This is the fourth part of a fiction serial, in 1790 words.
December 1991. Fiona buys herself a Christmas gift.
She had walked past the department store window many times before. This time, Fiona went in through the doors, and took the escalator to the third floor, where the toy department was situated. Ten days before Christmas the place was heaving with customers, and she had to wait at the serving counter for some time before a black-uniformed salesgirl approached her.
“Are you being attended to, madam?” Fiona looked at her fake smile, and recoiled from her obsequious manner. “In the window, there’s a doll. Red hood, blonde hair. Not a child’s doll really, more of a collector’s item. Could I see it please?” The shop-girl smiled her false smile again. “Of course madam, please excuse me while I go to look in the stockroom”. Fiona replied quickly, before she could leave the counter. “No, not one from stock. It has to be the one in the window. That very one”.
The smile was replaced with a weary look. “But madam, I will have to get the manager’s permission to remove items from the window display. I am sure we must have another in the stockroom. It won’t be any different, I promise you”. Fiona set her jaw. “Get the manager then. I don’t want any other one, I want the one that is currently in the window”. Remembering that the customer is always right, the girl turned and walked off in the direction of the manager’s office on the floor above.
Fiona looked with distaste at the back view of her. One shoe trodden down at the heel, and the black uniform skirt shiny and greasy-looking, worn for too many days without being washed or cleaned. There had been a smell about the girl too, one of cheap body spray covering up poor personal hygiene and unwashed feet.
The manager returned with the girl, who seemed relieved to hand over the problem to him, and rushed off to deal with another waiting customer. Fiona eyed the approaching man. Smart-looking, in a three-piece suit and very white shirt. The striped tie looked military, but the overall effect was ruined by him wearing a large metal badge on his lapel, bearing the name and logo of the company. He had a speech prepared, and launched into it. “Madam, about the doll in the window. It is not actually for sale. It is part of the window display, and very special. Unique in fact. It is old and very valuable, the price would be excessive I’m sure. If it was for sale that is. Can I interest you in a similar doll? We have a lot to choose from”.
Raising her voice loud enough to attract the attention of the other shoppers, Fiona replied in her haughtiest tone. “Did I ask the price? The price is of no concern to me. I want the doll from the window. It is in your window, so must be for sale”. Noticing that a small audience had gathered to listen, she waved her arm expansively. “Are you telling us, your customers, that the things displayed in your window are not for sale? I have never heard anything more ridiculous”. Faced with the tall determined woman, and a group of busybody customers mumbling in agreement with her, the manager lost his nerve. “Please wait while I make a phone call, madam. I will be as quick as I can”. As he walked away, Fiona nodded to her unknown helpers, giving the impression that a small revolution was about to take place in the toy department.
He returned soon after and asked if Fiona would accompany him to his office. She sniffily agreed, and followed him up to the fourth floor. Accepting a seat opposite his desk, she placed her handbag on her lap, and stared him out. “I have spoken to someone senior on your behalf. They tell me that the doll is a rare antique, obtained for window displays, and used every year. If it was for sale, it would retail at three thousand pounds. I hope that explains it, madam”. Fiona opened her bag, and removed her credit card from a slot inside. “No need to gift wrap it, a plain box will suffice”. She flipped the card onto the desk, and sat back, feeling very pleased with herself. After two more phone calls, and then waiting for a window display person to retrieve the doll, it was almost another hour before she left the shop, holding a large carrier bag containing the plain white box.
She could hardly have told him the truth. The doll had begged her to buy it. The first time she had walked past the window and heard a plaintive “Please buy me”, she had instinctively known it was the doll talking to her. She went back a few times to check, and sure enough it said the same thing every time. There was no question, she had to buy it. The fact that a doll couldn’t speak never even entered her head.
At home in her smart apartment, the doll was unpacked and given pride of place on the dressing table in the bedroom. Fiona was a woman of means, living on a substantial inheritance left by her parents. She had no need to work, and enjoyed a solitary life of leisure. But despite a good education, and possession of a well-balanced mind, she sat on the edge of her bed, and waited for the doll to say something.
