Good Friday to you all, my friends. I've got some tea and I'm chugging along on the caffeine-soaked highways of thought and whim to bring you another response to Chuck Wendig's most recent flash fiction challenge
. Last week, we toyed with fractured fairy tales
. This time, the Wendigo gave us 5 titles to play with. They are:
“The Monkey’s Pageant.”
“The Black Lighthouse.”
“Bright Stars Gone To Black.”
“Plastic Dreams & Doll Desires.”
Take one of the five titles OR re-arrange these titles to create a new one without adding any words. Tell a story with that title in 1000 words or less, any genre will do.
I like all of those titles. I think in their own way each is evocative. But none pulled me in. I had leanings toward a few, figured out what it was pulling me to them and decided to combine those elements. Pandora gave me some Tom Waits and Squirrel Nut Zippers as the soundtrack. Made for interesting flavors.
So, I come to you with ...
The Dead Doll Dreams
by Jamie Wyman
Barb’s hips bang against the walls of the narrow hallway as she staggers to the bedroom. The second she plops onto the bed, the baby begins to squawk, his cries warped and modulated through the electronic monitor.
“Not again,” Barb whines.
The baby answers with a more urgent ululation.
Barb’s hands fly to her ears and she shuts her eyes tight. Wrenching her head from side to side, she tries to shake away reality like a dog shakes off water. “No. Not now.”
Her son cries louder.
“Noooooooo,” she howls.
The baby cries louder and she can just picture him, his tiny, stubby hands groping in the air and that angelic face contorted into something hungry and pestilent. With a weary, frustrated growl, Barb bounces up from the bed. Kicking the nightstand, she sends the baby monitor to the ground along with a lamp, a paperback romance and a couple of empty Monster cans.
It never ends. She’s always up, always needed, never alone, never her own. She can’t sleep. She can’t eat. She can’t shit without someone coming after her. Never a moment’s peace. If it’s not the boy, it’s his father. If it’s not the phone, it’s the stove.
“Just stop!” she shouts, tearing at her hair.
She throws open the closet door and slams it shut behind her. The sounds of the baby disappear, too small to pierce the clothes and articles of her former, simpler life. This is a secret garden. This is Shangri La. This moment of solitude is bliss.
Barb takes a deep breath of the silence, but gets only a whiff of bile and dried sweat. She can’t remember the last time she showered and makes a mental note to change that.
But why? What’s the point? she thinks.
In the wan light of the closet, she catches a glimpse of herself in the smudgy full-length mirror barely clinging to the back of the door. She’s surrounded by a piss-yellow haze, and there is a stripe of fresh vomit on her shirt. Disgusted, she peels away the shirt. Her breasts are soft, nipples red and swollen from all the feedings. Her skin puckers and sags around her navel.
“What happened to you?” she asks the reflection. That woman is a fucking mess. Her oily hair is in tangles the color of dishwater. Wasn’t there a time when she was golden? Radiant? It wasn’t so long ago that Barb stood on a dance floor, her highlights piled on top of her head in a gorgeous blend of spunk and elegance. Those had been carefree nights. Nights with Nick Cave on the juke box and Jack in her hand.
Barbie had lived a different life. That life now hangs limp as a suicide in the back of her closet. Her little black dress relegated to a garment bag. No more strappy sandals or lace panties. Loud rock tunes and silent bubble baths have evaporated, replaced with Baby Einstein and rushed showers.
She crumples to the floor in a heap of tears and grimy flannel pants. If she listened carefully, she’d hear that her son wails in harmony with her. Neither of them expected this. Both were wrenched from a comfortable version of life and pushed into an all new experience. Both flounder in the aftermath. Pregnancy weeks are like dog years. In those nine months, Barbie aged a decade.
Barb reaches for something to dab her eyes and wipes her face on the dress. That dress. She’s on her feet in an instant, shucking off the pajamas and slinking into the red dress. The woman in the mirror is a far cry from the siren who wore it last.
But she doesn’t see the snarled hair or sallow skin. She doesn’t see how the fabric bunches at her hips or how her breasts stretch the plunging neckline. All she sees is the reflection of her former self. The woman in the mirror is neither wife nor mother.
Barb loses herself in the crimson dress. In the tight closet, she dances to music only she can hear—a driving, techno bass that gets her frenzied. Though she is alone, she is on a floor full of people, surrounded by strangers who want nothing of her but her body heat, her breath mingled with theirs. Her bare feet trace small spirals as she twirls from partner to partner, grinding until her little red dress is soaked with her own sweat and desperate need.
Fingertips graze the back of her neck—her own or those of an imagined lover?—and she swoons with the desire to just be touched. She conjures a voice in her head.
Come with me, he says. He sounds like an actor, or like her husband. She turns to look at this figment. The smile is like the one she married, but the eyes are Hollywood. She returns the grin, playing the coquette. Come away, he urges.
Barb bites her lower lip and dips her head. “I can’t,” she says.
And like that, the moment is over. She’s just a dirty woman in an ill-fitting dress. She takes it off, slides back into her pants and puts on a fresh shirt. When she leaves the closet, she goes into the bedroom and lets her son latch on for his next feeding. And as she rocks him to sleep, Barb settles into her skin. It’s a little more comfortable when the baby cuddles her, his sweet breath against her cheek.
She loves him. For all the twists and turns her life has taken since he entered it, she loves her baby and wouldn’t leave him for the smoothest smile on the screen.
Barbie drifts off in the rocking chair and her dreams whisk her off to solace.
As for the red dress? It’s rumpled. Stuffed in the back corner of her closet.
And who has time for that?
Author's note: This is not at all what I expected to write when I chose the title. I expected something dark and macabre, something with skeletons and decadent visuals. What I got was a glimpse into the quiet horror of postpartum depression. If you had hoped for some dark fantasy, I apologize that you didn't get it. I almost didn't post this, to be honest. Worried that it was too real. Not funny. Too much of a downer. But that's part of the problem for women like Barb, isn't it? They don't have a place to talk. And that's part of what we writers do. We shine lights in dark places and hold a microphone for voices that don't get heard.
While this is not autobiographical or a depiction of someone I know, it could be. I went through my own struggles with PPD after my daughter was born (almost 7 years ago! how the hell did that happen?). At one point I told my husband to leave me and our daughter to go be with someone else. I honestly felt that he would be better off with another woman. Thankfully, he thought I was joking and we're still together. (And the person I told him to leave me for? Transitioning genders. So that would never have worked.) Anyway, what I'm saying is that I guess I'm glad I wrote this today because postpartum illness *is* overlooked. Hell, I didn't even realize I was going through it until it was over and I looked back and said, "Wow, I was fucked up." So yeah, I guess this is my PSA moment when I say please take care of the women in your life. Know the signs, watch for them and just be there. Thank you for reading. -jw