up like you would a child’, she said through almost-clenched teeth. ‘One hand between my shoulder blades.’
I moved my hand, the palm of my forearm supporting her back, holding her, and I could sense her discomfort by the stiff way she was in my arms, arching her back so that only my hands and the base of my arm near the elbow touched her. She seemed to hate the indignity of being carried like a child; her face was flushed, her mouth set. I gingerly held her in a way that my body didn’t touch hers, but when I extended my arms she sighed and laid her head across my shoulder and I heard her say ‘I’m so tired’ inside my head.
The walk home was silent and awkward. As the doors to the elevator of my apartment closed, her back straightened again; her face regained the expression it had lacked when other people could see, she became alive again and tilted up her head to look at my face.
I pressed the button for the thirteenth floor. The elevator creaked, dropped a millisecond, and started rising ponderously upwards.
‘What’s your name?’, I asked.
‘Ann’, she said.
‘Like the one from Green Gables?’
She smirked. “She had auburn hair. Mine is red.’
‘Ann, like the doll. From the cartoon’, she elaborated. ‘I’m not an Ann, I just got the name because of the obvious similarities.’
The elevator laboured to a stop, overshooting a few inches before suddenly dropping back to the correct level. The doors clanged open. I moved her to one arm, wrapping it around her waist, and fumbled in my pocket for my keys. She let out a snort of laughter. I took out the keys, opened the door, and looked at her.
‘You act like you’re a teenager’. I was asking a question.
‘I am a teenager’, she said. ‘I’m eighteen.’
I was curious. ‘You mean as in it’s been eighteen- you’ve been here for eighteen years?’
‘No, do I look that old and worn-out to you?’. She sounded slightly affronted. ‘I’m eighteen in my head. My soul is eighteen.’
‘Do you have a soul?’, I asked.
She looked up, and her eyes looked hollow all of a sudden, sad and dead and unsure. ‘I should’, she said. ‘God isn’t that cruel.’
There was an awkward silence for a few moments as we both stood up at the doorstep, me with guilt, her looking stricken, lost, confused.
‘Come in’, I said, breaking the silence. ‘Oh wait, yeah, stupid of me’- I was holding her at the time. I carried her inside and gently put her down on the sofa, and went back to close the door.
‘Do you live alone?’, she asked.
I turned around. ‘Yeah, doesn’t a good look around tell you?’. I gestured at the living room. It was small, and a mess. One of the walls was covered by an old-fashioned wooden bookshelf. The TV opposite the beat-up, overstuffed sofa was old, and a fine layer of dust, unaffected by the perfunctory weekly wipe with a rag, had settled inside the grooves of the speakers at the sides of the screen. There was a low coffee-table in front of the sofa, with a half-closed laptop accompanying, of course, an empty coffee mug, with a dark ring of condensation formed around the base forming a broken circle on the smudged, fingerprints-stained black glass off the table-top.
She straightened herself up on the sofa, propping herself up on her palms, and raised her eyebrows slightly, looking pointedly at the table in front of her; then she shrugged and let out a loud sigh in the infuriating way which seemed to be universal female lament for the sorry state of men.
‘What, I wouldn’t keep a house where I live alone all spick and span and sparkling, would I?’
‘Yes, yes, of course you wouldn’t’, she said, still in an exasperated voice, in what was a very exasperating tone. She shook her head to herself a few times, and then spoke up a bit more brightly. ‘So what do you usually do now at this time of the day?’
‘I, uh… eat dinner’, I replied.
‘Great, I’m starving’, she said, closing her eyes and leaning back against the sofa. ‘What’re you having?’
‘I’m gonna go microwave some pizza.’
She rolled her eyes, and after a moment looked slightly guilty and forced a light laugh. Then, speaking carefully, in a measured tone, ‘Can you bring a plate for me too?’, she asked.
She slid off the sofa and stood up. As she made her first steps, I looked at her in surprise.
‘You can walk?’
‘When nobody else is around, yeah…’ She walked over to me. Standing up, she barely reached up to my chest. She must have been only just above four feet high. She looked up at me.
‘I’m sorry for seeming rude’, she said, earnestly. ‘I’m not too good with people. I don’t really know too much how to act. I’m clueless, and I was covering for it with silliness.’
I smiled. ‘I’m only twenty-one, you know. I meet tons of girls who act that way and who’re your age. No big deal, really. I’m cool with it. I’ll go put the pizza in.’
I took two slices of pepperoni off the carton and plopped them down onto my plate, the molten cheese stringing over my fingers. I was eating at the table for the first time in days- I was more used to having my meals in front of the television watching the evening football. She was seated facing me. I had taken some spare cushions that were too hard for me to use for their intended purpose, and used them as a stable way to prop up her seat at the table.
‘Want some pizza?’, I asked.
I took a fork and spoon this time, and attempted to manoeuvre a slice of pizza into a position where I could harpoon it with the fork and lift it over to her plate. As I reached out to fumble with the pizza, she butted in. ‘No, no, I don’t eat real food, remember?’
I looked at her stupidly. ‘But you said you wanted some pizza.’
She sighed, and began patiently. ‘Remember how any little girls you’ve known feed their dolls at tea parties? Sadly, that’s only how I can eat. You need to do that, put some food on my plate, and I’ll eat.’
I raised my eyebrows at her, then proceeded to try and spear an imaginary slice of pizza on my spoon and fork- a much easier task to negotiate than a real slice- and act out plopping down a slice on her plate. She primly sat up straight and started eating with also invisible cutlery, cutting off small pieces of the pizza and gingerly putting it in her mouth, before chewing slowly and swallowing cautiously.
A minute or so passed in silence.
‘’Hey, how come you talk anyway?’, I eventually asked.
She smiled mysteriously. ‘Our life finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, good in everything; and maybe a companion, a friend, in a me?’
‘Since when did dolls read Shakespeare? Let alone quote him in completely the wrong context?’, I questioned, laughing.
‘Since when did dolls talk?’, she responded instantly. ‘Not too great a leap of the imagination, is it?’
I thought it over for a few seconds.
‘So which one is your favourite?’
‘Antony and Cleopatra’, she replied. ‘Yours?’
‘Yeah, I liked that one too.’
‘I also liked Romeo and Juliet. The poetry.’
‘The language? The great declarations of love?’ She grinned. ‘Should’ve known you were a hopeless romantic at heart from the minute I walked into your apartment, what with a shelf full of books.’
I ate my last mouthful of pizza and stood up. She also stood after eating one last piece. ‘Thanks for the pizza’, she said. ‘It was really delicious.’
‘You’re welcome’, I said blandly.
