Yesterday, I told you a bit about “The Bells”—the first of my two stories in Rose Caraway’s freshly released The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30. As promised, today I’m back to talk about “The Doll,” a piece that is dear to my heart in a far different way than my fascination with famous queens and historical torture methods.
This one is much more personal.
I’ve had many relationships in my life, and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying some have definitely left me more wobbly than expected once they ended. “The Doll” is a play off something I said after one such relationship—a fairly complicated affair that, in truth, both opened my mind and turned me completely inside out. It’s a love I’ve come back to a lot in my head, one that’s inspired several things and that will undoubtedly continue to do so for a long time to come.
While I’ve since healed from this relationship, the period after it ended required a ton of strength to wash it all out of my system. Over and over, I told those close to me I felt broken afterwards. I likened the experience to having finally come alive, but said that afterward I felt like a crumpled up, abandoned marionette that was no longer able to dance.
And it was from that analogy that “The Doll” was born.
I scribbled a few notes after I said all this to a friend one day, and I guess it turned out that—devastated or not—my writer brain was still working, turned on in ways I couldn’t even begin to comprehend as hurt as I was. Somewhere in my subconscious, I was crafting an image of what the experience really felt like to me.
It took a long while for me to sit down and write this story because it was so close to me, but once I did, it morphed into something I hadn’t expected. It was no longer just a story about a doll coming to life, and somehow it went from literary erotic spec fic to allegory in a matter of pages. Like “The Bells,” it came to me in a single sitting—but when it was over, I exhaled a different kind of sigh than I had for the other piece. This story was more personal, more tender, and in so many ways, incredibly healing for me to put to page.
So…there you have it: my story behind “The Doll,” one of my most favorite pieces written to date.
To celebrate its release into the world, I’d love to share an excerpt with you.
From “The Doll”:
When Asif’s ex-wife swung by to drop off his alimony check, she’d pointed at the marionette with a frown.
“You’ve got to be kidding. Another doll to add to this crap?” She’d waved her hands about the apartment lined with shelf upon shelf of handmade dolls. “You’re obsessed with fixing the fucking dolls, and you don’t make any money with them. Plus, this one’s broken.” She’d lifted the doll’s leg, quick to point out the broken strings that barely kept her right foot hinged to her ankle. “You’re ridiculous, Asif,” she’d said, and then the door had snapped shut behind her.
But Asif knew she was wrong with this one, and when he turned his focus back to the doll, he spoke to her in hushed tones.
“You’re beautiful. These breaks are what give you character.”
She seemed to nod at him, confirming what Asif already knew in his many days of watching her—she was his darling to tend to, to cherish, and to love.
In the coming weeks, Asif discovered more of Henrietta: the chips of two fingernails, ruined beyond repair, and the space above her ear where a lock of hair had been violently removed, leaving the wood beneath ragged and raw. Asif tried to heal these wounds, and when he couldn’t, he’d prop her beside him at the table and speak to her with tender words meant to coax her from inside her wooden casing. Because—despite the nails and the missing strand of hair, and the broken string that left her right foot flailing when he tried to dance her around his flat—he loved her.
“You’re real beneath that shell,” he said one night, his voice a lonely whisper as he dipped his paintbrush, and then in a painstakingly slow manner, drew the paint in delicate sweeps to fix the liner smudged beneath her eye. “I can see it, Henrietta. I can feel it. I just wish you’d know how safe you are with me.”
The marionette’s eyes struck Asif as brighter, two brown stars against her pale wooden face. He set down the brush and took her slim fingers into his, stroking them, smiling at them, and then bobbed his head with conviction.
“I believe you’re more, my love,” he said.
A rustling came through the open window then, stirring a lock of her hair, and Asif caught it in his fingers. He fondled the wisp from root to tip as though it was real. As though she was real. And when Henrietta gazed back at him, Asif heard her silent plea for more.
Quietly, he lifted his fingertips to her brow. He traced several strands of her hair, from the knots binding it into her wooden scalp and down through to the ends, and as he did her hair began to lighten and silken. Moved by this, Asif slid his entire hand into her hair. He twined his fingers with the strands and brushed them back from her face, and each ringlet followed the course of the first—the flaxen coarseness becoming shiny and free, like the satiny strands of a woman’s hair. Even the knots on her scalp loosened, the hair springing quite naturally from her head.
“You are, aren’t you?” he whispered.
The doll’s eyes sparkled.
I hope so. And I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30. It’s a collection I’m so thrilled to be a part of, and with the roster of exceptional authors in here, I’m absolutely positive you’re going to love it.
Happy reading and listening!