A doll on the counter. Fluffy sleeves, blank face. An evil about it, like a knife glinting on a table during an argument. Askance in a small wood chair, looking at me. I ask my wife about it.
"It's from my mother," she says. "A gift. An antique porcelian doll."
"Are those tears?"
She nods yes. She knows where this is headed.
"Why the hell would you send a crying doll to a kid?" It wells up inside me, the irritation. If I were driving, the light would have just turned red but the slow car in front of me makes it through.
She touches my shoulder with warm and slender fingers. There is a softness in her that I want.
"Can the eyes close?" I ask, subdued.
"Well, put it in her closet. Make sure the eyes are closed and it's facing the wall."
She wants to know why the eyes need to be closed if it's facing the wall.
"To keep the evil spirit inside. I can't believe she sent this glamorization of grief to my daughter. It's an overblown, depressive action figure. And it's filled with evil."
She grabs the doll and makes it lunge at me. Monster sounds from her. Her teeth flash.
My kiss goodbye a little dry.
Work. The sentence doesn't need much of anything else. That's what it is. The mail lady brings me a brown box. Her face cold as a librarian's. Her skin the color of an elephant hide. She moves with a resigned air like the motions of her day are already known and all she must do is encounter them. They arrive for her like packages and I suspect most of them pass her without an unwrapping. She'll note who gets what and feed the gossip. Mr. K- receives his mens magazines up here, I've heard her whispering in the breakroom, so his wife doesn't find out. They arrive in flat, brown packages. My Henry used to get them too, so I know. She touches her chest. I think she meant to touch the area of her heart, but she chose the wrong spot.
She hands me my box and looks down at me through her glasses. A black hair curls in her right nostril. Books: Rusty Barnes, Breaking it Down; Tao Lin, Eeeee Eee Eeee; Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. No Musil. Damn. Musil has to come from a used bookseller. Elongated shipping times. I'll hit up Rusty Barnes during lunch. Heard good things about his book.
Dolls bother me. Someone will freeze an emotional moment and cast the expression of it into the face. A horrible torture to be caught in a singular moment without an escape, without the welcome gradient ache of hurt or the bright pop of a decompressed laugh. It is the stasis that makes them eerie. Even the slowest old man still moves. The skin around his eyes still smooths or wrinkles in a sort of paper amazement at the breast boinging onto the television screen. I can't imagine that the doll's eternal moment is blissful. The absence of time and the unleavening of existence is supposed to enlighten, lift...there is no word, I guess. For a moment to be lifting, it must lift against something, raise, move, strive. A doll is content. Artifice. The people who make them are purveyors of shallowness and fakery. They ship from the same factory that spits out 29 cent ball point pens, another scourge upon humanity.
Look at me here, shaking my cane.
I worry what'll happen tonight. Perhaps a breeze will moan in the bathroom vent. I'm certain there'll be a creak. There's always a creak. Worry brings with it a sharpness to many details. Edges rise, glints flare into the curve of teeth. I'll get up to turn off the TV, because my wife will have forgotten. I push the button. Heat spills into the air through the grill on the back. The light on the screen fades slowly and draws in a darkness. A red ball wobbles on the floor. The cat stops by the dark window, fur rising. Skin pulls back from sharp claws. I approach the window cautiously. It'll be the doll outside, I know. Don't let it be the doll. I'd scream like a little girl.
A rustle. Leaves shake. Something just ran through the bushes there. My blood jumps. The cat growls. I grab a flashlight and shine it though the window. Most of the light is reflected back into the room. I move the pale yellow circle of the flashlight on the ground, searching. The yellow light reveals leaves, dirt, the evaporator unit for the ac, twigs. A slow buttery pass over a paw, orange eyes. Another rustle. Claws scrabble across the gravel on the driveway. It's leaving. The cat's tail deflates. I plop on the couch and smooth the fur. A purr rumbles up under my palm. I shine the flashlight around the living room, reveal the dark corners. Every inch that I move the light swells a fear of porcelain eyes.