Contemporary Fiction Speculative

     "Cou - gar !! Cou - gar !! Cougar,  Cougar, Cougar !!,"  was the taunt being hurled in the Clifton Park Wal - Mart toy section at 5 AM.   " Bratty Bratz, my boyfriend Ken Carson is only two years younger than me, " said Barbie the Movie doll. Campfire Felicia Bratz replied,  "You and Ken are in your sixties -  old enough to collect Social Security !! Besides, he's not your boyfriend.   You broke up in 2004 when I was only one." Barbie shot back,  "I may be a Cougar, but I  don't see you having any boyfriend.  Perhaps it's because you look like you came out of a donation pile."   Felicia zinged her again and replied, "I have two scorchin' outfits and you look like an old lady with that pink and white checked dress and ugly necklace and earrings. You smell like hot dog water because you wear the same outfit every day."    Barbie wasn't content to let Felicia have the last word and said,  "I have a dream house,  camper, ice cream shop, cars, pool and so many,  many things you couldn't even begin to dream about."   Not to be outdone, Felicia replied, "You might have a dream house,  but I have a mansion,  airplane, and motorcycle. I'm an outdoors girl, anyway."  The dolls suddenly looked at the clock under the bright,  harsh fluorescent lighting and saw it was 5:45 AM. They both yelled, "Truce !!", nodded at each other from across the aisle, and started to crawl back into their respective boxes before the 6 AM opening time.  They smiled at each other despite their recent verbal assaults and both yelled, "Good Luck,  I hope you get the job!! ".  They secured themselves back in their places and assumed their frozen faces. The quest for their permanent modeling jobs resumed again.

          They each had been in the store for about a month,  with their self-awareness emerging at the same time two weeks ago. The eccentric stocker,  Kevin,  had grabbed their boxes from the shelves.  With a doll in each hand,  he supplied " dissing"  dialogue for them. He got so caught up in the imaginary theater,  his rock crystal necklace hit their boxes along with his excited spittle. This brought the dolls to life.  He had no awareness of the magic he had wrought.  The night manager had come to look for him for the umpteenth time to direct his focus to another section.  The dolls continued their insult hurling at night when their admiring public had to go home.  They discovered that their fellow dolls - fellow Barbies and Kens and Bratz Dana, Fianna, Tiana, and Koby - didn't have their abilities and that they were unique in their section.  They had collectively arrived at the idea of them being models the day after the magic had happened.  Two teenage girls were wandering through the aisle, one picked up Barbie and remarked to her friend and sighed,  "I'd be modeling if I was built like her." They both learned to remain as still as stone because an inadvertent hand movement from Barbie and lip pursing from Felicia sent two potential employers running from the aisle.  They looked entirely different from each other. Barbie was blonde, blue-eyed,  had disproportionate measurements, and was clad in a pink and white checked gingham dress and bow. Her accessories were a white necklace and earrings and pink high heels. Campfire Felicia had brown skin and eyes, with brown braided hair with auburn highlights.  She was dressed in a multicolored striped top, pink pants, and yellow furry boots.  Another outfit consisted of a brown sheepskin jacket,  yellow tank top, green skirt, and pink heels,  hairbrush included.  She also went by the nickname of Glam Gecko.  They each thought they had the upper hand when it came to looks and fashion, thus the rivalry and contest to be the first to land coveted modeling jobs. The real danger presented itself a little after opening time,  shortly after the two-week anniversary of their transformations. 

           A stressed-out mother with her five - year old daughter and two - year old son in tow turned the corner and made slow progress down the aisle. Their heads turned,  eyeing the hundreds of toys.  The boy, Ethan, was strapped in the shopping cart but still was able to put his paws on anything at his level.  His mother and his sister, Eva, stopped in front of Barbie.  Eva had birthday money burning a hole in her mother's pocketbook and was on the prowl. She firmly shot down her mother's suggestion of a fashion doll.  Instead,  she ran ahead,  pointing at the realistic babies instead. While Mother and daughter were engrossed,   Ethan grabbed the Barbie box with his chubby,  grubby small hands and did his damage. He first brought the hapless female up to his mouth,  getting the cardboard wet and slimy.  He chomped down to relieve his painful teething and to sample the taste.  Dissatisfied,  he slammed the box down as hard as his little arms could muster on the side of the cart, ripping the plastic covering. He held the box up close to his face,  admiring his handiwork.  Just then,  his mother and Eva returned to the scene of the crime,  with the new baby in tow.  "Ethan!! ," cried the mother in shocked tones. She shouldn't have been surprised because she was a daily witness to him playing with toys.  She was taken aback by the swiftness of the attack. Her head swiveled,  hoping that nobody else saw the carnage unfold and would rightly blame her. Guilty of the coverup, she returned Barbie to the shelf. Mom pushed the cart rapidly down the white shiny floor on their getaway.  She told Eva to be quiet when the new mother expressed wonderment about what Ethan did to Barbie. Felicia witnessed the assault but had been powerless to help.  When the coast was clear,  she crawled out of her box and came to Barbie's assistance. She hugged her badly- shaken "frenemy", then smoothed her tousled hair with her Bratz brush. Lastly, she helped put the box plastic back in place. It wasn't actually ripped but pushed out of place.  Hopefully,  the drooly cardboard would dry. They hugged again and Barbie gave her a grateful teary smile before Felicia returned to her box.  The day's excitement hadn't ended,  though. 

