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The Doll Collector

Leslie

By Gigi GibsonPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 13 min read
The Doll Collector
Photo by Anya Osintsova on Unsplash

Roselyn ambled up the cement steps of the 1890s brick building and lifted the knocker on the thick, wood door. Tap, tap, tap, echoed through the halls of the interior, once a judgment place for the guilty, and their innocent victims, now a grand home.

“Hello, you must be Roselyn. I'm Maggie. Come in... Come in!” Maggie pushed the door shut with a loud thud. Roselyn looked up at the high ceilings, mouth agape.

“I know… it's quite imposing isn't it? And yet, it is very homey once you get a feel for it. You'll see. I'll show you around a little bit and then we can have tea in the courtroom.”

“That would be lovely.”

“This is the living or common room on the left. The old courtroom is here on the right, and the kitchen is at the back of the house. There's a bedroom on this level, where I sleep, and a bathroom as well. Your room is upstairs if you choose to take it. It's the one on the right at the top of the stairs. You'd have your own bathroom. There's another bedroom on the left. I'm renovating it for someone I hope to have here someday. You can go on up and look around by yourself if you like. I'll make the tea.”

“Sounds great,” said Roselyn.

~ ~ ~

“It's just beautiful,” said Roselyn. “I'd love to take it.”

“Great!” said Maggie. “First and last month's rent is due upfront. Come and sit now, and we'll go over some of the info you sent me.” Maggie poured the tea and passed Roselyn a blue-flowered, china plate for the cakes and cookies she had baked earlier.

“Mmm... the tea smells of sweet raspberries, and the scones are still warm.” She took the little butter knife and smeared a pat of butter over one-half of the scone. “It looks like you've done a lot of work here already. Have you lived here long?”

“It's two years now. I've re-done most of the rooms but I still have some more projects that I'd like to accomplish yet.”

“You certainly must love dolls. I noticed them in all of the rooms, but this room has the most I think.”

“Yes, I've been collecting dolls ever since my aunt gave me my first one when I was eight years old. I guess that's about twenty-seven years ago. How time flies!” Maggie went over to the old bookshelves and straightened the dress of the porcelain doll with the blonde curls. “I think I must have about two hundred now. One of my friends thinks of me as a hoarder. I prefer to think of myself as a saver.”

“Well, maybe one day you could tell me about how you got started on your collection.”

“Yes,” said Maggie. “Maybe. Someday.”

*****

Maggie entered the courtroom and perused the ceiling-high wood cabinet that housed many of her dolls. She thoughtfully picked out her favorites... the porcelain doll with the blue satin dress with a crinoline, the brown-skinned, cloth doll with cornrow braids, and the green-eyed East Indian girl with the yellow sari and red dot between her brows. She carefully laid them in her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. “Let's go girls,” she said, as she grabbed her travel mug of coffee and headed out the door.

~ ~ ~

“Jael... you can come in now,” said Maggie. Four-year-old Jael dawdled hesitantly as her mom tugged her by the hand.

“I don't want to go. I'm scared,” said Jael.

“Some other little girls were in here today, and they were scared too. I can tell you what helped them if you like.” said Maggie.

“What?” asked Jael.

“Well, I brought three dollies to work with me today. And they're scared of needles too. They asked me if you could hold one of them while I give them a needle. Is there any doll in here that you would like to hold?” Maggie unzipped her backpack and revealed the three dolls.

“Can I hold her?” asked Jael as she held up the brown-skinned doll.

“That one is named Leslie. Let me see,” said Maggie, as she held up the doll's mouth to her ear. “I think she's saying something. Yes... Leslie said that she would like you to hold her.” Jael sat the doll on her lap and Maggie pressed an empty syringe onto Leslie's arm. “Oh, Leslie,” said Maggie, “you did very well. Now, can you hold onto Jael tightly while she gets her needle?” Jael squeezed Leslie firmly into her chest. Maggie quickly gave Jael her vaccine and said, “Wow, you did so great! Thank you for helping Leslie to not feel afraid.” Maggie reached for the doll, saying, “Well, we'd better put Leslie back in with her friends now. I think she needs a nap.” Jael pulled the doll more deeply into her chest.

“I want to keep her. Can I take her home with me... pleeease?”

Maggie stared into Jael's big, brown eyes and her heart ached. She almost did it. But she just couldn't. “N-n-no. I'm so-so-so-sorry H-h-honey. Th-th-they have to go b-back h-home with me.”

~ ~ ~

Maggie placed the doll in her backpack, zipped it up, and slipped it onto her shoulder. She grabbed her now-empty mug and headed home for the day.

“Hey, mama,” called out the gang boys as Maggie walked through the littered alley. “Whatcha got in the backpack?” Maggie kept looking straight ahead and quickened her pace. The boys started running after her, and, catching up, one of them yanked the bag from her shoulder. She grabbed the handle and pulled back, but he was stronger. He unzipped the backpack and taunted, “Hey, muchachos... come and see what we have here... some dollies!” He reached in and grabbed the brown-skinned doll. “Hey lady... why do you have a black doll?”