She waited there, standing at the table and looking at me as if she wanted to say something. I looked at her and raised my eyebrows questioningly.
‘Do I… So, do I stay here? There’s nothing I can do outside… I mean I can’t move or talk anywhere else, and I’d probably get thrown away if you just left me outside…’
I gaped at her. I hadn’t thought of that angle of things. And as I looked at her in surprise she tapped her feet on the floor and swayed a little from side to side, looking up at me with a hopeful expression.
‘Umm… well, yeah I guess so’, I said.
She smiled. Outside, the low red rays of the setting sun slanted in through the closed window, creeping slowly across the floor, resting for now just touching the sides of her feet.
‘So… will you be sleeping in the bedroom?’, I asked.
‘No;, she said. ‘The whole bed would be too big for me anyway. The sofa is very comfortable.’
‘Are you sure?’, I asked, for politeness sake.
‘Yeah, I’m sure’, she said patiently. ‘Alright, it’s still early, what do you usually do from now until you sleep?’
‘I don’t know’, I said. ‘Different things different days? But tonight I’ll probably watch TV. There’s a footie game on at 7.30, in like ten minutes or so… Would you like to watch?’
She smirked slightly. ‘Twenty-two guys chasing a ball. What’s not to like? I think I’ll just read tonight. Do you have any good books for me to read right now?’
I pulled a book of the shelf with a dramatic flourish. ‘How about… a courtroom thriller?’
She took the book from me.
‘The Case of the Velvet Claws?’. She arched her eyebrows over the thin paperback, then suddenly grinned. ‘Haha, I get it, velvet claws!’
I grinned back. ‘I never noticed that before, you know. But that’s kinda like… One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’
‘How so?’, she enquired.
‘Cuckoos don’t have nests. Get it?’
‘Oh yeah…’ She turned the book over. ‘Perry Mason, attorney-sleuth extraordinaire, and his faithful secretary the demure Della Street… Sounds simply sensational.’ She sounded sceptical.
‘No, Perry Mason is actually totally awesome’, I said. ‘I wanted to be a lawyer when I was in high school after I read these books… Until I figured out that your average lawyer wasn’t as high-minded and honourable as Mister Perry Mason.’ I grinned. ‘Figuring out that all lawyers didn’t have a gorgeous secretary with a perfect personality also helped.’
‘Hmm…’ She said thoughtfully, ‘alright, I’ll take your word on it.’ Holding the book tightly between both hands, she disappeared into my room. I fell into the sofa and turned the TV on.
I stepped out of bed and went outside to check on Ann from where she was sleeping on my sofa. It was easily big enough for her, and she was curled up under a thin mattress, her face buried into a pillow that was over half her size. She moved groggily as I peeked my head out of the bedroom door, and lifted herself up on her elbows.
‘Hello’, she said sleepily. I stepped out and waved at her, then went to the bathroom to freshen up before work.
I brushed my teeth and washed my face with cold water. After lathering my face with shaving cream, I realized the blade was blunt, and opened the cabinet by the mirror to take out a new one. There, right next to the bottle of minty-green Listerine on the second shelf was a little bottle with red and white capsules with ‘One every morning’ written with a black marker on it.
I looked at it ponderingly, distrustfully. It really was quite unnecessary to follow it now. There was really no danger involved. I hadn’t taken one for the past five days, unable to bear the nausea that would set in by dark when I did. Side effects. The world takes too much medicine. Maybe that’s why everyone on earth seems crazy. I ignored the little cylinder of dark glass, and picked out a new blade from a packet in the bottom corner.
I shaved, took a shower, and went back outside after changing into a clean T-shirt and office trousers. She sat up sleepily as I stepped out into the living room.
She cocked her head and looked at me hesitatingly for a few seconds.
‘How long before you go to work?’, she asked.
‘Another hour or so’, I replied.
‘Are you gonna be busy for that hour or so?’
‘No’, I replied. ‘Why?’
‘Umm… My hair is all tangled up, and I can’t hold a brush…’ She paused and looked up at me. I motioned for her to continue.
‘Can you brush out my hair for me?’
I looked at her in surprise.
‘My old owner used to brush out my hair every morning’, she said. She sounded almost apologetic.
I said nothing.
‘As a friend?’, she said hopefully.
‘Yeah’, I said. ‘Sure’.
She sat up, and patted the seat next to her on the sofa.
‘Let me go get a hairbrush’, I said, and went to get one from the bathroom. When I came back she had bunched up the sheet under which she had slept and cast it to one side, and was sitting with her body sideways, facing away from where I was going to be sitting.
Of course, some things were strange at first with our little arrangement.
I’d gotten used to the comforts of living alone- being able to put off having to clean up, being able to open any door any time, or have any door open any time, eating junk food when I felt too lazy to whip up anything and was too broke to order.
Also, having a girl around was a bit awkward, even if she wasn’t a human girl, technically.
Her age was especially awkward. Eighteen was still young enough for me to not really get her sort of girlish enthusiasm and energy about things I found silly… like when she kept on monopolizing the remote to watch MTV; but it was also old enough for the sort of awkwardness that two people of different sexes living together can produce, especially when she was as dependent as she was on me for certain things, like brushing her hair.
I don’t know how she changed or showered, all I know is that she’d ask for the room to shower and get dressed, and then she’d take ages and ages and come out all fresh. But then again, since when did magic ever make sense?
It was strange, and shy, and awkward. I was had been too shy to even talk to girls before. Now here was one living with me, living in my house. But she wasn’t really a girl, but she was.
It was awkward, and strange, and shy.
I woke up one night for a glass of water, and opened the door to see the sofa and the back of her head silhouetted against the flickering bluish light coming from the television in the living room. The screen cast a flickering blue-white shadow. I walked over groggily to the fridge and got a glass of water. Ann-silhouette turned her head around at the click of the door.
I walked over to her. ‘Hi’, I said sleepily.
‘Hi’, she said, sniffing.
‘Why are you crying?’ I asked.
She glared at me. ‘What, is your heart made out of stone?’
I looked at the screen. ‘A Walk to Remember?’
‘It is sad’, I said, trying to sound a little more consoling, or a little more understanding. ‘But it’s just a movie, you know. I mean, of course you know that. But it’s not real.’
‘It’s as real as I am’, she snapped.
‘But you are real. Really, actually real.’
‘And so are they’, she said. ‘In some world. Did you know that all stories, every single story that has been ever written or drawn or filmed or told, is actually real? And they happen when you write them down, but in some other dimension, some other frame of existence. That’s the infinite universes of physics- the infinite number of stories in the history of the world… It’s why fairy tales have happy endings, happily ever afters, and why sad stories break my heart. And if you ever tell anyone a story, if you ever tell anyone our story, even, you have to give it a happy ending, in a valley of lilies, riding off into the sunset… even if that doesn’t happen, even if it’s not true…so that in some other world, those people, you and I and anyone else, would be happy.’