            It was a few hours before closing and a young man,  in his early twenties,  pushed his shopping cart into their space.  Barbie's and Felicia's hearts began to beat rapidly and their hopes began to rise.  Maybe he was a designer,  photographer,  or movie director who would fast-track their modeling careers !! He didn't look the part, though.  He wore a black RPI shirt with green letters,  blue jeans, and black sneakers.  His long brown hair was uncombed and wore black glasses.  He spotted Barbie and hastily threw her in the cart, on top of the six-pack of Coors and Ramen noodles.  Felicia was also thrown in after a more careful study and they were wheeled, scanned,  bagged, and paid for at the register.  They continued their journey to the parking lot and were unloaded into the back of the Nissan Rogue.  They were temporarily able to see  when the overhead light came on, and they gave each other the "thumbs up." They made the fifteen-minute or so drive to Russell Sage Laboratory on 8th Street in Troy.  After the car was parked,  Felicia and Barbie were lifted from the bag by their new employer, Jonas,  and carried into the building and down the long corridor to a room at the end of the hall. He opened each of their boxes, cut through their bindings with sharp scissors, and laid them down on an examination table.  He stared at them for a few moments,  and first undressed Barbie,  then Felicia. They each cried silent tears of shame and embarrassment. Jonas then reached into his pants pocket and took out his portable tape measure. Oh, the indignity !! 

                 Jonas talked to himself as he performed this experiment that would be used for his paper on distorted concepts of female body image.  "Okay Blondie,  you're first.  Let's see - Height 11.5 inches.  Bust is 5 inches.  Waist is 3.5 inches." He looked at a pre-printed chart on female proportions and did some calculations on his phone. 

"Hmmmm, if you were human,  you'd be  5' 9' tall, have an 18-inch waist, and a 39-inch bust. "

                  "Now for you,  Glam Gecko,"  - showing disrespect since he didn't know her.    "You're 10 inches tall,  have a waist of 2.5" and a bust of 3.5 ".  He repeated the calculations that had been done on Barbie.  "That would make you 5' tall, with a 21" bust and a 15" waist. You look like a cartoon with that big head and tiny body. " 

               Jonas left the dolls naked and abandoned on the table while he sat at a desk with his tablet and scanned social media sites for instances of teenage girls liking and expressing envy of extremely thin women's and girl's figures. There were many comments of people hating their bodies and advice for losing weight quickly. He jotted down some "fat-shaming" comments as well.  After an hour of research,  he closed up the tablet and walked menacingly back over to the table. "I have enough now for my paper.  Barbie my girl,  if you were real, you wouldn't be able to hold your head up on that tiny neck.  You would have to crawl on all fours because you couldn't walk with those tiny ankles and size 3 shoes."

              "Hey,  Felicia aka Glam Gecko - you are strange looking. Your neck is the size of your waist and you have a huge head and lips. I would need a chisel to scrape off that makeup and your outfits are skimpy."

                Jonas peered down at them one last time. He said,  "Both of you are truly disgusting.  You have helped me with my research, for which I appreciate your sacrifice.  You serve no purpose now, though.  I will make sure my future daughters will never be allowed to play with your kind."   With that, he scooped up the naked dolls and slammed them into the nearby trash can."Four points !!" he yelled.  He threw their packaging on top of them and wiped his hands together as if to rid himself of any lingering taint. He turned off the light and yelled, "Hasta la vista babies !!"

                  Barbie and Felicia didn't dare move for some time because they feared the evil scientist would return.  They both had tears running down their faces as they held hands at the bottom of the trash can. In spite of the tears,  Felicia said,  "See, I told you my waist was tinier. "Force of habit kicked in and Barbie retorted,  "He said you look like a cartoon character. "They glared at each other in the darkness for a minute or two until Barbie suddenly yelled,  "Truce !!"  She continued,  "Don't you see we're just dolls - that people abuse and trash us like this banana peel? " They were fortunate that there were only banana discards and a  Diet Coke can in the tall oversized container.  "Yeah, they don't want us for modeling - they think we're disgusting. I'm so sticky !!", wailed the unfortunate Felicia.  "Never mind that,  we have to get out of here or we 'll both be garbage for real when we're crushed up in the trash compactor," said Barbie.  Over the next hour,  they tried in vain to scale the steep sides of the slippery-lined receptacle without the benefit of light.  Felicia stood on Barbie's back,  both cursing with words learned from the Wal - Mart shoppers,  but had no better luck than their solo attempts. Felicia whispered suddenly,  "Quiet!!  I think somebody is coming."  They stopped their exertions and lay quietly in the dark,  hearing the footsteps echoing in the hall outside.  They tried to keep their disproportionate limbs from shaking,  frightened to death their abuser had returned.  They joined hands yet again to await their fate.

