BIRTHDAY PRESENTS by Gary Fincke

Sixth: Her Reborn Baby Doll

Her promised sister, it wasn’t, but her mother had selected the model featuring the optional beating heart and carried the gift-wrapped baby home bundled in a blanket as if sleet had begun to slant from a terrible sky. “What will you name her?” her mother said.

“Bernadine,” the girl whispered, knowing not to say Darla, as she felt the doll’s heart pulse against her body. As soon as she kissed its face, she packed away her other dolls like winter clothes. But one morning, only four months later, when she pressed her ear on Bernadine’s small chest, she heard silence. Her mother said, “Even these babies have a spring that can stick.” The girl placed her fingers upon Bernadine’s wrist, listening to its small, demanding quiet. She didn’t cry until her mother left the room.

 

Seventh: Chatty Cathy

First, perfectly timed, Cathy said, “Now you have a friend.” For a week, the girl loved pulling Cathy’s string to hear “I love you.” When her new school was lonely and scary, Cathy, as if she knew, told her, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Sometimes, though, the girl had to tug the string ten times to hear Cathy tell her what she needed to hear. Sometimes more. One evening she wouldn’t say, “I love you.” Instead, four times in a row, she said, “Take me with you.” The girl pulled harder, but Cathy kept whining. She pulled so hard that Cathy, at last, wouldn’t talk. Like she wasn’t her friend after all. Like she never would be again.

 

Eighth: Wedding Day Midge

“Barbie’s friend, Midge Hadley, is getting married,” her mother said. The girl marched Midge down an aisle she made of a wide white ribbon. All of her old dolls sat on either side and stared like they were jealous. None of them had ever had a special day. The girl didn’t have any boy dolls, but she could imagine who would marry Midge, a boy who was taller and had the same smile, a boy who stood as straight as Midge with hair so much the same texture that he looked as if he might be her brother.

 

Ninth: Happy Family Midge

Happy Family Midge had such a fat belly that the girl barely recognized her. “Midge has been married a while,” her mother said. “She’s in the family way.”

The girl said nothing. She stared at Midge’s swollen plastic belly until her mother tapped it and said “Pull.” When the girl tugged, the belly lifted off in her hand and she found a baby curled in Midge’s plastic womb. “Now you can dress her,” her mother said. “See, there are things for your new sweetheart to wear.”

As the girl unwrapped those tiny clothes, her mother handed her a second box. “Now there’s a husband who won’t leave,” she said. “Now there will be two children because there’s an older brother named Ryan.”

 

Tenth: Her Breastfeeding Doll…

The package had one large-print sentence: “Because you shouldn’t have to wait until you have breasts before you start breastfeeding.” After the girl read it twice, she asked her mother to leave. “Of course,” her mother said, and the girl cuddled her child to her skinny chest. She examined herself in her mirror. She guided the small mouth to each nipple as if her breasts would bloom. At last, she lifted the flowered bra from the box and strapped it on. Two of those flowers would welcome that baby to suck, its mouth fitted perfectly as a lesson. She waited to sense her child’s hunger. There were fierce secrets that mothers knew. Lips and hands will want you. Tongues and teeth. She pressed her baby to a flower.

 

Eleventh: Her Look-Alike Doll

After her mother selected the photo most flattering to form the doll’s pliant face, the girl recognized her infant self. She gazed at that familiar baby, its small, resilient body. All night, as she slept with herself, she dreamt of shrinking. She asked to be photographed. She asked again, and among those faces, she looked for the one that would always best fit the body she was terrified to lose. One morning she crawled inside the closet where everything too small to wear was stored. She whimpered with her forgotten voice, stuffed two fingers into her mouth and sucked on those toys to keep from screaming.


Gary Fincke's latest collection is The Sorrows (Stephen F. Austin, 2020). His full-length and flash fictions have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, Black Warrior Review, WigLeaf, Craft, Atticus Review, Pithead Chapel, and Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-editor of the annual anthology series Best Microfiction.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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