A Doll Speaks (By Cat Matchuk)
Bored. That’s how he feels. He cuts his business cards into rectangles and proceeds to fold them into ninja stars. A trick he learnt from the internet on another slow day where he was just as he is now. Bored.
He is surrounded by shelves of antiques, years of history. Valuables, collectibles. Porcelain dolls once held dear by young children. The power and the spirit of the people who owned these possessions should move through him like a great wave. No. Instead he sighs loudly in boredom.
He folds his card wrong and hisses. He tosses it to the ground where it lands at the feet of a young boy.
“Sorry,” he tells the child and reaches to pick up the paper. He glances around, searching for his parents. The child, pale and freckled with brown hair, smiles brightly at him. He extends his hand and introduces himself as George. The man is slightly bewildered. Perhaps never meeting a child beyond his years. So polite and well spoken. He takes the tiny hand in his.
“Thomas,” he says, then places his hands on his hips. A moment of silence passes between them, and still no sign of the parents. George is looking around the room, his eyes so focused, as if he’s looking for someone.
I feel my heart jump in excitement as his eyes pass me, but his gaze moves on just as quickly. No, he isn’t looking for me, he’s looking for something of his.
Finally, Thomas asks him where his parents are, and this causes George to hold his stomach laughing. He stops suddenly, wiping a tear from his eye.
“My apologizes. I keep forgetting you’re from a different time. They will come shortly.” Thomas, though confused, nods as if he understands.
The young boy walks around the room, hands clasped tightly behind his back. He leans forward to squint at the objects. Thomas is visibly tense as watches George walk over to the teacup sets, but he bites his tongue as he reaches to pick up a cup. He squints at the price tag and puts it back down in horror.
“That price is outrageous!” George exclaims. Thomas is confused.
“It is an antique after all,” Thomas says. George looks shocked for a moment, but clarity washes over his features.
“Right,” he states simply. “An antique. Old. Not from this time. I keep forgetting.” George folds his arms behind his back once more and continues to walk around the room.
Thomas, either trusting the boy, or apathetic towards his intentions, sits back down on the stool behind the counter. George walks closer to me. I think he’s looking at me. Again my heart flutters in anticipation as he reaches out, reaching closer. His hand passes me to pick up the doll sitting beside me. I feel myself deflate in disappointment.
“Jill.” George says to the doll. Thomas looks up from his ninja stars to raise an eyebrow.
“Sorry?” He asks.
George lifts up the doll to show Thomas.
“Jill is the girl who owned this doll, I went to school with her.” He looks back at the doll, caressing her face with his thumb. “Not sure what she named her.” George turns the doll over in his hands, smiling as he does. He rubs the crack in the doll’s forehead. “This was my fault,” he tells Thomas sadly. “I was just teasing her; I didn’t mean to hurt her doll. I liked Jill.” George’s eyes begin to water, and Thomas feels himself being lifted to his feet. He walks over to the sullen boy and stops himself short of placing his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Hey, it’s okay little man. I mean maybe she’ll forgive you once you return the doll back to her.” George smiles sadly, grateful for his attempt to comfort him.
“She passed away. Measles.”
“Measles.” Thomas repeats, “but there’s vaccinations.” George looks stunned. He glances back down at the doll and tells the doll that if only they were born in another time, they didn’t have to die. They could have lived beyond the years of children. Thomas only hears these word muffled into little murmurs. “What was that?” George wipes his eyes on the back of his sleeve.
“It was nothing, never mind.” George then tells Thomas the story of Jill. She got along with the other boys and loved sports. She was often in trouble with her parents for destroying beautiful dresses, often sewed by her mother, turning them completely filthy the first day she wore them.
While George is talking, Thomas picks up a piece of paper and is writing the story down. When George mentions the date that Jill passed away, he asks George to repeat it. He does.
He looks at the date again,
“but George, this is over 100 years ago.” George smiles, hands back the doll and says he’ll be back tomorrow. He leaves quickly, without another word. Without glancing back. He leaves a stunned Thomas, no longer bored.
The next day George does return as promised, and Thomas stands up from his stool, prepared to ask him many more questions about Jill. George gasps in excitement and runs up to the doll. He picks up the white card with Jill’s story written on it and shows it to Thomas.
“You wrote her story…” He says happily, “you wrote her story when everyone else had forgotten.” Thomas scratches the back of his head, embarrassed. George looks around the room, his eyes twinkling with excitement. “We can write the stories of others too. Let them be heard. Let them be remembered.”
For the next week George returns to the store every day and tells stories about people from the past. A doctor who owned a tea set, he served tea and spoke to his patients before examining them. He was always a kind man who strove to put others at ease.
A school teacher’s card deck, yellowed with age and frayed at the edges.
A barber’s scissors. A businessman’s hat.
Some days George will walk in with a person dressed so oddly, it looks like they come from a theatre play of some sort. He points to an object and this person will explain where they got it, what it means to them. They will look Thomas in the eyes and tell him, this was mine. My story is important. They will leave the store and disappear into the air with a smile.
Eventually every single item in the store has a story. A name. A year. When the work is done, Thomas wants to give George Jill’s doll. He tells Thomas he can’t take the doll to where he is going, and Thomas knows that. He just doesn’t want to face the reality of it. Doesn’t want to question his own sanity.
He still denies the existence of ghosts.
George leaves with a wave and smile, having imprinted something important on Thomas. Giving him and everything he sells a story.
Every thing has a story. Every single thing…
Business begins to rise steadily. Customers are thrilled when reading these stories, even if some believe them to be made up entirely. They are still beautiful stories.
Thomas closes the door and flips the sign to closed. He sighs in happy exhaustion, not boredom. He looks around the room at the emptying shelves and decides he will restock properly. He’ll get as much information about what he acquires to sell.
Tell a story, George had said.
On the way to the door, Thomas spots me, and his eyes widen in horror upon noticing the absence of a white card laid at my feet.
He picks me up and brushes the dust from my hair. He straightens out my dress and moves the eyelashes out of my eyes. He pulls my hat down tightly on my head, and makes sure my shoes are on properly. He smiles at me.
“My daughter is going to love you,” he tells me. I feel myself fill with joy. My story long forgotten can now be rewritten.