‘I want to go to that’, Ann told me suddenly.
We were watching television. Advertisements, actually. Of movies.
‘Why?’ I asked her.
‘I’m bored out of my brain’, she said sulkily. ‘Well what do you expect a teenage girl to be doing stuck all day and night in a very male house with nothing to do, and nobody to talk to except when you get home from work at like, seven?’
‘But aren’t you having fun here?’ I said.
She rolled her eyes. ‘Oh yes. Most girls in the world have that kind of social life, I never knew. Go out approximately zero times in an entire lifetime. Big whoop.’
Her eyes flashed. ‘And pray tell me, how exactly is it different? Every other girl in the world is somehow better than me cos they were born with flesh and blood, and beautiful? With this-‘ she pointed angrily at the rough woolly peach cloth of her arm, ‘and looking like some ridiculous mass-produced thing, I should be even further punished somehow by being hidden away locked up inside somewhere cos I’m so ridiculous?’
‘No!’, I said vehemently. ‘Look, its just, sort of, a delicate situation to go out together, okay? I mean-‘
Her expression changed suddenly. ‘Wait. Are you ashamed to be seen with me? You’re ashamed of me, aren’t you?’
‘No!’, I said loudly. ‘Look, I just mean that people don’t go out with, you know…‘
‘So you are just ashamed to be seen in public with me’, she said icily. ‘Okay fine then. I won’t force it on you. But I’m going to my room now and don’t you dare disturb me while I’m there. Oh, and to while the time, just do this, okay? Go on the internet and google the name Lee Jin-Gyu. And Uwe Mitzscherlich.’
‘Who are they?’ I asked her, as she got off the sofa and walked stiffly towards the room.
‘Men with more guts than you’ll ever have’, she said coldly. Then she reached the bedroom, with the door closed, and stopped in front of it.
‘Can you come and open the door?’ she said, still trying to be icy, but her voice cracked.
I went over and silently opened the door for her and she walked in stiffly, shaking. I suddenly felt weak at the knees, devastated, struck with sudden sorrow at her hurt and her frustration at not being able to make an exit, to need me even when she didn’t want to, when she wanted not to, for the little things, like opening doors… And quickly, as she entered, I quietly closed the door behind her to spare her the pain of asking me again.
I went over to my laptop, as she had asked me to, and searched for those names… and reading about them I was struck with both a sense of guilt, and a sudden realization. Both the names she had told me about were people who had been in love with something they’d been close with, something that wasn’t human to the outside world either… both stories were about people who had decided to spend their lives with those loves, publicly marry those loves.
And in the parallel that Ann drew between us and them instead of a hundred other stories, I felt a little dazed, a little shocked. Because what I realized was that, in all the time we’d spent together, all the time we’d lived together, she felt a certain way, and she wanted those feelings to be reciprocated. And I realized that, in all the time we’d lived together, all the time we’d talked and joked and played games, I did feel the same, like I’d found someone perfect, someone who I’d have thought couldn’t be true, was just a figment of my imagination, if I didn’t undeniably just know in my heart that she was real, she was magic. And that I wanted to go out with her. Even if people would stare, and even if we had to act one way or the other so that people wouldn’t suspect anything.
So I went over to the bedroom and knocked lightly on the door.
‘It’s open, of course’, she yelled sarcastically from inside the room. ‘It’s not like my hands can lock it anyway, is it? Cos I’m not a real girl, or at least a real girl the way you call it?’
I walked in. ‘I’m sorry, okay? That’s not how I meant it. Really.’
She glared at me from the bed. ‘So how did you mean it?’
‘I read about those people you told me about’, I told her seriously.
She looked at me, a flashing look of sudden understanding, of the same sudden realization that I’d known what she’d said- revealed?- in that moment, and then we looked away from each other.
I looked at her. ‘Let’s go out. Today. Now.’
Her eyes lit up, a bit in relief, but also at the unsaid implication that flowed between us now, that I knew, she knew, she knew I knew, and that we were still fine, we were still going on with it… that we were implicitly going on with it.
‘Now?’, she said, the token doubt rendered unconvincing by the thrilled tone in her voice. ‘Isn’t it too late?’
‘No. It’s seven. It’s not like you have anyone who’s gonna ground you even if you get home late, do you? Come on, let’s be a little impulsive!’
She grinned. ‘It’s so unlike you to be impulsive.’
‘Oh well’, I looked at her steadily. ‘I do act unlike myself sometimes. With you.’
‘Haha.’ She smiled. ‘Now get outta the room. I gotta change.’
So we went out. People stared at us, but neither of us noticed.
The strange proximity that outings like these forced upon us had made this day, this outing, awkward for the both of us. She couldn’t walk or move when anyone else but me was there, and when she spoke she made no sound, but I just heard her voice in my head… So I had to carry her as we walked, as we got our tickets in a row where there’d be empty seats to either side of us, so that she could have her own seat, as we walked into the cinema. When you’re a twenty-year-old guy, holding an 18-year-old girl is always… especially when there are romantic feelings between you, especially when those feelings are manifest but still unspoken, and hanging in the air, making it thick, making it hard to think, so you feel tense, and nervous… And when you’re an 18-year-old girl, or when you’re anyone, being at the complete mercy of someone else is always uncomfortable, as is feeling like a burden, or a weight… especially when there’s still-unspoken romantic feelings between you, and you’re already tense, and thrilled, and nervous.
She wanted to get a happy movie, so we went to a romantic comedy- because you know how all of them end, so you knew it’d end happy. And it did.
After that, she wanted to go to a nice restaurant to eat. ‘A nice date restaurant type of place’, she said. ‘We always get takeout or fast food at home. It’d be a nice change from pizza and Chinese. Gourmet food, you know, for a change. Something class.’ So we did. Something classy. A server showed us to a table and I gently put her on the chair opposite mine, and smiled at her.
She smiled back, her eyes still thrilled, her smile shy and nervous.
A waiter walked over to us.
‘What’ll you have, sir?’, he asked, his tone more insulting than polite, his lip curled up slightly as he stared at Ann, and then back at me.
‘He can’t hear me’, she whispered urgently, and I could feel that she wanted to wave, or gesticulate, and that being still when anyone else was around was infuriating her. ‘He can’t see me move, say something!’
I looked around, and beckoned at the man to lean down.
‘My little girl, she demands that this doll is real, and that I treat it like a real person’, I said lightly, smiling knowingly at the waiter. ‘She’s four… You know how kids are.’
