Category Archives: doll

Doll – Part X

Doll – Part X

Margie drove the car as Chalmers sat quiet and uneasy in the passenger seat. The doll sat on his lap staring straight ahead as he did. They followed Officer Granger through town and to the northern end of the Cardington cemetery. It was the southern end of the cemetery that suffered the most damage. While it was the most picturesque part, with dense trees lining the banks of the Marklin River, the hill on which the tombstones sat proved no match for the heavy waters which ravaged the town and the surrounding counties.

Chalmers never made this trip before. He stared out the front windshield as if staring into his own end. He struggled to calm his heart which itself was being ravaged by sorrow, apprehension, guilt and a reborn sense of loss. It was only Margie’s gentle hand and soft silent urging which got him this far.

The cars pulled up to a large tent and stopped. There was a flurry of activity as workers and volunteers focused on the task of bringing resolution to this most unfortunate disaster. One portion of the tent was set up for viewing and identification. As Margie stopped the car, Chalmers saw an older woman being helped into another vehicle nearby. He guessed her sobs were the result of her own reopened wound of loss.

Granger walked back to where they were parked. He opened Margie’s door and offered a hand. He followed behind her respectively as she walked to Chalmers’s door. He continued to sit with the doll both staring forward as she swung the door open. He only moved after she placed her hand on his shoulder. As if she activated some sort of on-off switch, the power of her strength and support carried him out of the car.

The tent sat about twelve paces from where they stood, but for Chalmers the space expanded to appear like miles. Margie looped her arm inside his and when he was ready, they took their first steps. Each footfall sounded in Chalmers’s head like a steady heavy drum. Any sounds from the area, birds or the wind in the trees, were effectively blocked by the sound of his own heartbeat.

Granger opened the panel to the tent. Inside sat a line of folding chairs and a long table draped with a sterile white sheet. Underneath…

Chalmers stopped at the tent opening. His eyes fixed on the table and tiny mound that sat hidden by the sheet.

Margie waited. She felt the heat of anxiety and panic coming from Chalmers. She waited. With an attempted deep, but shaky breath, Chalmers took a slow, tentative step inside.

Once they made it to the chairs, the officer and an assistant pulled the sheet back for viewing. Chalmers stared at the ground and the trampled grass beneath his feet.

“Oh,” Margie said, beginning to cry. There was little that lay before her that could remind her of the beauty and grace that was her daughter, but having selected the dress for her, while time had stolen it vibrancy, the memory was clear. “Oh … my Paisley.”

Chalmers continued to sit stoically with his eyes glued to the ground. Margie’s soft sobs filled the hollow space. His breath was fast and heavy. A bead of sweat dripped from his forehead and down the side of his face. While he knew he was in a chair firmly attached to the ground, he felt as if he were standing on a tiny ledge outside a high-rise office building window. Half of him was urging him to jump. Half of him was urging him to run, to wake up from the nightmare and just run.

Suddenly, Chalmers stood bolt upright with a speed that made him slightly dizzy. Margie reached for him then stopped. Her hand hung in the air reaching out for him, but she held it there as he staggered forward one step and then another. As if some force where trying to pull him back, Chalmers fought his way to the edge of the table.

Officer Granger, who had been standing near the back started to approach, ready to act or react as needed, but Margie waved him back.

Chalmers had his eyes closed tight. As one hand he clenched the doll, the other gripped the edge of the metal table as if it were the only thing that prevented him from falling into a pit of his own demise. Heavy, panting breaths escaped him. Tears, squeezed from his eyes and his nose began to drip.

Slowly he raised the doll, and brought it down to the fragile array of remains that sat before him. Gently, he placed the doll on the table. Slowly he dared to open his eyes.

Before, on the table, was not a small pile of bones expected, but the smiling face of his beautiful Paisley, smiling at him. He sobbed a great sense of relief, as he tried to smile back and show strength for her. A small laugh escaped him. He looked down at the who in the moment he set her down, had transformed into the beautiful toy, her daughter loved so much. Two clear blue eyes stared back at him and the clean eternal smile greeted him even as his sight grew bleary with even more tears.

“Thank you, Daddy.”

The words reached as clear as if they were spoken and not imagined, but maybe they were. He smiled again, the best he could. “You’re welcome Pumpkin,” he whispered.

“Daddy, I love you.”

Chalmer’s whispered back, “I love you too. I’m so … sorry.”

