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Fiction American

Mrs. Baker took care of Barbie five days a week while her parents worked. She talked on the phone to her sister, Helen every day and Barbie listened. “She's such a strange little girl, Helen. She sits cross-legged in my flower garden and just stares, but seems to listen to something. I watched her as I washed dishes and the child began talking to thin air! She never talks to any of us, not a peep to anyone. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but it was a lengthy, serious conversation! There's something wrong with that child. I wouldn't have her here if I didn't need the money since Carl died. And the pictures she draws! They're quite good, but so . . so . . . creepy.”

Five-year-old Barbie sat on Mrs. Baker's kitchen floor and held her doll, Greta, in her lap. Greta was made of cloth, with yellow wool curls, blue button eyes, a pink pearl button nose, and a red embroidered mouth. Greta and her faded blue dress were worn and frayed, but Barbie didn't care, she loved her.

She'd found her while watching her Grandmother sort through Christmas ornaments in her attic. Barbie spied a cardboard box in one corner lifted the lid and beneath a layer of tissue paper lay Greta! Grandma told Barbie that her own grandmother who'd made the doll for her back in the Basque country. Barbie didn't know what an old country was, but she instantly loved the doll.

Grandma said, “Would you like to have her?”

Barbie smiled with delight, something she rarely did, and kept Greta with her always after that. Barbie's Mother didn't like Greta and said she was old and common and should be thrown out. “But your Grandmother would pitch a fit if I did that.”

Something unusual happened after Barbie took Greta, although she didn't know it was unusual, but knew it was important. Greta warned her when Mother or Dad had dark feelings toward her and Barbie hid in the basement or the closet until Greta let her know she was safe.

Barbie started hearing the birds and insects when they were near. She didn't often understand their language, but had a feeling when they were happy, sad or frightened. It was like listening to Mrs. Baker's radio playing strange languages that gave her these feelings.

She often held Greta in her lap as she sat on the soil in Mrs. Baker's rose garden and watched the spider who spoke with her. Greta remained silent, letting Barbie know the tiny insects around her were safe.

“I'm so upset, Barbie! A bird flew right through here this morning and ate my food! I'd wrapped a house fly and was tending to my babies in their birth sack under the rose leaf when it happened. I'm repairing it as fast as I can! I thought the thorns on the roses would keep us safe.”

Barbie nodded in sympathy. “I'm so sorry. I love watching you make your web, so don't stop. Maybe if I sit here the birds will stay away.”

“Thank you. I've had to do this before, and it makes me so tired, weaving so fast.!”

Mrs. Baker called out through the open kitchen window, “Barbie! Come inside and eat your lunch.”

“Don't worry, Spider, I'll be back after I eat. I'd bring my lunch out here, but I'm not allowed to take food outside.”

The spider answered, "Blessings, be well."

After lunch, Barbie returned to the garden and kept watch over the spider's home. She told the spider how beautiful she was, so pure white with a round body that reminded Barbie a pearl n her mother's necklace.

“I don't know what that means, we all look alike, but I'm glad my appearance makes you happy. Most humans don't notice me, or try to kill me if they do.”

“I wish I was a spider. I love being here, smelling the roses and looking at their red and white flowers. The ground is so soft and it's fun watching the ants march and the pill bugs roll up. I'm sorry Mr. Baker sprayed poison here. I'm glad he's dead.”

Mrs. Baker opened her back door and called out, “Barbie, your Mother's home!”

Barbie stood, and brushed the bits of soil and leaves from her dress. She carried Greta across the street and into her parent's back door. The front door was only opened for company, who rarely visited.

As her mother sat at the new metal dining room set, reading the mail, Barbie went into the bathroom and turned on the tap in the bathtub. She removed her clothes while the tub filled, took her bath, and washed her short-cropped brown hair. After she dried herself, she put on the clean underwear and pink dress, that lay neatly folded on the back of the toilet tankl. Then she stepped onto a stepstool and brushed and combed her hair.