The waiter smiled, the kind of overly large smile people make when they are trying to overcompensate for past rudeness. ‘Oh yes, of course’, he said. ‘And, pardon me for asking, but where is your daughter at the moment?’
I smiled that knowing smile again. ‘Oh, she’s out shopping for clothes with my wife, but they might be coming in here anytime, so you know, I gotta do this… wouldn’t want my little Ann throwing a tantrum, would I, right?’
He nodded vigorously.
‘So, what will your order be, sir?’
‘I’ll have a chicken wrap with fries… and a cheese sandwich for her’, I said.
The waiter looked at me a little strangely, then smiled and went off. I looked at Ann, expecting to see a shared conspiratorial triumph at how I’d pulled the lie off, but her expression was cold and hard-set, her lips pursed together; it seemed like she was barely holding back anger, and I was confused, because why would she be angry?
‘So?’ I questioned.
She gave me a hard-eyed glare. ‘You bastard’.
I opened my mouth to speak, but she interrupted me. ‘You bastard. You really couldn’t come up with any other name? Was that a sly dig at me, or something, that’s what you think of me, like some little kid who lives in your house who has to be treated like a little kid, like some little daughter or something?’
I looked at her in shock for a moment, then spoke. ‘No! I swear I didn’t mean anything like that, honest to God, I didn’t.’
‘Then why’d you say my name?’
‘That was just the first name that came into my head! You were there so it was just the first name that popped into my head so that’s why I said it. Happy?’
‘No I’m not!’
‘Well, what’d-‘, I suddenly realized my voice was rising to match her loud high angry silent voice in my head, and quickly lowered my tone.
‘Well, what’d you want then? What’s the problem?’ I whispered at her.
‘Stop being ashamed of me!’, she snapped.
‘I’m not! Stop thinking like that, okay? I like you enough, okay, so stop acting like you think I don’t, or like I’m just putting up with you. A world like this you have to hide things sometimes, you know? People would think I’m crazy. They’d take me away. They’d take you away from me, too. I like you enough so I don’t want that to happen. So I gotta fake for now, alright?’
She gave me a hurt, dead-eyed look. ‘But why? I hate what’s like, keeping all this in a closet, all this time. I hate it. Maybe if people came out and admitted things they were afraid of admitting because people would think they were crazy, maybe if people did that, then it wouldn’t be such a big deal? Is not taking that risk now taking the moral low road? Keeping our… friendship on the down low, sacrificing something as nice as being able to be open and free, over what people think? I want to be open now. I want to have fun. Maybe then other people will also be there who understand. Maybe people will decide to understand. Maybe people will think and realize maybe it’s just that you see something they don’t and that it’s not cos you’re crazy, it’s not like they can prove what you see isn’t still real but just something they can’t see, is it? Maybe people will realize that, and we’ll get a Nobel prize for making people realize that and people they just say are crazy can be free and open too. Maybe I’m being silly and unrealistic now, okay I am, but being realistic… maybe there’ll be other 18 year old girls who’ll actually be willing to believe I’m real? To be friends with me? Who won’t just be cruel, but who’ll be willing to open to their minds to that? Even if there’s someone who’ll talk to be cos they think it’s a possibility that I can hear them and love them, even that, I want that. I want that so, so much.’
I looked at her helplessly. ‘I don’t know. I’d love to be idealistic, but I don’t know… but even if we do, it won’t be right here, all of a sudden, is it? We have to wait…’
‘Why?’ she asked vehemently, then slumped, looking defeated. ‘No need to answer that, I know why… it’s a seductive idea though, isn’t it? The possibility?’
‘Yeah’ I said, not whispering now.
She smiled at me, this time genuinely. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know. I feel awful for accusing you. I feel awful a lot of the time. I hate being so out of place, I wish I could just be completely normal.’
‘Chill a little.’ I smiled at her. ‘You let all this get to you too much. Have a little fun. Also, next time, just always assume whenever you think there’s a matter of doubt that I meant it the nicer possible way.’
She laughed. ‘Okay… today I’ll just not think about any of those things and just have fun. How’s that?’
‘Just forget it all.’
‘Yeah, I’ll just forget it all’, she smiled back.
And so we decided to just forget it all. We had our classy dinner at our gourmet restaurant, and we went around the shopping mall, her taking in the sights with a delight that was almost childlike in its intensity, me feeling a sort of rush, a feeling of liberation, seeing people staring and laughing at it, not caring one bit what people thought.
She told me where to go, so we walked around on every floor and every avenue, starting from the ground floor and going up. We stepped into stores with designer clothes, and when she saw that all of them were too big for her, tonight she just laughed and didn’t feel sad, and we’d go on to the next window. And we went on and up, and it was wonderful. We stopped at a customized T-shirt store and she made me buy customized rock T-shirts for the both of us. A Marilyn Manson one for me, she said, screeching with laughter. ‘Your taste in music sucks, you listen to all these soft songs’, she’d said. ‘It’s like you’re fifty, not twenty’, so she’d get me the most outrageously rock shirt she could think of. She wanted to get shirts for Paramore and My Chemical Romance, and one of the Beatles just cos everyone loved the Beatles, and a whole bunch of button-up pins of all her favourite bands, so I asked for them at the counter. The salesgirl, with piercings on her ears and nose and a shock of jet-black hair, looked at me like I was out of my mind as she packed a bunch of girls’ rock shirts and band pins into a bag and handed it to me over the counter. I just smiled at her awkwardly.
She’d always wear those from then on, long T-shirts that reached up to her knees, with bold stripes of black and purple or red or blue, and band logos, with five or six pins on the chest. For all that she called me old-fashioned and boring, I kinda liked her in those, sitting curled up on the side of the sofa, with tousled hair and colourful array of rock-band pins. It seemed to evoke having a feeling of being young and exciting again, going out and falling for girls and following current music… things I hadn’t done in forever.
We walked on through the mall, her excitement contagious, joking with each other, me in whispers, her out loud, but only I could hear her, walking by the shop windows and looking inside them, one at a time, and then suddenly she stopped. I said something, but she didn’t reply, and then suddenly I noticed what was inside the shop window of the Toys R’ Us we’d been walking in front of, and why she was-
I put her down, gently so that she wouldn’t notice.
She was silent, staring through the glass at the box with the brand-new doll with bright red wool for hair and a little snub nose, and rosy woollen cheeks in a little plaid dress.
‘Ann?’, I called softly, after a while.
She didn’t turn around, but answered a little hoarsely.
‘Yes. Can you please give me some time alone right now?’
‘Can she ta-‘
She cut me off, but with a sudden sharp pain in her voice. ‘Please.’
