|A change of style.|
It was one of those spring mornings when little noses were glued to the windowpanes praying the rain would stop. Even the local cats that continually prowled the streets had taken cover in the doorways. Their wet fur coats made them look as if hungry moths had attacked them. In disgust Alexandra saw the pitter-patter of rain on the large puddles that were forming like huge ugly toadstools on the ground. She sighed in a disgruntled fashion and turned from the window’s desolate scene, to be confronted with her brightly lit spacious room. Her mother had carefully planned the decoration of the room. The space had two distinctive areas: on left hand wall there were well-garnished bookshelves. On the right wall was a large shelf full of dolls, all beautifully arranged as though they were parading for a beauty contest. For the first hour of the morning Alexandra had read, after that she had prepared her favorite doll Fiona for an outing in the park based on her mother assessment of the morning’s weather patterns. She could still hear her mother’s voice over breakfast.
“ My dear Alexandra, the weather will clear up for a short while around midday and I will take you to the park, so after you have read prepare one of your dolls for a quick stroll in the park.”
Alexandra had dressed Fiona for the occasion in her outdoor outfit. This consisted of a tweedy country costume with a flowing skirt, a crisp white shirt with billowing shelves ending in pretty turned up cuffs; over the shirt the doll wore a well-tailored waistcoat. The collar of the shirt was fastened in front by a brooch, an imitation of some distinguished jewelry, no doubt, given to a lady of taste long forgotten. On the doll’s head was a hat made in the same material as the outfit and cut in a pyramid shape with a feather jauntily placed on the left side. Alexandra had carefully combed the doll’s dark hair and left it loose.
She looked admiringly at Fiona sitting patiently in her little stroller. This waiting was tiresome. Could her mother be wrong? In her impatience she started wheeling Fiona around her room. In doing so she remembered the Christmas two years ago when under the Christmas tree she found a very large package. The wrapping paper was thrown in all directions to reveal an exquisite doll with long dark hair, five changes of clothes, and a personal stroller. With glee she had danced around the room declaring to all and sundry the new doll would be called Fiona. In her joy she even embraced everybody in the room. As she kissed her mother she was told it was a very special doll as only a few had been made.
As correctly predicted, around midday the clouds rolled back and the sun showed its watery face. But the joyous noises in the park were to be heard for only a short time. The rain clouds of the early morning started collecting their forces and slowly crept up on the unsuspecting sun. As the daylight dimmed the park started empting; Mother, Alexandra and Fiona were on their way home. They were just turning a corner of a street close to their home when they heard somebody hailing them from across the street.
“Mrs. Parker-Smith what a surprised!”
Mother stopped, and watched as owner of the voice, accompanied by a little girl about Alexandra’s age pushing a doll’s stroller, crossed the street.
“Oh! I didn’t recognize you at first. How nice to see you, Mrs. Watford. This is my daughter Alexandra.” This was said with a distinctive undertone of regret that she would be obliged to stop and talk.
“Alexandra, what a pretty name, meet my daughter Susan,” said Mrs. Watford.
The two young girls instead of shaking hands retired to their respective mother’s side and in a flurry of shyness grabbed their mothers’ hands. Their other hands held on to their doll’s strollers. As young girls of good family tend to do at that age they looked at each other not knowing what to say. The dolls’ strollers were now only held with one small hand, and as the surface was still slippery, with the occasional puddle, they nearly collided.
At the upper level two adult heads were nodding and nattering with vigor, at an inferior level the young girls were making polite attempts at conversation. Below the dolls were in shock.
“We are the same” came a tearful voice. “Actually the same, in every little detail, even the brooch that I always thought was unique.”
“So I have noticed,” replied an irritated Fiona. “I am no more pleased that you are.”
“How can that be?”
In a worldly voice Fiona replied. “ Obviously we come from the same manufacturer, five outfits, a stroller and long dark hair. I am lead to believe only a very few of our kind were made. They called it some kind of experiment. My only consolation is that I am most beautiful doll in the collection.”
At this remark Fiona turned to make a detailed examination of her very close neighbor. No wonder both dolls were in a state of shock they were exactly the same, feather in the hat, brooch, and long dark hair, white shirt with the tweedy outdoor outfit. As Fiona looked more closely at her neighbor she noticed her clothes were slightly dirty and the loose hair not brushed to perfection. Alexandra was so particular about hygiene. She was about to make a personal remark, but instead answered the question about collection.
“ Alexandra, the young lady of the house, has a large collection of dolls. We all live together on a long shelf in her room.”
There was a pause as her neighbor, no doubt, carefully thought about her statement before replying.
