In the house where ratty curtains hung but never covered the windows, there lived a little girl and her mother and father and a china doll.
The china doll would sit on the mantle, watching everyone with its little blue china eyes, and smiling with its cherry china lips. The mother and the father had received it as a wedding present, and the mother was so consumed with delight at its beautiful, shapely china face, she would tote it around the house like it was her daughter. She would dote on it silently, murmur endearingly and show her off to every guest who bothered visiting the house with the ratty curtains.
"Isn’t it the most precious thing?" She would exclaim, and of course, in common politeness the guests were inclined to agree. "How lovely! Look at her smile," And they would achingly smile at the doll, and the doll smiled back.
The doll was indeed a lovely thing, with porcelain skin and rosy cheeks and bright blue eyes and a lovely little outfit—a sweet pink dress with pearls and bloomers and cute little shoes—a sightly bonnet placed on shiny flaxen hair. She would smile sweetly—the was the archetype of sugar and spice and everything nice. The epitome of feminity. When the mother would settle down on the couch to listen to the radio, she would smile at the doll, and the doll, of course, would smile back. How could she not? She was picturesque, perfect, she lived in a world of her own where flowers bloomed all year long and there was perpetual sunshine. No clouds dared cross her realm. What other explanation would there be for the smile eternally pasted on her face?
The mother even thought of a little story for her—-back when she wasn’t a mother, but merely a wife—-the little doll had a brother and sister and she lived in a little house with curtains—not ratty ones, but nice velvet curtains. She had a loving father and a doting mother, and each day she would go out and sit in the meadow, reading books while the sunshine smiled down on her, casting warm splotches of golden light on her face.
A year passed, then two, and things were still the same in the house with the ratty curtains. The mother was still not yet a mother, but she was in her head. For the mother of the little china doll had somehow been replaced with the wife-soon-to-be-mother of real life. The little doll was her lovely, perfect daughter—a daughter of dicipline and beauty and talent—-in the wife’s head, she was soft-spoken and charming, fresh like a daisy and shy like a rabbit. She was everything good the wife had longed for, all her missed chances taken and her regrets undone. She was her wish, her solemn hope for the future. She nurtured this thought, this daughter in her head like a loving mother would do—and she never questioned it, not once.
The first thing the wife, now mother, noticed about her child was that her eyes weren’t blue.
They were brown, a lovely rich dark brown that made her child seem deep and thoughtful—the color of her own eyes. But she was so hoping she would have blue eyes—even though her husband had green eyes and there was hardly a chance of having blue eyes anyway—because blue eyes meant she would grow into the china doll, that she would fullfil lost chances and abandoned dreams. The baby’s eyes were truly wonderful—to anyone else, they would seem like the swirling waters of a deep lake. But to the mother, they looked drab and boring—-they looked like bitter disappointment.
The mother did everything in a daze—she feigned happiness, ecstacy, relief and hope. Hope was such an empty word. All hope vanished at the sight of those plain brown eyes that were too much like her own to love. She never loved herself—-she never even loved her husband as much as she loved that little china doll, smiling her cherry smile.
She did everything a mother should, in terms of caring and physical presence. She nursed, she changed, she burped, she cleaned. She held the baby when she cried, she rocked her to sleep. And two hours later, she would repeat the sequence. it made her a robot, a drone, a slave to this crying motor-pitched baby who she was hating more and more every minute. And as the bitter seed of hatred planted in her heart grew, so did her love and longing of the china doll, still standing where she always does.
She would sew little baby booties and other things for her child, but she admired her handiwork more than her child’s lovely hair or pout. And she admired the doll most of all. Her daughter was completely bald (and dreadfully ugly, according to the mother) when she was born, but her hair grew soon enough— it was blue-black and soft and straight. Nothing like the golden haired, blue-eyed damsel sitting atop the mantleplace, smiling wanely at the house with the ratty curtains.
The mother did her duties as the female sex was expected to—in all ideals she was the model mother as well. She dressed nicely, and curled her hair, and went to church every Sunday. She didn’t drink or smoke and cooked good food. To anyone else, she was pretty and polite—but to her, she was just a body of insufficiency, pockets of shallow longing and vacuoles of plain dry air.
To her, the baby was even worse: rowdy and loud and always laughing—it made her so angry—how could something so little find joy in things she can’t see? It infuriated her, the fact that while they existed in the same world and were of the same blood, one cold find happiness and the other only misery. She chalked it up to infant insanity, but inside she knew it was something more.
She shoved the telltale whisper away, only for it to haunt her in her sleep.
The girl. That girl. Oh, how she hated that girl.
