By David Castlewitz
When Duffy found his wife missing, he called his son, who said, “How can that be?”
Duffy looked at his wife’s vacant blue eyes and said, “I came home and she’s missing. Someone’s stolen her mind.” He stared at the doll in the cushioned chair across from him. “Sylvia,” he ventured, and reached to touch her soft folded hands resting in her lap.
Rob let out a long sigh. “I’ll come over tonight, Dad.” His second sigh lengthened the sound of his last word.
Duffy studied his doll wife’s empty eyes. The black pupils didn’t move. The whites didn’t glimmer. No tears fell. Grief shivered his shoulders. She’d been a good companion, this Sylvia. A lively friend who’d outshone the first Sylvia, Rob’s mother and Duffy’s wife of 30 years. Naming the doll “Sylvia” had come in a moment of spite precipitated by the anger he felt after the divorce and the sight of Sylvia the person enjoying her new life. The doll, Duffy insisted, must be a happy mate, a laughing girl, not the sullen old woman the original had become.
Doll-Sylvia sparkled. Friends marveled at her sense of humor, her ability to create a pleasing dinner, converse on different topics, and contribute to every party. The human Sylvia tossed herbs and spices and meats and vegetables with no regard to flavoring, cooking times, or dining intent, but Doll-Sylvia knew better. About everything.
Duffy spent the afternoon prodding the doll. He poked her rubbery cheek, pushed on her shoulders and pinched her thighs. But she sat mute and unmoving, blue eyes vacant, eyelids not fluttering, chest not moving, fingers not twitching.
At the sound of a car outside, Duffy left the kitchen and ran across the living room to the big front window. The winter sun had set. Rob parked at the curb, but didn’t exit the car. He no longer pulled into the driveway. As Rob once put it, “I don’t live here anymore.” But more often than not, when he arrived at the curb, he sat in his car for an inordinate amount of time, as though to steel himself for a confrontation.
A sudden wind pounded the window, its chill breaching the barrier of thick glass between inside and out. And then Rob left his car, the door slamming shut. Hands in the pockets of his long coat, he rushed along the curved cement path to the house.
Duffy pulled open the door. “She’s in the kitchen.”
“Yeah. Hi, Dad. Nice to see you.”
Rob’s long legged stride took him across the polished floorboards and onto the cheap runner traversing the length of the hallway, and into the kitchen, a big space chiseled out of what had been Duffy’s den, an enclosed back porch and the original kitchen. The first Sylvia wanted a grand palace of a room, one big enough for family breakfasts and daily suppertime get-togethers. Duffy put off giving her any piece of that for as long as he could. They had only the one son, not a large assortment of babes and tots and youngsters to feed.
“We could’ve adopted. We could’ve been a foster family,” Sylvia often complained, and added with a sigh, “We could’ve had so much more.”
Sometime after Rob left for college, Duffy gave her the kitchen she wanted. But she’d fumed about the expense, calling it a waste of money. Too much, too late, she’d lamented, red-faced in her new kitchen with the granite counter tops and island stove.
Duffy crossed his arms, resting them atop his stomach bulge, and leaned into the door jamb. Rob stood in front of Sylvia, his round chin in his hand, his other hand cupping his elbow. He tossed his heavy coat onto the back of a chair. “And this all just happened?” he asked.
“She was okay when I left. I came back and there she sat, just like you see her.”
Rob looked around the kitchen and said, “Too bad Mom didn’t get to enjoy this.”
Duffy bristled. “She could have. I did this for her.”
“Yeah,” Rob said. “She would’ve liked this.”
“I don’t know what your mother told you, but – “
“You never took care of her.”
An old argument. Which Duffy long ago discarded as part of the original Sylvia’s hysteria. She wanted anything and everything, and all for the sake of having things. When he gave her a “dream kitchen,” she tore through the house like a crazy banshee and left him.
“You know what’s wrong with your doll?” Rob pointed at the Sylvia sitting on the kitchen chair, his chubby cheeks red and his gray eyes bulging.
“Someone stole her mind. How do I get it back?”
Rob shook his head. He pulled his cell phone from his shirt pocket. “Don’t know why I try to help,” he muttered. He tapped the screen with a polished fingernail and then showed the display to Duffy.
Rob pulled the phone away. “You want a one-year or a two-year contract, Dad?” Another sigh. “Your maintenance agreement expired. That’s why she turned off.”
Duffy looked at Doll-Sylvia. “Two years, Rob.”
“Mark your calendar. So we don’t go through this again. You’ve got to renew the contract. You can see what happens if you don’t. Pay attention to these things.” He shifted from foot to foot, as though waiting for a response. Then, finally, he asked, “Anything else? DVR? House phone? Security panel?”
Duffy shook his head.
Sylvia’s eyelids flickered. Her fingers twitched. Her thin mouth moved, lips sliding against one another.
From the corner of his eye Duffy watched his son leave. “Bye,” he called.
Sylvia said, “Who’re you talking to, dear?”
“Just Rob.” Duffy looked in the direction of his departing son and murmured, “Thanks.” And realized, even a doll-wife required maintenance.
- - -
While I've enjoyed an exciting career as a software developer, with some leading-edge endeavors that kept things interesting if not always profitable, my true love is SF and Fantasy, which I love to write, love to read. I've had several stories published over the past few years. Lately, I've been working on longer work, but keeping a hand in short stories when the idea and the urge can't be put off any longer. I live in a suburb north of Chicago, listen to Country music as well as Classical, ride a bicycle, and can sometimes be a TV junkie.
My web site is www.davidsjournal.com. My Kindle-published books can be accessed by visiting my author’s page:
Thursday, May 8, 2014
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