Archive for November, 2009

The Doll Clothes, Conclusion

November 20, 2009

Annabelle was so surprised and angry that she couldn’t move; hot tears stung the corners of her eyes. It wasn’t fair at all! Kate had promised. She would go tell Mama; Mama would make Kate keep her part of the deal.

Mama was in the kitchen, flour up to her elbows, kneading and rolling out dough for pie crust.

“Mama, Kate broke her promise! She said if I washed dishes for her she would—”


Mama spun around to look at her. Perspiration was beaded all along her forehead. “Honey, I don’t have time to listen to this right now. I’m right in the middle of making pies for the singing school this week, and I’ve got to get this done. Now run on and play, and we’ll talk about this later. Run on, now.” Mama turned quickly back to her task. Annabelle felt her words catching in her throat as she looked at Mama, her back turned to Annabelle, working the dough as if it were the only thing she could ever think about.

A sob burst from her as Annabelle raced outside. She went down to the creek behind the pasture and sat for a long time on a smooth rock under a large black oak, sobbing into her hands and feeling like her heart was about to break. Over and over again, she pounded her small fist against the unyielding stone on which she sat. Between sobs, she said, over and over again, “It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair…” The words came out of her like some kind of angry song she was singing to nobody but herself.


Finally, drained of tears, she stared blankly into the ripples of the creek and considered what she should do. She was sure about one thing: Kate was going to be sorry.

Later that morning, Annabelle found Kate seated in the shade of the big horse chestnut tree behind the house, frowning and biting her lip as she tried on Jenny a new scarf she had just snipped from a bit of chintz she had found. Annabelle had scrubbed all traces of tears from her cheeks, and she carried Susan jauntily by the waist, smiling as she strode up to Kate.

“Say, Kate, why don’t you and me go get a board out of the barn and make us a teeter-totter with one of Papa’s saw-horses? We could really have fun seesawing, don’t you think?”

Kate gave Annabelle a wary look. “You’re not still mad at me?”

“Shucks, no, I’m not mad. I’ll get Mama to make me some doll clothes sometime. Come on, let’s take Jenny and Susan and play on the teeter-totter. It’ll be fun.”

Gus wandered over from where he and Teddy had been playing with toy soldiers in the dirt by the back steps. “Can we play too, Annabelle? Me ‘n Teddy want to seesaw too.”

“No, Gus. This is girls only; no boys allowed. Me and Kate are going to seesaw, aren’t we, Kate?” She looked at Kate expectantly.

“Yes. That’s right, Gus,” said Kate, instinctively siding with Annabelle against their little brothers. “It’s gir1s on1y. Me and Annabelle are going to play seesaw with our dolls, and when we’re through, you and Teddy can play. Let’s go, Annabelle,” she said, rising and dusting the grass off the back of her cotton shift.

“Okay, let’s go.” They ran to the barn, where Papa had stacked a large pile of rough-cut oak and hickory boards, and selected a ten-foot length of one-by-twelve that suited their purpose perfectly. Each carrying one end of the board, they hauled it between them to a nearby section of split-rail fence.

“Here, Kate,” said Annabelle, handing Susan to her sister. “You hold the dolls while I get the board fixed up.” Annabelle laid the board across the lowest rail of the fence and scooted it back and forth until it seemed centered.

“All right. Kate. You can hand me Susan now, and we can see-saw.”

“Here,” said Kate, handing over the doll, “but let’s not go too high; it scares me.”

“All right.”

They began to go up and down. “This is fun, isn’t it. Kate? Don’t you like this?”

Kate smiled as if she thought so, but wasn’t real sure. “Yes, it’s… it’s fun.”

“Wouldn’t you like to go just a little higher? Not much. just a little bit. We could put the board on the middle rail and make the board go faster. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

“Well… I guess… I guess it would be okay.”

They got off the board, and Annabelle handed her doll to Kate again. She dragged the heavy, rough board off the rail, then picked up one end and set it on the middle rail. She slid it to the center and retrieved Susan. They got back on the board and started seesawing.

“Oh, this is just so much fun, Kate. I’m glad we decided to do this. Let’s go a little faster, all right? Don’t you think that would be fun?”

“All right,” Kate said, but her face said she wasn’t too sure about it. Annabelle pushed hard off the ground anyway, sending Kate’s end of the board thumping down. Annabelle soared into the air higher than before.

“Whee! That’s really fun! Push hard, Kate, and let’s go really fast.”