          Just then,  the sound of the footsteps were replaced with a full-throated rendition of "Amazing Grace ". The door handle turned and the lights were switched on. The song was temporarily interrupted by the dragging of a heavy cart on wheels, then resumed again.  Minutes later,  the beautiful voice stopped yet again,  replaced with a grunt. The yet unseen woman said, " Boy, I'm glad this is the last stop on my route !! My back is killing me!! "  The noise of the dry mop was heard by the two prisoners in the can - a sound familiar to them from their time in Wal - Mart.  The swishing sound was then drowned out by  "Rock of Ages ". About ten minutes went by as the voice circled the room - singing,  mopping, and wiping down counters.  The woman made her way to the door when she exclaimed,  "What's wrong with me ?  I forgot to change the trash!!" The snap of the garbage bag could be heard as she readied it to replace the old one. She peered into the can and saw the seemingly lifeless dolls looking up at her.  She screamed in terror and was surprisingly agile when she jumped backward,  hand over the heart.  It took her a minute or two to calm down and summon the courage to take another look.  She cautiously stood on her tiptoes from a safer distance away to reassess the situation,  then roared a hearty laugh. "Well, I never !!  You never know what these fool kids will throw out !!,"  she said in wonderment.  She pulled the bag upward,  then extracted Barbie and Felicia from the plastic.  She put the bag down on her cart as she brought the two closer to her face for a better look.  "Aren't you a beautiful pair !! Who pulled off your clothes and threw you away? I can't figure out what possesses these people today!!,"  said the old,  kind gray-haired woman with laugh lines etched deep on her face. She set them down carefully on her cart as she retrieved their accessories from the bag and the soda can as well. The can joined the other recyclables in another bag,  and she brought the girls over to the sink and gently cleaned them up as best as she could with dish detergent.  She toweled them off and placed them and their assorted outfits and accessories into her cloth bag containing an uneaten apple and a mildly racy romance novel. She re-used the garbage bag,  putting it back in place while discarding the peel and her gloves in the trash on her cart. She hesitated,  then put the dolls' boxes in her cloth bag as well, for informational purposes. The rescuer said to the empty room,  "Grace and Bella will be so happy to see you two. I never had anything so nice growing up.  I would have given my right eye to have you dolls."  Naked Barbie and Felicia looked at each other with hope as Grandma called her daughter,  Charity,  to tell her she'd be ready for her ride in fifteen minutes. She snapped off the light and wheeled the conveyance down the long corridor to the janitor's closet and put the bag of trash in the large bin. She grabbed her precious cargo, a bag of recyclables, and clocked out,  making her way slowly to the front entrance.  She breathed in deeply and looked at the stars until her daughter pulled up in the older model Ford,  which badly needed a muffler.  Her reverie was broken. 

            Charity and seven - year old twins Grace and Bella were in the car when they came to pick up Grandma from her night shift.  They were somewhat sleepy and in their pajamas,  having to give her a ride at this obscene hour. This sacrifice was necessary for all of them to help make ends meet.  Grandma didn't say anything until after their ten-minute drive back to their bare-bones apartment. She made sure everyone was in proper lighting to view the newly-acquired treasure.  She then removed her own possessions from the bag and handed the remainder to the twins.  They shrieked with joy when they saw the dolls and the two women told them to pipe down or they'd wake the neighborhood.  The girls only had outgrown toys from childhood and hand-me-down babies in very poor condition.  They were closer than most twins,  and they promised the women and each other, pinky-swearing,  they would share equally and not fight over their new acquisitions. Grace attended to their tousled hair and Bella 

re-dressed and cleaned them up from the banana and soda stains.  As Charity made everyone breakfast,  the twins hunted for material to create a home for Barbie and Felicia.  A  huge cardboard box headed for the dumpster was rescued by architect Grace and designer Bella found used material for curtains,  rugs, and new clothes.  

            While the family of four was eating, Barbie and Felicia talked in very low voices,  both agreeing how lucky they were. Remarkably,  since they didn't see eye-to-eye on much of anything,  they both expressed doubt they were real or that the magic that brought them to life would last.  They both pinky-swore that if they were able to regain their trust in humans and still had their miraculous abilities,  they might let Grace and Bella in on their secret.  After all,  most kids grow up to be adults.  They throw away or forget those important companions from childhood with whom they shared endless days and nights and confessed their deepest secrets. Felicia said,  "You know,  you're like a gray sprinkle on a rainbow cupcake. "Shocked, Barbie said, " If Mr. Rogers was your neighbor,  he'd move. "  Felicia asked,  "Who's Mr. Rogers?"  Barbie made a noise of disgust and spit flew from her mouth. They clapped their hands over their mouths as they shared the silent joke.

July 28, 2023 11:33

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