Melinda walked into the farmer’s market and watched the “tear starters” swing past her as if on a carousel, round and round they went. Young children tugged at their parents’ arms. A golden retriever wearing a purple doggy-size baseball cap did a two-step scratch-and-sniff routine next to its owner, a handsome man in his late thirties wearing matching purple sweats. A baby cooed “mama” and “gaga,” then sipped on a bottle nestled in its mother’s arms.
A young boy with short blonde hair and a freckled face ran towards Melinda screaming, “Mom!” The boy’s fingertips touched her hand. Realizing the error, he jerked his hand away and wailed hysterically. Recognizing the scream, his mom ran past the tomato stand, bumping into a display table, sending a heap of tomatoes crashing to the ground. The mother picked up her child and cradled him. Melinda ran her hand over her stomach, stretched out her white sweatshirt, and imagined it round with life. Tears trickled down her face. She reached into her teddy-bear backpack, pulled out a tissue, and dabbed at the tears.
The tissue turned to mush as she ran past the fruit and vegetable stands and into the bathroom. Turning on the faucet, she stared at her red swollen nose and bloodshot eyes. An old woman with one long braid of gray hair, which swung down her back, leaned a bouquet of flowers against the base of the sink and looked into her eyes. Melinda felt the warmness of her gaze as she said, “There, there, dear.”
Melinda yelled in frustration, “Of course, they’re there. Everyone’s got them, except me.”
The old woman patted Melinda on the shoulder and asked, “Why?”
Melinda thought about trying to explain it. How could she tell her that being childless at 37 her bio alarm clock kept going off like some evil ticking time-bomb reminding her in all its cruelness that she was ready. Strangers would think someone died if they saw the reams of Kleenex she’d gone through on her bio-clock days. And when her internal alarm clock was off, everything was okay, no leaky faucet.
Melinda patted her stomach in a circular motion and pulled her sweatshirt out real wide.
The old woman said, “No need for tears. You should be happy.”
Melinda yelled, “I’m not pregnant. My freaking eggs are drying up, and I want a child.”
The old lady said, “Wanting is no reason to be sad. Your generation’s too busy planning for the right time when life goes on with or without your fancy plans.”
Melinda said, “Forget the lecture.”
“Let me show you something?”
Melinda said, “I come here every Sunday. There’s nothing new.”
The old women smiled an all-knowing smile, and said, “I wouldn’t be so sure.”
They walked into a stall with dozens of children. All their backs were turned towards the wall. Some wore jeans and bright colorful t-shirts with soccer or brownie uniforms, with long blonde, brown, or red hair pulled to their sides in pigtails. Others wore baseball caps with shortly cropped hair sticking out the sides. One child wore pajamas with puffy white clouds, blue sky, and smiling yellow suns. Her feet were in the cutest pair of pink bunny slippers that Melinda had ever seen. She had short red pigtails and reminded Melinda of a little Pippy Long-Stocking. Melinda touched the child’s bunny slippers and imagined her sweet, innocent giggle, but like the others, she did not have a mouth, nose, eyes, or ears.
The doll’s dark red hair was like her sister Allison’s. Growing up, Melinda wanted to play with her sister like her classmates did with their brothers and sisters. But Allison wanted no part of it. While the other kids played house, Allison acted out the part with amazing accuracy. Even her voice sounded like their Mom’s. At least that’s the way Alison remembered it sounding. Their Mom died when she was 9 and Allison was 18.
Melinda touched the doll’s bunny slippers as tears trickled down her face. They reminded her of her favorite childhood slippers in velvety white velour, which she called, “magic bunnies.” Dancing through the living room, she had imagined being a ballerina and a princess.
The old lady said, “Hold her you’ll feel better.”
Melinda listened. The doll felt real, like a two- or three-year-old child.
She asked the old lady, “Where are their faces?”
Melinda took the doll home and named her Patty.
When Melinda came home from work, she sat Patty down at the dinner table like she used to do with dolls when she was a kid, eating with her at the table. The white walls of her condo, which she had never got around to decorating, no longer looked blank. The soups, stews, salads, and pastas she whipped up seemed less flat and season-less. She gained a few pounds. Her sculpted cheeks looked full and her small breasts grew round with new definition.
She took pictures of her and Patty having a picnic in a park and sent the picture to her sister, Allison, who had two kids of her own. In her holiday card, Patty wore a Reindeer antler cap as she waved at Melinda. It sat on the refrigerator next to a picture of a male real-estate agent and his golden retriever wearing a Santa’s cap. He had stopped by once and asked if she would consider selling her condo. The real-estate agent’s photo sat next to pictures of Allison and her two daughters lighting the menorah, which sat next to another photo of her sister’s family smiling behind jack-o-lanterns, which smiled, frowned, and wore snickering grins.