I stopped, and was silent for a moment. She kept on staring at the unspeaking, unmoving face that was identical to her own, except that it had a fixed smile to her wavering vitality, and plastic eyes to her stricken, shining ones.
After a few long moments, I spoke again. ‘But… how can I leave? Won’t you fall if I leave you there?’
She didn’t say anything, but sunk a little bit lower against the glass in my arms. I felt a sudden burst of concern, and pity, somewhat, but I knew how she felt, somewhat, to some degree, I guess… if lost was what she felt, and confused, alone, like she didn’t know what she was for, and what was real, then I did. Sometimes I felt like I was staring across the glass at someone who was like me, but different.
I squeezed her shoulder lightly. ‘Come on away, Ann’.
She did. Suddenly, everything we’d decided to forget had come rushing back… I tried walking around a little more, trying to cheer her up by showing her funny adverts and signs on the stores, but she was blank and silent and lost, so we just went home.
‘You told me you weren’t a girl. A teenage girl. Remember the first time we met when you laughed off the idea that you were a silly human?’
Her face contorted a little. ‘That was just cos I was just beginning…’
‘But you’d seen all these shows and read all those books and stuff even when we first met!’
She grimaced. ‘Look, stop asking so many questions, okay? Don’t be nosy. Magic works in strange ways, just live with that. Maybe I didn’t think so then cos I hadn’t had the time to form an identity. Or think about it too much. I mean, you may know what you’re called from the start, but what you are is something you have to figure out. You know?’
‘Why?’ I asked her.
‘Because everything is ambiguous. You may start off knowing that what you are is what is called a human, and that what the toys in your house or the cat that you keep as a pet are called such and such, but then over time and for some time, they become people. Playmates or companions or family. And they seem to become anthropomorphized. Your dolls answer and play games with you, your pets understand and comforts you when you’re down, though science and common sense say they can’t and shouldn’t.
And isolated, they can’t. But your thoughts and your emotions and your feelings give things life and souls. Your feelings is the soul of your toys that talk to you and your pets that console you and art or music that speak to you and movies or books that seem meant for you. Nothing is really real. Everything around you is this amalgam of ideas and memories and experiences and dreams and consciousness, and everything you pass by is affected for the moment by your thoughts and your feelings. You can never see the true character of anything because to see is to pass through and affect it. And to see a photograph or a movie, would be doing the same, because what you see in it or what it means to you is all affected as it passes through you and by you.
And then when your feeling changes, and you move on, those toys are no longer playmates, and those pets are no longer people. And when everything is really the same thing, the only way you know what you are is with your thoughts, what you think, how you feel. Not what you’re made of, or what you look like. If this were all a dream, what intrinsic difference would be there between me and a real girl except what we look like? And if in your dreams somehow those real girls turned into looking like dolls, you’d call them real girls, wouldn’t you? And that’s the same here. All life is a dream, and I’m a person because I think and feel like one, but you can never really think of me as one, because somehow for you me having cloth instead of flesh in this dream makes me unreal, some life stuck inside a lifeless receptacle, not the way you can see a whole human girl and think of her as alive, her body and her mind and her thoughts as alive, not as some spirit in a lifeless body. So that’s what I am in the end. And that’s what will always keep us apart.’
She looked at me. Her eyes seemed full of sadness.
‘Do you know? When we were little girls ourselves. Little doll-girls, our first years, being a kid, not in my teens like now. We have best friends, little girls our age, human-by-birth girls, who talk to us and play with us and dress-up and feed and complain to us. Then they grow up, and they go for boys or school or other things. Cool things. And they stop liking us. That’s the only human experience I’ve had before, so do you blame me for worrying that someday you’ll find other people, and cooler things, some object of your desire, and just leave me? Convince yourself that you were just imagining things and hide me in some attic so that you wouldn’t have to see me or think about me, so you could live guiltlessly with someone, a friend or a lover, in this apartment, blocking me out in your memory?’
Maria, of course, demanded I go see my doctor. For someone who is ostensibly my sister, she’s a pretty horrible one sometimes. Sisters are supposed to believe you, and believe in you, not just assume things.
‘But look, dear, we both know you’ve been sick.’, she said. ‘Don’t you think it’s a real possibility that this could be just the same thing? Considering?’
‘No’, I said irately. ‘First, stop acting like I’m some kind of freak. I was ‘sick’ a while ago. I’m pretty sure I don’t even need the pills any more. No difference between when I take them or when I don’t, anyway. And even then I wasn’t really that sick. And I never saw things before, did I? Not even like, just visions, as opposed to an entire living person?’
She sighed, opened her mouth to speak, then stayed silent. To her probably every possible form of any such problems were probably one and the same. She probably thought that just because of what I’d had, there’d be possibility of not only me somehow imagining whole new things but maybe even having multiple personalities and running after her with a knife thinking aliens were out to get me. Stupid people with stupid pop culture views on things.
Maria had called Dr Jacobsen before we went over, so he knew what the situation apparently was.
‘Look, Doc’, I said, as I entered the room. ‘Isn’t this kinda too dreadfully logical for it to be just a hallucination? I mean, look. Wouldn’t she be walking and talking when other people are around if I really was crazy?’
I could sense him open his mouth to say something, but I cut him off. I knew that without a doubt he was going to tell me that no, he wouldn’t use the word ‘crazy’, that’s not what he meant at all, and more drivel. ‘Why only when nobody else is around? Doesn’t that make a lot of sense?’
I looked at him defiantly. He sighed, took his glasses off and wiped the lenses with his shirt, and looked up at me wearily in a patient way.
I could tell he was feeling really self-righteous at the moment, like the master of wisdom teaching a wayward child who is too stubborn to accept the truth about himself. And I can bet that if you had asked him that exact moment if he was feeling self-righteous he would have denied it. You could read the sanctimonious idiot with his silly little beard and useless degree like a goddamn book. I would probably be better at being his psychiatrist than him mine.
And sure enough, he spouted some pretentious, pandering lines at me like I was a little child, and sent me out of the office and called Maria in.
I waited outside while they talked for half an hour, and then I went home.
I turned the key and walked into my apartment. To my surprise, it was dark. Ann was nowhere to be seen.
She’d usually be watching television, or in the living room reading, with band pins colourful across her chest, eating popcorn or chips from an empty bowl on the sofa seat next to her, knees folded up against her, the pages almost touching her nose. Twisting a woolly strand of red hair through a folded fingerless hand, folding her hands to grasp the lock of hair, moving her forearm slightly since she couldn’t move her wrist in a full circle.
