Her left arm was quite literally hanging on by a thread and would need to be stitched back together for a third time. She was missing an eye but Dolly had insisted on carrying on as-is. The doll was scuffed, dirt-caked, and battle-scarred, but she was Hannah’s Dolly.
Hannah’s daydreams were interrupted by the friendly rumble of her Dad’s car pulling into their gravel driveway. The front door burst open at that very moment and her Mommy, well-worn and well-loved apron tied around her slim waist, rushed out in greeting. Lovely though Mommy looked, and she did cut a lovely figure in the shade of the porch, Daddy had his sights set firmly on his Swingset Princess since before his car had finished pulling up. Stepping out of his car and holding his hands behind his back, Daddy trotted over to his Princess.
Hannah flung herself off the swing and hurtled toward her Daddy dragging Dolly behind her. She pulled up just short and clasped her hands anxiously in front of her. Daddy had a present behind his back, he always did, and Hannah was always excited to find out what that present was.
Innocently rocking back and forth, she waited for the moment her Daddy would relax his guard. Seeing him shift his weight back on his heels she darted her arm forward, reaching for the surprise hidden behind his back, hidden just out of reach. Daddy simply grinned brilliantly and took a step back, keeping Hannah’s prize just out of reach.
Hannah made a couple more fruitless attempts to gain her surprise by underhanded means before settling down and waiting like a good girl. Daddy took a step towards her and squatted down on his haunches. With a wink and a flourish Daddy pulled a loosely balled first from behind his back. Hannah stamped her feet with mock anger and crossed her arms over her chest with a huff. She could not hold onto the act very long. Delay or not, she knew her surprise was close at hand. Their dance was nearing an end.
Pausing for dramatic effect, Daddy slowly unfurled his grip. The effect was dazzling. Refracted beams of sunlight spilled a sea of colors out, broken into a beautiful display of wonderment by the fine crystal ladybug resting happily atop Daddy’s palm.
Legs spread in a low, squat stance, wings parted ever so slightly, as if warming themselves for flight, and two long, bobbing antennae that were adrift in the world around them. The little ladybug had five spots dotted across its wings. Good thing too, Hannah’s favorite number was five.
When Daddy spoke his voice was warm and jovial and loving. “I found her crawling across my desk at work and decided she’d be better suited to crawling across your little writer’s desk. Much cozier.”
Hannah grinned splendidly and, with a furious blush filling her cheeks, snapped the ladybug out of Daddy’s hand and wrapped her arms around his waist. He was, as always, an absolute abundance of suede softnesses. His tie and shirt were a soft, cool silk and his cheeks held the sweet smoothness of cleanly shorn and aftershave coated skin. Yet another good thing, Daddy had stopped shaving at one point. He had said he was growing a “beard”. Hannah had no love for the rough scrub that his “beard” had brought along with it. Her own cheeks had been red and scratchy for the rest of the day. She had told Daddy how she had felt before going to bed and the next morning he had come out to kiss her good-bye with a clean face, still slightly sticky from his aftershave.
Pushing away from their hug and beaming up at him, Hannah embraced the warm tingling that she had come to associate with hugs from Daddy. Her smile conveyed her gratitude more than her limited verbal vocabulary ever could and Daddy knew that all too well. He kissed her softly on the forehead, his own smile mirroring Hannah’s, before turning his attention over to Mommy. They hugged each other fiercely before stepping into their gorgeous Victorian sprawl, leaving Hannah with a choice between staying and swinging or going in to help Mommy with dinner.
Hannah savored the tickle of the grass between her toes for a moment more before pulling Dolly up in both hands and asking her what she wanted to do. Dolly voted for dinner and Hannah agreed. This Mommy needed help cooking dinner. Besides, the ladybug needed to be properly introduced to its new home. Blond hair shining behind her, she skipped cheerily up to her house, Dolly cradled lovingly in the crook of her arm. Tonight was chicken noodle soup night and both Hannah and Dolly loved chicken noodle soup. It had to be done right though. They would help.
