The china doll was an unexpected gift; brought home and thrust into my reluctant hands. Knitted clothes and real human hair; matted and glued on. The blue glass eyes rolled back and forth in her hard cold head; staring at me, her new owner. How many other little girls had received this gift and how many had been scrutinised by those empty, lifeless eyes?
The evening of her arrival she sat watching me, her eyes roamed over my modern world, distant and judging from the far away day of her Victorian creation.
A cloying smell of damp and moth balls hung about her. Despite my protests she accompanied me upstairs that first night. Sitting there at the foot of my bed I could feel her eyes searching for me in the darkness; I couldn’t sleep.
I was told she was worth money; nobody keeps old china dolls anymore. I knew why; I didn’t want her either.
Morning brought the relief of school and escape from her frozen gaze, but I thought about her all day; distracted.
Mum collected me; all she talked about was the china doll. The old lady had found some clothes for her which she had packed in the tiny leather suitcase Mum held in her hand. I could change her into something pretty when I got home.
Mum worked for a lot of old ladies; she went in a few days a week to do their housework. Before I started school I would go with her. Some ladies I liked, especially the one with the pet robin which would sit in the bush by her window and sing all day. Some of them were scary.
I had only met the china doll lady once. She was petite but round. Sparse white hair clung to her head like swansdown; her face dusty from the liberal coating of face powder which she regularly applied with a faded powder puff. But her eyes were the dolls eyes I was sure of it.
When we got home I ran to my bedroom with the scant hope that the doll had left of her own accord, but there she sat waiting. I knew what I had to do; the following day was Wednesday, the day the dustmen came.
I waited until Mum was busy and creeping into the garden I slowly lifted the dustbin lid. The small leather suitcase went in first; then, and not without some enjoyment, I swung the china doll by the leg and launched her in. Her head cracked against the side of the metal bin and a smile of satisfaction spread across my face as I sealed her fate by quietly replacing the dustbin lid. Tomorrow she would be gone.
Wednesday morning came and no one mentioned the china doll. In the safety of school I constantly checked my watch; the bins were emptied at lunchtime. By the afternoon I was confident she had gone and when Mum came to collect me I’d almost forgotten her.
Skipping into the garden I peeped in at my rabbit; his friendly pink eyes blinked back at me. I had some carrots for him in the shed. Swinging the door open I bent to reach for them, but there was something on the floor in front of me. In the gloom I couldn’t quite make out what is was so I pushed at it with my foot; I remembered the day my brother had brought a snake home in a sack. Hissing Sid had lived in the corner of the shed until Dad plucked up the courage to evict him.
I gently kicked at it, testing for any signs of life; listening for the tell-tale hiss of Sid’s return. Horror. Tiny china fingers clawed towards my prodding foot and a small blue eye rolled like a marble before it settled against the bag of carrots and seized me with its accusing glare. Screaming I ran.