People say objects live somewhere, as in ‘the cups live in the cupboard’ but Lucy felt that her dolls could never ‘live’ anywhere, not even as objects. Four dolls, each an unwelcome gift, but still she kept on being given them.
Now, taking two out of her bedroom cupboard she placed them on the floor, in their frilly dresses, pink shiny skin and nylon blonde hair. It was not with fondness that she picked one up, but to inspect the way the hair came out of small holes in the scalp, and how the fingers were strangely fused together. Upending one doll, she noted the angle at which the eyes shut. As if the only way to open and shut your eyes were to turn your whole body. The stiff limbs offended her; the fact they could only move up or down. She showed her friend, Charlotte, who sat next to her and was here to play. There was no need for words. Lucy wrinkled her nose and scowled at the doll as she handed it over to Charlotte and picked up the next. This one had a necklace like a cat collar. A bead like a bell. If only she could wring its neck. But it was already dead to her; its marble blue eyes said as much. The eyes were fixed towards the window, with the garden beyond, where a cat was trying to catch birds, but the bell on its collar thwarted its efforts each time. It never learnt. She held the doll to her face, its snub nose in line with hers, its painted brows and rosy lips held in her contempt. Its hair in her fist, pinched at the roots, the doll suspended.
Meanwhile, Charlotte, had planted one of her doll’s feet into the carpet and began twisting the other leg up to make it walk. A little table and tea set upended as the doll collided with them, like Godzilla destroying Tokyo in its path. Bored with her doll, Lucy started to take off its dress. The frills of its sleeve were so tight around its wrist she began tugging at it until it ripped. Once a seam had opened up, she couldn’t resist tearing it further, until the arm was completely free. Next, she turned the doll around, and unpicked the top stitch with her teeth. After that, her fingers worked easily down the back of it until the dress lay in a heap beside the naked doll. Charlotte began to undress hers. She undid the tiny plastic buttons and slipped off the dress, crumpling it up and throwing it towards the bed. The socks, she noted, were stuck on. They were part of the fabric of the doll, moulded white plastic with vertical ridges. How would she get them off? In answer, Lucy went to her desk and took out a pair of small scissors. Abandoning her own doll, she set to work on the sock, digging into the plastic with the blade. She broke through to the hollow centre of the doll, working the blade around the top of the sock, until the left leg dropped to the floor. She peered up the inside of the leg and felt with her finger the jagged edges where the leg had been severed. It seemed logical to her in that moment to free the doll from itself. If the sock belonged to its body, then its skin was just another artifice. Could life lay within? She was delving deeper into this mystery. A scientific experiment, it was something that needed to be concluded. She was trying to help the doll, after all. She cut up the thigh as Charlotte helped to twist the leg out of the socket. It wasn’t easy and required their total concentration. The other leg was cut away next. They were surgeons, working on a very unwell patient who needed to be saved. Her friend found another pair of scissors and set upon the other doll. It seemed right to separate hand from wrist, head from neck, twisting the metal blades into the hard plastic. Side by side, they worked in contented silence and when they finally caught each other’s eye, at their feet lay a pile of dismembered doll body parts. Lucy opened up the cupboard and took out her two remaining dolls.
Lucy’s mum entered the room, chatting about lunch plans as she went to the window, lifting it up so that cool air flooded the room. Have you been playing with your dolls, it’s so nice Charlotte is here, as you hardly play with… The voice trailed away, as she took in what lay between the two girls still busy with scissors. The girls might have heard the door close behind her as they might have registered the boy from next door playing outside, whooping over his latest imaginary battle. All pretty incidental, like background music, though they did register their own tummies rumbling a little.
Lunch didn’t come. Instead, twenty minutes later, Charlotte’s parents stood in the bedroom doorway, together with Lucy’s mum. Their faces were not pink and shiny, but ashen and severe. This is very bad, they said, you can’t play together anymore, they murmured. Lucy’s mum said she was very worried, this was all wrong, and what was Lucy thinking? She looked down and tried to show remorse. But as her eye cast over the pile of dolls limbs, magnificent in their destruction of all things frilly and girly, by their very wrong-ness she felt somehow right inside.
The next time she was allowed to see Charlotte they had a picnic of lemon curd and jam sandwiches and went to sit on ‘the Point’, a small stretch of grassy common with a view over the city. A ginger cat emerged from the undergrowth, and they offered it the remains of their lunch. It sniffed and turned away, pouncing on an invisible prey. And they never mentioned the dolls again.