Fortune could be so cruel. She had been a real beauty in her day; rosy cheeked, blue eyed, with hair of strawberry gold. A sun bonnet, a crisp blue and white striped dress, two dainty white booties, she had had them all. People, women and children especially, had passed her by and paused to look at her. She could see how they longed to hold her, to touch her dress, to stroke her silky hair. They looked at her with such wanting, and it filled her with pleasure and pride, exciting her beyond measure. That had been when she was new.
She had long since learned that it was not her that they had coveted, but rather her newness. She had possessed this quality then and they had adored her for it. Those had been wonderful days, when she shone bright and clean behind a wall of plastic. No one had dared handle her roughly then. The desire of these passing strangers had awakened desire within her, and soon when they stopped and admired her she wished that they would take her out of the box and clasp her to their breasts. She yearned for them to stroke her hair and touch her dress and cradle her in their arms.
One day a woman with soft white gloves fastened at the wrists by tiny pearls had stopped and smiled at her. Then, joy of joys! The woman had lifted her box from the shelf and carried her away to the man with the black mustache who sometimes dusted the shelves. As the woman carried her away she caught a glimpse of many other beauties behind plastic. They lined the shelves, some smaller, some larger, all watching her leave their ranks with apparent envy. It made her giddy inside.
In the woman’s home she met her first disappointment as the lady left her in the box and did not take her out and hug her as she had supposed would happen. She consoled herself with the woman’s charming smile, and the way she held the box and looked at her with such immense satisfaction. Then the lady put her in a dark closet and left her there for a few days. They were a terrible few days in which she thought that the woman must not have liked her at all. It seemed that she must have thought her so unattractive that she should be shut away in darkness where no one could ever see her again. But after those few days the woman took her out of the closet and smiled at her again and her fears were eased for a moment before the lady wrapped her box up in brightly colored paper. She was once again encapsulated in darkness and suspected that the woman was very unsatisfied with her and it depressed her very much.
She was carried away and heard so many strange sounds during the travel and wondered what was happening and whether she was still with the woman or not until the noise reaching into her dark cell was a positive uproar. She was set down and left stationary for quite awhile and she listened with a certain degree of fearfulness to the din outside. Then suddenly the paper was torn and she was abruptly blinded by the brightness of the world. As her vision came into focus it was the face of a little girl that peered down at her through the plastic. The girl beamed, and shouted,
“Oh! She’s so pretty!”
“Thank your Aunt Gertrude.” Another woman’s voice commanded and the child complied with a sugary sweet,
“Thank you aunt Gertrude.”
And she heard the woman who had first worn the gloves with the pearls say,
“You’re welcome darling.”
Then she had been set aside where she could see a number of children sitting around on a green rug and the little girl continued to open more brightly colored parcels. Each time she was reminded who to thank and then she would deliver another mechanically sweet,
And some little girl would smile and say, you’re welcome, or a little boy would stick out his tongue or blush. Then at last they had all gone away and sang and it wasn’t until much later that the girl had returned and opened the box and taken her out.
How to describe that first moment, as the box opened and she felt her spirit whirl like a dozen butterflies and then hot little hands had gripped her, and at last, at long last, she had been hugged. She was pressed against a beating heart and listened to its rapid thumping.
And after the girl had been helped into her pajamas and had brushed her teeth she had been tucked into bed, and who was tucked in beside her? Who was snuggled and cradled in little arms? Who listened to a child’s breathing grow quieter and slower until it was a soft rhythmic whisper and then listened to the heartbeat slow and join the chorus of sleeping sounds? That had been the best night of her life. She had been so happy. That was the first night that her newness began to be rubbed away.
The rest of it was stripped rapidly from her in the following days. She was taken into a garden and made muddy during a tea party with a stuffed bear. A shoe was lost during that same trip. Then her clothes had been stripped from her, and with horror she watched as they were placed on another, another whose face was already dirty and whose hair was already matted and who sneered at her after she was clothed in her dress. She was given something else to wear, something ripped and torn. She was spanked for being a bad baby who cried too much and was pushed under the bed. She was taken into a bath after which her hair lost its silky shine. Her head was pulled off another time and had to be put back on by mother, and another time she was even forced into a sexual encounter with the stuffed bear she had met at that first tea party.
There were moments when she felt a glimmer of that first happiness, when the girl hugged her again and seemed to love her. More often she was subject to every sort of humiliation that a child can contrive for a play thing, or simply neglected entirely.
Years passed by. She could not have said what had become of her shoes or her dress. A new baby doll wore her bonnet. She lived most of the time in darkness somewhere, under a bed, in a closet with other sad things.
Then one day a smaller child with big blue eyes had stumbled into the girls room and found her under the bed. This child was more of a baby than a little girl, but for the first time in a long time she felt a glimmer of happiness as the little creature rescued her from the gloom beneath the bed and cooed at her and giggled and sucked on her hands. When this child was put down for its nap it held her tightly and nearly never let go of her after that. She still saw the girl from time to time, but she was never bothered by her again. The littler blue eyed girl loved her now. As the blue eyed girl grew up she attended more tea parties and was given different dresses to wear. Mothers help was enlisted to clean her plastic skin of grime. The games were gentler than they had been with the first girl. Most nights she was kissed and tucked in bed beside the blue eyed girl. All in all it was a nice time and as the blue eyed girl grew and was home less, she was given a place on a shelf and no longer was played with or carried to bed. During that time though, she was safe and clean and given a place where she could see the comings and goings of the blue eyed girl until one day when blue eyed girl was much taller she left and never came back.
That had marked the definite end of newness, although in truth it had already worn off some time ago. Mother put her and many others in boxes and they were all sent away. She fell into the hands of several children after that, none quiet as kind as Blue Eyed girl had been and a few nearly as cruel as the first girl. Head on, head off, clothes on, clothes off, in a box, out of a box, under a bed, in a box, out of a box. But none of the boxes that she was put in during all that time was ever like the first box with its plastic window that could protect her. At last she passed out of the hands of children all together.
Then she lived in a musky old shop in an antique baby buggy with a handful of others. It was a retirement home for things whose newness had been done away with long ago. Everyone had been cleaned. Everyone had something to wear. Now sometimes people passed by as they had done in the very beginning and paused to look at her, but never with the longing that she had seen in their eyes in her youth. Now they looked with curiosity or sympathy and occasionally with something like fear. She had been a real beauty in her day; rosy cheeked, blue eyed, hair of strawberry gold. Now she was faded. Now she was among those things which had passed far beyond the interest of the young and lively, but just because they no longer wanted her, it did not mean that she no longer wanted them. Despite all of the pains that had bit at her heart, she still longed to be held, longed to have someone touch her dress and stroke her hair, just once more.