I wasn’t allowed to have friends when I was little. Children were loud and messy and got into everything. Mommy wasn’t well and she couldn’t handle that sort of thing. I wasn’t even enrolled in school. Mommy took care of all of my lessons. I was an advanced reader from an early age and I was quite good at arithmetic, too.
But I was lonely.
I had my parents, who did their best by me, but there was always something lacking. Some part of me that was unfulfilled. I longed for more than sitting quietly in front of the cribbage board with a Mommy or long walks through the garden with Daddy. I rarely left our home, a sprawling manor house that had been built almost a century before I was born, or its acres of maintained lawn and woodlands.
I was sickly, like Mommy, and leaving could be damaging to my frail health.
The frustrated ache grew in my chest as I got older. I couldn’t put what it was into words. It was beyond my child’s mind, then only eight, to grasp, much less explain, the instinctual need to socialize. I grew quiet, brooding, and longed to be alone even as I craved companionship.
Daddy brought me a bird and a bunny and a kitten, and they sated me for a time, but they could not quite quell the restless beast of isolation that drummed within me like a second heartbeat. My parents took notice of my lackluster airs, but quickly realized there was little they themselves could do to lift my spirits.
Mommy always said the dolls were her idea. She knew I needed something more than my usual toys, which weren’t holding my interest, and what little girl doesn’t have all of her troubles enchanted away by something to dress up and baby?
Annette was my first. She was blonde and had big gray eyes surrounded by long lashes. I took her everywhere with me. On all my walks with Daddy, to play cards in the evening with Mommy, even to the bath. I could spend hours combing her hair and tying it up in all sorts of silly styles. She only had one outfit and it became dirty. After a while, one of her eyelids started to droop. I didn’t like that. She wasn’t pretty anymore.
I made Daddy take her away.
Lucinda came next and I loved her even more. She was darker than the fair Annette and her gaze followed me about the room. Daddy made sure that she had more dresses to choose from. I easily lost myself in my fantasies, pretending that we were both like those fancy ladies in Mommy’s fashion magazines. I liked to have tea parties with Lucinda. I’d wrap a tea cup in her hands and and fill it and it would remain there, untouched, while I sipped mine and repeated conversations my parents had had at supper the night before. I even made my parents tuck her into bed beside me every night, complete with the same kisses to each cheek that they gave me.
She lasted almost a month before her limbs started to go limp and wouldn’t hold any poses any more. Daddy said he couldn’t get me another right away and I’d have to keep playing with Lucinda.
I cut off all of her hair and put her into the grand fireplace in the parlor. I didn’t want a broken doll.
Daddy was very cross with me after what I’d done. The parlor stank and they had to clean the remnants of my plaything from the hearth. I was equally cross, though. He had brought me dolls that wore too quickly and became useless. I screamed and cried as I never had. They kept me in that house, all by myself, the least they could do was give me a decent doll!
I knew the exact one I wanted the moment I saw her. We were on a rare outing in town and, as we passed by a shop, I saw my next doll through the window. She was pale like Annette had been, but her hair was red and so much longer. She was seated in profile, but I clearly saw the freckles sprinkled across her button nose.
I grabbed Daddy’s sleeve and pointed. That one.
He told me no and made Mommy and me return to the car as I fell into another fit. Mommy tried to soothe me in the car, but I wouldn’t have it.
I wanted her, I wanted her, I wanted her!
As the hour wore on and Daddy didn’t join us to drive us home, I realized how angry I must have made him. Suddenly I felt like a very foolish, selfish child, and I said as much to Mommy. She assured me that that wasn’t the case. Daddy just had business.
So we waited. And we waited. And we waited until the sun had started to go down.
Knuckles rapped on the window and we both jumped. A man was standing on the sidewalk beside the car, peering in. When Mommy gathered me against her in fright, he held up his hand. The streetlight overhead glinted off the badge’s edge.
Daddy had been arrested, we were told once we were escorted to the station.
He’d been caught doing something very bad.
They said he’d been trying to abduct a little girl with a syringe of paralytic. Mommy was very calm while they asked her questions, but I was scared.
They put two photos on the table in front of us. They were black and white, but I instantly knew that one was fair and blonde and the other olive toned and darker. My recognition, which I did not know to hide, did not escape the officer. He pushed the photos towards me, despite my mother’s sudden protest.
Do you know these little girls, he asked me from under his bristled mustache. We’re looking for them.
Little girls? I giggled. What a silly man. Other children weren’t allowed at my house. Those weren’t little girls!
They were my dolls.