I met her in a beach cafe. I was looking at induced fractal patterns on the inside of my eyelid. Then I was looking at her, huddled in the corner carrying a swaddled bundle, like a Russian peasant out of Tolstoy. The uniform lemon yellow of the beach and the cobalt blue of matching sea and sky were barred at the door. In the beach hut there was nothing but a clean, hard-lined blackness, as if we were in the dreamlessness of litigious ink.
She told me what had happened. She had been walking along, coming home from a dance one late evening and there had been a commotion at the corner of a street she needed to walk along. She had confused herself and tried to find a new route but she was full of chemicals and exhaustion. Soon she had managed to get herself lost. This was a holiday experience. She was miles away from where she usually lived. In a panic she huddled in a blank doorway and was picked up by a couple of strangers who told her they’d look after her.
They took her miles out of the town to a factory Complex. It was dark but this place was lit up like a fire-cracker. Its great struts and girders, its dense sense of light and shade gave the impression of a thought getting off its knees, a ‘Eureka’, a ‘Gottit’, a ‘Let’s Rumble!’ There was no music. Music tends to follow rather than lead ideas, like a screen filler. She was given a small cabin, as if on a cruise liner, and woke to find it was three days later. The people in the place never smiled at her, nor did they ask her anything. She was driven straight back to her digs. Nine months later she gave birth.
It was raining hard that night and she was all alone in a cramped box room. All she remembered was the pain between her legs and the smells of everything she had ever eaten and drunk souring the air. Time was monochrome. At the window she thought she could see faces, but it might have been the dead moon. Days later she was strong enough to find the dead baby. She could hardly breath. She could hardly move. She was ripped and torn, as if a jagged dog, or a scrape lobster, had been at her . She thought that the ominous disorder would kill her too. The heat and dirt in the place would surely bring infection. Flies hovered like vultures in a Western, signifying a slow dying.
She hadn’t died. Collecting herself and her few belongings she had staggered away from the place, leaving the dead baby in the trash, hidden under cans and rotting melons. Far away, she bought a child’s doll and began to treat it as a child might. Or a mother might a real child. She talked obsessively to it, cuddled it, changed it, told it stories of fairies and princes. She forgot about the dead baby. The doll was enough. The dead baby had abandoned her, or had been the victim of some monstrous, unforgivable act of violence. But she had not been to blame. She considered the matter out of her control and the calamity just one of millions she could never repair. So she did what some have to do if they’re ever to walk again. With a saddened heart she clutched her doll and got on with things.
She started to try around for jobs. A working single mother’s not an easy thing to be when you’re not used to it. But she was dedicated to her project. She scuttled from venue to venue, all no nonsense elbows and knees. She ended up cleaning office premises for various corporate offshoots for two days a week, making and selling sandwiches on the sea front for another two days and escorting strangers on the other days. She was able to make enough money to even take a holiday.
During this time the doll represented her perfectly, reconstructing her fragile sense of existence in its rigid stillness, like an autopsy. Whereas before she had hardly dared look in a mirror for fear that she would just not reflect back anything, there was now almost a brashness and force to her, a swagger which was all she had needed to survive. She felt healthy and strong. And whereas before she had been close to death, her own invaded biology having nearly killed her, she was now retuning herself, recovering a sleepy athleticism and a brisk attention to joy which might have been swamped and drowned out had not the doll reignited her . She ate regular meals, kept herself hygienic, developed a technicians’ beauty, kept regular hours , took an uncomplicated interest in the people around her and formed relationships which were both useful to her future prospects and moderately entertaining in a small-scale manner.
It was a perfect world. There were lovers and they all paid for the privilege. There were some who took her to foreign countries and showed her marvels which were deliberately never more than sampled, looked at, always experienced as extensions of her own pleasure and information. Everything remained light and flighty, like a darting silver flying fish, skimming the surface of the deep blue sea and then soaring above it. Nothing lived in its own right, everything was rather a twinkle in her own appetites.
It would have been marvellous. It would have been a perfect story had it ended there. But then strange things began to happen and her life was ruined. The doll started to be alive. It began to have thoughts and a language and movement. It had needs which she had no idea what to do with. It would wake in the night when she was with a lover and demand a drink or some food. It would suffer illness when she worked and take her away from customers. It began to be frightened of the cupboard dark where she stuffed it when cleaning and she found that as the weeks moved into months she was being overwhelmed by its demands. It smelled horribly from time to time and sometimes wouldn’t sleep. It refused to stay still and would squeal a high pitched sound like a pig in a poke. Its curiously expanded head would struggle to sound out words, would have a stab at emotion.
