Story by Kloipy (Seth Dombach)
With quivering hands, the old woman pulled a cigarette out of the pack and brought it up to her cracked lips with the precision of years practice. The cigarette looked comically large in tiny, frail hands, but the joke was lost on the room. After three attempts with the lighter, she was able to take her first inhale. She took the drag as deep as she could and let the smoke slowly roll out of her mouth, then trailing up above her head, finally dissipating with the slow moving fan.
“Gd childproofing. Hurts every time. Guess I shoulda stopped back when I got arthritis, but like the post office, nothing stops the lifetime smoker.” She said with a laugh that quickly dissolved into a coughing fit. The young man in the suit sitting across from her didn’t laugh. He sat straight in his chair and tried his best to look past her while waving away the cloud of smoke making it’s slow float towards him.
The man leaned forward “Mrs. Rawlings, we really need to discuss your options here.”
“First off I haven’t been a Mrs. In over 33 years. It’s Miss or Rona thank-you-very-much” she said, taking another drag off the cigarette. “Secondly, I’m paying you a pretty penny for your services. It’s my money and if I want talk about the weather you’re gonna sit here and listen to it. Here I’ll throw in an extra hundred; maybe you can find yourself something to pull that stick out of your ass with it.” She reached into her purse and threw a wad of cash at him.
The man sat back in the chair but not before pocketing the cash. The woman snubbed out the cigarette and immediately lit up another one as they sat in the silence of the room. She slowly rose to her feet and pushed the chair back into table with a manner becoming of her age.
“You see, that’s the problem with your generation. Your mouth never stays shut longer than a minute. It’s like you talk just to hear yourself speak as if you forget the sound of your own voice. No one just listens anymore. And a man, ha, like you could use a bit of knowledge from someone older than you.” She stared him directly in the face never once showing an inch of weakness. “I want you to look around this room. Tell me what you see, and damn it all you tell me the truth, cause I’ll know if you’re lyin’ to me. I’m not paying you for flattery.”
The man looked around the room. Past knickknacks covered in dust, an ancient television, papers strewn around the floor without care or a place to call home.
Finally he spoke in direct, cold terms “I see junk”
She went into another fit of laughter, holding herself, tears forming at her eyes. The man’s cold expression seemed to waver into a look of disbelief. She gained her composure once again and turned her back to him and looking at the disrepair of her house as if for the first time. She saw the peeling paint on her once beautiful walls. The section of warped floor below the growing water stain. An archeological site that had been lived in for years. Her eyes finally settled on the collection of dolls sitting above the fireplace. Their eyes wide open, staring off forever. Dresses once white, stained by smoke into a dull yellow. Blank expressions of indifference.
“You’re right. It’s all junk. A catalogue of my life that says nothing? of who I am. Junk is the perfect word for it.” She took one of the dolls into her hands. Looking down into the once brilliant, now dull blue eyes, she found herself struggling to speech without crying. The doll was tattered and had crack in it?s face from a long ago fall from the hands of a reckless child. She turned to the man, cigarette in one hand, doll in the other and forced the words. “You see this doll?” he nodded “My father brought this home for me from Germany. He had just got back from the war. It was raining when he got home, his car coming up the driveway like it did everyday back before he had left. I remember him walking up to the house, his uniform pressed and clean, and my mother running out into the rain, her dress soaking through to her undergarments, she not noticing. She, putting her hands on his face kissed him like I had never seen them kiss before. I can still see her tears falling just as hard as the rain.” She stopped to take a drag, this time blowing the smoke out in a sigh. “I remember thinking of him as beautiful in that moment, when his smile came to me. He was probably younger than you are now, but he looked older, much older than before he had gone away. That night he came into my room to kiss me goodnight, he was clean shaven and I can feel how smooth his cheek felt when I kissed him back, even now in my old age. And then he handed me this” she paused and looked down at the doll again as if calling the past up “he told me that he had found it in a bombed out house. I remember seeing it for the first time. Those big blue eyes. I hugged him and pressed my face into his chest and he smelled like aftershave and pouch tobacco.”
She took a deep breath and looked at the man. He dropped his eyes to the floor when she looked over.
