This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 1742 words.
May 1975. Baby Emily receives a doll.
It was a difficult birth. Labour went on for so long, they considered the risks to the mother. But Sandy was determined to deliver naturally, and after hanging over the side of the bed for another thirty minutes, baby Emily was born into the waiting grasp of a midwife. They took her away immediately, unhappy with her colour, and the fact that she wasn’t crying. Ian and Sandy spent anxious hours sitting next to an incubator, and their tears flowed as they feared the worst. But she pulled through, and they took her home after ten days.
Sandy’s Mum Phyllis arrived on the Sunday, delighted to be able to hold her first grandchild. And a girl too, one who looked exactly like her beloved daughter. She had brought a gift. A beautiful blonde-haired doll. Little baby Emily was too young to appreciate it, but it was placed on a shelf in the nursery, waiting for the time when she would be old enough to play with it. Phyllis didn’t mention that she had found the doll by chance, propped up inside a telephone box that she had been walking past.
Over the next few years, it talked to the baby all the time, even though Emily didn’t appear to understand, and was unable to respond of course. By the time Emily started school, she seemed to Sandy and Ian to be unusually bright. Her conversation flowed at a level well beyond her years, and the junior school teacher mentioned that she appeared to be incredibly intelligent. Emily showed an early talent for languages, and a remarkable knowledge of modern history. At Parent-Teacher night, her class teacher took Sandy and Ian to one side, a look of concern on her face.
“Are you teaching her at home as well? She often speaks in French, which is not taught yet in her year. And she seems to be aware of historical events like World War One, and the Russian Revolution, right up to the outbreak of World War two, and beyond. This is quite astounding, to be honest. I have never seen anything like it, during my teaching career”. They assured her that they were not home-schooling her, and Sandy was rather annoyed that the spark of genius apparent in their daughter should be a matter of concern for the teacher. At home that night, she spoke to Ian, and then phoned her mother. They decided to send her to a private school, a place which would nurture her unusual talents, instead of wanting her to be like everyone else. It would be a strain financially, but Phyllis agreed to help with the cost.
Emily had never spoken to anyone about being educated by the doll. It had told her not to, told her bad things would happen to her if she did.
“They will take you away if you tell them, Emily. Lock you up in a madhouse, and you would never see me or your family again. You wouldn’t like that now, would you?” Emily had agreed. No, she wouldn’t like that at all.
The new school was indeed a great help to Emily. But even there she felt held back, and attracted suspicious looks from her classmates for her strange grasp of so many things at such a young age. They arranged for her to take her examinations early, and her astounding success attracted the attentions of newspapers and TV news channels, alerted by the owners of the school, keen to obtain publicity. By the time it came for her to apply to universities, Emily was treading water, already at the level where she would easily obtain a degree. The best colleges in the country were after her, and she chose to accept an offer from Cambridge University, so as not to be too far away from home.
When she packed her things to leave for her new life at the college, she was sure to take the doll, now known as Abigail.
It was after she had been there a month that someone mentioned the doll. A boy who was interested in her, Mark. They were kissing and cuddling on the bed, when he turned over and felt something in his back. Holding the doll aloft with a a huge grin, he spoke in a mocking tone. “What’s this? Did Emmypoos have to bring her dolly to Cambridge? Do you cuddle it at night? Ah, diddums”. Embarrassed, Emily made something up. “Oh, that’s Abigail. My grandmother bought her for me when I was born, and insisted I bring her with me to Uni”. Mark was still scoffing. “Insisted you brought a doll? What are you, nine? Emily slid the doll under the bed, and went back to the kissing and cuddling.
When she came home for the holidays, Emily brought the doll with her. It hadn’t worked out with Mark, but she wasn’t going to chance another boyfriend thinking she was too childish for a relationship. Sandy and Ian were glowing, so pleased that their daughter was exceeding all expectations. There was even talk of her finishing her degree six months early, and staying on for more advanced studies. Up in the bedroom, Emily turned her back on Abigail as she got into bed. The doll was back on a shelf, and that’s where it would stay.
