1. Stop and listen. I have a hard head but my heart is soft and warm. If only you would stay and listen to me. You people, always walking past so quickly and never looking down to see the tiny things of beauty. Someday someone will stop and listen to me. And do I have a story to tell. No, I am not empty headed at all. Take a deep breath. You will need it, because you will suck in and gasp and laugh and be angry but you will not breathe again until this story is complete.
I know about love. Once pressed so close to a heart that it beat for me as well, I was crushed at my waist and bent against the breast of the one who loved me and rocked me to sleep. Of course I am always suspended in that state between sleep and life, but she would sleep, and I would lie in her arms and sing to her, my hair matted into hers. They say I can’t feel pain, but what do they know? I can feel love. Warm and strong, I was pillowed by love, and that love kept me safe. I thought forever, but forever is here. Buried deep, tree roots tangling round.
2. Love held me but fear held the one who loved me. We trembled together silently but with such force that it shook off my leg. Yes, right off, and there it sits, just a few centimeters from the rest of me, but impossible to reach. It doesn’t hurt, of course it wouldn’t, but I miss my love. Those hugs squeezed my chest to my back, forcing the life out of me and pressing love in. Those whispers called me secret names, “Sweet Baby,” and “Little One.” Those soft hands tussled my hair. I miss that – who needs a leg?
3. The bad times started with a fall into the dirt. My love tried to grab me, but missed. My leg had already fallen off, there was less of me to grab. Mothers don’t lose babies. Still, it happened. I’ve been here ever since, though things have slowly changed. My hard head is still attached, thank heaven, it seems to be sewn on tight. All my parts are here, but they lie quietly jumbled, and getting dirtier by the minute. Oh, that was funny. Like minutes matter here.
Let me tell you how things have changed, it’s quite amazing. Over time all things change, and not just the ones you count on to move forward and take their proper places. Spiders re-spin tattered webs to catch a quick bite. Melting snow slides off the frozen ground, gathering in slushy rivulets. Happens every year. The jealous moon ambles in front of the sun and crowns her with a fiery tiara – happens once in a while. They say she would have left me anyway, she would have outgrown me, I am too simple. But I know she loves me still. I can feel her thin arms around me and hear her croon, “Sweet Baby, mama loves you.” That was the best of her, the warm voice that spoke to soothe my heart. She may have put me aside of her own will one day, but she would always have loved me.
I tend to ramble, you can tell. Here, time means less than anything. It trundles along and pays no attention to what happens within its phony borders. But let me tell you my story. Lots of creatures came to play with me, annoy me. Ants tottered over my face and worked like mad to please their languid, sexy queen. A few worms sluiced their slick bodies over mine. A troop of chattery beetles knocked their heads against my remaining limbs. The sinuous twist of roots tickled around me. Wetness, dryness, over and over. Snow and heat in their times. An occasional nervous butterfly pranced above my head, and grasshoppers scuttled along my spine with their probing legs.
I used to hear rabbits thump secret warnings to each other, “Look out, badger just ahead, get to your babies and I’ll get to mine. With luck, we’ll feast again tomorrow eve on these purple thistles.” Squirrels, “Get that nut, pick it up, stuff it in, run, run, run, up the tree, turn, turn, look out below, this nut is mine, ho ho.” Squirrels can go on forever. The same few clipped phrases are the engine to their whole life, nutty verse eternal. Birds. Whistling as they labor, poking their pointy snouts into every rotted nook, dragging the screeching larvae from their tree-skin nurseries, snapping berries off any branch that dares to array itself with fruity red and purple pearls. The insects with their incessant cranky prattle and buzz are the most verbose. Not profound at all, just windy with words. They threaten with clatters what they cannot reach with size while they chomp and chew. I call them insect drums. Whistle and sing, they did, feathered and furred and armored forest divas. After a while they all left me alone. I still listened but they ignored me.