She was the epitome of rambunctiousness, the paragon of misbehavior. She refused to brush her hair and could not sit still—no, not even for one moment! She left the house as the first rays of sunlight cracked the milk-tinted sky, and she wouldn’t come back until they left. She would wear the same overalls all day, every day—only taking them off at night and sleeping stark naked. And dear lord, was this little girl ugly.
She had an upturned nose with freckles sprinkled abundantly across her face; her freckles knew no bounds. She was as tanned as her father, her chin dimpled and face bony and eyes a murky, muddy brown. She looked half-boy, and sometimes there was no way to tell the difference. She had broad plain forehead as flat as an ironing board and stark raven hair, which she wore short and cropped so it wouldn’t grow out and become an unholy embarrassment. God knows how embarrassing she was already—she screeched out lyrics too loud in church and punched kids who took her things; the mother would have to answer to shrieks from other angry mothers with lovely kids: “What is that animal? Take it away!” They too, could not tell her gender.
The little girl’s mother hated the other mothers—not because they yelled at her child, but because of the scorning looks they sent her; and oh, how they burned. She caught aflame and burned in turn; she caught afire with her own anger and insecurities: Her? They were blaming her, who had tried to do everything right her entire life, for this mess? This inhuman monster?
The little girl did not miss a thing; if not anything else, she was bright, and she looked down when her mother looked at her, wrought with shame. Her shoulders slumped when women yelled at her for hurting their kids; for God’s sake, they were taunting her!
"Come here, you mangy dog! Come here, it!"
What was she supposed to do? As fury smoldered within her like hot coals refusing to go out, she thought about what her mother said: “You must try and hold in your anger.”
But it’s not as if her mother held it in herself. Always yelling, her otherwise pretty face distorted with anger, with shame—and eventually, the little girl no longer felt bad for somehow letting her down and began to find a wretched detached happiness in her mother’s anger.
She became an it. She might as well have become a nobody.
The girl, no longer little, woke up at the crack of dawn every day.
She would run an old hairbrush through her cropped hair and bemusedly think about little girls with flowing locks and dainty ribbons that adorned them, and how she never had either. Part of her ached with a hollow, nostalgic regret; the other half was glad she never had to deal with such nonsense. It’s not as if she wanted frilly bows in her hair anyway.
But when she was nine and her mother had forced her into participating in a recital, she would watch with a throbbing sadness as mothers would run their hands through their daughter’s hair, tapered fingers lovingly arranging curls into feminine perfection. Her hair was always short and hardly ever had to be brushed; now, at the age of sixteen, she brushed her hair just for the sake of brushing and pretended her mother was doing it for her.
She would pull on an over-sized shirt that hid her too-small breasts; she would tug on her father’s old jacket that softened her sharp shoulders. She would slide on old frayed jeans held together by her awkward stitching that hid her spidery, pale legs. She thought about powdering her face, maybe applying some blush to soften her sharp cheekbones and make her sunken eyes look less sunken. Then she laughed outright for thinking like that.
Putting on makeup would mean her mother would either be a.) pleased, or b.) amused. And she preferred neither. She she let her dusty cake of blush and flaky powder rot in her cobwebby drawer for another day.
She stuffed a pack of cigarettes into her pocket and rubbed her too-big nose self consciously. As much as she tried not to care about shallow things like appearance, she found herself gazing in the mirror and vainly wishing her nose was smaller and straighter and her eyes bigger, her lips rosier and skin not so pale. She wanted a different voice; not her raspy tone that lisped and stuttered and mispronounced her path to becoming the class laughingstock.
She wanted to be someone else. Not the girl-boy with shorn hair and crooked teeth and a mother who cared about her just enough to point out everything wrong with her. Not the it.
Please. Anything but the it.
As she made her way downstairs, stomping way too loudly in worn out sneakers too shoddy for even her carefree father. But nothing was too shoddy for her.
You’d imagine a mother like the young girl’s to barely look up when her pitiful excuse for a daughter came downstairs, but that was quite the opposite of what the mother did. She stood starkly to attention, noticing and documenting her child’s appearance balefully like she did everyday. The daughter ignored her and reached for the cereal, which she poured into a cheap plastic box. She wasn’t in the mood for her mother’s bullshit. Not today. Not any day, really, but especially not today.
She extended her middle finger at the china doll, who stared blankly and gave her that perpetually prim little smile. She made a face at it. Her mother noticed and frowned, but she didn’t say anything to her daughter. She was far too used to her rebellious antics.
However, she silently apologized to the doll. The doll smiled happily. Apparently, she was forgiven.
The mother heaved a sigh and gave the doll another tight, pursed smile. Her lips puckered in apology, but the ends of her mouth stood stoic and still as the countryside horizon.
Don’t worry, darling, she said in her head. Mother’s here for you.
The doll continued smiling, and the mother noticed one eyebrow slightly cocked as if to say: "I know."