Then, as if tucking her in for the night, like he had done so long ago he raised sheet to her chin and stared her one last time.

“Goodbye,” he said. “Goodbye my sweet love.”

He turned away from the table then and completely drained of whatever strength he could ever muster. He dropped to his knees.

Margie, who had stood to move behind him, caught and much as she could and helped to guide him gently down to the ground.

Again, they sobbed together, and they held each other, with only the future before them.

The end.

Doll – Part IX

Thump, thump, thump, thump.

With Margie just behind him, Chalmers paused at the front door. He flexed his hand a couple of times as he slowly reached out for the knob. The approach was hesitant, as if he almost expected it to burn him the second he touched it.

He looked to Margie. She put her hand on his shoulder, first with a light squeeze and then with a slight rub back and forth. She offered a slight smile of encouragement. The gestures poured a flood of familiarity into him. It was a signature move for her and one he remembered finding great comfort in. They were never overly expressive back in the day, but the subtleties of their actions always spoke volumes. It was the shot of courage he needed.

Chalmers grabbed the now less than intimidating door handle, turned it and opened the door wide enough to include Margie in whatever awaited them.

“Sir. Ma’am.”

Officer Telly Granger filled the doorway in full uniform. With a clipboard and pen at the ready, he greeted the man and woman inside with a serious demeanor, but he hoped not without an essence of compassion. In his six years, he never had this duty before.

“Officer,” Chalmers said.

“Sir, I’m looking for a Chalmers Elk.”

“That’s me.”

“Sir, might I come in? I have some information I need to share with you.”

“What sort of information?”

“Sir, as you are probably aware, the recent flooding has caused a level of damage not common in this area.”

“My house was checked out. I was told I could return.”

“Yes, sir,” Granger said. “There is no known problem with either your house or your being back in the area sir.”

“Then I don’t understand.”

“Uh, the problem sir, is with the Cardington cemetery.”

Chalmers stiffened at the sound of the words. His breath hitched and his heart began to beat a little harder in response. Once again, a slight squeeze on his shoulder from Margie, triggered a greater calm in him that worked to quell the uprising of anxiety.

“Please,” Chalmers managed. “Come in.”

Margie offered coffee as they moved into the kitchen and toward the table. Granger declined. She couldn’t miss his eyes catching sight of the doll that sat perched at the far end of the small table.

Once seated, Granger first apologized, for as he understood it, this duty would not normally fall to him, but since recovery efforts were still underway and some parts of the area were still underwater, this task was his as part of the community relations effort.

With Granger on one side of the table, Chalmers and Margie sat on the other. Instinctively, their hands entwined.

“Sir,” Granger said. “The extraordinary flooding we’ve seen from recent storms has caused a substantial amount of damage to homes, businesses and other properties.”

Chalmers and Margie sat still and quiet.

“As the waters continue to recede, we’re finding unprecedented instances of disruption and destruction.”

“I’m sorry,” Chalmers said, interrupting. He had become more of a “pull the bandage off quickly kind of guy” over the years and grew weary of the build up. “What does this have to do with the cemetery? With us?”

“Yes, sir,” Granger said. “The cemetery saw water flow and activity that created a level of damage that might create certain health and safety concerns. You see … several of the burial plots were washed out or severely damaged. I understand you have a relative buried there.”

Chalmers bit down, his lips tightened. His hand tightened around Margie’s.

“Our daughter,” Margie managed softly.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Granger. “I’m terribly sorry to bring you this news, but if at all possible, we would like you to come down and help us identify the remains so that they can be returned to their proper resting place.”

Doll – Part VIII

“CJ?” Margie asked softly. “What’s wrong?”

Chalmers sat on the edge of the bed, half dressed. He started out all right, but something distracted him.

He knew he had to do this. He had to. It was one of those unfortunate things life threw at you and you had to stand there and take it. It might sting. It might hurt. Hell, it might break you in two and burn like hell, but life has very little interest in your discomforts when it decides to doll out its indiscriminate wisdom.

Still, when he shifted the suit that Margie laid out for him, she caught his eye.

They set the doll aside to make sure it would look perfect. Margie’s sister Pam even did the hair, which included working out a masterful snarl created the last time Paisley tried a style that was a little too exotic. Sitting on the nightstand, she stared at him with her long dark hair and bright blue eyes … smiling.