Barbie took Greta with her to her bedroom across the hall. She pulled a large towel from the bottom drawer and draped it over the fancy dolls lined up on a low shelf. They all had china faces and real-looking eyes that never closed. Barbie hated them staring at her. The cleaning lady, Mrs. Morris, always removed the towel, folded it, and put it in the bottom drawer of the dresser. She told Barbies mother how sweet Barbie was, covering the dolls to keep them from getting dusty.

Barbie lay on the floor on the far side of her bed, away from the dolls, and pulled the tablet of paper and a small box of crayons from under her bed's dust cover. She began, again, drawing spiders and after many tries, figured out how to draw a perfect webs, with a little bundles of spider food and her beautiful white friend. Then she'd draw pictures of Mr. Baker caught in the web, and the spider winding her mother in her food web.

She drew this over and over, gradually adding rose leaves, then roses and ants, pill bugs. When she'd used up all the pages, she asked her father for another tablet. He gave her one he'd brought home from work. It had wire holding the pages together and a thick green cover. The pages were covered in tiny light-blue squares. The squares helped Barbie draw more realistic, properly proportioned pictures. Her spiders now grew fangs, and sometimes she'd add red drops of blood on the people in the webs. One day her father brought home a new box of crayons with Twelve colors and a pencil and eraser! He'd frown and shake his head when he looked at her drawings but never said anything mean about them, or anything at all about them.

Barbie knew Daddy loved her, but he worked until her bedtime and every day but Sunday. She wished he had more time to spend with her. Her mother was angry about Daddy's gift, saying, “That girl should spend her time doing something constructive, like help around the house more. And those pictures she draws are hideous! Spiders and bugs, it's disturbing!”

Her mother took all of her drawings and threw them into the trash, but her father took them back out. Barbie sat on her bedroom floor and pressed her hands over her ears as her parents yelled at each other. When she woke the next morning, her drawings and art supplies sat on top of her dresser.

After that Barbie hid her drawings and art supplies in a cardboard box in the back of her closet. There was a light bulb hanging inside and sometimes, when her mother was home, she'd take the stepstool from the bathroom and stretch to reach the string and the bulb on. She'd close the closet door and sit on the floor and draw for hours. Her mother rarely opened Barbie's bedroom door or the closet.

Barbie started talking when she entered kindergarten, but only when she was called upon by the teacher. The other kids ignored her or bullied her fancy clothes and 'weird' artwork. She stopped taking Greta to school and kept her in the closet with her drawings and crayons.

July 27, 2023 18:09

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8 comments

Helen A Smith
16:22 Oct 26, 2023

A strong backstory here. You drew me in and I felt engrossed in Barbie’s world. It was sad and poignant. She was so isolated.

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10:24 Nov 02, 2023

thank you so much!

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Delbert Griffith
12:11 Jul 28, 2023

I really feel for this child. Kids are helpless, and they depend on us, the adults in their lives, to protect them, guide them, love them. It's unfortunate that this happens far too often, and bad parenting makes me angrier than almost anything. I've seen too much of it as a teacher, and I see the effects it has on kids. Nice and dark and poignant, Patricia. You wrote a chilling tale, my friend. Cheers!

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03:39 Jul 29, 2023

thank you so much. It's mostly true (except for the talking to spiders, etc.) Writing about it is a good kind of therapy - If I don't dwell on it too much. Again, thank you for your kind words xo

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19:11 Jul 29, 2023

I just read your funny romance and loved it! I don't see it on your page - but want you to know that five stars and shortlist is on the way! You're writing is so clean and precise and characters easy to imagine and enjoy. I particularly loved this bit: No arguments ensued concerning this matter, though there were baleful glares. Yelling and recriminations never followed, nor sulky silence. Miniscule ripples in the pond. Eventually, as do all ripples in all ponds, they disappeared. Life returned to normal. And the reference to the ripple...

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Delbert Griffith
21:01 Jul 29, 2023

Thanks so much, Patricia. Your kind words never fail to warm my heart. Cheers!

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Mary Bendickson
01:13 Jul 28, 2023

Such a sad situation for such a young girl. May she be blessed with someone who will try to understand her.

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02:06 Jul 28, 2023

Thatwas pretty much true - except for the doll (i had a teddy bear) and talking to bugs - ha.

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