This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 1080 words.
February 2019. Anne gets a birthday present.
Anne received the doll as a present for her tenth birthday. Most girls of that age are too old for dolls, but she wasn’t. Mum said it was over one hundred years old, so she had to be careful with it. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. When her Mum asked her what she was going to call it, she replied without hesitation. “Little Annie”.
Not that it looked anything like her, the opposite in fact. She had dark brown hair, lank and greasy. Her lips were fleshy and wet, and her narrow eyes a strange caramel colour, like those you might see on a feral cat.
Little Annie was blonde, with lovely huge round eyes, and a mouth like a cupid’s bow. Just divine.
When Mum told her she couldn’t take her to school the next day, Anne kicked up an almighty fuss. That fuss turned into a tantrum, which became a screaming fit. By the time it was over, Anne had had to stay off school, and her Mum had also had to take the day off work. After just one day, that doll was proving to be more trouble than she had expected. Jane Boyd had to spend most of the morning calming her daughter down, explaining her reasons for banning Little Annie from accompanying her daughter to school.
She was relieved that Roger had already left for work, and had been spared the screams.
“It’s a Victorian doll, luvvy. Do you know what that means?” Anne gave a truculent shake of her head, eyes still red from crying. “Well that means it was made before the year nineteen-o-one. It’s an antique, and very valuable. Your Dad and me could never afford to replace it, if it got broken or stolen. Besides, I don’t think your teachers are going to allow you to sit in class holding a doll, do you?” Anne shrugged, sensible enough to know she wasn’t going to win this one. She also knew that if Mum took time off work, she didn’t get paid. Dad would be unhappy about that. She reached up one arm and draped it over her Mum’s shoulder.
For the rest of the afternoon, Anne spent a long time talking to Little Annie. She filled her in on the home setup, and told her the history of the family that she was now part of.
“You see, my Mum and Dad had another little girl before me. She would have been my older sister, but she died of something horrible. When they got over that, they decided to have me, to make up for it, I suppose. So they are much older than the parents of the others at school, and all my grandparents are dead too. I don’t remember them, but Mum told me I went to Granny Boyd’s funeral. I don’t remember that either. It’s going to be nice to have someone to talk to, I’m so happy that you have come to live with us”.
Standing in the doorway of the kitchen, Jane blew the smoke from her cigarette into the garden, away from the house. She was supposed to have given up, but had never managed to quit completely. Roger hated her smoking, and had forbidden it inside, or around Anne. She knew her daughter was different, even if Roger refused to discuss it. Not that she was slow or anything, as her school work was good, and the teachers always had nothing but praise for her. But there was something about her. Something Jane couldn’t find the right word for.
The word in her mind was ‘strange’. But she didn’t want to admit to herself out loud that her daughter was strange, so never voiced it.
It was probably all her fault. Having a child at the age of thirty-nine was not a great idea. Extra tests, worries about syndromes or complications, and by the time she was born by cesarean section, Jane was already forty. Anne would be eleven next birthday, so she would soon be fifty-one. It didn’t seem right to be the same age as the other kid’s grandparents. Roger was only two years off sixty, and looked older. It was so embarrassing when people asked him about his ‘granddaughter’. She knew he secretly hated that, deep inside. And it didn’t help that Anne looked nothing like either of them. She didn’t have any resemblance to any of her family, and she had not been born with Roger’s red hair, unlike poor Phoebe. Sometimes, Jane caught him looking at her, with an unusually cold expression. She wondered if he thought he wasn’t the father.
And she hoped he didn’t know that was true.
Throwing the cigarette butt into the kitchen drain, she lit another one. Roger wouldn’t be home for a couple of hours yet.
That evening at dinner, Anne insisted that Little Annie sit next to her at the table. She pretended to be able to hear the doll talking, and voiced her supposed remarks, much to the silent annoyance of her father. “Little Annie says she remembers eating steak pie. She liked it, but not the cabbage that it was served with”. “Little Annie doesn’t know what strawberry yoghurt is. She says she has never seen anything like that, and it looks too sloppy to eat”. Roger Boyd was glad when dinner was over. He had wanted to tell his daughter to shut up and grow up, but his wife pandered to her, and allowed her to still act like a baby. No wonder the girl had no friends.
As she settled in bed that night, Anne looked up at her Mum, who was tidying away her clothes. “Little Annie doesn’t have a nightdress or pyjamas, Mum. It doesn’t seem right that she has to sleep in her day dress”. Jane looked down at her daughter, the doll next to her in bed, with the covers up to its chin. “I don’t think I can get a nightdress in her size, luvvy. I might ask Margaret at work to make me one. What about that?” She kissed her daughter goodnight, and walked slowly back downstairs.
She knew full well that Roger would start moaning at her about the dinner-table conversation, so she went straight out into the garden to have a cigarette first.
With her eyes feeling heavy, Anne settled down in bed, cuddling the doll. “Goodnight Little Annie, sleep tight”.
As she turned over, she heard her reply. A wheezy-sounding voice, but speaking clearly.
“But my name is Phoebe”.