The doll sits on a high shelf. So high, in fact, that most shoppers pass her by without so much as a glance. Every day she watches the tops of heads flit past, and she sighs. She often feels like calling out. “Hey!” she would cry, “I’m here! Look at me!” But the looped end of her string remains at the small of her back, and so the words will not come out.
She was pretty once, though she can’t recall the time. Her hair is still thick and dark and frames her perfect complexion. She wears a red dress of the softest fabric. Her hands are perfectly manicured, and her lashes as long and lush as they ever were. But there is a stain on the doll. It runs from her chin, under her dress, over her heart and across to the joint between her leg and her hip. It is the product of someone’s mistreatment from so long ago, but time has not faded it one bit.
Some days her only friend takes her down and dusts her off. He looks into her glassed eyes and smiles. She thinks maybe he sees something that the others do not. The warmth of his hand cupping her face reaches deep within her, and her rosy lips ache for his own. It’s these moments she lives for now, but they are fleeting and ultimately leave her feeling empty. His eyes will stray to the other dolls. Perhaps sometimes he will reach for one in plain view, as if he intends to swap them – but he never does. The doll finds herself on the high shelf again.
Early on a Monday morning, the doll hears the tinkling of the shop bell and sees a boy walk in. The clicks of his boots bounce off the walls as he walks through the room. He yawns, his eyes skimming lazily over the shelves. Finally, he comes towards her, and her heart skips a beat as she notices how very tall this boy is – how his eye line is almost level with her own. He sees her, and she knows the moment that he does. His face lights up and his hand reaches delicately for her own. His touch is unlike any she has felt before. His thumb brushes gently across her stain, but she does not flinch away. His fingers find her string and he pulls. “I don’t know how to love,” she tells him, “But I wish someone would teach me”. He is enchanted, and she watches him as he watches her. There is no one else.
He takes her home and places her on his desk. He glances at her now and again, a smile crossing his face. She knows that he loves her, so she doesn’t mind when he leaves her there alone for days. He always comes back. She watches him sleep, and though she longs to lie with him – to hear his breath up close and feel the warmth of his slumbering form – she is content.
Time passes and things change. The doll feels the difference in the boy, but she can’t explain it. One day she wakes to find him packing his things into boxes. He is hurrying, and in his haste he knocks a glass full of drink over. He does not notice as the pool of liquid spreads across the surface of the desk, finally reaching the doll and seeping into the hem of her dress. He does not see the corners of her lips turn down, and the tears escaping from her eyes. She wants to tell him, but it’s been months since he’s pulled her string.
The boy barely looks at the doll as he returns her to the shop. He hands her over and pockets the cash, and he is gone before she can stop him. She knows she will never see him again. Her old friend returns her to her shelf and she sighs. She feels the stain across her chest, looks sadly at the fresh one on her clothing and contemplates the time that she may spend in this very spot. Her life seems to stretch endlessly before her and she feels so very alone.
Who knows how long it will take for another boy to wander in off the street and find her? Perhaps it won’t happen at all. She is patient but not hopeful, because she knows it takes a very special kind to really want a damaged doll. But she will wait.