It began to drain her of her independence. Her feelings of love towards it were now transformed into loathing and resentment. She would shiver in the cold nights, abandoned as her old lovers found the miewling and puking too much. She was served notice in her jobs and found herself at her wits end. She tried to remain calm about the whole situation. She would talk to the few friends who were left. She explained to them her headaches and plans for the future. But she was confused about everything and spoke like someone in shock. She didn’t quite hear their own comments and advice. She could hardly hear herself. She would shake her head and sit for hours out on the sea front on a bench clutching the doll and trying to keep things measured and in its own space. But there was nothing she could do to control its strange desires and its capacity to disrupt everything. It left her messed up and in a wallowing depression.
One dark summer night as the tide ripped into the beach she left the doll near the tide line and ran off. She ran back to her rooms where she lay sobbing in the dark. She heard the wind rising and the sea crashing and hoped that the waters would swallow the doll, would gobble it up. But then a great remorse clutched her heart and she tore out of the room with a yell like a wounded dog. She raced back to the beach but the tide was at full height and there was no sign of the doll. She screamed into the loud air. The night was without mercy. There was no one she could speak to.
She stayed out on the sea front that night, huddling against the spar struts smelling the salt and the ozone whils’t listening to the guzzle and gavel crack of the elements. At the end of that week she had lost all her jobs and felt that her mind had walked out on her too. One night there came a tapping on the streets, the noise of someone perhaps in wooden clogs walking up the hill towards her house. An endless terror gripped her and she pulled the pillow over her head in an uncommon fright. She shivered, wet herself and trembled from head to toe. There was sure enough a knock at the door, a rat a tat which froze her, which screwed into her brain vicious messages her mind would pick up on and haunt her with later.
The girl turned to me at this point and broke off her story.
‘It can’t never drown can it? After all, its wood innit? Fucking wood. So it can hardly drown you see? And I left it there to just drift away and it come back. Its always coming back to me these days. It's grown up by now. It can know things now,’ she said. Her hands were stiff and cold like my judgement. She seemed so terrified, her lips were miracles of lattice work, the skin all broken and shattered.
‘I see what you’re saying. You put so much of yourself into that doll didn’t you? I bet you even gave it your own name didn’t you? I see what you are running away from. But surely you must see that it has to stop. You’re driving yourself crazy. The whole thing is making you deranged. You sit here and tell me - a complete stranger if truth be told yes? - you tell me this quite ridiculous story. Quite understandable but none the less a miracle of foolishness and distraction. The facts will bear me out. This doll is merely a projection of yourself. You have transferred yourself into this doll and you're dependency has turned into a curious sort of self-disgust. You putting the doll on the beach that night was a kind of suicide attempt. You have survived, but in a strange way. You can live without the doll. You can live with everything now. The doll isn’t really out there. Its just your own deep fear. But there is the guilt. The guilt haunts you,’ I said. She looked at me as if I was a demented fool. There was, I believe, a kind of pity in her look.
‘You don’t understand sir,’ she said, patiently beginning again.
‘What I understand is that you need a meal. When was the last time you ate?’ I said.
‘It wants to crawl into me. It wants me to give birth to it. It thinks it will be a real person then. It will insert itself into me and then work its way out. Do you see what will happen if it catches up with me?’ she said. I gazed at her. The image she had just presented me with was revolting. I was suddenly irritated by everything. There was no need for this.
‘It’s disgusting. You are a very vivid woman. I can see that now. Mind you, your imagination is tainted. It is full of dark stuff. I don’t think I can stomach any more of this,’ I said. I stood up and made to go.
‘By now its the size of a grown man. It will split me in two. It will chew me open,’ she said. I stood and watched her face below me, in the dark. Then I walked into the bright hot light of the summer beach.
That was years ago. I can’t be happy with the ignoramus I was back then. I have tried to change. But there was a terrible darkness after that. I never got her name. I was not sympathetic. I found her a looker. A real doll.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carter Boyle is twenty seven and lives in New York. He writes short stories and does computer art. He has a sexy grrl who thinks he’s adorable. This keeps him going through the bad times.