Don’t worry, mother. I always know.
God, how she hated that doll!
This is what the girl, the daughter, the it thought as she trudged her way through muddy fields in order to catch the bus that would bring her to another monochrome day at school. Monochrome, that’s what it was. The past was sepia-tinted, the present is dreadfully monochrome, but the future—oh, the future. Despite her pessimistic inclinations, the future was a burst of color on the distant horizon, beautiful as the dew drops that adorned the hunched green grass like an old lady with her jewels.
She loved planning out the future. When she finished school, she would leave home after hugging her father and destroying that horrible china doll. She would leave and move to one of those nice places; usually New York or Chicago, but Rome or Paris if she was in an exotic mood. She would explore cafes and meet people like her, and maybe even fall in love—-
She squealed a little at the thought before composing herself. She wanted love. She wanted someone who would love her, boy or girl; it didn’t matter. She wanted someone who would count her mud-splatter freckles like daisy petals and press kisses onto her crooked, too big nose. She wanted someone who would love her short hair and muss it affectionately like her father did when he was in a good mood. She wanted someone who would gaze at her like her mother would gaze at that godforsaken china doll. That was the only thing she envied that doll of. She envied that peachy loving gaze her mother wore when her eyes happened to pass over the doll.
She let thoughts of the future run rampant as she trudged her way up the lane. She drank them in, she let them fill her, inflate her, hydrate her. She swelled with the thought of love, of being loved, of sunshiny cafes, laughter, vintage cameras and cobblestone roads.
But as she saw the bus crawling past the horizon wearily, signalling the entrance into another monochrome day, and the color rushed out of her and her shoulders slumped. Only one thing loomed in her mind now; it cast shadows across her cobwebbed eyes and turned her mouth downwards in a sour grimace so that she looked like a twisted version of her mother. Only one thing.
She must destroy that goddamn doll.
All day long she thought of possible plans for killing the doll. (killing, because that doll was real and it’s smile may seem sugary, but it was in reality the sickly sweet one encountered while taking medicine. The artificially flavored type that made people gag and push the bottle away in disgust.)
She could pour gasoline on it and burn it. But would china burn? She could hack it apart with a knife. Wait, no; she might hurt herself in the process.
Really, the simplest way to kill it would be to drop it, but it really didn’t deserve such a painless death. That sickly smile that had tormented her all those years called for torture, revenge.
She feasted on these thoughts all day, and brought them to action in the middle of the night.
She wanted it to die at midnight, during the height of the witching hour. She wanted it to die scared and alone, she wanted to see it’s mouth shaped in something other than a smile as it shattered or burned. She wanted to wrench it out of the perpetual sunshine it seemed to live in and thrust it into the same inky darkness she had been in all those years, and she wanted to see how the china doll liked it.
After her parents fell asleep, she waited with bated breath for midnight and then crept downstairs in a T-shirt and underwear. She grabbed the china doll off the mantle place and held it tightly. She stole a box of matches and a knife from the kitchen, then opened the door carefully and stepped outside.
The first thing that hit her was the biting cold. It nibbled at her fingers and hacked at her toes, chomped on the vestiges of warmth that lingered about her until she was as cold as the doll she clutched in her hand.
She didn’t mind. In fact, she liked it. The worse it was for her, the worse it would be for the doll.
She tiptoed over to the side of her house, the grass betraying her as it crunched under her feet.
Once she reached her destination, she looked down at the doll thoughtfully. What would cause it the most pain? But as she thought, a small voice in the back of her mind asked her: “Why are you doing this?”
She told it to shut up. It ignored her.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Will it bring you peace?"
Revenge isn’t happiness. Revenge is suffering in the full knowledge that you can let it go; but you chose not to. Humans, as pitiful as they are, have a strong grip on the arm of futility. Silly things, they don’t realize it until it’s too late.
As this seeped into her, she began to cry.
She thought about why she was doing this, and she thought about how she didn’t hate the doll so much as she hated the connection it had to her mother, and how she hated her mother, how she hated the lack of love, and she hated herself for hating herself and hating how in her earlier years, after observing other mothers, she would accuse herself of wrongdoing and try her best to be good. But good was never enough, because her mother didn’t want good. Her mother didn’t want her. And it didn’t matter if she grew out her hair and wore dresses and behaved, because she would never measure up to the painted blue eyes, blonde hair and rose petal smile of the china doll.
With a claxon-like wail that dripped with loathing, she flung the doll at the side of her house, where it shattered in an explosive array of flying china that pierced her like shrapnel.
She didn’t throw the doll in anger. She didn’t destroy it in a fit of rage. She threw it in defeat, because all the girl really thought she was was a half-empty vessel of unfulfilled potential.