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Porcelain Doll

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1932


In our youth Emily and I spent long summer days drinking home made lemonade on her big white porch, trying our best to escape the Louisiana heat. Those were lazy, sticky days when we wouldn’t play in the yard or in the street. We would watch the other wealthy Garden District residents chug by in their little cars, or wave at one another as they walked their pampered little dogs. I loved to watch it all: the glorious mansions in all their splendor moving in and out of view between the trees, the people decorated in the latest fashions and jewelry that flaunted their incredible wealth. Those were Emily’s people.

People like me wore simple collared shirts, trousers, and work boots. People like me didn’t own cars or big houses, but lived in little apartments or cheap housing in the city. People like me were hard-working and poor. For people like me, the depression was a slap in the face.

None of it mattered to Emily. She and I were best friends.

One warm soft night, as we sat on the white steps of her big white house and watched the light of the street lamps dance in their glass, two shadows made their way down the road. They were linked arm in arm, talking and smiling. “Do you think they’re going to marry, Jack?” she asked me. One of the two people was one of Emily’s four elder sisters, the other was one of her many suitors. I shrugged. “She’s so beautiful…”

“I think you’re beautiful, Emily” I told her, but she just stared at the young couple. I doubt she heard me. Emily’s sisters, I’ll admit, were very beautiful, but none of them had her mind, charm, or spirit.

“Mother says no man will ever marry me if I don’t wear my hair nicer, or put on make-up, or wear fancy dresses. I know she’s just trying to hide how ugly I am.” Emily had never thought she was beautiful. I thought she was, but she was always conveniently distracted when I told her so. If se was ugly as an ape and wore potato sacks around I still would have loved her, but I couldn’t tell her that.

The young man gave Emily’s sister a kiss and they dove into the shadows behind the big white house. Emily sighed. I suggested we go inside and within minutes I was sitting on the carpet in her extravagant bedroom while she tidied up and explained her vast doll collection. She would show me each doll and tell me the individual name and where the thing was from. I had no interest in dolls at all. I thought they were creepy, but she liked telling me so I pretended to be listening. She picked up one and smoothed out her blue satin dress. She curled her fingers around the tiny ringlet curls of the doll’s hair. “I wish I was like a doll,” she said to me, “beautiful and perfect.” I thought about the cold hard skin and soulless glass eyes and shuddered.

When I went to her big white house the next morning, but it felt different. The sunlight was warm and sticky, as usual. The children of the wealthy families were playing in the street. Distinguished looking ladies walked their little dogs with their noses in the air. It was just like every other morning, and yet something was just wrong.

The maid answered the door and said Emily was waiting for me in her room. Emily was almost always the one to answer the door for me. She expected me every morning in the summer around the same time and waited by the door. I had never been sent up to her room to meet her.

The enormous double staircase felt dangerously steep. Turns and curves in the hallways seemed unusually sharp. My footsteps echoed throughout the lonely corridors. The giant house felt utterly deserted.

I came to Emily’s bedroom door and went to knock. The door hadn’t been completely shut, so that when my hand made contact it swung open. The lights were off and so the room was dim. She was standing in front of her vanity as if she was entranced by her own reflection. Her white nightgown gave her a ghostly incandescent glow.

“Emily? I can come back later if you want to get dressed…” It was inappropriate for me to be in the room of a lady who wasn’t properly dressed. I was brought up to be a gentleman and the impropriety of the situation was a little unnerving.

“No, Jack, say. Come in and close the door.” She didn’t sound the same as she had the day before. Her voice was different. It was smooth and crisp like the chime of a bell. “Something strange happened last night.”

I carefully slid into the room and shut the door behind me. Nervousness morphed into fear and anxiety. She turned around and looked at me. I backed into the wall. What was looking at me was not Emily… but she was.

She took a step toward me. I cringed.

She didn’t look like Emily. Her hair fell in perfect auburn ringlets. Her skin was a striking sickly white that was lucent in the dark. Her eyes were bright and hooded under long dark lashes, her lips were like rose buds, her cheeks were blushed pink… like a doll. But something about her was still Emily.

“Aren’t I beautiful, Jack?” She batted her big brown eyes and came much closer, pinning me against the wall.

“You were beautiful before,” I said uneasily, trying to maneuver myself away from her. She ignored me, as usual.

She went on to explain in great detail how it had literally happened over night and she had no idea how or why. She sure had a lot to say about the matter which she apparently knew nothing about. I didn’t hear a word she says. She may as well have been speaking a different language, because all I could hear had her voice from the previous night. I wish I was like a doll… I was terrified. Emily was turning into a doll.

I told her I had to leave. My little brother needed someone to look after him for the day. It wasn’t true, but it proved to be a quick escape. On the way to the door Emily grabbed my hand. Her skin was smooth, but it was cold and hard, like porcelain. I pulled my hand away. “What’s the matter, Jack?” She asked. “Don’t you still like me?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then what’s the matter?” She was staring at me again with those big bright eyes and I couldn’t fight back the frustration anymore.

“You’ve never wanted to hold my hand before!” I shouted, stopping before the door and turning to face her, trying to avoid her gaze. “What’s so special about now?”

“I really love you, Jack, but I was so ugly… no one likes an ugly girl, a girl just has to be beautiful! An ugly girl just doesn’t go over well in this neighborhood.” She tore my heart apart. I love you, Jack. I’d been waiting to hear her say that for years, but it wasn’t the same now. It was wrong.

“I always thought you were beautiful! I’ll just never be enough for you!” Storming, slamming, running.

I didn’t go to see her the next day.

She had been walking down the grand staircase when she fell. She was at the top and she toppled all the way down. There was a sound like plates clanking together and three simultaneous snaps of porcelain. A long thin crack stretched the length of Emily’s leg from thigh to heel. She looked slowly to her right hand, on which she had fallen, and nearly fainted. Emily’s ring finger was lying by her foot, and her index finger had slid across the wooden floor. She was in a panic trying to glue them back on, but it wouldn’t work.

Two days later Emily fell out of bed. A thin crack was precipitated from her eye to her jaw.

I went to see Emily a few days later. She fell into my arms and cried. I held her for a long time. She seemed smaller than she had been the last time I had seen her. She moved slower, too. All warmth was gone from her skin, and she complained of how her eyes bothered her. They were glassy.

From that point I realized that Emily needed me. I was there for her when she lost her vision completely; her eyes had turned to glass.

I was there for her as she shrank. She got smaller and smaller every day.

I was there for her while the porcelain hardened, and it became more and more difficult for her to move.

One day I went over to her house and up into her room and Emily was eleven inches tall. She couldn’t move at all, or talk, or see… I couldn’t leave her there. Her family may have just buried her, or maybe even sold her off with the rest of her collection, not knowing she was their daughter! I left a note for her family that said she had run away. She was going to jump on the first train out of New Orleans with the rest of the railroad kids. It wasn’t uncommon. Kids were doing it to escape the depression, look for work, or just to escape a mundane life and try something adventurous or fun. We had wanted to try it together… I took her home.





1957
Eighteen years later, Jack was killed in a car crash at age forty. He was married and had a nine year old son, a thirteen year old daughter, and a six year old daughter. He kept Emily well taken care of all that time. He left Emily to his youngest daughter.
The youngest daughter stood in a little black dress under a little black umbrella in front of the rest of the funeral party as Jack’s coffin was lowered into his grave. She had Emily in her arms.
A stray raindrop found Emily’s cheek and she shed a final tear for her first and only love.





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flyingpinkgiraffes This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 17, 2011 at 10:13 pm
omg that's probably the best story ive read on this website!!!!
 
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