It was an affected gesture; it didn’t come naturally to her- you couldn’t, not without fingers- but she still always held a long strand of red in the cleave of her folded palm, always turned her hand in that little circle. It broke my heart every time I saw it. She was not a teenage girl, and she never forgot it, light-hearted as she seemed, and every time I saw, my eyes would rest on that continuous circling motion, then blur over with a sort of helpless pity as I would suddenly realize, once again, the depth of her desire to just be a girl… and I’d go to my room before stepping back out to go talk to her. But today she wasn’t there, and it was dark.
I switched on the light and immediately noticed a thick paperback textbook on the coffee-table, lying open face-down, its spine arched, the glossy pages just slightly sticking onto the tabletop as I picked it up, like a lover’s lingering caress. It was a biology textbook, from the shelf, and it was open to the chapter on human body systems. I felt a rush of sadness and pity as I looked at the pages, at the diagrams of a four-chambered heart, the Mandelbrot tree of the lungs, a folded, grey, brain, sparkling with electricity; a womb, cross-section inside a smiling picture of a pregnant woman- a picture, a drawing, less a human than a rag doll, but she had a womb, and a red, curled-up little baby, and she was smiling and happy, and why wouldn’t she be?
She must be in the room.
A glistening tear fell onto the page, on to the face of the happy, smiling, swelled-up woman- I tilted the book to let the drop fall, and it ran down, from her eyes through her foetus to the bottom of the page, and for a second it was like she, too, felt the sadness and sorrow that both the sad and sorrowful occupants of this house felt. I thought I should stay in the living room for a while and give her some time alone before I walked into my bedroom. I turned on the television set, and made my way through fifteen minutes of a talk show- the host had invited her beautiful blond wife to the set- before I switched the set off, stood up, stretched, and walked over to the bedroom.
The door was closed. I rapped on it lightly.
‘Come in! The door isn’t locked. I can’t lock the doors myself, remember?’
Her voice sounded bitter and laced with irony. I turned the doorknob and entered the room. She was sitting in the bed, resting her head against my headrest. There was a box of Kleenex beside her, and half a dozen or so crumpled up tissues littered around her knees. The tissues were all dry, all clean.
‘I’ve been crying, but I have no tears’, she stated, in a forcedly matter-of-fact tone.
She stuck out her arms, palms-up, straight out at me, and I saw the cruel slashes of the light pink cloth, the fuzzy strands of cotton peeking out from between the ripped skin. I looked at her in shock, at her wrists, then at her blank, expressionless face.
‘I’ve been cut, but I have no blood’, she said, casually, a dull monotone. ‘Razors to my wrists, but I can’t bleed. I have no blood, no heart…’
She looked at me, a long gaze, her features worked, her lips turned down in a grimace, her eyes full of loss.
‘All I want is for you to love me, but I’m just a doll’, she whispered, her voice wavering. ‘All I want is for you to hold my hands, but I have no fingers, all I want is for you to kiss me, but I have no mouth…’
‘Don’t say that’, I said.
‘Why shouldn’t I?’ she replied anguishedly. ‘It’s true!’
‘But it doesn’t matter’, I told her. I leant across and kissed her softly on the mouth, lightly, just pressing my lips against hers. She was static, silent, a statue, and I pulled away after a long, searching moment, to look at her.
She was looking at me blankly.
‘I’m sorry’, she said. ‘You see my lips. They can’t move, my mouth. I can’t yell, or shout, or kiss, or make a sound.’
‘But you can talk to me.’
She sighed. ‘All that you hear me say is me speaking inside your head.’
I looked into her eyes. ‘But you can also eat, and drink, and talk. All you need to do is imagine it. Magic works in strange ways. We’ve got to remember that.’
She smiled. ‘Okay… Kiss me.’
I leant in and kissed her again, and this time she closed her eyes, and the kiss lasted forever.
‘This love will never last’, she said morosely, later, perched up at the end of the bed.
I reached over and kissed her lightly on the lips. ‘Don’t be silly. Why wouldn’t it?’
‘Everything in this world is pulling us apart.’
‘What do you mean?’
She put out her hands. ‘Time… I’m a girl with a body that will grow old and worn in a few years. You’ve seen… little girls keep them and play with them and it’s only a few years, and they’re old and worn… but you’re still just beginning the bloom of your health. And soon everything will change. And humanity, not what’s in your soul but what’s in your blood. That part of being human which we don’t share. You may love me now, but will it ever last? With me, this way? I don’t know… I wish I had a voice, a real voice. One that made a sound. I wish I had real eyes, with colours, eyes that can dance and sparkle, that you can look into. I wish I had real skin, real nerves, so I could feel your touch not just in my head, but physically, in my stomach, and in my knees. I wish I had real legs, beautiful long legs, so I could walk away from you and towards I wish I had real legs, beautiful long legs, so I could walk away from you and towards you, and you could see them and not only love me but want me. But for now everything is pulling us apart, and it’s only a matter of time, so let’s make them wonderful.’
I thought that was it. I thought that was the beginning of a time when we’d be together, and we’d be happy, but it wasn’t. In a way, it was like things coming out in the open, expectations being reset. Before, when things were unspoken, just being with each other seemed enough; the thrill of it hung in the air, it was something exciting and breathless and new and surprising, and because nothing was spoken, no promises made or implied, that was all we wanted, that was enough.
Everything went downhill, rushed downhill.
Everything seemed to be falling apart; the fury of feeling between us seemed something angry and bitter, the wrong kind of depth of feeling.
Perhaps that’s what happens, when a relationship is finally crystallized, named, labelled. Suddenly each of you has a right over the other. Suddenly there is expectation, and the burden of trust. Suddenly things are meant to be a certain way. Perhaps jealousy and bitterness was inevitable… And in a way I understood, and I wanted so badly to tell her that I understood. But how difficult is it to tell someone that you understand things that they’ve never expressly said, and possibly don’t even realize is what they feel?
So I could never tell her, and she could never know. At first things were fine, but then she’d get snappy and irritable whenever I went out anywhere, spend long stretches of the day sulkily, moodily, reply sarcastically whenever I asked a question… She got more and more distant, and she’d pull away whenever I leaned in for a kiss, or ignore me if I sat on the sofa for all the hours she spent watching MTV until after I’d gone to bed.
