Her name is Cindy. Sitting here, under the Christmas table and looking up at her thin, boney little face, I see how her lipstick is applied so thickly that it cracks when she parts her lips. Her eyes are stuck in a permanently worried expression, her thinly plucked eyebrows turned up and her brown eyes wide and scared in the dim glow of the candles. She jumps when anyone touches her lightly, as though she might break. She is a china doll, I think. Like in grandmamma’s cabinet, the ones who should not be touched. She belongs with the others, lined up neatly in a row, frozen in time. I remember, one day, I reached up to touch their painted smiles, run my fingers along their stiff dresses of taffeta and gingham. I stroked the rosy cheek of a doll with a sailor’s dress, her hands folded neatly in her lap.
And then the lovely thing slipped from my fingers, smashing on the floor in a mess of shattered shards. I was so very sorry, and I cried over her broken little body until my grandmamma came running. She was most upset with me and said I was a naughty little girl. She picked up the broken pieces, the doll with the shattered face, and lovingly cradled it in her arms. I watched, my face streaked with dried tears, as she tucked the doll into a box, and surrounded her with tissue paper, covering her shattered form with soft layers of ocean blue. And she took her up to the attic and slid her onto a shelf in a dark corner to rest. I knew not to touch the dolls after that.
But this Cindy. She is new here. She doesn’t belong. When my father places his arm around her shoulder and kisses her, she seems to melt into him. My fists ball in my lap. How could my father have forgotten my mother so soon? They asked me to go to his wedding, and they explained it to me in their false patient voices, like the whole thing was an exciting adventure. “Your mommy and daddy still love you very much…they just aren’t happy together anymore…” Our lives used to fit perfectly, three puzzle pieces. My father, mother, and me.
She stands in our way. Cindy and her face caked with make-up and her eyes like a doe’s, soft and shy.
I hate her. I hate her with everything I am.
They asked me to be the flower girl at their wedding, and they dressed me up in a frilly pink dress with shoes that pinched. Because, they said, pink was Cindy’s favorite color. I held my basket of flowers, I was standing in front of Cindy, and she was dressed in a white gown.
The man at the organ began the music and it hummed through the air. It hurt my ears. People were so happy, and my father looked so proud, with eyes only for her.
But when I looked around the church, my momma was nowhere to be found. Had my daddy stood so proud and so handsome in a dark suit for her too?
When the time came, I didn’t walk down the aisle, scattering the pretty petals like I was supposed to. I ran from the room with my hands over my ears. My basket fell in a heap, scattering Cindy’s feet with blossoms, and her face crumpled, the white-toothed smile wiped away. Don’t do this, I wanted to tell her. He’ll leave you like he left my mamma. He’ll find another painted doll to love.
“Lilith!” They call me now, tonight, at our Christmas celebration. “Where is that silly girl?” I am not silly. I understand better than anyone. They are the silly ones, all my aunts and uncles and cousins, with their high pitched voices. They rock back and forth, roaring with laughter, though no one has said anything funny. And though they giggle and talk of meaningless things, of holidays and snow, their eyes are cold and dead. Lifeless. The room is full of pretty little dolls.
They pull me from beneath the table, and my father ruffles my hair, holding me close. His sweater smells of coffee and shaving soap. I do not want to be near him, this man who has forgotten his promise. His vow to stay with me and my momma. The room is lost in a rosy glow, and the blur of voices and tinkling of glasses echoes in my ears like an eerie music. I turn to look at Cindy and she is smiling tentatively, her horsey brown eyes staring anxiously into mine. Hoping for acceptance.
Somewhere from deep inside me, there is something cold. My lips burn with frost and the room fades. There is only her and there is me, and my deep inky eyes boring into hers. I want her to feel my rage. I want her to feel lifeless.
She jumps from her seat as though she has been stung. The adults turn to stare. She smiles tightly and excuses herself, ducking out of the room, her black dress swirling in her wake. A smile dances on my lips as my daddy plays with my hair, his blue eyes twinkling, and the adults go back to their Christmas merriment. They are so quick to move on.
Nobody notices as I slip from the room, turning back only once to look at the champagne-colored dresses and the chandelier dripping with glass tears.
Darling Cindy is in the bathroom, the door open as she stares into the mirror, her porcelain hands fluttering around her cheeks like frantic birds, watching in horror as an eggshell sheen spreads across her face. She turns to me and there is terror in her eyes. What have you done to me? they say. And I want to tell her that all I have done is made her outside match who she is within. But I say nothing, my hands folded behind my back, watching.
Watching as Cindy fades behind a mask of paint and china. I blink, and she is gone. All that is left is a little doll, laying on her back in a dress black as midnight, with sequins that sparkle like the stars. I bend down to pick her up and I stare into her eyes. Her face is cold and hard, framed by a soft bob that sits just so, unruffled. The doll’s eyes are wide and helpless, the one thing I did not change. The painted lips exhale one last breath and Cindy is gone forever. Trapped in her own skin.
I smile down at her lovingly and drop her to the cold linoleum floor of the bathroom, where her face breaks, splintering into a web of cracks.
Carefully, I carry her shards to the attic and wrap her in a box, surround her with clouds of tissue paper. Pale pink, because it is her favorite. And gently, I slip her onto a shelf in the back. There she will rest with the others forever.