by Kim Rush
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“This’s a doll?” Ian asked, and turned the page to see a brown sepia-toned baby photograph matted on a clean white page, looking very soft and cuddly.
“Oh, yes,” the lady answered. “Everyone asks that question when they look at our catalogue. Why, even our catalogues have become collector’s items. And, you get a catalogue with any purchase,” she added as Ian turned the pages, caught in the images on each page.
“How much?” Ian heard his voice ask.
“Oh, the prices begin at — well — our lowest doll goes for only seven hundred dollars, and our top doll goes for — right now — four thousand dollars. But the value of these dolls only goes up with time. Why, dolls that were created only four years ago have tripled in value. But, the owners won’t give them up. They’ve become very attached to them; much like a real baby. So any baby doll bought for, say your cute little daughter there — is she your daughter?”
Ian looked up from the pictures, nodded his head, and said with a smile, “That’sa my girl, May.”
“Oh, perfect,” the lady said, “and also,” she continued, pointing to a picture in the catalogue, “see the gold bracelet on the baby doll’s right wrist? That is real gold: 19-caret. It identifies the doll as a Sterling product. And you know how the price of gold goes up. So you’ll find it a great investment to buy a Sterling doll for you daughter.”
“The doll isn’t for Baby May. It’s for her mother,” Ian said. “Molly, my wife, gets these things in her head and she has to have them. And it’s Christmas. Can’t go without buying Molly a gift, but...” Ian closed the book on his lap and boosted May farther up his shoulder.
Aunt Bea put her hand on the book as if to stop Ian from getting up. Sterling Products does have payment plans,” she said, as if understanding Ian’s hesitation. “We try to work with anyone who wants our products. We think everyone should have the opportunity of having the Sterling Products experience. That is what drives us.”
Ian laughed. “No thanks. I can’t do it.” Ian looked into the woman’s eyes and saw the worried look she got when Opie was doing something wrong. Ian laughed. “You know you look like Aunt Bea from Mayberry; the Andy Griffith show.”
“Oh, yes, everyone tells me that. Well, I can tell you that I am like Aunt Bea when it comes to helping someone who needs it...” Her voice trailed off when Ian began shaking his head. “Oh, the baby dolls are so special and so life-like that some of the Royal Families even buy them for their expecting young ladies. The soon-to-be mothers carry them and practice how to take care of and love a baby. I’ve even heard that a nanny or two has picked a doll up and hadn’t even known them to be a doll, since the dolls feel so real.
“How much were you thinking of spending?” she asked in a cool business tone. Ian laughed.
“Well, we do have payment plans that go as low as that for each monthly payment.”
“No, I can’t. I don’t know if my job’s gonna last, and it doesn’t pay that much. I just can’t.”
“Just a minute, young man,” Aunt Bea said. “Stay right there. I can see how much you want to get one of our unique Sterling dolls for your wife. And, I’m going to make it happen, if I can. Now you sit right there until I come back.”
Ian watched her scurry from the room. Baby May stirred as he turned his head and shifted her up to lay her head on his shoulder. He pulled a Candy Cane from his pocket and stripped the plastic off and stuck it in his mouth. The woman walked quickly back into the room and Ian pulled the candy from his mouth like a kid caught eating candy in the first grade.
“I’ve worked something out with my boss, old Mr. Scratch. Now I know you really want this baby doll for your wife. You couldn’t get her a better present. And, tomorrow is Christmas, so I want you to listen to this proposal. No matter how crazy it sounds.”
She moved her head conspiratorially closer to Ian’s ear and said in a lowered voice. “I think old Mr. Scratch is a little...” she closed her lips and tapped her forefinger to her temple. “Or maybe he is just a little eccentric. I don’t know, but what he proposes will give you a doll for Molly at a very low price.”
Ian shrugged. “Let’s hear it then,” he said, moving his head closer to the woman.
She smiled. “It is a little crazy, but you, yourself, really aren’t going to lose anything if you do it.” Ian watched a grimace wash over her placid face. “He, old Mr. Scratch, wants you to give him,” she pursed her lips, nodded her head and went on, “he wants you to give him twenty-five percent of your soul. Now, now,” she said to the surprised look on Ian’s face. She held up a hand: “I know it sounds crazy, but for a crazy agreement you can have that doll your wife wants for Christmas.
“I, myself, wonder if there is such a thing as a soul. You know, after all, no one has ever seen a soul. Tests have been done on people and there is no appreciable difference in the body before and after death. So I don’t know. But if old Mr. Scratch offered me the same deal, I would take it,” she ended and nodded her head again.
Ian nodded back in automatic response to her and she smiled a warm grandmotherly smile at him. “I will get the contract and you will soon own a Sterling doll for your Molly. You choose the one you want. Oh, yes, the ones you will have the opportunity to buy are located in the last ten pages.” She was out of the chair and back into the office before Ian could stop her.
He leafed to the last ten pages and looked at one picture after another. They were all cute, and very cuddly looking, but their faces were more universal, less distinct than the faces in the front of the book. They all pretty much looked the same to Ian.
The woman bustled back into the room with a computer clipboard in her hand. “Okay Mr.... I never got you name.”
“Ian Dough,” Ian answered and she stenciled his name onto the screen.
“This is our standard contract, Mr. Dough, but under payment due is Mr. Scratch’s — joke — quirk — whatever you want to call it, is the twenty-five percent of your soul. So you really won’t owe any money at all. You pay the forty-eight dollars down and that is all. Our business is done.”