She had to wait a very long time.
For the first year, she found herself speaking to the doll now and then. She started with things like “You could at least say thank you to me for buying you”. Later on, much later in fact, her frustration made her sneer at the doll, and her remarks to it became less polite. “I could easily get rid of you, you know. The money you cost is of no consequence to me. How would you like it if I threw you out in the rubbish? You wouldn’t look so pretty then, would you?” The doll stayed mute, her expression never changing.
Fiona didn’t really have friends. Her only company was an occasional visit from a niece. The girl only came from a sense of duty, she was sure of that. And avarice of course. Hoping to keep in with her auntie, to get an inheritance. When she spotted the doll, the first thing she had asked was how much it cost. Fiona didn’t tell her the figure, waving a hand airily. “Oh, it was quite expensive”.
It was rare for her to get drunk. But on the eve of the year 2000, she was alone in her apartment as revellers frolicked in the surrounding streets. Feeling sorry for herself, she opened a fine Cognac, and drank far too much of it. Feeling woozy, she went into the bedroom to lie down.
The voice wasn’t plaintive this time, and Fiona sat bolt upright as the doll spoke to her for the first time in more than eight years.
“Get rid of me, and I will make you sorry. You have to keep me forever”.
Fiona was made of stern stuff. She staggered over to the dressing table and grabbed the doll, taking it out into the hallway, and flinging it into a store-cupboard. She had intended to just dump it in the kitchen bin, but something at the back of her mind stopped her doing that.
The next few years passed quickly, as Fiona grew older. She still went about her life much as before, though she got out less, and her superior airs meant that she rarely connected with anyone socially. She had all but forgotten about the doll, as she rarely had occasion to look in the cupboard where she had flung it so carelessly. Then she received an unexpected invitation to a school reunion. Keen to attend, to show her old classmates just how comfortable her life was, she booked a room in a hotel overnight, and arranged for a car and driver to take her.
But that meant she needed her smart overnight case, which was stored in the same cupboard as the doll.
As she reached over to the back to grab the case by the handle, she could see the doll out of the corner of her eye. Slightly dusty by now of course, but still bright-eyed. She had long since convinced herself that the doll had never spoken, and she had just imagined it that drunken night. But as she pulled the case across into the hallway, she could not deny what she heard at that moment.
“You’re going to die. It’s inside you. It’s between your legs. There’s nothing you can do. Hahaha”.
Closing the door, she went into the bedroom to pack her case. It must be her imagination, she was sure of it. Everyone knows that dolls cannot talk. She kept herself busy that evening, and went to the reunion as arranged, the following day. But she was unable to shake the sound of the voice, and the implication of what it had said. She made an appointment with her expensive private doctor for the next Tuesday. He sent her downstairs in the clinic for scans and blood tests, and said he would come and talk to her when the results came back.
“I am sorry to say that it is cervical cancer, madam. It appears to be very advanced, and I am afraid that it is inoperable. We can of course give you palliative treatment and care, but I fear you have less than a few months”. Fiona thanked him, made arrangements for her next appointments, and left the clinic in a haze. The doll had been right. Could it be that it had somehow wished the cancer on her? That couldn’t be possible, could it?
The young woman arrived with her boyfriend to clear out the flat. She had been struggling for some weeks to prove that she should inherit, as the only living relative, and had finally managed to convince Auntie Fiona’s solicitors the week before. She would get the luxury flat, and a fair chunk of money too. So much in fact, she could hardly be bothered to sift through all the items her aunt had accumulated over the years. Looking in the store cupboard, she saw the doll, barely remembered from the last time she had seen it. But she did recall her aunt had claimed it had been expensive. She picked it up, and threw it into the box being held by her boyfriend.
“Take this, Scott. I reckon a toy shop will buy it at a decent price”.