The Doll's Gifts

Originally posted July 13, 2022

There's a doll in the alley behind your apartment building. It's an old thing, limbs and mask shaped in a style that's almost old enough to be retro; in another few years it will probably be fashionable again.

It's been there for years and years, just as long as you have.

Mostly it spends its days curled up next to the dumpster.

You didn't know it was there for your first few months here, not until one of the other residents mentioned that cutting through the alley shaves a few minutes off the walk to the subway. Now you pass by it every day.

It doesn't really react to anything, but sometimes it's in a different position or staring at a different place. You still try to remember to wish it a good morning (or afternoon, or evening) every time you pass by, though.

It just feels like the polite thing to do.

Once—once!—you thought it smiled at you in reply, but maybe that was a trick of the light.

Someone leaves it a pile of chocolate gelt every year for hanukkah and weaves it a flower crown every beltane and a glass of honey and vinegar for each year's guilt. You've never seen who.

It's not a building tradition or anything; all the other residents seem just as mystified, and the super just shrugs and stares at you from behind its featureless mask.

It's still nice. Even if the doll doesn't seem to care it warms your heart to know that it's remembered.

But there are quite a lot of holidays that no one remembers it on. You've never seen it given flowers on lost-love's-longing or a stick of rosemary incense for Witch's Death or the traditional straw figurine that every doll must be offered for the year's remembrance.

They're odd omissions, really. Those are important holidays!

So you decide to. Why not, right? You've got time, and though it still doesn't react you feel its appreciation like warm light shining on your heart and see it in the bright mushrooms sprouting from its mask's cracks.

It makes you smile, even though it never does. It feels good to remember the things that the world has forgotten.

And the year goes on around you—St. Hypoxia's festival passes, and sun's-death-waiting, and the Weeping, and Midpoint Cut, and all the other marks on time's path—

Time strides along as it always does, held to its cycle only by countless pins ancient witches hammered through its legs and woven into its fabric; time passes in little movements and large discontinuities, in days that stretch too long ad weeks that pass in the blink of an eye—

Time passes up until, with no warning at all, it doesn't.

The day you realize that the doll isn't there any more stretches like syrup around you. It lingers in fruitless conversations and your frantic hunt, in the uncaring expressions of people who you can't make understand—

It drifts endlessly through your mind just as the doll drifted through its existence; an unchanging pain so easily forgotten.

There's no reason for you to care about it as much as you do; there's no reason for its disappearance to hurt. But you do, and it does.

Someday you'll stop reflexively greeting the place where the doll used to sit. Someday you'll remember to stop including it in your preparations for festivals, and someday you'll stop needing to remember.

Someday you'll forget it.

But not yet.