She was a mean girl, and rapacious. Whatever she wanted, she took. And often what she wanted was mine.
She was two years older than I, and in childhood two years older meant bigger and stronger. My only defense was to hide my favorite toys and dolls from her. Inevitably, though, they would either disappear or be destroyed.
For my sixth birthday my godmother gave me a baby doll; she had a plump face, round brown eyes that opened and closed, and said “Mama” whenever I hugged her. I played with her only in my room, where I hoped she would be safe.
But one afternoon Vanessa threw open my door and caught me sitting up in bed cuddling the doll. I tried to fight, but Vanessa pushed me, and as I fell, she snatched the doll from my arms. I got back onto my feet just in time to see Vanessa, with a quick twisting motion, wrench the doll’s head off, and with a cruel, triumphant little smile hand the head back to me.
There was no use telling our parents the truth of the “accident.” Vanessa looked like an angel: creamy skin, golden curls, and wide, innocent blue eyes. She could do no wrong.
After that I avoided my sister as much as I could, escaped from home in my teens, married and moved to another state. I kept in touch with my mother, visited occasionally when I knew Vanessa wouldn’t be there, and went to no family reunions. My plan worked well for years. Until my mother’s 80th birthday.
Two weeks before the big day, my father called. “Jenny”, he said, “you must come home for your mother’s birthday. She wants you here.”
I said nothing; he continued. “You seldom see your mother, so you may not know she had a stroke last month, and she’s been quite frail since.” Yes, I knew. She’d told me herself. I resented his playing the guilt card, but I said, “I’ll talk to Bob.”
I talked to my husband that night. I’d long ago told him about my sister so he was sympathetic but thought we should go. “Your sister might have changed. You probably have, too.” I nodded, but the nod was just for the second part; I didn’t believe the first. “Look, Jenny,” he said. “From what you’ve told me, Vanessa sounds like a mean kid, but you’re both adults now, you’re both mothers. And,” he added with a grin, “we won’t stay long.”
I called my father. We’d be going to the party.
I was the only one of our small family with any misgivings. Our five-year-old, Emily, was excited about the trip; all she wanted to know was if she could bring her new doll. The doll, a bride, wore a long white satin wedding gown, a lace veil, and, Emily was delighted to discover, a white underslip, stockings and a blue garter on one leg. Like me, she loved dolls; unlike me, she could play with them unafraid.
I got through the afternoon. But as day turned to dusk, I signaled to Bob. We’d stayed long enough.
“Before you go,” my mother called to me as I prepared to leave, “would you make up another batch of iced tea?”
It was little enough, I thought. My mother had wanted us to stay for a few days, as Vanessa and her family were doing. I picked up the empty pitcher, went into the kitchen, and put up the water for tea. As I waited for the water to boil, I gathered everything I needed: tea leaves, sugar, lemons, ice cube trays. I was slicing lemons when I heard a cry. It seemed to be coming from the front room.
The cry came again, and I hurried toward the sound. As I came to the door, I saw Emily, her face pink and crumpled, her eyes filled with tears, the overflow spilling down her cheeks and staining the collar of her party dress. At the sound of my footsteps, the other child turned to face me. Vanessa’s daughter. Locked in her arms was Emily’s bride doll. On her face was a small, cruel, and mocking smile.
I’d seen that smile many times…
I still held the knife I’d been using to slice lemons. I plunged the knife into the child’s chest and watched as the smile disappeared and the white wedding dress turned red.
Barbara Eliasson has published articles and columns in the Gannett suburban newspapers, Catholic New York, Riverdale Press, Norwood News (a community newspaper), and The New York Times. She has also published short mystery fiction and is currently working on her novel, Too Many Bodies, an academic mystery.
Copyright © 2017 Barbara Eliasson. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.