In a pensive and subdued voice the other doll said. “ How awful for you, I am the only doll in the house. Everywhere Susan goes, except school, I go with her.”
To Fiona this remark seemed a little spiteful and she quickly counteracted with.
“ You mean you never have any time to yourself?”
For a few seconds there was silence as Susan’s doll contemplated this new concept of life.
“ Why would I want anytime to myself? We are the very best of friends, we sleep together, get dressed together, I have a place at the family dinning table, we play with the dog together.” At this point she leaned forward and in a hushed voice said. “ I will let you into a little secret, sometimes we sneak into her mother’s room and she dabs me behind the ears with her mother’s most precious perfume. It’s a bit naughty, but I smell gorgeous for days. I am sure her mother knows but she never says anything.” With a long contented sigh she added, “Susan is the most wonderful friend in the world.”
“Ah! With all that carrying about is why you look a bit dirty,” interjected Fiona.
“Do I? I have never thought about it. Is that important?”
“For me it is the most important part of my life. I cannot feel happy if I don’t feel clean. Also I would find it boring always to be in the presence of Alexandra, after all I have all the other dolls to look after and play with. Late at night when all the family is asleep we get up to great fun and games”
Susan’s doll listened intently. At the same time she tried to image a different kind of life. But as hard as she tried she just could not envisage being separated from her beloved Susan more than was absolutely necessary.
For a moment the two twins dolls were silent each lost in their own thoughts of living another kind of life. Suddenly Fiona asked Susan’s doll her name.
“Claire,” came the reply
“Claire, that’s a nice name. My name is Fiona. Tell me, what it is like sleeping with your mistress?”
“Oh! It’s wonderful. She holds me tight, sometimes a little too tight, and showers me with kisses. You feel so protected and loved. The best way I can describe it is the feeling one would get from floating on a cloud on a warm summer’s day.” This was murmured in a tender tone of voice accompanied by a distinctive watering of her eyes. Fiona turned her head slightly away from Claire in respect of her newfound friends emotion. She was just about to ask another question when Claire’s high-pitched voice asked.
“ Let me ask you a question. Do you like being surrounded by other dolls?”
“Yes,” Fiona replied, “ but it is quite a responsibility, as I am their elected Queen. Being able to converse and play with your own kind has distinct advantages. It makes one independent. It also gives me a desirable protection from the humors of my mistress. Alexandra moves from being loving and kind to hateful and detestable as the wind comes and goes in the mad days of March. You see Claire, we are considered collectable dolls to be admired and taken down from our shelves and occasionally played with.” She stopped and carefully looked at her impeccable kept clothes. With her tiny hands she smoothed down a pleat on her skirt and said, “ I will say one thing for Alexandra we are always kept immaculately clean, I could not image being dirty.”
“Claire thought it funny that Fiona was so obsessed with being clean, as she had never given it a moment’s thought. She knew, through constant handling, her clothes would soon wear out, but that was the price of being somebody’s invariant companion. She could not quite understand that two dolls exactly the same lived completely different lives. She wasn’t a collectable doll, but a true friend. In this elevated position the family always said good morning to her at breakfast and Susan’s mother made a point of kissing her good night. She knew all Susan’s inner secrets, the things she liked and disliked. For instance Susan detested being kissed by her uncle Harry, she said he smelt of tobacco and whiskey, but her aunt Muriel kisses are like being embraced by all the flowers in a garden. She could not visualize living on a shelf and being the object of admiration. She was just about to ask Fiona another question when she heard her voice.
“What’s it like having a dog in the house? At one time Alexandra was clamoring for a little dog. In a strict and firm way she was told no. Dogs bring dirt into house, which is unsupportable. Alexandra sulked for several days and then forgot about her desire, that’s just like her.
“To tell you the truth,” said Claire. I was a little apprehensive at first. Unannounced, one evening this big shaggy monster was bounding all over the house. Susan’s father found it abandoned in the street at the back of our house. Susan thought it was adorable and much to the annoyance of her mother immediately let it lick her face. At first the house’s new stranger totally ignored me, then one day it picked me up from the floor and started giving me a good shaking, I thought my head was going to fall off. Luckily Susan saw what was happening and flew at the dog in a rage. The dog immediately understood; from that day on it has never touch me. In fact now we are good friends and sometimes when Susan is away at school it gently picks me up and takes me to lie on the veranda awaiting our mistress’s return. We have invented a game called: catch me if you can. Susan takes me in her outstretched arms and dangles me in front of Penny, the dog’s name, who pretends to grab me in his teeth. In delight Penny runs circles around us barking with glee; this greatly amuses Susan. Generally Penny always comes to the park with us, but today Susan’s mother thought it was just too wet. It is true a dog brings a lot of dirt into the house.”