He took her in his hands and dropped to the bed. He stared into the glassy, careless gaze that looked back at him, and he grew envious of the times she got to stare back at Paisley as if they were secret sisters. He and Margie agreed that since Clarrissa was Paisley’s favorite, her “best friend in the world,” she would go with her to her rest. It made good sense. It did.

Chalmers stared into the doll’s face. His mind was mostly clear of the random thoughts that his brain was prone to conjuring. His head, his heart felt empty like an enormous vacant theatre where long ago, life used to play out before appreciative crowds of people nightly, but now sat hollow and stale and falling into disrepair.

He stared at the doll, longing to hear his daughter’s voice whisper just one last time, “Daddy, I love you.”

He stared at the doll, hoping against hope that she would give him a sign, some indication or reassurance that somewhere Paisley was fine, and safe, and happy, and that she would be all right … so the he could be all right.

Margie entered the room to see what was holding him up. They were late. And while they were both crushed right now, it was Chalmers who needed more from her. She recognized that. She respected that. She knew that when the time came, he would be there for her.

She found him sitting on the bed, not nearly ready, quietly holding the doll.

“Honey,” she said softly. “The car is here. It’s time.”

He sat still and stared into the glassy blue eyes.

“CJ, we need to go. Can you finish getting dressed? Everyone will be waiting.”

While is eyes never wavered from the doll’s, his head slowly shook once side-to-side, so subtly Margie might have missed it if she hadn’t been watching him so closely. She stepped closer to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Let me help you.”

The man’s head shook with more insistence, as a child might do when his mother was trying to feed him broccoli. Side-to-side it swung. No.

“Chalmers, please,” Margie said. “I know it’s hard. It’s so hard.” She started to cry. “Please. Get dressed and come with me. Paisley will want her doll.”

“I…” he whispered. He took a deep breath, which triggered a series of deep quick breaths. “I … I … can’t.” His head kept shaking side-to-side. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” Tears streamed down his face as his sorrow contorted his features. He sobbed. “I can’t.”

“You need to say goodbye,” Margie whispered.

“I can’t.”

“If you don’t, you’ll regret it, for the rest of your life.”

“I can’t. I can’t.”

“Please. Come with me. Say goodbye with me,” Margie said, with a soft urgency through sobs of her own. “I can’t do this alone. Don’t leave me alone in this.”

“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

At that point, whatever Chalmers Elk had left in him, whatever was holding him so loosely together then, evaporated. His hands let go of the doll, which Margie caught, and he crumpled to the floor. Sobbing without limits, he curled into a ball, repeating, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

Doll – Part VII

The one-time lovers, long-time strangers cried together on the floor in the hallway until they were done. Time had no meaning here. They sobbed together as if they were tearing through every wall and barrier their lives had placed between them. They cried themselves clean. After the tears, they lay in silence, wrapped in each other’s arms, physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and well beyond words.

At some point, one stirred. They quietly helped each other up and lightly stepped into some semblance of an ancient routine. When Margie left long ago, Chalmers barely had the heart to change anything. She stepped into the kitchen to make some fresh coffee and felt her movements become oddly familiar. She watched her hands as she worked. If they had not looked clearly older, she would have thought herself transported back in time, a better time.

Chalmers followed her into the kitchen holding the doll to his chest as he walked as if it were stuck there. He set it gently on the table, but away from where he planned to sit. Margie placed a warm cup of coffee down in front of him, as she used to do, as if she still did it. He took a cautious sip.

“Thank you.”

The corner of Margie’s mouth turned up slightly in an effort to smile, but she looked down, cautiously stirring some milk into her cup.

“How did you get it,” he asked.

“We had a hell of a storm,” she said, slowly shaking her head. “The wind was blowing. Lights were flashing. There was a tremendous thud against my door. When I opened it to make sure everything was O.K. there it was. Originally, it was wrapped in paper and twine. Wrapped poorly, but wrapped just the same.”

Margie sipped her coffee using two hands hoping that would calm her shaking.

“I recognized it the moment I saw it, and I…” Margie’s voice trailed off.

“You were pissed.”

“Enraged,” she said, using what little energy she a left to emphasize her outrage.

“I got it to,” he said. “During this last bitch of a storm, but I didn’t have it long. The doctor’s said I blacked out from all the excitement. When I woke up in the hospital, nobody remembers anything of an old doll.”

He paused. “I didn’t do it. You know that don’t you? I would never…”

“I know,” she said with a slight frustration. “I just. I was just so mad, and hurt. The moment the rain stopped I threw that doll in the car and drove up here.”