“Do you mind if I take one of these?” he said motioning to the cigarettes
“Go ahead; it’s been a long time since I’ve smoked with anyone. Might as well share a habit, even if it’s a bad one.” They both took one out of the pack, this time he lit hers. “Now, that’s quite the gentleman” she said with a hint of flirtation that in her younger years would cause men to go weak. They both sat relishing the smoke in the dim light of the room.
“That night I told myself that I would cherish that doll forever. It would be my special doll; the one daddy had risked his life for. I treasured her. For a while. I’d comb her hair, hold her tight when I was sleeping, and she would always get the best spot and the most tea at all my imaginary parties. But like most childhood things, I started to forget about her. Daddy would come home with a new doll, and she would sit in the corner staring at me. She eventually went on to lose her spot in bed with me and after a time she’d lay under the bed for months without as much as a peep. And I grew up and when we moved, up to the attic she went and stayed there for years in silence.”
She went to smoke and couldn’t. She hadn’t realized that she had started to cry and a tear had extinguished her flame.
“Oh my, I’m sorry. Could you relight this for me?” he did and she wiped her face
“My father passed in 1974, two years after my mother. I was an only child and left to sift through their personals. And of course I came upon her again. She smelled like moth balls and mildew, but other than that she looked as graceful as the first day I saw her. And I sat there and thought about what I had done to her. I did the worst thing I could possibly do; I forgot her. I’m not saying I’m a saint and I haven’t done my share of foolish things, but for some reason this was my greatest regret. This doll that I had promised to hold dear had been tossed away with all the other things. She was supposed to be special. I didn’t think of it as a little girl but I was almost forty by this time and it hit me what I was too immature to know then. This doll wasn’t mine. She had belonged to some other little girl who probably took better care of her than I. This little girl for all I know was sent away to one of those camps and probably never saw a doll again. I wondered then, as I do each time I look at her, if that little girl thought about her on dark nights; alone; when she had nothing to cling to. And I, a privileged child with a family who was well off, with all the things I could possibly want; I had forgotten.” She stood and walked over to the window to watch the snow fall in the moonlight.
“Each time I see her I feel that way. I’ve tried to repent. I’ve tried to not forget, but I feel like I’m damned. I watched my children grow up and lose their favorite things. All the hours we spent playing together, the times they would hold me and tell me that I was their best friend and they never wanted to leave me. And now with each passing year I see them less and less. They still come around for the holidays and since I got sick I get more phone calls. But it’s not a real visit. It’s a requirement. They sit here and watch TV and we all pretend not to know each other. They hug me and say their goodbyes and then leave me alone again. And I sit here, without a peep. Just hoping that someone will take me out again.” She turned back to him; he was still watching her, his eyes now glassy; though he was trying to hide it.
“And you see, that’s the worst part of it all.” She said “Through all our struggles, all our pain and our joy, the years of laughter and the times of tears. It doesn’t matter. It seems like a slow process but it sneaks up so fast. We go from bright new things; full of life; to forgotten toys. And after a long enough time, even the memory of us is locked away in the attic along with the rest of the world. I’m tired of fading. I don’t want to remember anymore. Do you have any kids young man?”
“Yes, I have a daughter.” He said, not even trying to conceal the tears anymore
“Give this to her. Take it home and tell her you found it. We all need a cross to bear. Now wipe your face off and let’s do what I paid you for.” She said with a hint of smile
The shot was muffled by the falling snow. No one was around to hear it and no one would know for weeks until the mail had piled up on the front step. The case would be closed as it was made to look like a personal decision. The family would come and take what they wanted and the rest would go to charity or to the dump. They would lie to each other and say they did their best in the last years to make her happy. A small, unnoticed grave would be put up. You would only know it from the brown and withered flowers around it.
That night the man walked out alone into the falling snow. He looked back at the house once, got in his car and drove home to place a surprise in his child’s bed. She would wake the next morning and throw her arms around her father’s neck, maybe give him a kiss on the cheek, for her new gift. She would promise him to love it forever. Her eyes just as blue.
And back in the house, up on the shelf, the dolls looked on eternally. Eyes unimpressed. Nothing seemed to surprise them anymore.