Her eyes are what I remember most, and I carve them into the wood first. Round and full, the shape of figs. I remember them being deep brown, but under the sun’s rays, a hint of auburn glowed in her irises, matching the highlights of her wavy hair cascading down her back. I used to call her Anime Jane because she loved cosplay. Now these Sailor Moon dolls are all I have left of her.
I’m distracted from my work by the woman in my shop. We are the only two. She pretends to browse the shelves, but for the third time, our eyes meet, and she quickly glances away.
“Is there something I can help you with, ma’am?”
She shakes her head and picks up a doll from the shelf. It’s one of my favorites. Jane’s hair is styled in a side fishtail braid hanging over her right shoulder. Her ruffled red skirt just grazes the tops of her thighs, and the pink bow snapped to the front of her blouse is like a bow to a present I wish to open. I remember the night I first opened Jane. She was wearing the exact outfit, and I untied her bow, twirled her braid around my index finger, and with her hair still wrapped around my finger, tilted her small chin and draw her lips toward mine.
The woman suddenly slings her wrist through the handles of her hand bag and rushes to my counter. She notices the unfinished work I hold—only a face to the polished smooth naked round body.
“Do you carve all off these by hand?”
I nod, and she pauses to look around the shop. I have three aisles of wood cases in the center of the shop, all shoulder height and each shelf lined with three rows of dolls, ranging between seven and ten inches tall. Mounted on the walls are even more, bigger sizes, some of them life-sized. One stands in a corner behind the register. She is the most realistic Jane doll I’ve made to date. I molded her from flesh colored wax, sewed real human hair into her scalp. Her arms and legs bend at my command, and on days when the sun is bright and I miss her laughter, I take a spatula of acacia wood and sculpt her mouth open, push back her lips to reveal her gleaming teeth.
“It seems like it would take a lot of time,” the woman says.
“This is my livelihood. I enjoying doing it.”
She places the doll on the counter. “How much?”
“Only ten dollars?” She takes her wallet from her bag, licks her finger and begins counting bills. “All of these dolls are handcrafted. You put your love and devotion into each of them. I’m willing to pay more.”
“If you wish.”
She slides five ten dollar bills across the counter top. “I do have one question.”
“Anything,” I say as I put one in the register and fold the other four into my pants pocket.
“Why are they all the same? The outfits, the hairstyles—they’re different—but the faces . . . it’s like I’m looking into the eyes of the same sad girl.”
“You believe she’s sad?”
I remember our last night, as we lay in bed together and she looked up at me with those childlike eyes, her lips parted and puckered. The moonlight through the single bedroom window illuminated her face, draining it of all color—her skin was like alabaster, her lips ash—but it also could have been the phone cord I’d loosened from around her neck.
I shake my head. “No, you’re wrong. It is I who am sad.”
“What happened to her?”
“Lust,” I say, but I can’t bring myself to tell her of the other man. The one who left Jane lying in my bed when their rough role playing tragically backfired. I can’t tarnish the chastity of the spirit that fills my shop today. The woman waits for me to continue, but I say no more.
“Oh, well I’m sorry for your loss.” She bows her head, thanks me for the doll and hurries out of the door.
I look longingly after her. Jane was never mine to keep or lose. I was one of many men, but I like to think I am the last, because I stayed behind and guided her into the afterlife, into my shop, where I keep her alive in her wood carved replicas. I look down at the newborn Jane in my hand and decide to give her the red skirt and pink bow and fishtail braid. It is my fondest memory of her, and the woman just bought my last one.
It is Short Story A Day May. Today’s prompt from Kylie Quillinan is “The Doll Maker.” I’m on a roll! Looking forward to what’s in store for tomorrow…