Mary stepped outside, breathing in the cooling evening air. She could taste the pollen from the garden’s many flowers and hear the trickle of a small water feature she thought was a waste of money but Eric fussed over like a baby. A giggle from around the corner and the sound of her daughter’s voice. Mary couldn’t make out all of what she was saying, but she knew with whom the conversation took place. She grimaced.
Mary reached into the wooden box screwed to the side of the house and grabbed a pack of cigarettes she had stashed there. Lighting one, she took a puff and looked up at the sky. Clouds were beginning to form. She glanced at the grill. It was covered. Bring the rain, she thought, the plants can use it. A frown creased Mary’s face. Those god damned dolls.
She decided on the spur of the moment to hide them in the attic that night. Sofia was afraid of the attic and the evils it concealed, and would not venture up there if her life were at stake. Once those horrors were safely locked in some box out of her daughter’s sight, Mary would breathe a sigh of relief.
“Sofia? Honey, it’s time to brush teeth and get ready for bed! Pick up your toys, please.”
Looking over toward the corner of the garden, she could just see the edge of Sofia’s playset. She raised her voice, “Sofia Ann, right now!”
There was still no answer. With a sigh, Mary took another drag on her cigarette and stubbed it out against the wall, stowing it back inside the box for later. Wiping her hands on her jeans, she walked down the few steps from the little porch and headed for the corner of the garden, hidden from view by the corner of the house. “Sofia Ann Hoffman, when I tell you to do something, you mind me.”
Rounding the corner, she saw her daughter staring with a horrible fixation at one of the dolls sitting across the table from her. Sofia’s head cocked to the side like she did when she listened to music, nodding as though the fucking thing were telling her something she liked. Even as her stomach knotted with an uneasy fear, Mary’s jaw clenched with anger. Gratefully, she gave herself to this more familiar comforting emotion. Storming up to the table she snatched up the doll and shook it, displacing some of her anger onto the wretched thing.
“If you can’t be bothered to listen to me because of this dusty old thing, I think it’ll just have to be put away fro awhile until you learn it’s more important to heed your patents than your toys,” Mary barked, covering the fear in her voice with a layer of steel. “Now, young lady, you march yourself upstairs, put on your pj’s, brush your teeth and get into bed.” She pointed to the porch and the door leading within. “NOW.”
“I’m sorry, Mommy,” Sofia said, and Mary was dismayed to see a tear squeeze out from beneath one of Sofia’s eyelids and trickle down her cheek. She got up and went to the porch and inside without looking back at Mary, head down, shoulders slumped. In that instant, Mary hated herself almost as much as she hated these fucking dolls.
After finishing the second half of her cigarette, Mary was about to get baby Rachel ready for bed, when she remembered Eric had put her down already. She would check on Rachel after getting rid of this horrid stuffed thing which was always grinning at her whenever she caught sight of its face. Then, she would wash her hands, and check on Rachel.
Climbing the stairs to the attic door, she forgot about the step in the middle that wasn’t nailed down properly, caught it with her toe and ripped the nail halfway off. At least, that was what it felt like as she stood there swearing under her breath. Once it no longer felt as though her foot were going to fall off, she hobbled up the remainder of the steps, opened the attic door and flicked the light switch. With a dazzling pop, the light bulb shorted out and the entire attic was illuminated for a split second with a strobe light’s clarity. All Mary saw was Sofia’s face, twisted in the nightmarish grin of glee as she stepped forward and shoved.
Screaming, Mary flew backwards down the stairs and landed in an untidy heap at the bottom with an audible crunch. Bones ground in her ears as she tried to scream through a punctured lung and a broken jaw. All she produced was an anguished hiss.
Sofia descended the stairs with care, stopping at the bottom to pick up Janie, dust her off and adjust her hair and skirts. Then, she looked at Mary, who was still trying to take in a breath and looking desperate. Mary held out a hand in a silent plea.
Sofia looked at Janie. Janie smiled at Sofia. Sofia smiled back at Janie, relieved and settled herself on her mother’s chest to wait. It wouldn’t be long now, Janie assured her.