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art by Wi Waffles

The Dollmaker's Grief

Michelle Denham has traveled across the country receiving various degrees in Literature. She currently steals time to write in between teaching English at the University of Arizona and working on her dissertation.

The silver doll sat quietly at the corner of 9th and Park, in front of the Ace Hardware.
Jack Lattimer did not want to stop. In fact, Jack Lattimer saw the silver doll, looked away, and drove right past. If he could unsee the doll, he would. But he couldn't, and so he spent all day thinking half-finished thoughts he wouldn't allow himself to complete.
If someone left--but yeah, OK, someone will surely pick--and it's nonfunctioning, obviously--it's gone now, surely it's gone now--Anyway, it's not my concern.
It's not my concern.
And yet, just as he was getting ready for bed, he grabbed his keys and was out the door before he really knew what he was doing.
It couldn't hurt to check, he told himself.
Once upon a time there was a dollmaker. He had a beautiful wife he loved more than life itself. They were happy and needed only a child to complete their happiness.
And in time, she bore the dollmaker a son, but she died in the process.
The dollmaker now had a son, but no wife.
The silver doll was still there.
He approached this time. The silver doll was in the shape of a very pretty young boy. Class LB13, Sagittarius model, Lattimer noted. Still fairly high end. Not the latest and the best, but still expensive on the market.
The silver doll watched through silver eyes and Lattimer gave up his hopes that it was nonfunctioning.
"Were you abandoned?" he asked gruffly.
"Abandoned," the doll intoned. It was impossible to tell if it was answering the question or merely repeating the statement.
"Yeah, OK then," Lattimer said, rubbing his stubble with one hand. "Then I guess you better come with me."
The dollmaker loved his son very much, and in time the grief over the loss of his wife abated and he devoted all his energy into creating beautiful things that made his son happy.
"What's your function?" Lattimer asked the silver doll when he brought it home.
"Function?" the doll asked.
"Your purpose. What do you do?"
"I am very pretty," the doll said.
"Yeah, but what are you for? Cooking, cleaning? Research? Companionship?"
"I am very pretty," the doll repeated. The doll picked up a photograph on Lattimer's dresser. "I know this man. His face is in my memory. Who is he?"
Lattimer took the photo from the doll and placed it facedown on the dresser. "He's no one. No one you need to know."
One day the son met a very bad man. The bad man was a killer; born a killer, raised by killers, taught only to kill beautiful things.
So the bad man killed the dollmaker's son. And the dollmaker was never the same again.
Eventually, Lattimer realized there was something wrong with the doll.
It didn't speak much; didn't do much. Hours would go by and it wouldn't move at all.
"Your doll's broken," said the technician he took the doll to.
"It's not my doll," Lattimer said. "I found it."
The tech nodded. "It's on its way out. That's probably why its owner threw it away. It would cost more to fix than it would to just buy a new one."
"But--it's still a fairly new model, yeah? Sagittarius--that line only came out last year."
The tech shrugged. "That's just how it goes, now. Newer and better models are coming out all the time. Silver dolls are obsolete as soon as you purchase one. You might as well leave this one here; I can salvage it for parts."
Lattimer looked at the silver doll. The silver doll looked at Lattimer.
"No, that's OK. I'll just take it home."
In his grief, the dollmaker spent all his days making better dolls. Thinking about the son he lost, the dollmaker made his dolls look increasingly human. Eventually, it became impossible to tell the difference between a human child and one of his dolls.
Still this was not enough. He infused his dolls with life--so they could talk and move and think. Only then was the dollmaker happy again.
The silver doll wasn't going to last much longer. It sat at the window and barely moved.
"Do you--want anything?" Lattimer asked.
Silver eyes focused on Lattimer. "Tell me a story."
If Lattimer was surprised by the doll's request, he didn't show it. He only cleared his throat and began his story.
"Once upon a time there was a dollmaker. He had a beautiful wife he loved more than life itself...."
People loved the dolls, but they did not like them looking so human. So the dollmaker made them all silver, devoid of any color. Except this made the dolls lovelier than humans, and people didn't like that either. But the dollmaker didn't care. In his grief, he continued to make beautiful things.
"Are you the dollmaker?" the silver doll asked.
"No," Lattimer said, surprised by the doll's question. He looked down at his hands. "I'm the man who killed his son."
He'd never told anyone that before.
"You keep his photograph in your bedroom."
"He was a very sad man. I love the dolls he made."
The doll watched Lattimer's lips as if it heard the words Lattimer did not say. "So you save what others discard. What happened to him?"
"He died." Lattimer's voice wavered as a thick knot formed in his throat.
"I am a beautiful thing made by grief," the silver doll said. It closed its eyes. "Like you."
And it did not speak again.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Author Comments

I have always found stories about human-like dolls fascinating, which may or may not make sense when taking into consideration my deep fear of mannequins and human-like puppets. I'm also the kind of person who gets so attached to things I can't let go of them, even when they're clearly broken beyond repair, and that's probably where most of this story came from.

- Michelle M. Denham
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