Dolls In The Storm
She thought she’d come for a playdate when in fact, she was there to participate in a massacre. Her face was ashen as she popped the first golden-haired head from the Barbie I handed her. She tossed it into the growing pile beside me, her eyes never leaving mine.
The dolls belonged to my sister. This was admittedly a macabre way to exact revenge on the one person who loved me unconditionally and whose only offense in the world was loving me in such a way.
Jessica sat cross-legged and said in her nine-year-old voice, “Maybe I can tie?” while she reached for the ball of twine I’d positioned next to the little kid’s scissors between us.
I shrugged. I plucked off the head of my next plastic victim and my scalp prickled with disappointment as I saw Jessica wrap twine around the Barbie’s naked torso. “No, that won’t work,” I said. She shivered when she heard me speak. “It’ll swing wrong. You have to wrap the string around her arms.” Pop, went the Barbie in my hands. “And then it’ll hang more up and down. Straight.” Pop went another. By now, I had limbs and torsos on my right side and a mess of blonde, brunette, and shaved smiling heads on my left.
Jessica was good at taking direction, but she was very slow. I finished off the remaining two figures and joined her.
“Can we just play outside? On the swing?” Her voice was gray like the approaching storm clouds.
“Nah,” I said, tying a little kid knot around the Barbie I took from her sweaty hands. “Gonna rain.”
“Oh, that’s OK. Or we could play catch? Outside?”
“No. OK, you tie this end around the railing, and I’ll just keep working on the rest.”
“And then we can go outside?”
Thunder cracked. Rain poured. Our windows were open.
“Sure, then we can go outside.”
Jessica did as she was told. I finished up my tying, and soon we had a half dozen torsos ready.
“What are we going to do with them?”
“It’ll be a cascade! Like a waterfall! I’ll be down there, and you push them through the railings!” I was blocking a play for which she clearly did not audition.
Jessica pulled at her ponytail. I’d never seen her chew her fingernails before this.
I assumed my position on the stairs. I looked up at her and raised my arms like I was preparing to catch her when she jumped.
“OK! Push ’em!”
She gnawed at the fingernails on one hand while she nudged the first Barbie through the space I’d designated. The plastic legs clacked against the wall as the headless doll tumbled and swung. I cackled. Hilarious! Swinging, headless dolls! What joy! How else would I ever spend a Saturday afternoon?
“Now do them all!” With her one hand, Jessica pushed the remaining dolls to join the first. For a few moments, the Barbies twirled and twisted together, like my mother’s earrings dangling when she shook her head No.
Then, my father opened the door at the bottom of the stairs. Probably, he wanted to simply check in with us. See if we needed anything. See if Jessica wanted to go home. Needed to go home.
I’d never heard someone shriek like that.
I’d never seen Jessica’s eyes so wide.
I’d never been so confused.
Later that day, well after my dad took Jessica home and I cut down the hanging Barbies and even after I’d smushed the heads back on the naked necks (“You’d better get them back to normal before your sister gets home!”), I heard my parents in their bedroom, trying to discuss the afternoon’s events without my hearing. I was busy piercing my stuffed cat’s ears at this point. I was able to hear them well enough.
My father expressed muffled concern, but my mother surprised me. She giggled. At first, I think she was stifling it. But soon, it enveloped her. She laughed behind the closed door, and I imagined my father standing in front of her, describing the naked, spinning Barbies. One girl elated, the other nearly weeping, both shocked to see him disturb their moment. My mother snorted with every new detail of the scene, and soon my father gave up and left. My mother collected herself before she emerged from their room. There were tears in her eyes when she rested her hands on either side of my face. She smiled at me then, but her lips were tired and slight. She sighed and squeezed me in her trembling arms. She kissed my forehead and left me holding a stuffed cat with a ripped ear. I decided in my stomach that I would leave my sister’s Barbies alone after that, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t have to know why.