One day those sounds went away and when the sounds returned, they had changed. The thunder of occasional bison shuddering nearby used to frighten me, but this newer sound was thicker, full of its own threat. It was the sound of shoes, a woman’s tamp, tamp shoes, being chased by stomp stomp boots. Brooding, jealous, determined boots that curdled my heart. There was less a beating human heart that marched those boots than my own sewn one in my muslin chest.
What really startled me was the thick red ooze seeping over me. Covered me like oil, sticky, and smelling first of iron, later a fetid reek. I could also smell my love then, hello you sweet thing, where have you been, gone so long. I knew you’d come back for me. You smelled good even through the rancid slick gunk that blushed my painted cheeks and stained my dress rusty red. And oh, it had been such an eternal shade of blue, like the midday sky after rain, but now it will be this dirty red forever. And forever, now I know, is such a long time.
4. Eons have passed. Though how would I know? The sounds I used to hear have returned, but they will never be the same. Bugs and birds can’t think or remember as I can, so they returned to the woods and got down to business like they had never been interrupted, building their cities of dirt and leaves, eating each other, having sex like there was no tomorrow, and never a word of reflection or regret. But I had settled into a smothered silence, my hard head ringing with the sounds buried beside me. I could hear her cry, an adult voice now, but still hers, at the same moment as I heard the hot metallic shrieks, just before my blue dress changed to red. After a while, the brutal shock of ravagement reduced to a throb that flushed through me. I have a story to tell, but what soul could really hear these sounds? I’ve tried to make new words to describe the sounds I once heard, those feelings they say I can’t sense. But I have no capacity for language. Here I lie, my hard head tipped into this earth, my red-ruined dress reduced to broken threads, more memory than modesty. I think I’ll sleep a while. Many years at least.
5. Alarm! Human voices…so close to me. I hate lying in the dirt. My porcelain face is smudged with it. I can feel my cheeks craze with the aging of old glaze. It would be glorious to be rocked again in the arms of my love. Too many years I’ve waited alone under the roots of the trees. Shh. Listen.
“What’s that, Pawel? Did you find something good?”
“It’s a hand, a glass doll’s hand. Poking out of this old box.”
“Let me see.”
I hear him grunting, unh unh, the sound of wild pigs snuffling at the ground. He tugs and I am lifted out of the box.
“Well, look, it’s a whole dolly. Oh, almost.”
Ow. Gentle, please. You don’t have to yank so hard. I have tender places.
“Be careful, you dolt. You knocked off its leg.”
“You can have it, Krystyna. It’s a girl’s toy anyway.”
“Poor little dolly. Not glass. It’s china, I think, and stuffing. How did you get here, little doll?”
“It’s filthy. No wonder someone threw it away, out here in the woods.”
“I bet someone dropped it. A girl would never throw her doll away and leave it behind. It’s like her baby.”
Krystyna knows girls. I was someone’s baby.
“So you think a girl would never throw away her baby but might drop it?” the boy, Pawel, asks.
It is so quiet. Please talk about me again.
Krystyna says, “A girl would never leave her baby. Someone must have taken it from her and thrown it away. Look at its dress. How ugly.”
“Is the dress red or blue? I can’t tell. Ugly anyway. Maybe she tried to dye it.”
“My God, it’s blood. Dried blood.”
Oof. The girl drops me back onto the dirt in the woods. This has been done before.
“Krystyna, you’re too old to think that a doll could bleed.”
“Idiot. It isn’t doll’s blood. It’s human blood.”
Quiet as loud as gunshots, and I have heard gunshots. Chills track their arms. I see the tiny bumps creep up to their shoulders. They shiver, even though people would say that today it is warm.
The boy speaks, “We should just leave it where we found it.”
“Let’s go, Pawel. I want to wash my hands.” Krystyna turns away. “Ghosts,” she whispers, but perhaps not loud enough for Pawel to hear.
“If only a doll could talk,” he says as he follows.
You didn’t even ask. My name is Hendyl.
This is a deleted excerpt from my unpublished book, The Inlaid Table, which placed in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition.