I don’t concern myself with what goes on in Tommy’s room. I belong to Christine, and thankfully she doesn’t fill her playmates’ heads with notions of war, of racing in obnoxious cars, of tramping through the jungle to fight wild beasts. Oh, no. She mainly encourages tea parties, royal balls and dance recitals. I star in these. Her warm fingers spin me around and lift my toes from the carpet, allowing me to fly.
While Christine sleeps, the other dolls often gather around the pile of books to watch me perform. Sometimes a toy soldier from Tommy’s room creeps in and gapes with dreamy eyes, but I just pretend he isn’t there, rather than confront the armed man about territorial boundaries.
I memorize the movements Christine has given me and add to them like a painter creating a masterpiece from a few splatters of color. When the moon is full, its light shines down and makes my white tutu glow, my plastic arms gleam, as I arabesque and pirouette my way down the staircase of books to embrace Prince Charming. There’s only one male doll in Christine’s room, and it’s no wonder he fell for me – to be honest, the other dolls are either sewn of rags or have holes to urinate, making their voices whistle-like and hollow.
The door to Christine’s room is supposed to remain closed. There’s a hairy beast lurking in the hallways that would love to chew the living daylights out of all of us dolls, perfumed with the scent of his mistress.
But one day, Mother comes in to vacuum while Christine is at school, and leaves the door open when she is finished. None of us moves when the grotesque face with its two floppy cheeks looms in the doorway. We don’t dare twitch as the gruesome legs advance onto our turf.
The beast sniffs everyone, but doesn’t seem interested enough to taste a morsel. I’m standing outside the pink palace, frozen in passé. The creature pads over to me. The wet nose sweeps over my entire body.
I expect him to move on as he did with the others. But no. His jaws swing open, then close around my waist. Pressure from all sides sinks into my hips. I am shaken violently to and fro, and the room is like a wave crashing before my eyes. Then I am dropped. It isn’t until the beast has trotted out of sight that I realize he has taken my right leg with him.
Empty space where there should be well-formed bronze plastic and a satin slipper. Lying on the floor, unable to rise to the stage as night falls. Surely I am destined for the dump, when Christine realizes her favorite ballerina has been rendered dance-less and awkward. Perhaps tonight is my last chance to be close to Prince Charming.
I crawl all the way across the room to the purple palace, heaving my body over the carpet with my poor exhausted arms. When I reach the entrance, my prince is standing in the doorway, watching my pathetic locomotion. He lifts the drawbridge in my face and slams it closed just as I am beginning to don my prettiest smile. I collapse on the ground. All joy has flown away, and all that remains are the cackling demons of obsolescence.
In the magic quiet of the early morning, before Mother has barged in to announce the day, I feel the butt of a gun press into my chest. I gasp, sitting bolt upright, to stare into the face of the soldier who used to watch me dance. It’s not a face hardened by the war of boy’s play, as one might expect, but soft and gentle, with visible eyelashes and a slight smile.
He withdraws the gun. “Just making sure you’re still breathing,” he chuckles.
I cannot smile politely. The space below my hip is too real.
The soldier sits beside me. “To be honest with you, I never use this gun,” he confesses. “Tommy usually plays explorer with me, or sometimes superhero. But the gun is just a useless piece of plastic attached to my hand.”
Why is he telling me his life story? I turn my head away to indicate my disinterest.
The touch of his hand on mine makes my head whip back around to face him. “What are you doing?” I demand.
“I’m offering you a prosthetic leg,” he explains. Before I can process this information, he’s wrenching the gun off his own right hand. A bit of fleshy plastic comes off with it, but he doesn’t even wince. “May I?” He gestures toward the empty space where my right leg should extend beyond my tutu.
I can only nod silently and allow him to screw the gun into place in the hole where my leg once attached. He takes my hand and helps me rise. The gun is just the right height, and lighter than a real leg. It’s a bit hard to balance. But the soldier’s smile makes me feel like it might be worth learning. For a couple hours, he helps me learn to walk again. By the time of Mother’s barge-in, I have even executed a few dance steps. It’s different, but something about the way the wind swishes around my new leg as I cut through the air and the way the toy soldier applauds makes me feel like different isn’t bad.
Christine notices my makeover, but she plays with me as usual that afternoon. I am still the star of the pink castle. But I have another prince to dance for when night falls.
After both children are asleep, I chassé over to Tommy’s room, where an audience of peaceful soldiers waits to watch the machine-ballerina perform. The one with no gun attached to his right hand cheers the loudest at my final curtsy. The moonlight shines on his green uniform, making it light as a spring morning.
Image credits in order of appearance:
“AP Cygne” by Unknown – http://blog.dancedirect.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/pavlova.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AP_Cygne.jpg#/media/File:AP_Cygne.jpg
“Dogs nose”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dogs_nose.jpg#/media/File:Dogs_nose.jpg
“Gordijnen aan venster” by Nieuw – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gordijnen_aan_venster.JPG#/media/File:Gordijnen_aan_venster.JPG
“Sunrise Tharandt Forstgarten 2005 01 05 P1” by Henry Mühlpfordt – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sunrise_Tharandt_Forstgarten_2005_01_05_P1.jpg#/media/File:Sunrise_Tharandt_Forstgarten_2005_01_05_P1.jpg