“You put me under your bed. That wasn’t nice. You had better take me back with you, or you will be sorry”.
Emily ignored the doll, and managed to get to sleep without difficulty.
By the end of the first year, Emily wasn’t coping so well. Although her studies were going very well, her social life was at an all-time low. She found it hard to make friends, and the men who had once shown an interest in her now seemed to be put off by her academic prowess. She had discovered that her nickname was The Clever Girl, and it wasn’t spoken in a friendly way. That Christmas, she found it hard to get into the spirit of the festivities. Visiting relatives felt like a chore, and even the comparative excitement of the gift of a new bicycle to use around Cambridge didn’t lift her mood.
And Abigail was on her case too. Big time.
“Oh, poor Emily. Can’t get a boyfriend? Perhaps it’s because you are too ugly? Or too much like your mother, too old-fashioned? Maybe it’s because everyone there hates you? You know they do, Miss Clever Clogs. If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t know anything, don’t forget that. You are nothing. Everything you have achieved is because of me, don’t ever forget that. If you don’t take me back with you next time, it will get a lot worse”.
Abigail continued like that every time Emily went into her room. But she couldn’t very well put her somewhere else, as it was impossible to explain why she no longer wanted her. It would offend her grandmother for sure, and she resolved to just put up with it until she got back to Uni.
Not long after the start of the second year, Emily started to lose concentration. She forgot important dates, fluffed a few essay projects, and even forgot to attend a few lectures. She felt lonely, listless, and had no appetite. A chat with her tutor that was supposed to buck her up ended with her dissolving in tears, and running out of the room. As the summer break was looming, she was back to the level of everyone else at the college, and enduring the vocal disappointment of her lecturers. Back at home, she declined the chance of a summer job at her Dad’s company, and sat around all day with a long face. Sandy spoke to Ian, and they wrongly concluded that she was upset about being jilted by some boy. They decided to leave her alone, and not add to any pressures.
Abigail was less kind.
“Why don’t you just kill yourself? If I was in your shoes, I would do just that. You are never going to be happy you know, never find that handsome boyfriend you seek. Your parents are going to be bitterly disappointed when you don’t do as well as they expected. That will break their hearts. All that money spent too. Oh dear, what a failure you are”.
Emily sought some sanctuary in the garden on sunny days. Sometimes she stayed downstairs at night, dozing on the sofa. But that set her Mum off, nagging and worrying. When it could no longer be avoided, she reluctantly went up to bed in her room. Where Abigail was waiting.
“Tell them you are having trouble sleeping. Go to see your doctor and get some sleeping pills, you know she will give them to you. Then you can take them all while your parents are out at work. There will be no pain, it will just be like drifting off to sleep. Except you won’t ever wake up, and then you will never have to face all your worries again”.
As Emily tried to drop off to sleep that night, the doll began chanting, its voice low and insistent.
“Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it…”
It was still saying that as she finally cried herself to sleep at dawn.
One evening when Ian arrived home from work, he asked his wife where Emily was. “Oh, she’s still sleeping I think. It must be those new pills. I didn’t have the heart to wake her, but I am going to have to soon, so she can come down for dinner”. She put down her book, and walked up the stairs to the bedrooms. Ian poured himself a nice large whisky, drinking half of it while he was still standing by the kitchen worktop.
When he heard the terrible scream from upstairs, he dropped the glass.
After the funeral, Sandy packed up everything of her daughter’s and donated it to a mental health charity. They put the doll into a group of items to be auctioned, and it was spotted by Polly Johnstone. Her bids were unenthusiastic, it didn’t pay to appear to be too keen. She soon outbid some tweed-clad matron, and snapped it up for sixty-five pounds.
She knew someone who would pay a lot more than that for it, to use in their shop window displays.