The Doll Who Died
It had been forgotten in a world of fantastic moons.
That doll I saw, nub of a head with its life peeling off
like a caul or a bandage, lay between rivers that dirtied and danced. The legs beside it were like cloudbank, and the doll
didn’t dangle like a marionette would but slid like a mermaid
stunned by a rudder down a red rock that cried on Sundays.
It wasn’t an original doll. I had seen a similar one, years before,
floating in the China Sea. Face-up and plastic, it blew among the coral as our boat made wings under water. Both dolls were hairless and eyeless with no knowledge of numbers.
The doll that died came from a land whose signpost said “here is the beginning of bones”. The other swam to the Bay of Bengal.
No, those are two lies. There were no destinations. When I was a kid
I liked to sit on the landings of staircases. No top, no bottom,
just movement and steps like the rickety ladders in stockings.
I preferred things that way. Beginnings and ends unnerve me. Getting up,
and the blank wait for sleep. I think of Alpha and Omega, two untwisted yings and yangs torn from their womb, like the doll who died.
Two petulant children hatching strings and secrets between them!
Ladies walk on that tightrope with their wombs full of calendars.
Who puts those two to bed and wipes their faces? Not history, who is dirty
and tired like a man in a raincoat, and forgets things, and likes
the movies. The doll who died lived in a secret room papered
with pink tumuli, overblown roses and organs that swelled and waned
like the moon, or chords that rise from cathedral pipes. History put it there and forgot it. But it cleaved like a glove
and never forgot itself, because it had never remembered itself,
because it never knew itself. It had its own little brackish red sea for paddling, and in the end I fancied it small and biblical,
because one day those seas would part and it could cross.
Could it happen? A date was found and written somewhere.
The doll, although it never knew it, kept arranging itself.
In its small sea-garden it had grown a heart. They measured
its morse code with delicate instruments and made calculations.
I wished a mermaid would adopt it, or that it could live off dithyrambs. As it was, the doll who died, like its big Bengalese
cousin, had no fingers to feel the Braille of its skin’s calligraphy.
It had no liver, so left off the wine at its last supper.
The absent latch to its eyelids meant that it couldn’t see its stem
frail as a jonquils’ in thawed soil, or the blue balloon
on a viscous string that nourished its maritime
sleep. When the world flew out, the doll who died
folded its birthday and its death-day into the one pill-box of its heartbeat and followed its metronome steps out of the building.
It left a gap. It had no grave to haunt or horrors to
Instead it sat square in the slat of afternoon sun
that slid around the cab, and wasn’t there, and was, and said
“I am small as your thumb” and “I saw you do that”.
If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.
Charlotte Brontë, Shirley