FICTION | The Doll
It started like a joke, a gateway thought.
A human-sized doll of myself. I could build it from scratch. I used to be a glass artist after all, with a degree in engineering.
Sure, it would take effort and skills and a lot of hiding and lying, but it could work.
It’s funny, really. Maybe if they stopped shaming men for playing with dolls when they’re children, they wouldn’t feel the need to treat women as such when they’re adults. But since they do, I would only be fulfilling that need. Why stay and play the doll, when I could leave him an actual doll to play with?
I’d be doing both of us a favor.
When I started picturing her, she was carved out of boiling glass, with magenta-stained lips and cutting cheekbones. Smooth. Smoother than skin. Flawless. A new woman, woman-made. If I stared long enough at her, she was almost like a mirror. She’d have my name of course. Nina. She wouldn’t be me, however. There would be no need for me to leave, if that was the case. More like Nina 2.0.
Smooth. Smoother than skin. Flawless. A new woman, woman-made.
How can I force her, you ask, how can I force anyone to be stuck in this place I so desperately want to leave?
Well, this Nina is colder. She isn’t born, she is built to fit, and if she cracks, she won’t feel it.
I’d still let her bleed once a month.
God forbid he doesn’t have anything to blame when she does something wrong. As if Nina could be emotional.
God forbid I don’t give her a break from the fucking.
Nina never hurts when she walks in heels. Nina smells like lavender all day.
When the children call, Nina will smile and ask, “Children, what do you need? Tell me everything.”
Nina won’t think that the whistling of the kettle sounds like a train rushing in front of her, disappearing before she has a chance to jump in front of it. Nina won’t think about spilling the scalding hot water on her children’s heads until the skin boils off their bones and they drop dead, finally quiet.
Nina, Nina, Nina. Sing them to sleep, Nina.
Really, it was just an idea. Unfathomable mostly. But then loneliness pushed me to a new corner of desperation. The afternoons are long spaces to fill, when one quits ironing.
Now that she’s here, solid and seated in front of me, I am no longer sure what I should tell her. She is beautiful, more than any version of myself I have ever seen in the glass of mirrors. I sculpted her out of my flaws.
“You’re Nina,” I state then, unsure whether that’s an order or a realization.
“I’m Nina,” she repeats. Her voice sounds almost like mine, except it’s deeper. More sensual.
I can barely keep myself from hugging her.
“You are going to save my life.”
“I am going to save your life,” she says dutifully.
Her voice sounds almost like mine, except it’s deeper. More sensual.
It’s been almost two months, and on the good days I tell myself I’ll do it. I’ve taught Nina 2.0 everything there is to know. She can fool them. My husband, the children. She’s programmed to do everything I do, but better. Even the way she folds the bread over the slice of ham. And I think the key is that the thousands of pieces of bread I folded before that one will never weigh on her the way they did on me.
I painted every corner of hers to resemble me, slowly realizing I had forgotten how to take care of myself properly. I have thick purple veins scarring my legs, an ass butchered by fat, and soggy tits. I couldn’t bring myself to ruin her. It’s not like anyone really looks at the me under these clothes. At the very worst, my husband will appreciate the improvements and fuck her more often. Maybe without shoving her face into the carpet. Yeah, maybe.
I wonder what my parents would think of this doll. She does walk with her back straight, she smiles when you tell her to smile. She’s the me that could have had it all.
I hate her. On the worst days, I want to break her to pieces and use the shattered glass to-
One time, when my husband spent the night out, I brought her into bed with me. I know now I shouldn’t have. I wanted to kiss her when I saw the way her body shifted smoothly under the covers, like it belonged there. Like a mermaid in a foam of sheets. I almost did. She was staring at me, wrinkles shining and eyes wide.
I could never love myself. But her, I loved her so much I began to love myself for allowing her to exist.
“What are you going to do once I take your place?”
I programmed her to ask me that once in a while, just so I don’t forget what my purpose is.
“I don’t know,” I say. Isn’t that amazing? “I can drive, so I was thinking about renting a car and going somewhere where people won’t know who I am. I want to see a fountain. It’s ridiculous that there’s not even a fountain nearby.”
She doesn’t reply any more and goes back to folding socks.
I want to see a fountain. I want to leave this place behind. She’s ready. I don’t have any more excuses.
She’s ready. I don’t have any more excuses.
I am having them meet today.
I slither out of bed just before sunrise and open the closet. I’ve kept her hidden in there so far. It’s just a small signal, a nod. She gets it and in an instant I become the hidden one, observing my life unfolding in front of me, from the little space between the closet doors.