Ian shifted Baby May over to his other shoulder and pulled out his money. “What the hell,” he said, thinking that he would be willing to die for Molly without hesitation. So what then if he gave up twenty-five percent of something he didn’t even know if he had. He had often romantically thought about himself taking a bullet, a knife thrust, giving himself up to save the woman he loved. He handed the forty-eight dollars to Aunt Bea.
“Very good,” she said and paused with the pen on the screen. “What doll did you choose, Mr. Dough?” Ian pointed at one of the pictures, hoping his choice would make Molly happy. “Okay, that is a lovely one. I have seen that one myself. I think that is one of the artist’s best works. And I am sure you will agree when your baby has been delivered.” She raised a hand to cover a smile at her last remark. She tittered. “That is a little joke we always laugh at here at Sterling Products. Okay, just sign here by the X.”
Ian took the clipboard computer and looked at it. “I don’t know,” he said in a moment of doubt. “Will anything happen to me?”
“Oh no, nothing will happen to you,” Aunt Bea said and placed a hand on Ian’s knee. “Mr. Scratch is just into the Christmas spirit and he just wants you to have what everyone else can have. Annnd,” she said in a long drawn out way, “you have paid for your doll, so it isn’t something free. Is it?” she asked.
“Okay,” Ian said. “I gotta get this kid home to bed — and change her diaper.” He scratched out his name with the too large pen and watched it magically appear under the computer screen. The woman bounced off the seat in great excitement and moved over to the phone on the counter. She pushed several buttons and spoke into the receiver:
“John, we have a rush order here. We have a Sterling doll to be delivered tonight. You can do it can’t you? Great, I knew you could. Okay, hold on and I will get you the address.”
She turned to Ian and asked his address. He told her and she wrote it down. “Okay, Mr. Dough, your doll will be delivered tonight. Matter of fact, it will probably get to your house as soon as you get there. Sterling Products has many warehouses and the doll warehouse is close to your home.”
“That’s it then?” Ian asked, and when the woman nodded he shook her surprisingly cold hand and walked toward the door.
“Oh, wait Mr. Dough. Don’t forget your catalogue,” she said.
“This one?” Ian asked, pointing at the book he had left on the chair.
“Oh yes,” she answered, “each one is one-of-a-kind — just like our babies. And, of course, that is the last one that will have your baby in it.” Ian picked up the book and thanked the woman. He stepped back into the stairwell. “Merry Christmas,” he heard her say through the door as it closed. He climbed the stairs and headed back down the hallway. He soon found an exit door at the other end.
Ian stepped out into the early winter night and sucked in the cold air. His nostrils momentarily stuck together in the sharp coldness. He realized that he had been sweating. He stuck the book between his legs, wiggled Baby May around and pulled up her hood and zipped up her coat.
“Jeeese, kid. When you sleep, you really sleep. And you’re breaking my arm. Come on let’s get you home.” Large snow flakes began to filter down through the parking lot lights. Ian stopped and looked up and felt the cold touch of the flakes on his face. “Someone’s turned the world upside down, Baby May,” he said to his sleeping daughter. “Grandma’s snow globe,” he said, remembering how he, as a kid, had thought that real snow was made the same way as Grandma’s snow globe. He had thought God, or whatever, turned the world upside down and then right side up to make the snow come down. He smiled to himself as he eased Baby May into her car seat.
He buckled her in and went to the driver’s seat. The Duster started with the second try and Ian let it warm up as he scraped the windshield. The snow felt good on his sweaty skin. The six-cylinder motor warmed up fast and Ian was soon back into the traffic on Main Street.
He switched the AM radio on and listened to a newsman tell everyone that Christmas was going to be dismal this year because the economists predicted only a seven-percent increase in Christmas sales this year and that wouldn’t help the economy. The economists hoped that the after-Christmas sales would make up some for the dismal Christmas. Ian pushed another radio station button and listened to Christmas music keep time with his windshield wipers as he cut across town through side streets and pulled up the long, steep hill to his apartment.
The living room light was off in the apartment and Ian could see Molly’s figure floating around the cluster of different colored Christmas tree lights. He pulled Baby May from the car seat and laid her head onto his shoulder. Her small arm caught on his shoulder and he wiggled it down as he stood up. He looked down the street he had just come up to see if the delivery man might be coming. No, the road was black and vacant, pockmarked only by an occasional dim street light in the velvety winter blackness.
“I hope that guy gets here soon, Baby May. I wouldn’t want your Momma not to have a Christmas gift tomorrow morning,” he said to his girl. “Oh, I got this though,” he said as he picked the Sterling Products doll catalogue off the seat. “Let’s go see what your Momma’s up to, kid.”
Ian walked toward the stairs to the front door of the apartment. He shivered against the cold and pulled the zipper of his coat up. The mercury street light lighted the fallen snow in a bluish haze. Ian passed quickly under the light, making Baby May’s little arms flap like a bird. A golden gleam on Baby May’s wrist shone briefly under the harsh light before her coat slipped down and covered it.
Ian wondered if he was going to be able to keep his gift a secret from Molly until the next morning. He opened the apartment hallway door, feeling the inside warmth of his home wash out over him. He felt good. “Come on, Baby Doll, let’s get you inside. Your Momma’s waitin’ for ya.”
“Merry Christmas, Molly,” he said to his wife who stood in the doorframe. “Baby May and I have a surprise for you.”
Copyright © 2009 by Kim Rush