Gradually, Kate started to get more into the spirit of it, laughing and grinning as the seesaw lifted her up and set her back down again.

When Annabelle judged the time was right, she said, “Oh, Kate, this is so much fun, what if we put the board all the way on the top rail?”

By now, Kate had forgotten her earlier hesitation. She scooted off her end of the board and held out her hand to Annabelle to take Susan so Kate could make the adjustment. When Annabelle had hefted the board onto the top rail and retrieved Susan, she raised her end of the board so Kate could climb on. By now, though, the plank’s opposite end was too high for Kate to mount from the ground, so she had to clamber up the fence and make a careful, backward-scooting journey out to her end of the board. The coarse, unfinished surface of the wood snagged her pantaloons and Kate had to be really careful to keep from getting splinters in her behind, but she made it.

Soon she and Kate were levering each other up and down, the added height giving Annabelle a giddy, tumbling feeling in her belly with each quick ascent and drop. Annabelle watched her older sister, now with the sky at her back, now the grass of the pasture. She was smiling at Jenny, cradled in the crook of her arm.

And then, as Kate launched herself into the air and reached the upper limit of her ascent. Annabelle quickly hopped off her end of the board. Kate came crashing to the ground. She screamed and threw out her arms in an attempt to maintain her balance. Jenny flew, skirts fluttering. through the air, and landed against a rock. Her beautiful china face shattered into tiny shards. Kate landed hard on her backside. She let out a howl that made it sound like she was being skinned alive, and her cry doubled in volume when she realized that Jenny was no more.

Annabelle stood off to one side and watched, eyes slightly squinted. She felt a little bit bad, now that things had happened the way they had—but not too much, since Kate had it coming.

Mama came dashing out of the house, clutching a can of soda to treat the bee sting or whatever other hurt had prompted Kate’s howl of pain. She rushed up to the girls. Kate was yelping like a scalded dog; Annabelle was watching and waiting.

“What happened, honey? What’s the matter?”

“Annabelle… she … she made me fall … she … she did it on purpose … and … and I fell and hurt myself … and … and now Jenny’s broken!”

When she said the last part, Kate lost what little bit of control she had left; it dissolved into a gushing cry of grief and anger that sounded like it was never going to stop.

Mama looked hard at Annabelle. “Is this true? You did this to Kate on purpose?”

Annabelle looked at Mama, then away. The words came out of her in a rush.

“Yes, ma’am, because Kate promised me if I washed dishes for her last week, she would make me some doll clothes for Susan, and I did the dishes all week, and then Kate broke her promise, and … and I tried to tell you so, but you…” She began to run out of steam as she felt twinges of guilt threatening to spill in burning droplets from her eyes.

Mama stood, her hands on her hips, looking from Annabelle to where Jenny lay, her face a jagged, dark cavity surrounded by shiny brunette curls. Tight-lipped, she pondered how to remedy the situation, when a crash from inside the house reminded her she had left Teddy and Gus playing in the kitchen where she was working. Quickly she reached down and snatched Susan from Annabelle’s arms and placed her in Kate’s hands. “Since you made Kate break her doll, you‘ll just have to give her yours.” Mama wheeled about and strode quickly back to the house.

For the second time that morning, Annabelle felt a knot closing her throat. She turned and raced away, leaving Kate sniffling on the ground. She spent the rest of the day beside the creek, grieving for the loss of her beloved Susan; she felt as though Mama had ripped away a piece of her chest when she took Susan from her. She did not return to the house even for lunch, so great was the ache in her heart. She decided she’d rather stay in the woods and starve than go to the house and see Kate dressing Susan in the clothes that had belonged to Jenny.

As the evening sun came slanting through the trees and the air cooled with the breath of coming night, Annabelle decided to appeal to the only other authority she knew; she would go and talk to Papa.


“Whoa, there. Whoa,” called Papa in a low voice as the team reached the pasture gate. As Papa put his hard hands gently around Annabelle’s waist to place her on Sally’s back, he said, “What’s the matter, honey? You been crying?”


Annabelle spilled the story of the dolls in a teary-voiced torrent. By the time she finished, she was sobbing again; just telling the story made her remember how she had felt when Mama yanked Susan away from her and gave her to Kate.

Papa, the muscles working in his jaws, was looking down at the ground. After a little while, he raised his eyes, took a deep breath, and lightly flicked Tom’s flank with the end of the reins. “Giddup.” The team resumed ambling toward the barn.