She hated not being a girl with flesh and blood, that she couldn’t live life, that she didn’t have friends; she hated that I could go out, that I might meet other people, that I would see other people; she hated the television she watched, and the full-blooded, partying, tanned, healthy girls her age she saw there; and strangely, the more she longed to be human, the more she’d make disparaging remarks about those human girls, or these human people, or me. And she hated me for the capability of my body to produce hormones, and she felt bitter and angry, cuttingly, so often, telling me that I should just go out and be with someone who I could physically be with, cos that’s what I wanted, wasn’t it… And being together wasn’t wonderful anymore. It wasn’t thrilling and exciting and awkward and unbelievable, like it was before. At times it felt like we couldn’t stand each other, and that our life at home was just a routine- I’d get home from work, put her imaginary pizza on a plastic plate on the coffee table by the TV where she’d be, eat silently, and go to bed after exchanging heartless good-nights…
And the worst part was that I did understand. That I also did feel lonely and out-of-place in this world full of people. I could have told her that. I could have also told her that to me, she was the most human thing in my life, if humanity was personality and soul that hers was the only one I felt close to, the only one that I could really open up to. That if she was jealous of flesh and blood, she shouldn’t be, because with her there what appeal did everyone else have to me? They were all things I could have said, that I probably should have said. But I didn’t, because it’s uncomfortable, and we always tend to put off things that are soul-baring, honest, uncomfortable for afterwards, even until it’s too late; and because it’s hard to tell someone you understand things they’ve never expressly said, and don’t even realize is exactly what they feel, and why they’re feeling what they think they’re feeling.
And because each time, when everything seems about to pile up, then there’s one day or one moment that’s loving, or tender, one night where everything seems all right, or one conversation where we could talk and bare our souls and tell each other that we did miss each other, and decide to make things better from then on. But then again the next day things would be back, but the memory of those good moments are enough to be a hope that they’d come back, enough to show that beneath all of the now what really was that we were still very much in love… So for all those reasons we put it off, and let tensions grow.
And the tension near to breaking, every day.
On this day I got home from work a bit late. I came home with good intentions. I was feeling cheerful. I’d brought pizza and her favourite chocolate muffins, and I was determined to be effusively romantic, really make things up, close the chapter on bitterness and go back to how things were.
I rang the bell.
‘Come in’, her voice rang, sarcastically.
I walked in and smiled at her, gesturing at the bags I was holding in my hand. She didn’t look at me.
‘Where were you?’
‘I was a bit late at work today’, I told her.
‘Really?’. Her voice was cold.
‘Yes, really!’, I answered heatedly.
‘I’m not stupid’, she said icily. ‘I’ve seen stuff like this before in the movies, it’s not like I was born yesterday. Late night at work, huh? With who? Some human girl in your office?’ Her lips curled up disparagingly as she said ‘human’, as they did so much lately.
‘Oh, get over yourself’, I snapped. ‘What’d you think, that somehow having you in my house nowadays was gonna do such things to my libido that I’d have to do it with some girl at work only now after years of going to work?’
‘But-‘, she began, and then stopped. ‘That’s not how I meant it.’ Her voice didn’t sound angry anymore, but a little pitiful, and for some reason the sudden change in her voice, how it had sounded weak and almost pathetic, made me get even angrier somehow, some anger at how she could accuse me of things and then just change her tack and it was okay each time, cos I never said anything, but mostly misdirected, confused anger at a sort of sick feeling at how she seemed hurt, faded, anger at how we weren’t what we could have been, for all those so many silly stupid pointless meaningless reasons…
‘Why do I even bother what you have to say?’ I retorted, flaring up. I was really angry, and I could be intentionally cruel when I was angry. ‘Since when did your opinion matter? You’re just a doll. You’re not a person.’
She looked stricken as I said it, as if I’d slapped her.
I felt a pang of horror at her expression. But sometimes anger isn’t red-hot but ice-cold, and makes you cold and cruel and heartless, so that you feel a sort of grim satisfaction in hurting the other person as much as you possibly can. And all the while it hurts you back.
The words you say are deliberate, meant to cut and hurt, and speaking those words hurts you so much more than whatever it was that first made you angry. But even as a dull horror rose up in me and I fought back the urge of tears of sorrow, I continued, deliberately, coldly, sneeringly.
‘You keep acting like you somehow believe that you’re one of us, when you’ll never be, and you try to treat me like you’re an actual girl, like you have a right over me, when I’m the one keeping you in this house when you know you’ll get thrown away if I wasn’t keeping you here.’
Her face looked pale, bloodless. She opened her mouth, closed it, her lips trembling. She opened her mouth again, and gaped for a second, and closed- she closed her eyes, and finally managed to say in a trembling voice, barely a whisper- ‘Alright, kick me out if you have the guts to. Let’s see if you have the guts to leave me to die.’ And from the blankness of her eyes I could tell she was shocked at my coldness
She looked up at me defiantly, her chin trembling. I turned away from her. I felt sick with guilt and a dull sense of horror, but I was still seething.
‘Okay, fine’, she said defiantly, then her voice cracked, ‘I’m not sleeping here. I’m not living under a roof with someone who doesn’t want me here.’
I suddenly felt nauseous, flooded with guilt and a desire to make up, but somehow I didn’t say a word.
She turned around and went into my room.
I rang the doorbell.
Maria opened the door. Her dark brown hair was tousled and she looked sleepy as she swung the door open, but her expression changed to concern as she saw me.
I didn’t answer the question directly. ‘Can I sleep here tonight?’
‘Sure’, she said, gesturing at me to come in. ‘But why?’
I hesitated for a moment, then answered. ‘I had a huge fight with my girlfriend.’ It is strange how when you’ve hurt someone you care about, when you’re too angry and too stubborn to apologize or to make things up, is when you’re most fierily loyal to them on the outside…
At the moment I was still wracked with guilt. Putting myself out there, deciding to look like I was crazy to stand up for her like those names she had told me about, even if she wouldn’t see this and couldn’t hear it, felt like something wonderful. It was the realization that everything would be all right tomorrow, and better than ever… the realization that every pair of lovers come to after their first cutting, hurtful fight, when they realize what is important; and at that moment it felt like something I had to say, something I had to put out there-
‘Your girlfriend?’, she asked, sitting down at the dining table by a mug of coffee she had evidently been drinking.
‘Ann’, I said defiantly, but with a sudden rush of liberation, of happiness, at finally-
‘Ann?’, Maria repeated quizzically.
‘Yes, Ann. The redhead you saw in my apartment.’
She stared at me with a confused expression, then suddenly her face turned to one of concern.
‘Oh.’ She sunk a little into her chair. ‘You mean the doll…’
‘She’s not a doll’, I said.
‘She isn’t’, I repeated forcefully.
‘If you say so…’ She stood up and went into the kitchen. ‘You want them scrambled?’ she yelled over the crackling of the stove.
‘Yeah’, I yelled back, and a couple minutes later Maria walked in and set a plate in front of me, sitting down at the table across mine. She watched me eat with a sort of detached but caring expression, with a funny look in her eyes, and when I was done she came over and tousled my hair gently.
