(Instead of my usual prattling, I thought I’d post a piece of my fiction. Please do comment, critique, etc.)
Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Hudson reached the nearly empty shelf at the same time. Mrs. Jones, about fifty years younger with two kids in tow, looked from the two cans of corn to her tennis shoes, embarrassed. Mrs. Hudson fidgeted with her coat and smiled.
“Go ahead, dear,” she said. “It’s just me.”
Nodding, her lips tight in embarrassment, the younger woman picked up the undented can, and carefully placed it in her basket. She turned to her children, “Come on kids. Let’s go weigh in, and we’ll go home.”
Mrs. Hudson picked up the dented can, and settled it in her own basket—it was still too light, but the pantry shelves were almost empty. Squinting around the room, she went back to the produce section and picked up the bag of grapes that she, and probably all the other food bank recipients had ignored earlier, hoping this would make her basket heavy enough.
As she walked over to the counter, she passed Mrs. Jones, who smiled wearily at her and said, “Have a good week.”
Mrs. Hudson, nodded, her eyes on the children, both of whom now held a doll. The little boy was clutching a plump red-haired doll in a green playsuit, while the girl had a blonde doll with a yellow and white blouse, purple bloomers, and a bright red lollipop sticking magnetically to its tongue.
“Hi, Jill.” The speaker was an elderly man in a collar, with white stubble adorning his face. “How’s it going this week?”
She shrugged and offered him her basket, “Not bad for an old fossil like me, George. How’s Ruth?”
“Doing better, her hair’s coming back.” He made a note of the scale’s readout, “You’re a little short.”
“I thought so, but there’s really not anything else.”
“Yeah,” he began to put the food in bags. “It’s not been a great week—donations wise, anyway.”
Jill Hudson noticed a large box behind the pastor; a doll’s arm was just visible sticking out. “Where’d the dolls come from?”
“Oh,” he said. “They came in on Saturday… from one of my colleagues’ daughters. Kids love them.”
She nodded, and made to leave. But at the door, she turned around. “Pastor? I love dolls, too. Do you think I could have one?”
Within the box, the dolls heard the man’s footsteps then walk over to the box, and then the white-whiskered face looked in at them. His eyes darted around the small cardboard space, finally picking up the biggest and only black doll in the group. He held her up in the bright light for the old woman to see.
“How about this one?” He asked.
“She’s beautiful,” Mrs. Hudson walked back over to the counter, switching her bags to one hand, so she could take the doll. “Thank you so much.”
“Don’t worry,” he tapped the tag on the doll’s wrist as he handed her over to her new owner. “She’s got her identity with her. All ready to go.”
“I don’t have my glasses on, I can’t see it.”
“Lavender. That’s her name.”
Held upright, Lavender’s eyes were open, and she could see Jill Hudson, and her white hair, blue straw hat, old yellow sweater, and three strings of plastic pearls. She was frankly surprised—adults usually didn’t have the slightest interest in dolls, but here was one who wanted to take her home.
Who to the baby’s added astonishment, hugged her tightly, just like her former owner had done when she had first been unwrapped one Christmas morning.
Mrs. Hudson took everything out to her old car. She carefully set the bags of groceries on the floor of the backseat, but Lavender went in the front seat, propped up against a blue purse, that was really more of a tote-bag. She was glad Mrs. Hudson had put her in a seated position—at least she could see where they were going. It was a lovely day, and the last time she had been in a car, there hadn’t been anything to see except the inside of the trunk. She wondered where her new owner lived, and what it was like. Was it a house, or an apartment? Would it smell like mothballs and potpourri, which, in her limited experience, was what old ladies smelled like. She hoped not. Since the old woman seemed to like yellow so much, Lavender hoped the house would have equally bright and cheerful smells.
They drove for about fifteen minutes from the food bank to a very small house that looked rather like an old yellow quilt from the outside, where the car stopped. Mrs. Hudson took Lavender inside into the house first, and then went back out for her groceries. One of the doll’s eyes had closed, but the other one stayed open, allowing her to look around.
The house had four rooms: an eat-in kitchen/laundry room, the main room, a closed door that was probably a bathroom, and a bedroom. To her disappointment, though, it smelled of nothing. The main room was crowded with rugs, a small sofa, a chair, a small bookcase, a few pictures on the walls, and the end-table on which the doll currently lay. Lavender strained to look at one of the pictures in the dark room. It showed a man with thick glasses, sitting at a teacher’s desk, smiling broadly. This, she decided, was Mr. Hudson. Or had been. He’d look like Mrs. Hudson, now, if he was still alive.
The door opened again, and Mrs. Hudson walked in with her bags of food.
“Get these put away,” she said. “Then I’ll show you what there is to see of the house. Lord-a-mercy… I must be going crazy. But it’s better than talking to myself, I guess. Lavender… it’s a nice name, anyway. It’s real nice that your girl wanted you to keep it. And I won’t change it. ‘Lavender’ you shall stay.”
The doll’s other eyelid fluttered shut. It annoyed her, but Mrs. Hudson laughed. She then turned on a light; Lavender could tell, although her eyes were closed. After a few minutes of rustling, and the thudding of cabinets and refrigerator doors, her eyes snapped open as she was picked up.
“Kitchen,” the old woman said, carrying the doll through. “Macaroni without cheese for dinner tonight… I can’t have it any more. But I can have TV again… couldn’t for a long time. When my husband was still with us, he was so deaf the neighbors complained if we turned it up so he could hear it. And I felt guilty for watching when he couldn’t fully enjoy it.”
She paused to take a pot out and set it on the counter, before turning back to the main room.
“I keep ‘the euphemism’ over there, for all the good it’ll do you,” she pointed at the closed door. “And that’s my room. I guess you can sleep with me.”
Most of the floor space in the small bedroom was taken up by a double-bed, strewn with cushions, and covered by an old patchwork comforter, a crocheted afghan, and a folded up flannel throw at the foot. The closet took up half the left wall, but, as Mrs. Hudson set Lavender down on the right side of the bed, the doll noted that the strangeness of that part of the room. A small but elegant dresser with a mirror attached was crammed into the corner, almost touching the door. Yet the rest of that wall was amply, almost oppressively empty.
Suddenly, the doll was picked up again, and almost as if her new mistress was aware of her stare, she said, “One of these days I’m going to have to put something there. Or ask someone to move my dresser. Someday I’ll get around to it. Then we won’t look so lonely here.”
She squeezed Lavender and set her down again, and this time the doll’s eyes clicked shut. The bedroom door closed, and a minute later, the TV came on in the kitchen. But Lavender didn’t mind her closed eyes this time. She was no longer with a child, but her purpose as a toy—to give comfort, companionship, and pleasure to a human being was still the same.