When Papa and Annabelle, hand in hand, came into the kitchen, Papa said, “Clara, I want you to make sure Annabelle gets a bath tonight. Tomorrow morning she’s going into Manchester with you and me.”

Mama stared, uncomprehending. “What do you mean? Tomorrow’s Tuesday, and you’re right in the middle of plowing the corn. We can’t take half a day in the middle of the week to go into town and back.”

“Well, we’re going anyway. We’re going to get Annabelle a new doll and some cloth for you to make her some doll clothes.”

“Do what? We can’t afford that! I don’t have time … and—” Mama glanced around at Annabelle and Kate, standing wide-eyed, listening. “You girls go outside and wash your hands. Go on.”

As they left the kitchen, they could hear Papa’s low voice begin, “Clara, you get down that sugar jar and get some of your sewing money out, because we’re going to do just what I said…”

When the children, a few moments later, trooped into the kitchen for supper, Mama and Papa were already seated at the table. Papa had a hard look about his eyes, and the muscles in his jaws were working in and out. Mama was staring down at her plate, a resigned, angry look on her face. No more was said about dolls, or much of anything else, that evening.


Early the next morning, Papa came into Annabelle and Kate’s room and called out, “Annabelle! Roll out of bed and get dressed, honey. It’s time to go!” She needed no further admonition; she had scarcely slept that night. A few minutes later, she went into the kitchen where Pete, the oldest of the five children, sat at the table, yawning and rubbing his bleary eyes. Papa was giving him instructions.

“Mama’s got eggs fixed for you and the others. Make sure the little boys get something to eat, then get your hoe and start weeding the cotton along the fencerow beside the barn. Tell Kate to watch the boys and not let them get into mischief. We’ll be back by mid-afternoon. All right?” Pete nodded sleepily.

Papa held out his hand to Annabelle. “Come on, sugar. Mama’s got you some breakfast, and she’s already on the wagon. Let’s go.” Annabelle and Papa went out into the yard where Tom and Sally stood stamping and champing at their bits, hitched to the flatbed wagon. Mama sat primly on the seat, looking straight ahead and nowhere else.

Papa gave Annabelle a hand up into the wagon bed. Mama turned and handed her a Mason jar filled with cornbread crumbled into milk, a teaspoon protruding from it. Papa climbed onto the seat, picked up the reins, and flipped them. “Giddup. Let’s go.” They slowly rolled out of the yard and down the lane toward the Manchester road.

Annabelle’s mind was running around in circles for the whole ten-mile drive into town. Part of her was a little bit afraid: Mama and Papa never disagreed in front of the children. For Papa to override Mama in this way was, to Annabelle, scarcely short of a miracle. And then, she remembered why Papa had done what he’d done, and her heart felt as if it might break wide open with gratefulness.

They stopped the wagon in front of Henderson’s Dry Goods, on the dusty little main street of Manchester. Mr. Henderson, with his bushy, white beard and wearing his shopkeeper’s apron, carne out to greet them with a somewhat puzzled smile on his face.

“Howdy there. Leland. Good morning, Clara. What can we help you with today?” Mr. Henderson’s voice sounded like he was thinking of another question, but deciding not to ask it.

Mama dismounted from the wagon without a word and stomped into the store past Mr. Henderson without saying anything to anybody.

The storekeeper turned his head to watch her, then looked a question at Papa, who gave a sad little smile and a half-shrug. Mr. Henderson went back into the store .

Papa helped Annabelle down from the wagon. “You best go in there and tell Mama what you want. I’ll wait out here with the horses.” Annabelle floated into the store.


That night, Annabelle sat on the bed, still unable to think of sleep. Once again, just to make sure, she leaned over, reaching under the head of her side of the bed, and felt around in the darkness of her hiding place until her fingers traced the shape of Mary, her new doll. As Annabelle’s fingertips brushed the lacy outlines of Mary’s beautiful yellow gown, Kate, lying on her side with her face turned away from Annabelle, spoke.

“Annabelle? I was just thinking… Maybe sometimes we could trade clothes for our dolls. You know, like I could let you put some of … some of Susan’s clothes on Mary, and you could let Susan try on some of the things Mama made for Mary. What do you say?”

There was a long pause in the flickering near-darkness. Annabelle smiled to herself. “Maybe so, Kate.” Another long, quiet spell. “Maybe if you would do some of my chores…”

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So Fair and Bright (a weblog) by Thom Lemmons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License