“I'm a nurse,” said Maggie. “I use dolls to comfort my child patients.”

“Oooo.... muchachos... we've got a nurse! Wanna take my blood pressure Nursie?” He looked at the black doll and twisted its arm off.

“N-n-n-no!” shouted Maggie. “D-d-don't touch th-th-th-them!”

“Ohhh... you're s-s-scared we're going to hurt your d-d-dollies pretty lady? Well, look at this,” he said, as he ripped the sari off the East Indian doll and smashed the head of the porcelain doll on the pavement. Maggie slumped to the ground, hunched over, and sobbed.

“Come on muchachos. Let's get out of here.” He kicked some dust on the dolls and hopped off to meet up with his friends.

Maggie crawled over to her dolls, picked up the shattered pieces of porcelain, the torn sari, and the broken arm, along with the dolls, and put them in her backpack.

*****

Maggie placed her cup and saucer on the table beside the chaise in the courtroom, pulled the fuzzy throw over her knees, and sipped her chai tea. “Ahhh... after that stressful day yesterday, it sure feels good to just sit and relax a bit.” A gentle breeze fluttered the sheer curtain on the half-open window beside her.

Roselyn had already plopped herself on the sofa and was enjoying a hot chocolate with marshmallows. “I know what you mean. Oooo... this smells as delicious as it tastes. Sooo chocolatey! So... is this a good time to ask you the story of how you started collecting the dolls?”

“I don't think any time is a good time, so this is probably as good as any,” said Maggie. “When I was eight years old, I was in a tragic car accident with my mom. A drunk driver hit us head-on, and our car flipped over six times. I was yelling for my mom to save me when my head smashed onto the dashboard. I blacked out. I don't remember anything that happened after that until I woke up in the hospital with bandages all over my body. The doctor asked me the name of my dad. I told him that I didn't have a dad... it was just me and my mom. He asked if I had any other relatives, and I said that I had an aunt, my mom's sister. He called her and she came to the hospital. She told me that my mom was dead and that she was going to look after me from then on. I screamed and cried until I couldn't breathe anymore, and then I sobbed myself to sleep. When I woke up, my aunt was sitting in a chair beside me with a doll in her arms. She handed it to me and said that we were going home. My doll became my best friend. I talked to her about all of my fears and problems. Every time I got a new gift it was another doll. Soon, I had many dolls, and although I took comfort in having them, they never filled that empty hole inside of my heart that was always with me after my mom died. Still, they were my security blanket so-to-speak, and I couldn't let them go. I still can't.”

“You know that that's not healthy right?”

“I know. But I can't stop. I just have this need to keep buying more.”

“One day you'll find a replacement for the dolls and you won't need them anymore. You'll see.”

“I sure hope so,” said Maggie.

*****

Maggie picked out three choice dolls from the shelf in the courtroom and set out on her walk to work. The wind was whipping up and she hoped that the rain would hold off until she got to work. Her stomach fluttered with excitement over the prospect of going on a new assignment through her work that day.

“Where do you think we'll be going?” asked her workmate, Sara.

“I heard we're assigned to give vaccines to the kids at the orphanage just out of town.” Maggie packed up all her supplies and made sure that she had her backpack tucked in the car before leaving the clinic.

~ ~ ~

Upon arrival at the orphanage, Maggie and Sara were greeted by the stern mistress, Miss Pinkerton, along with a little girl at her side.

“This is Alice,” said Miss Pinkerton. “She will show you where the children are. Please let yourselves out when you are finished. Alice... you be on your best behavior.”

“Yes ma'am,” said Alice.

“How old are you Alice?” asked Maggie, as they strolled down the corridor.

“I'm eight. I've lived here for three years... ever since my mom died. Miss Pinkerton said that I'll probably never get adopted, ‘cause I'm too old, and I have brown skin. She said that families don't want kids my age. They want babies.” A sudden crack of thunder caused the power to shut off, and the whole orphanage went black. The children began to scream and cry.

Alice yelled, “Mama! Mama... save me!” She ran to her bed and jumped under the covers. Maggie ran after her. She sat on the edge of the bed and put her arms around Alice.

“I'm s-s-scared of the d-d-dark,” said Alice. “And w-w-when I'm scared, I s-s-stutter.”

“Me too,” said Maggie. “Me too.”

“You do?” asked Alice.

“Yes, and sometimes I cry.” Maggie slipped her backpack off her shoulder and unzipped it. She looked inside and touched one of the dolls before suddenly pulling her hand back and zipping the bag back up. The lights turned back on, and Maggie said, “Well, I guess I'd better get to work now.”

“Thank you for hugging me. And, you know what? I don't believe Miss Pinkerton. I know that someday I'm going to have a real mama. And we will love each other very much,” said Alice.

Maggie felt a sickening dread in the pit of her stomach. She wished that she could take away all of Alice's fears, but she was still working on her own. “It w-was n-n-nice to meet you, Alice,” said Maggie. Then she turned and walked away.