‘Look, you go to sleep here now, okay?’, she said tenderly. ‘Just sleep everything off. You can take my room. I’ll sleep over at your place. Make sure nobody robs it or anything.’ She chuckled. ‘Just give me the keys and go to bed, yeah?’
I looked at her gratefully. ‘Thanks’, I said. ‘They’ll be in my coat pocket.’
She slung a handbag over her shoulder as she rummaged for the keys, and opening the door, she turned and yelled at me as I was walking towards the bedroom. ‘Love you! Good night!’
‘Love you too’, I answered, and she stepped out.
I knocked cheerfully at the door.
‘Come on in!’ came Maria’s voice from within the house. I opened the door and stepped inside.
‘Hey!’ I greeted her cheerfully. She was fully dressed sitting on the couch. She’d probably woken up much earlier and had just been waiting for me to get home to leave.
Her reply wasn’t very enthusiastic. I grinned at her and stepped into the living room, then noticed the door to my bedroom was open.
‘How come that door is open?’ I asked. ‘I thought Ann was sleeping there. She was supposed to be…’ A sudden rush of excitement flared in me. ‘Maria. Did you see her? Did you somehow talk to her? Did she talk to you, I mean? Is she angry with me?’
Maria’s face was impassive, defiant; her lips set.
‘Say something already!’ I said impatiently. I was feeling a sudden rising apprehension. I’d known Maria long enough to know when things were a bad sign.
‘Sit down’, she finally said. I did.
‘Look, you’re sick, okay? You’re imagining things. You know that’s true, you know if you really think about it this isn’t real, okay? And the longer that doll stays here the more you’re gonna be believing it. You can’t have feelings for a doll! I’m your sister, I can’t let you be like this!’
‘What did you do?’ I interrupted icily. ‘You’re making me nervous, cut to the point, what the hell did you do?’
She edged away a little bit further. ‘I gave her away’, she finally said in a steely, composed voice. ‘I had to. The longer she was here the more it was going to reinforce your hallucinations and I couldn’t do that. Not as a sister. I couldn’t.’
‘Wait.’ I said. ‘Gave her away? What?’
‘I gave her away to an orphanage. Last night.’
‘What is wrong with you?’ I yelled. ‘Why would you do that? How could you do that to someone?-‘
She interrupted me. ‘It’s not a someone-‘
‘I’m a someone!’, I almost screamed. ‘And so is she! But even to me, how could you do that to me? When I’d told you we’d had a fight only yesterday? What kind of a sadist are you, to not just do this but to pick your timing like this?’
Maria looked terrified, but her face composed. She was blinking away tears. ‘I did what I had to do’, she said monotonously.
‘Get out.’ I said. ‘Now. Tell me which orphanage you dropped it off at and then leave, and never talk to me again. Never.’
She picked up her bag and walked away towards the door. ‘I don’t know which orphanage. I called one of those charity collection trucks…’
I swore loudly. ‘Get out of my house. Now. And my life. For good. Leave!’ I told Maria coldly, and as she left, closing the door behind her, I collapsed onto the sofa.
I looked for her everywhere. I looked for weeks, and I couldn’t find her.
By now, months later, I had almost given up hope. Every day I still walked past the spot when I came home from work that I had that one day, and every weekend night I drove off to institutions or homes to look for her. If only just to say sorry, if only because I loved her.
One morning, there was a knock on the door.
I walked over, almost fully dressed for work, but with my tie still loose around my neck, my shirt still untucked. ‘Who is it?’, I said loudly.
There was no reply, except for another knock.
I turned the key and swung the door open, and in front of me was a girl. A human girl, tall, my height, with long wavy auburn hair that reached up to beyond her shoulder blades, with light, flushed skin and a little snub nose, and blue eyes, eyes that danced and sparkled. She was wearing a red dress that reached up to her knees, and had legs that seemed to go on forever. And she looked at me with an expression that was incredulous and incredulously happy, and didn’t speak for a while; then she smiled, and spoke.
‘Hi’, she said, simply, but her voice full of joy, almost playing with the words. ‘Oh my God, I have a voice! A real voice, and I can hear myself, like a sound. It’s me!’
I looked at her, staggered as it sank in. ‘I’m so sorry for what I said then’, I told her.
She smiled. ‘I know. I could see from where I was. I forgive you. How could I not? It’s part of being human, for us to have had fights, to have hated and loved and torn, maybe… I’m sorry too. I felt so jealous, I felt so bitter feeling that you couldn’t want me, that you’d forget me just like every little girl did and move on, and I’d have nobody again. And I wanted so badly to be human, after so long where I’d been fine with what I was, I was almost fooling myself that I was, but then each time I’d see you, or every time I’d see girls on TV or the like, I’d look down at myself and see what my arms and legs looked like, it’d hit me in the gut again, and I didn’t want to be anymore, and you can only keep fooling yourself for so long…’
Our eyes met, longingly, despairingly, hopefully.
‘I wish I’d told you then, that I understood. That you didn’t have to worry. That you were as human as anything in my life. But we’re stupid that way, aren’t we? Stupid humans, the both of us, keeping what we felt to ourselves.’ She smiled at the words, as the human, at the us, as I continued, earnestly. ‘Knowing that we might lose someone forever at any moment, but still not telling them what you would just because it’s hard, or difficult. Being jealous, or bitter, or sad, or alone.’
We were silent, and we looked at each other, just looking, me amazed at her, her amazed at herself.
‘So… you came back?’ I asked.
She smiled again, each smile a little dazed, like the thrill of being able to smile as a human was still something new, still something wonderful each time.
‘I came home’, she said. ‘So… can I come in?’
‘Come on in’, I said, and she swept inside the door and into my arms.
After what seemed like eternity, we pulled away. ‘Wow’, she said breathlessly. ‘This is everything I’ve ever wanted. I can kiss you back, and I can feel it in my stomach, and in my knees… and I can feel that you love me, and that you want me, and it’s wonderful…’
I swept a lock of hair away from her eyes. ‘I missed you’, I told her softly. ‘I felt… the worst I’ve ever felt. Worse than I knew I could feel. I looked for you everywhere. Maria told me she gave you away, and I looked everywhere I could for you, but I couldn’t find you, and now I can’t believe you’re back.’
‘You hurt me a lot’, she said.
‘But… let’s talk about the future now, not the past…’, she said, her voice a little vulnerable, a little hesitant. ‘I came back. It’s magic and I don’t know how it works, but I came back. And now this story, will have a happy ending, and we’ll live happily ever after, won’t we?’
‘Yes’, I told her, earnestly. And I meant it.
This story I’m telling you now, this story, it had a happy ending… It has a happy ending. We live happily ever after.