Much like myself, Meeko is an only child. She tells me her younger years weren’t especially lonely, however. The lack of siblings didn’t bother her, as she never missed what she never had. She was pretty, and popular, a magnet for romantic gestures and those wishing to be blessed by her kind heart, yet she never had many friends. Her family moved around due to her father’s work. He was a construction worker. Made a fair bit, too, by all accounts. The most they stayed in one place was a year. Two at most. Then her father died, and her mum became something of a recluse, taking Meeko out of school and educating her at home. This prompted her to begin collecting dolls. Not as a substitute for friends, but as a way of feeling alive before the eyes of others.
“I wanted an audience without the conversation.”
It’s a relatable sentiment. For myself, and probably many others.
“They watched over me. Made me feel appreciated. Desired. And I didn’t have to keep them amused or entertained. They kept their gaze regardless.”
In the years since we first met, she’s toned down her need to collect more, but refused point-blank to get rid of them. The prettier, more expensive ones she keeps on display in our bedroom, while the others are in dozens of boxes scattered around the apartment with the fuckers inside trapped in silence. When I’m awake at night, and Meeko’s sleeping next to me, I sometimes think I can hear them calling to me—begging me to set them free. When I’m somewhere between day and dream, I hear their tiny porcelain fingers scratching the battered cardboard—their little mouths opening and closing as my name lingers upon their dusty lips. I’ve told her we could get a fair bit of money for them if we take them to a doll dealer, but she’s adamant they stay with us.
“They were with me when no one else was. It would be betrayal if I sold them.”
“They’re not real though,” I say, “it’s not like abandoning a pet.”
“They are real. My daddy said so.”
I let the subject drop. You can’t argue with her when it comes to her old man. Not that I would want to, that is. Shifting my gaze from the ceiling to several boxes piled high in the corner of the room. I imagine the dolls inside whispering among themselves. To my knowledge, the boxes have remained unopened for several years. Just think of all the time they haven’t seen the light of day; of being trapped somewhere mere inches away from the one they love. Fidgeting, I bring my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around my shins. She’s still singing and laughing in the bathroom, but quieter now. Must be fixing the dog’s bloody paws. Rocking back and forth like a turtle stranded on its shell, the beer in my belly swishes about making me feel sick. I don’t stop, though. Nor do I cease thinking about the dolls or her family. Meeko has a strained relationship with her mother—they speak on the phone once a month, and that’s it—but her father is a constant force in her life despite him being dead for many years. The way she speaks about him, you’d think she last saw him only the other day, which isn’t too far from the truth. She says he visits her in her dreams each night without fail. When I hear her talking to him in her sleep, I have to say it’s the most uncanny thing I’ve ever witnessed.