*****

Maggie nibbled on little cucumber sandwiches as she drummed her fingers on the old judge's desk. Roselyn caught her staring out the window, as she passed by the courtroom. “Lost in thought?” asked Roselyn.

“Oh, I just can't stop thinking about what Alice said at the orphanage last week. And I keep beating myself up for not giving her a doll. I couldn't give one to a little girl at the clinic either. What's wrong with me? I feel like it's time that I grew up and let go of the past.”

“It'll happen at the right time,” said Roselyn.

Suddenly the room grew dark. And then black. Maggie cried out in fear. “Mama... m-m-mama... save me! S-s-s-save me!”

Roselyn raced over to the desk and put her arms around Maggie. “It's okay... it's okay. It's just the moon. Remember... we were going to have a solar eclipse today? It'll be brighter in a minute. There. See... after the dark, there is always light.”

Maggie lifted her head and wiped her eyes. “That was very strange. I felt like I was the eight-year-old me, and I was back in the car with my mom. I guess I must have had a flashback.” Maggie looked out the window again and paused. “Yes,” she said, “That's it... that's what I needed to hear all along! The sun is always there, behind the clouds, behind the darkness. It's just waiting to shine.” She fairly leaped out of her chair and said, “Can you help me? I have something I need to do.”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Let's get some boxes and put all these dolls in them and load them into my van.”

“Well, okay, but what's this all about?”

“I'll tell you later. I just have to get going!” said Maggie. Maggie made a quick call to the orphanage and asked Miss Pinkerton to get some paperwork ready for her to sign. Then she took the little brown-skinned doll... the one on which she had repaired the broken arm, wrapped it in a blanket, and placed it tenderly in her backpack.

*****

“Miss Pinkerton, I have a special request for you today. I have a vanload of dolls that I'd like to hand out to all of your children today. With your permission, could I bring in the boxes, and could Alice help me to pass them out?”

Miss Pinkerton frowned, and then in a moment of unexpected human kindness added, “Yes, that is permissible. I'll send for Alice and have the children line up at the door. You can bring the boxes up here, but you must come into the office and sign some papers first.”

When Maggie went in to sign the papers Miss Pinkerton was white as a ghost. “I... I... didn't tell you earlier, but yesterday a young couple came and filled out some papers to adopt Alice. They had initially wanted one of our babies, but then someone else applied to adopt the baby that they wanted. They just called a few minutes ago, and are planning on coming over this afternoon to pick Alice up. I'm sorry. I know that you came here to adopt Alice today, but they asked first.”

Maggie dropped into a chair, put her head into her hands, and sobbed. Why hadn't she acted sooner? Why did she take so long to let go of the past and move forward into her new journey? Her head swam with “what-ifs.” After a few minutes she decided that no matter what, she still needed to give away her dolls. She stood up, straightened her clothes, and wiped away her tears. “Okay,” said Maggie, “I'd still like to go and hand out the dolls if that's alright with you.”

“Of course,” I'll send for Alice.

~ ~ ~

The gravel crunched under the tires as Maggie backed the van up to the entry doors. She opened the trunk and set out the first two boxes.

“Hello Alice!” said Maggie. “I'm so happy that Miss Pinkerton allowed you to be my helper today. I want to hand out a doll to every girl here. Would you like to help?”

“Yes, Miss Maggie. I would love to do that!”

Maggie and Alice handed a doll to each child in the two lines, box after box, until the last girl was handed the last doll. Alice put her head down, and a big tear slipped down her cheek.

Maggie knelt down and held Alice's shoulders. “Alice, come here. I have something for you in my backpack.”

Alice wiped her cheek with her cuff and leaned in toward Maggie. Maggie opened the backpack and said, “This doll is my favorite. Her name is Leslie. She had a broken arm, but I sewed it back on. She's my favorite because she reminds me that we can be broken, but we are still loveable.” She handed the doll to Alice. “This doll is for you.” Alice reached out, took Leslie, and hugged her into her neck.

Miss Pinkerton suddenly came rushing outside. “Maggie... the baby that the couple wanted has become available again. They called to say that they changed their mind and want the baby instead!”

Maggie's heart soared. She opened her arms toward Alice. “Alice, I want you to know that you are loveable, and you deserve love too. And I'd be so happy if you would let me be your real mom.”

Alice leaped onto Maggie's body and wrapped her arms around Maggie's neck. “I knew you'd come for me one day... I just knew it! You were the mom that I was hoping for... my real mom. Can we go home now Mama?”

“Yes,” said Maggie, “Yes, we can.”

Short StoryMystery

About the Creator

Gigi Gibson

Gigi Gibson is a writer and poet. She loves little rescue dogs, interior decorating, and chocolate. “To evoke an emotional response in my readers… that would be the most satisfying thing that I could accomplish with my writing.”

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Comments (1)

  • Shirley Belk5 months ago

    Gigi, I loved how you helped to fix the broken and fearful with dolls. Such a sweet story!

Gigi GibsonWritten by Gigi Gibson

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