In the grocery store Melinda propped Patty up in the child safety seat in the shopping cart. Teenage kids giggled behind her back. Single men smiled at her and nodded at Patty as she rolled the cart down the aisles. When they got real close they looked at Patty and walked away.
The real-estate agent sent her an Easter card with his golden retriever wearing bunny ears. She liked the way he decorated his dog. She could tell by the way they stood next to each other that his dog was more than just a pet: it was his pal. She sent him and Allison a Spring Break photo with Patty sitting on top of a sand castle. Allison’s Happy Passover card, which she normally sent, did not arrive. In its place on the refrigerator were more pictures of Patty that she’d taken on their vacation in Monterey. There were pictures of Patty at Fisherman’s Warf holding a crab leg, bunches of rainbow-colored balloons, and a big teddy bear. She sent the pictures to Allison, who returned them unopened. On the back Allison scrawled in black ink, “Stop sending me pictures of your damned doll.” Melinda put the photos on the refrigerator next to a picture of the realtor’s dog wearing a hula skirt, sunglasses, and a Hawaiian lei.
Allison knocked on the door late in August. All the lights were out. It was 9:30 PM. Melinda’s green mustang convertible was parked in the driveway. Allison pounded on the door yelling, “Answer the dammed door. I know you’re home.”
Hearing her sister’s screaming voice was an unwelcome intrusion. After high-school graduation, Melinda left Massachusetts and moved to California. They seldom talked. Melinda opened the door and said coldly, “Allison, stop yelling. You’ll wake up people.”
“What? Is that damned doll of yours sleeping, too? Knock it off. She’s not real. Stop playing games. You’re not a mom.”
“Stop yelling. The nextdoor neighbors are surgeons. They were on call for the past few days. Show some consideration. What are you doing here?”
“I came out for a business convention and to talk some sense into you. Those pictures of your damned doll are driving me nuts. Get rid of her.”
“How do you think I feel every time I see pictures of that perfect family of yours?”
“It’s not the same.”
“Of course, it is. She’s my little pal.”
“Stop talking like she’s real. Lose some weight. No wonder you’re still single. “
Melinda touched her small belly and said, “So what if I gained ten pounds. I was too skinny. Do you want to say hi to Patty?”
“Come off it. You’re losing it. Show me you don’t belong in the funny farm and get rid of her.”
“How would you feel if I asked you to get rid of Michelle and Lori? You’d kick me out of your house, right?”
“Yeah, but this is diff—”
Melinda interrupted her, slammed the door and said, “Goodbye, Allison.”
In November, Melinda went to Lake Tahoe.
Patty sat in a little folding chair so her clothes wouldn’t get wet. Melinda built a snowman next to her. Then she set the automatic timer on the camera. A mother and a teenage boy walked near them, glanced at Patty, laughed, and continued walking. Melinda took a few pictures and started building another snowman.
A dog barked and ran towards her. A man shouted, “Buddy, wait. Stop.” The dog listened and stopped in front of Melinda’s snowman.
Melinda petted the dog and noticed that the sunglasses the dog wore were like the black and purple Raybans in the Hawaiian picture on her refrigerator. A man in his late thirties wearing a black parka, faded jeans, black cap, and a navy scarf wrapped around his neck looked at the snowman, smiled broadly, and said, “Good thinking, Buddy.”
Melinda snapped a few shots of the dog and Patty. Her favorite photo was where Patty sat on the back of the dog as she looked up at the snowman. She sent the photo to Allison, knowing it probably wouldn’t be opened.
Allison sent her a letter with a list of psychologists.
Carlton took off his black baseball cap, pushed it down over Melinda’s forehead, glanced over her shoulders at the list of psychologists, laughed, and said, “You’re into recycling, right?”
“These would make a great frame for you-know-who.”
She sent Allison a picture of Patty and Buddy flying a kite. Buddy held the string in his mouth, while Patty stood by his side.
About the author:
Julie Ann Shapiro makes a living as a freelance writer in San Diego. Published articles have appeared in health, computer, education, real estate and the arts. Featured short stories have appeared in Mega Era Magazine, Millenniumshift, Orgease Journal, PacificNWpotpourri, Alternate Species, Story South, Science Fiction and Fantasy World, and Universal Personality.
Julie may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.gotdot.com.
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