#AtoZChallenge. April 4, 2018, The Theory of Dolls
26 posts. 26 days. And 26 letters of the alphabet, one post beginning with each letter, in April.
Follow me as we visit the not-quite-normal retirement village of Twilight, Arizona, where reality clashes with the unexplained.
The Theory of Dolls
Dale Sutton hated the dolls. They occupied every inch of his Twilight, Arizona home. On the bookshelves, in the closets, on the back of the God-damned toilet—everywhere he looked, they stared back. It was like living inside a clown car.
“How much for this beauty?” his visitor asked, holding up one of the ugly ones, the kind with the oversized eyes and pipecleaner-thin limbs.
“What?” Dale pulled his attention from listening for Helen in the next room.
“This Blythe.” The woman, who had the body and face of a bulldog, cradled the stupid doll as if it breathed and pooped.
“I don’t know, I don’t know. Let me check Helen’s book.” Five years earlier, when she’d retired at age sixty-six, his wife had finally had time to catalogue her collection.
Over the years, the monstrosities had multiplied like rats in a third world city. Sleeping babies, Victorian ladies, and Barbies—don’t get him started on the damned Barbies. Scarlett O’Hara Barbie. Liz Taylor as Cleopatra Barbie. Bewitched Barbie. He’d set fire to them all if he could.
Dale found Helen’s book and flicked through the laminated pages in the Blythe section. He noted the price and gave it a rock-bottom, bargain basement discount.
“Two hundred,” he said, closing the pages. “Vintage. I won’t take a penny less.”
“Done.” Greed spread in the woman’s beady eyes. She knew she’d hit a bargain.
“Cash.” He’d not cut Uncle Sam in on the sales. The government hadn’t done anything for him except yank him off the farm and ship him to Vietnam for two years. They’d bungled Helen’s diagnosis and sent her home three months ago with a weak, “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do.” Piss on ‘em.
The woman pouted as if it could change his mind, but he’d not bend. Other suckers lived and breathed this doll crap and would pony up the money.
“Cash or nothing.” He took the doll from her grasp, knowing the effect it would have on her.
Did he hear her whimper?
She rummaged in a purse the size of his golf bag and pulled out a wad of bills. She gave him the stink eye as she peeled them off, as if, with each note, he took food from starving orphans.
“Nice doing business with you.” He thrust the doll at her and opened the outside door.
“Dale,” Helen cried the moment the woman cleared the threshold.
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” He shut the door and hurried to the bedroom.
Helen crouched under the thin blanket, her knees to her chest, rocking in pain. “It hurts,” she whispered.
“I know, love.” He picked up her pill dispenser, shook out her mid-day medication, and held a water glass as she sipped from a straw.
Dale helped her lie back against the pillows. He brushed the top of her head where gray fuzz had grown after the final round of chemo. “The pain will stop in a minute.”
She smiled at him, and his heart flipped as hard as it had on the day he’d first spotted her, forty-seven years earlier. “Which one did she take?”
Dale crawled into bed and settled her against his side. “One of the Blythes.”
She knew he hated the dolls, but he’d never argued with her because it would break her heart. Once the doctors had washed their hands of her, she’d sat him down and instructed him to sell off her collection.
“Better to do it piecemeal than me worry about how you’ll dispose of them after I’m gone,” she’d said.
She touched the buttons on his shirt. “I don’t know why I started buying those, they look like orphans.”
“Maybe that’s why. You felt sorry for them.”
“Maybe.” She flinched in pain.
He patted her arm. “Do you want a back rub?” His helplessness opened a sore spot in his soul.
“Maybe later.” She lay quiet for so long he thought she’d fallen asleep, then she moved against him. “I know getting rid of the dolls is the best thing for us. You don’t like them, and I can’t take care of them anymore, but every time one goes, it feels like someone cut off a piece of me and tossed it to the dogs.”
He tried to shake the bulldog image of his last visitor from his mind. Her appearance and Helen’s statement was a coincidence . . .
Or was it?
Dale shot up in bed, his mind whirling. He righted Helen, who’d tipped at his movement, then turned to her.
“Didn’t you get rid of a Blythe before today?”
She looked over his shoulder as if searching for the answer on the wall. “Yes, a year ago Christmas. I’d tired of them, and someone online offered me a good price.”
A year ago Christmas. Just before the pains started and he’d taken her in for the diagnosis.
“What else have you sold?” A panicked hope sharpened his words.
She frowned. “The Bob Mackie Barbie. The Marie Osmond Barbie. The Madame Alexander collection. Oh, and the Kathryn Stewart Palmer. I hated to see that one go. She does such lovely work. They’re all in my book. Honestly, Dale, I don’t know why you’re interested after all this time.”
The hair on the back of his neck stiffened.
“I’ll be right back,” he muttered and scurried from the room, afraid to voice his suspicions. She’d think he was crazy.
He’d kept a journal since her diagnosis. Tests made, medications subscribed, doctors and specialists seen. Dale grabbed it off the desk and carried it to the kitchen table, snagging Helen’s doll book as well.
His hands trembled as he opened both books and searched for the information he needed. Was he grasping at straws?
Five minutes later he’d confirmed that each of her setbacks coincided with the sale of one of her dolls.
Impossible. Cancer doesn’t work on the theory of dolls. The facts, written in black and white, the diagnosis and tests, the bills of sale in her neat handwriting—they had to be lies.
Dale snapped the books shut and stood. He could think of only one way to prove his assumption.
The bulldog woman had mentioned the garage sale next door. If she had gone to it—if she hadn’t left the neighborhood . . .
Dale hurried outdoors, stopping for a half moment to check on Helen, but she’d fallen asleep. He bustled next door to Harry Ryan’s sale.
The bulldog stood at the checkout table Harry had set up. Another minute, and she would have driven away.
Dale stumbled over the boxes of books, the used typewriter, the clothes and car parts in his hurry to reach her.
She saw him. A predatory gleam lit her eyes as if she knew he’d changed his mind.
Dale didn’t care. He’d pay anything to make Helen well again.
The woman’s smile made him sick.
He reached into his pocket for his wallet.
“How much?” he asked.
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Twilight, Arizona, all the stories now available on Amazon
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Don’t want to wait until April 30th to read all twenty-six Twilight stories. For a limited time, they are available on Amazon for 99¢. From Arizona Heat to One-Zero-Zero, read and enjoy twenty-six stories set in the strange retirement community of Twilight, Arizona.
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Tomorrow’s #AtoZChallenge, April 5, 2018, The Early Bird Catches the Worm.
Twilight, Arizona’s newest resident hatches a plan to enjoy his retirement.
Until then, blessings,
p.s. Dale and Helen return on April 14th in the story, Meals on Wheels.
p.p.s. Kathryn Stewart Palmer and her dolls make an appearance on April 12th in Knit, Purl, Miss, Kiss