Storm or no storm the drive from Millard, where Margie lived in a small apartment, to Cardington was at least an hour.

“Sorry you wasted the trip,” Chalmers said, smiling ever so subtly. Margie reached over and took his hand.

They sat there together drinking coffee and saying very little as old friends might do.

Thump.  Thump. Thump. Thump.

They both froze for a moment and slowly turned to look at the doll. Two dark eyes, one at half-mast, stared back.

They looked at each other.

Together they stood and slowly stepped to the front door.

Doll – Part VI

“I’m sorry, what?” Chalmers stood at the door. Margie Elk stood before him, glaring at him from the stoop. Despite the curled expression of anger and her heavy breaths, he couldn’t help but feel relief that one, it was a human being at the door and two … it was her. A wave of nostalgia and memory, sadness and joy hit him all at once and he grasped the doorknob extra tight for balance. “What are you doing here?”

It had been years since he had seen or spoken to Margie, who was the true love of his life, at least until Paisley came and stole his heart. The vague memory of their last real conversation, which was really him lying on the floor in a drunken stupor and not a conversation at all, brought the heat of embarrassment to his face.

She was four years younger than him and the years had been kind to her. Far kinder to her than he felt for himself and despite the anger, she still held the light in her eyes that he fell in love with the moment they met.

“Is this some kind of a joke?” Margie choked a bit on the last word as she fought between killing him and crying.

She shot her arm out at him and in her hand was a plastic head and body swaddled in a dirty gingham cloth.

As his eyes dropped, Chalmers recoiled a step. Two dark eyes, one at half-mast, stared him over delicate smile. The doll.

Margie surged ahead and pushed the doll hard into his chest, holding it there. “Do you think this is funny?” she said, the anger making her voice rough.

Chalmers felt like a small child being taunted by a schoolyard bully. Margie kept pushing the doll into him, releasing a pent up aggression years in the making. He wanted to turn and run.  The foreign body against him almost felt like it was burning.

“Margie, stop!”

Another step back and the delicate knee, which had served him fairly well throughout a day of cleaning and clearing, whimpered and gave way forcing him to stumble backwards to the floor. Margie moved with a surprising agility as she kept the doll plastered firmly to his chest.

“Why would you do this?” she said, screaming now. “Where did you get this?”

She fell to her knees as her tears began to flow. She lifted the doll from Chalmer’s chest then slammed it back into to him once, then again, then again. Propping himself up on his elbows, he was unable to block the blows, not that it mattered. Margie’s rage lessened with each swing. Each strike came softer and softer until she fell on him exhausted and sobbing.

Chalmers dropped down to his back as the two of them lay in a pile on the floor in the front hall. With a hesitance he had not felt since their second date, he slowly moved his arms to embrace her. She gave a half-hearted shrugged intended to stop him, but for the first time in a long time, this felt good and right. He tightened his arms around her and pulled her as close to him as he could. A tear formed in the corner of his eye and when full and ready, it dripped free releasing a lifetime of tears and regret.

Doll – Part V

Despite his distaste for hospitals, Chalmers admitted to himself that his brief stint in Cardington Memorial did him good. He felt rested and a bit more at ease than when he first got there.

According to the news, the valley flooding was the worst in recorded history. As the water ebbed away, it left a trail of destruction and fallout behind it. Roads and buildings were missing. Mudslides were creating havoc. Bridges were now dangerous until proven otherwise.

In a world that never offered him much in the way of luck or success, Chalmers found a bit a relief in knowing his house sat in one of the few areas that suffered little damage. The water got close, but other than a little wetness in the basement, he was going to be fine.

The authorities opened the road to his part of town two days after the storm ended, conveniently set to his release from the hospital. He had a clean bill of health. No heart attack, no stroke, no ghosts or goblins. When he pulled into his driveway and stepped out of the car, the only thing there to greet him was some glops of mud, quite a few downed limbs and branches and a lightly wet basement.

The doctors told him to take it easy for a few days, but he was eager to get things cleaned up and reset his notion of normal. The mill was still under deep water, so it was like an extra vacation. He always felt motivated to do more when he was on vacation.

Resisting the urge to go inside, he attacked the yard work first. It was hard and heavy work in spots and his knee gave him a constant reminder of how it hated this much activity. Once the bulk of the debris was moved and stacked, he headed inside.

His pause at the front door was brief, but noticeable to him. Silly he thought. Anxiety is what caused his trouble not some child’s …

He brushed the thought away for imagined or not, the memory of the night of the storm materialized faster and with greater detail than he cared for.

