The Dollmaker
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Call one thing another’s name long enough, it will answer."
Originally featured on 12-14-2010
As part of our series "The Benefit of Doubt: Stories Written to Explore Domestic Violence and Abuse"

We’d been at Walmart for two hours. Two hours is usually enough time for my father’s nerves to pass, enough time for the house to be empty and dark when we return. We’d maybe hear walking in the basement or moaning from the bedroom. Maybe a dull hum of machines from the garage. We’d walk carefully, knowing that the footsteps would irritate him if he was still home, irritate him enough to yell through the floor. There was not a light left on, so we shuffled through whatever was on the floor toward the other side of the room, toward the light switch. The light spread.

There were broken porcelain doll heads on the living room floor. Dozens of them. Our arms heavy with grocery bags and sweating milk jugs, we saw our tracks from where we’d walked through them. Shattered pieces of faces with detached tracks of eyelashes. The beautiful porcelain dolls that my mother had made for me, dolls that had been bought for other people’s daughters. Dolls with names. Dolls that wore dresses. Mangled. Having been thrown from their places on the mantle. There was a tiny wig on the windowsill. My mom picked up a few pieces. The hand-painted faces. Rosy cheeks and smiles. Her face was flat, but loaded behind the eyes and I felt it.

We heard his quick steps on the basement stairs. We hurriedly started putting groceries away, all his favorite foods, while he retreated to the bathroom. We heard his use of the fan, the normal whir that masks every task, even hand washing. I heard him blow his nose. Then shuffle out, tissues clutched in both hands. I was immediately sent to my room. I left the door open.

I heard his apologies. That he didn’t mean to break them, that he had just gotten mad and had immediately regretted it. That his subwoofer in the cabinet had shaken them off the wall. I heard him step forward to hold her. He said that the tiny heads that she was in the middle of painting, the ones stored in an egg carton, had been saved. I heard the squeak of the Styrofoam as he handed it to her to show her, and I also heard the carton hit the wall as she threw it. It made a sad, muffled sound, its force having been stripped by the foam, with a tiny echo of broken glass as at least one head hit the kitchen’s tile floor.

I knew that she believed that if you call one thing another’s name long enough, it will answer. So she sent my father to bed. Said that he must be feeling very nervous today, and he took his Kleenex, said that she was right, he wasn’t feeling very well. And went to bed.

My mother and I kneeled in the living room, surrounded by an arsenal of repair supplies, a garbage bag for what was gone, a glue gun, super glue, tiny bottles of paint. My mom cried a little, said that it was over five hundred dollars in damage, that there wasn’t enough time before the deadlines. We clutched the bits of heads and held them together as we willed the glue to dry. I took a tiny paintbrush and tried to paint some lips back on a doll that was missing hers, the open porcelain too raw and too receptive to color. It was like trying to fix a stillborn.

My father moaned from his bedroom. Asked for my mother. She went to him, an audible sigh in her chest as she stood, and I heard him say to her that he didn’t think that he was going to make it. That he was very sick and that she had better get ready for it. He let out an airy cough, a tiny apology. She told him it was his nerves, that of course he was going to live. She turned on the fan in the master bathroom and returned to me, knelt in the broken glass beside me.

Read More By Alice Clark

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