She had a family of docile, stoic dolls who spent their daylight hours in her thrall. The biggest one, Julie, was a twenty-two inch walking doll who arrived one Christmas morning dressed as a bride. Julie’s wedding dress was gathered at the waist, with deep frills at the neck and hem. She had a bunch of white and pink rosebuds tied to her hand and a long, white tulle veil hung from a rosebud halo pinned to her long brown hair.
As well as a wedding dress, Julie came with a lawn petticoat and pale apricot knickers trimmed with lace. In a separate box was a little pink ‘day dress’ for when Julie was bored with being a bride. She and Julie spent their first day together walking down the aisle. A hundred times along the hall, around the dining room table, past the Christmas tree, into and out of the hot kitchen and back down the hall. She guided Julie, her hands on Julie’s cold shoulders, shifting Julie’s weight, left and right and left again, matching Julie’s pace – one step forward stop, tilt, one step forward, stop, tilt, another step forward and another, on and on through all of Christmas, but Julie never learned to walk by herself.
Patsy was her baby doll who came with a bottle and a plastic pacifier. She put real milk in the bottle and fed it to Patsy who peed milk into a nappy her mother had cut from a scrap of flannel. Some of the milk stayed inside Patsy and went sour and she smelled bad. Her mother pushed Patsy into the bath and they both watched as little bubbles sprang from Patsy’s mouth and the hole in her bottom. Her father squeezed as much water from Patsy’s rubbery body as he could, and shook her until she rattled, her blue eyes opening and closing like the shutters of Grandapa’s box brownie camera. When her father had shaken enough water out of Patsy’s smelly insides, he left her draining on the edge of the bath. She wasn’t allowed to comfort or play with Patsy, who sat alone and naked in the cold bathroom, periodically tilted, shaken and squeezed to extract more water. Eventually she was allowed to dress Patsy and take her to bed; after that Patsy was put on a starvation diet and could drink only water from her tiny bottle.
Sometimes she made Patsy have a bath with her. She’d hold Patsy under the water and watch the twin columns of bubbles float up from the holes at either end of her body. Patsy’s stony eyes would stare back at her through the soapy water.