The pair stopped just shy of the porch steps and looked up admiringly at their home. Three stories high, not counting the spiraling tower that rose up a story higher still, and every inch of it a well-kept model of Victorian beauty. The shingles were a deep, speckled black. The shutters, doors, and trim a smooth, glossy white. The house itself was a baby blue that absolutely delighted Hannah every time she set her gaze upon it. The house reminded her of Dolly: her black, fuzzy hair, her white frills and lace, and the powder blue dress that swam around her knees. A wooden railing, painted the same glossy white as the trim, encircled a small porch. A swing hanging from the ceiling, a pair of rocking chairs book ended by two green, ferny plants, and a small castle-shaped mailbox bolted into the outer wall of the house all occupied the porch. Their porch was a warm, inviting place and she could spend hours just enjoying the breeze.
But not today. Today she needed to help Mommy with the chicken noodle soup.
Hannah pulled open the wooden door and stepped into the broken decadence of Lindenwood’s old harbor district. The smell of fresh-cut glass sank beneath the scent of rot and sea water and then faded entirely. She stood in the main room of a long since abandoned warehouse and closed the door behind her. Straight ahead of her stood a battered wooden table and four miserably cared for chairs. Of the twenty legs present, five were propped up by assorted paperback novels, playing cards, and coasters. A ragged, moth-eaten checkered tablecloth rested upon the table and looked more desperately in need of a wash than even the floor. Just passed the dining room setup was a nearly unusable pull-out sofa. So much abuse had it taken that there was scarcely enough stuffing left to separate the cushions’ material. Looking out onto the sofa was a pair of milk cartons supporting a scuffed and scarred twenty-one inch television set that looked to have made its first run back in the late 1980’s. It was currently warning all interested parties of the latest Hollywood scandal through a patchy layer of static. Adhesive adorned rabbit ears crowned the antiquated set.
To the right of the living area was the scene Hannah was most interested in, the rusted out husk of what passed for a kitchen in Hannah’s decadent sprawl. A white oven, with more paint flecked off or peeling than remaining flush to the surface, stood next to a refrigerator that had stopped working further back than Hannah’s memory extended. A rust-lined, fist-sized hole was eaten through mildew-colored freezer door. Resting against the side of the refrigerator was a large plastic bin nearly overflowing with Campbell’s soup cans and juice boxes of assorted colors.
Leaning on the wall beside the necrotic remains of the kitchen was Mommy. Small spatter burns etched themselves up to her elbows and a handful of recently manicured nails adorned lithe fingers like jagged, broken crowns. Clinging to an equally slim body was a faded pink silk slip, an airy little number that was further ventilated by a series of tears and burns. Her face was long and very Slavic, with fair skin and high, sharp cheekbones. It was also marred by flecks smeared and caked on make-up from days past, a large purple-yellow lump on side of her mouth, and a fear that had broken her down to mere survival instincts. She was a trophy wife, not meant for such imprisonment, labor, and abuse. She had thought herself too high-class for such plebian criminals. They had no business breathing the same air as her, holding her against her will was simply unthinkable. This…this woman had taught her that no one was too high to fall.
This thirty-something woman with the battered doll and battered mind of an abused eight year-old who had taken her and her husband from their lives and brought them into the demented torment that buzzed incessantly through her own broken mind. Dirty, stringy blond hair that was falling out in thin patches fell across her cheeks and shoulders and her face was a Picasso-inspired monument to the mockery of human beauty. Her eyelids looked like shriveled and discolored skin from an apricot. Her nose was flattened from repeated breaks and gouged deeply at the left nostril. Her mouth was the worst of all, though. It was a horrific Chelsea Grin gone wrong, if such a thing was possible. The right side of her face was a ragged line of scar tissue that extended nearly to her ear, but the left side was a monstrous hack job. The line was not a thin, closed mouth smile, but rather an enormous tear that exposed the majority of the girl’s decaying teeth. Lips, cheek flesh, and even gum tissue had been torn away.
Not that any such reality mattered to Hannah anymore. She saw herself as the image of innocence, an unsoiled, unblemished eight year old girl enjoying the wonders of the world around her.
Sadly, she also saw another Mommy and Daddy who simply would not work out. It was a shame, this Daddy was so sweet. He always brought home the best presents. Hannah would be glad to be rid of this Mommy though; she cried too much and was never on-time with dinner.