When I was a little girl, I had a Barbie doll.
It was a gift for my sixth birthday. My mother had scraped together just enough money to buy it second-hand from the local thrift store. It was in pretty good condition, considering the circumstances of its purchase; the plastic blonde hair only slightly ratty and the makeup pigment mostly intact. Well-loved, my mother had said. Nothing a little conditioner and nail polish can’t fix.
And fix it, she did. She fixed most things. Everything.
I loved that doll, idolised it, in fact. There isn’t a single picture for the next five years where I didn’t have that doll clutched in my little fist. Of course, by the time I outgrew the years of playing with dolls, Barbie was looking a little worse for wear. Instead of tossing it away, it was tucked in a box of things from childhood-past to be stored in the basement (Mother had insisted I keep that doll for my children someday; she was sentimental like that). I traded my dolls for a cell phone, later a computer and textbooks. The time for playing was over.
Life isn’t fantastically plastic.
Years passed, and I forgot about my Barbie doll. Life became less about Dream Houses and finding the perfect Ken, and more about barely making rent on my too-expensive apartment and spending too many nights on disastrous dates. At least I got a free meal out of it, right? Except for that one time my date up and left, excusing himself with an over-the-shoulder “work emergency.” Is that what we’re calling booty calls nowadays?
But no matter now. One of those dates worked out. Still working out, as a matter of fact.
Recently, my mother decided to move into a group home. To cut costs, she explained. So she cleaned out my childhood home, selling off and dumping furniture and stuff alike. The other day she dropped off a box of my belongings that she’d had stored in a cardboard box, now musty with age.
It’s taken me weeks to get around to going through it. But, today, in between the hectic work schedule and sporadic dinner dates, I finally have an opportunity to unpack my childhood memories. The first thing I see when I rip up the packing tape and unfold the cardboard flaps is my beloved Barbie doll. Even after all these years, she still has that beauty queen smile and crystal eyes. I can’t say much for the faded makeup, outdated outfit, and more holes than hair, but there she is.
I gingerly place her on my meagre bookshelf. She’s so tragically beautiful; clearly, time and my childhood temper tantrums haven’t been kind to her, and yet she is still so plastically pretty. I turn my back on the bookshelf and continue rifling through the dusty box; there’s my high school yearbook, the strip of pictures from a trip to the fair with an old boyfriend, even the diary I’d kept from my middle school years—
I look down and see my Barbie doll lying face-up on the floor, her eyes blank as she stares up at me, next to my feet. I reach down and pick her up, smoothing her hair (what little she still has, anyways) back down. Must not have been balanced properly, I think to myself. Barbies are infamous for their top-heavy heads, I smirk, even if they’re hollow. I replace her back on the shelf, this time leaning her against an artfully positioned stack of books. I hesitate after I place her, my hands stretched out, ready to catch her, should she fall again. When she doesn’t, I turn back to the box of knick-knacks, finding the necklace I thought I lost at the beach so long ago.
I continue digging through the box, finding the collection of fairy tales my mother used to read me to sleep. I smile nostalgically and run a hand over the worn cover and turn back towards the bookshelf, ready to find its new home.
Then I notice Barbie’s head rotate.
I startle, dropping the book in the process, and stare at her. I’m almost certain she was positioned facing the front door; but now, she is staring directly at me. I quickly reach out and turn her away, laughing under my breath.
“Fucking scared me…” I pick up the book once more and straighten, only to drop it again. “What the FUCK?”
Barbie is standing, still staring at me, and leaning against the stack of books.
I squint my eyes closed. “This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy. Barbie is not moving.” I open them. Nope. Still standing. Still staring. “Damnit Barbie,” I whisper, removing her from the bookshelf and preparing to put her back in the box.
“HI, I’M BARBIE!”
I scream and drop her in the box, my back hitting the bookshelf. In the silence between my panting breaths, I start to hear whispering. It’s coming from the box. I creep closer, allowing my eyes to peer in and look at the dishevelled contents. The whisper is clearer now.
“Well you turned out ugly, didn’t you? Should’ve known, with a nose like that. What a pity. And that haircut. Jesus Christ, haven’t you ever heard of hair product? What’s with those bushy eyebrows? Go buy yourself a tweezer.”
The insults keep coming. From her.
“Look at that figure! What a travesty. Can’t you afford a gym membership? Maybe if you stopped eating so many goddamn cookies, your boyfriend wouldn’t be fucking your best friend. That’s right, he is. You know he is. You’ve known for quite some time. Just too pathetic to admit it to yourself.”
Her lips aren’t moving, that cheeky smile a contradiction to her cutting words.
“You know I speak the truth, you fat bitch. They should just call you the fucking Cookie Monster.”
“Stop it,” I croak, tears blurring my vision of the perfect plastic doll. I haven’t heard such cruel words since—well, since Dad left.
“Oh, I’m just getting started, sweetheart. You need me.”
“I don’t,” I choke out, so desperately trying to find my footing on shaking legs. This isn’t happening.
“Aw, are my words hurting you? Good. They should hurt. You’ve clearly let yourself go; ‘bout time you had a real wake-up call, not that bullshit your mother spoon-feeds you. She’s obligated to, you know. After all, you’re a piece of her, aren’t you? What would it say about her?”
I can’t control the tears any longer; they flow down my cheeks sore from wincing. She keeps talking, the abusive words blurring together into one basic message: you’re not worthy. I start to think she’s right.
I swipe the cardboard box off the table, my breath racing out of me in huge sobs. The box’s contents spew across the floor with the devious Barbie rolling underneath the coffee table. The malign words keep coming, seemingly without a break, growing louder and louder with each wicked word. I grab her hourglass body in a tight hand, now deaf to the screaming insults she hurls.
I march to the kitchen and stop in front of the sink.
“And what do you think you’re doing, huh? You never finish anything. Too much of a cowar—”
Flipping the switch above the faucet, I shove her head-first down the garbage disposal. A deranged smile lifts my lips as the gurgling and chewing of plastic fills my head and quiets her echoing lies.
I watch the jaw of the garbage disposal chew Barbie down, down, down—until there’s nothing left. I flip the switch off and in the silence I realise: not everything was a lie.
“Your call has been forwarded to automatic voice-messaging. At the tone, please record your message.”
“Hey, it’s me. You really should’ve picked up the phone. I’m burning your shit. We’re over.”
BIO: Rina M. Steen is currently a student at South Gate Creative Writing School working towards her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She has been writing poetry and short stories for several years now and is working on a poetry collection of her own that explores her journey with mental illness. You can find her website here: rinamsteen.wixsite.com/blog