Swinging the door wide open, he stood there peering in, half expecting something to jump out at him, but there was nothing. Everything was pretty much as it was. He tied to enter with confidence, but found himself moving slowly. And while we would not admit out loud what he was looking for, he absolutely confirmed that there was no doll lying about the entryway.

The power was back and he made himself a strong cup of coffee, perfect for a cool, calm Fall day. He had a small pump he intended to set up in the basement to get rid of the water, but there was hardly enough for that. He figured a mop, some rags and a bucket would take care of most of it.  He started in and eventually lost himself in the work.

Thump, thump, thump, thump.

The noise made him freeze immediately. His breath caught in his chest and he could feel an uncomfortable heat cover his forehead. His grip tightened on the mop handle.

Thump, thump, thump.

Taking a deep breath to keep his anxiety at bay, he released his death grip on the mop and leaned it up against the wall. He turned and headed slowly upstairs. A tiny voice deep in the back of his head reminded him that a good hard drink is the perfect antidote to fearful knocking. The thought made his mouth seem to go extra dry, extra fast.

He stepped timidly down the hallway to the front door. Deciding to take the direct approach to the situation, he decided against a peek out the window. He took in a very deep breath and swore to himself and to God in heaven that if there was a package on the stoop …

Unable to hold back another moment, he grabbed the doorknob and jerked the door open. Looking down to face his expectation, his fear, directly he saw not a package, but a pair of boots. He traced the boots up to the overcoat and then to the face of its owner. He squinted at the sign of recognition.

“Margie?”

“You sick son-of-a-bitch,” the woman said. “How dare you?”

Doll – Part IV

“Jesus Christ, CJ!”

Chalmers stirred as the sound of her voice rang down upon him. He wasn’t waking up, because he wasn’t really asleep, but he was being drawn out from wherever he was by her sour tone.

He had yet to open his eyes, but he squeezed the lids shut tighter just the same to eliminate the possibility of any light at all getting to his eyes and ultimately his aching, pudding-head brain.

“Oops,” he said, but it sounded more like, “Ooopshhh,” as he forced his words into the floor.

“Have you been there all night?” Margie said. “Again?”

The linoleum felt cool on his face, nice really. A puddle of drool had formed near his mouth. When the unexpected burp erupted from his lips, his acidic breath splashed the fluid and the smell reminded him of his reason for his current position on the floor … scotch.

If his math was right, and even the slightest thought of math made him queasy, this was the seventh time she found him sprawled out on the kitchen floor, incapacitated, incoherent and incapable of meaningful communication.

“I mean …” Margie stood over him one hand across her stomach, one hand rubbing her forehead. Chalmers dared to open his eyes just ever so slightly. She never came into focus. He never moved his head, so the odd angle at which she appeared while being all fuzzy struck him as oddly funny.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she said. He vaguely remembers her saying those exact words around time number four, but that time there was crying and a little pleading. This time…

“I can’t!”

“You,” Chalmers said with great effort. He paused to erupt in another hiccough/burp that made his body jerk. “Don’t … under … stand. You … never…”

“Don’t, CJ!” Margie shouted down at him. “Don’t you dare! I miss her too, every day! Don’t you dare tell me I don’t understand. At least I faced it. I didn’t hide from it and escape up into some bottle of gin!”

“Scotch!” Chalmers sort of yelled. The need to correct her forced his head from the floor. He held it there in a weary delirium for a three count before letting it drop again into his drool.

“It’s been five years,” Margie said. “Five years she’s been gone. And you left shortly after that! I can’t do this. I want to live! I’m not going to watch you drink yourself to death. She … would hate what you’ve become.”

The soft cushion of alcohol gave way to a torrential wave of anger. He swung out at her with his arm with little chance of connecting. “Shhhhuuddup!”

He rolled over onto his back swinging out at her. “Shuddup! You don’t know! You don’t know!” Tears breached his eyes and began to trickle down his face. He began to sob. “You don’t know!” he tried one last time, but it came out as nothing she could understand.

“I know,” she said, the calm in her voice reflecting her resignation. “I know all too well. I lost everything that day. I lost her. I lost you. Everything. I can’t do this. Goodbye.”

His blinding tears prevented him from seeing her leave. His sobs prevented him from hearing her go, but when the door closed and she was gone, the weight of her absence fell upon him, crushing him almost completely.