Nina goes over to the bed and bows to give him a kiss on the cheek.
“Good morning, love,” she greets him.
He mumbles as he wakes up and smiles, pleasantly surprised.
“I’m gonna get you some breakfast,” she adds. He even strokes her face. Does he really think I could ever love him like that?
She comes back a few minutes later, perfect in her backlit nightgown. She’s carrying a tray with… Oh wow. Toast, jam, even fresh orange juice. That’s what I call effort. He grabs it and dips his face in it. No “Thank you,” no “Would you like some, dear?” What else is new? But Nina stays there: upright, untouched.
Even when he grabs her leg at the end, with his hands still sticky and dirty, she leans in. She puts both her hands around his face and dives into the kiss like it’s the best thing she’s ever had. And no later than a couple minutes, he’s shoving himself inside her. It’s uncomfortable to watch. She’s hurting. She must be hurting. And yet she lies there, because unlike me she never wanted something more than an average fuck from an average man.
She puts both her hands around his face and dives into the kiss like it’s the best thing she’s ever had.
When he’s done, he gets up, panting.
“Time for work,” he says and grabs the clothes carefully folded on the chair. When I hear the door shut behind him, I shiver. It’s done. It’s done. It’s done.
“Breakfast. I have to make the children breakfast.”
But Nina knows. She gets up and moves into the kitchen. I follow her.
She takes the bread, cuts the crust, puts it in the toaster. She’s already cleaning the crumbs off the counter.
I hear scampering down the stairs. They’re coming. I hide.
They scatter around the table like hoppers, their squealing voices bothering me even if I don’t have to deal with them.
“What’s for breakfast, mummy?”
“Eggs on toast, darling. Your favorite,” Nina replies.
“Why aren’t they ready yet?” he demands.
“I don’t like eggs, mum,” the second child chimes in.
“I don’t like toast,” the third one adds.
Nina hands the first plate.
“I never said I made eggs on toast for everyone,” she sings, and if she were any happier she would burst into a musical number.
“Toast and fig jam for you.” She hands the second plate, and I notice the jam is spread to form a smiley face.
“And chocolate cookies for you.”
Well, at least she shut them up.
She even got a “Thank you.” That’s a first.
This is what they want, then. Someone to bribe them, to give without complaining. Isn’t that what all mums should be like? A life devoted to making someone else’s favorite food. Nine times a day, in this case.
After breakfast, Nina carefully dresses them, tying their shoelaces and zipping up their jackets, pulling the hats jokingly over their little faces. It’s such a perfect picture.
Then, once they’re gone, I’m left to stare at her. At the way she goes to pick up the broom to clean up after them.
And after the cleaning comes the ironing, and the white shirt, the blue shirt, the purple jacket, the green socks, the white socks, the other white socks, the work trousers, the pj trousers, the towels, the silver sheets, the pink sheets, the blue sheets, the school uniform, the panties, the bras, the boxers, the slips.
I tell her to take a break after that. She sits on the couch, as the washing machine rumbles in the background.
“What should I do now?” she asks.
“I don’t know. Read a book maybe? Whatever you like.”
“I don’t know what I like.”
I used to like reading but I don’t anymore. It’s too painful to get lost in stories that are so much more wonderful than my own. Stories that will never belong to me.
What I can do is create them. Make them mine. Just the way I created Nina.
Nina who will stay while I leave. Nina who will watch me fill a bag with all the things I care about enough not to leave behind. Nina who will smile as I walk out, thanking me for giving birth to her in hell and deserting her. Nina who will learn to know this house like the back of her hand just like I did, to the point where she could walk around blindfolded and not bump into anything, but that doesn’t mean this house wouldn’t hurt her. It doesn’t mean that.
And I’ll stop thinking about her at some point, while I’m driving down country roads with long dirty hair, screaming “Screw the children!” as loud as I can. I’ll see a fountain, I’ll see a hundred fountains, and I’ll cook my favorite food and it will be as if these years of darkness never even touched me.
I just have to leave her in charge. I just have to go so far back that I can fool myself into living that life while she carries out this one.
So when I go back to putting clothes on the drying rack, and I cook three different dinners, and I fight with screaming children until they collapse, exhausted, I am gone.
When I crawl back to bed tonight, and his sweaty hands close around me, I am gone. It’s all Nina. I’m watching a fountain as they fall asleep.
I made myself into the doll they wanted. I re-built myself to fit.
So now, when I crack, I won’t feel it.