In a reflective mood Fiona sighed and said. “ Yes, I think we would have enjoyed having a dog about the house, regardless of its dirty ways.”
She was just about to ask another question when a car speeding around the corner hit a deep puddle that had formed in the gutter. A large unpleasantly dirty spay of water washed over both dolls and on to the legs of the two little girls. The shock was such that the young girls immediately let go of their doll’s strollers. It took only seconds for the mothers to stop nattering and move into action. The little girls were crying. The strollers with the dolls were slowing moving towards the gutter; long arms were extended to save the situation, but in the confusion the two bedraggled looking muddy dolls got exchanged. Above the cries of the dolls, which nobody heard, both mothers only desire was to leave the scene. Hasty good byes were exchanged as each parent grabbed, daughter, doll and stroller and made for the confines of their homes to clean daughter and doll.
The shock of meeting someone exactly like you was soon forgot in the wash and subsequent change of life style that afternoon.
Claire had never been washed so clean in all her life; her skin tingled from the soap and rubbing. Finally, dress in her afternoon tea outfit, Claire was gently placed on the shelf with the other collectable dolls. The questions and noise from her new playmates was overpowering. She quickly told them she need quiet and wanted to sleep. Inside she was drowning in tears of sadness.
Susan’s mother was carefully washing Fiona when Susan came rushing to the room accompanied by Penny. Soapy and wet she was picked up from the basin and given a great big kiss followed by the words. “ My poor darling, you have never been so wet in all your life. This calls for a special game with Penny tonight. Don’t you agree Penny?”
At first Fiona was quite overcome by this show of affection, in fact she was revolved; she had always been admired, but never loved. It was during the course of the family dinner that her attitude started to change. The whole family talked about her ordeal. Susan held her hand most of the time, interspersed with gentle kisses. After dinner the special game with Penny proved a disaster. The dog was just no interested in playing with Fiona. The family finally gave up saying that Susan’s mother had over washed the doll. But as the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months everybody thought it odd that Penny would never play with Susan’s doll again.
Claire had beautifully described Fiona first night in Susan’s bed. The warmth, cuddly feeling and tenderness were emotions Fiona had never felt; in the days ahead the deterioration in her personal hygiene were soon forgotten. The occasional dab of some exotic perfume behind her ears brought back a fleeting memory of the care Alexandra took with her dolls, but this was immediately forgotten in the warmth of Susan’s arms.
Claire’s first night on the shelf with her newfound friends was at first amusing. It was later in the night she realized how she missed having Susan’s arms around her. In the days ahead her heart became so laden with sorrow that her body stiffened under the strain and her movements became gauche. Alexandra seemed to sense something had changed and consequently started losing interest in her. Her life was slowly relegated to the shelf.
So the years passed, the young girls became young ladies and slowly but surely abandoned their girlish passions. Alexandra’s dolls collection was relegated to a cupboard for save keeping and eventual sale. The light had long ago been extinguished from Clare’s life; she found the darkness of the cupboard soothing.
Fiona, by the time she was finally discharged from Susan’s arms was threadbare and most of her clothes in tatters. But when Susan left for the university, Fiona had the place of honor lying on the top of Susan bed in her room.
On Susan’s occasional visits home she always slept with Fiona, a habit her mother thought a little strange at her age. Then the inevitable happened. On one of her visits home she opened the door to her room: no Fiona. Her mother had given the doll to the Salvation Army to be sent to some foreign part. Not only was Susan furious; but also she knew she had lost a part of herself that was irreplaceable. She vowed secretly never to forgive her mother.
Over the next few years she often thought about her doll and on many occasions she searched the doll collectors’ markets in hopes of finding a replica. Then one day, while peering into an old antique shop that sold collectables, she saw a clone of her beloved Claire. Shaking with emotion she entered the shop.
“May I have a look at that doll?” she asked pointing to where the doll was positioned.
As the shopkeeper moved towards the doll Susan asked him where he had found it. To which he replied he did not know; his cousin had brought it to the shop two days ago.
“Does it have any changes of clothes, and a stroller?”
“Madame, I have no idea, all I have to sell is this doll that is in perfect condition as you can see for yourself.” With this statement he handed Susan the doll.
Susan gently took the doll in her arms and placed it against her shoulder in a hugging position. The movement was nearly indiscernible; the doll’s tiny hands and arms gave her a hug. As she turned her head to look at the doll she saw teeny tear drops on the shoulder of her coat.
She whispered. “ Welcome home Claire, I should have guessed.”
-The end -