Harry and his dolls
Fiction by Roger Shouldice.
His sister, Meg, first introduced him to the world of dolls as a young boy: their individuality; their outfits; their imagined past, present and future; their size, colour and texture; and the pure and safe feeling being with them.
Harry understood this even though, in moments of frank honesty, he knew they were only dolls and that his behaviour would be considered abnormal and deviant. When playing with dolls he was distracted, transported from the mundane and harsh reality of living to a fanciful one that was softer and simpler.
Harry preferred that reality. He lived a double life, in which the high points were those times spent in the company of his dolls. While other boys played football, chased girls, played with trains and slot cars, read, fought, strutted the stage of their universes, Harry was delightedly busy helping Meg clothe, wash, preen, hug, love, cherish her dolls. By the age of fourteen he had his own collection. It was hidden under the house, away from everyone, and only brought to his room when everyone was out. This caused problems through his teens, but he lied his way out of them.
Like the time his mother found tiny dresses on his bed. He defended himself by saying they belonged to a friend's sister, whom they were playing a trick on. He inadvertently took them home. His mother had her suspicions but didn't voice them.
By the time Harry was twenty five and entrenched in his position as a clerk at a department store, he had purchased a two bedroom ground floor unit not far from his parents'. The spare bedroom was given over to the dolls. At this stage his collection numbered around forty, and over the next twenty years the room was to be filled with two hundred more. The time he liked best was mid evening, after dinner, after the washing up, after his bath with his pyjamas on, dressing and undressing his dolls while discussing the events of the day.
These evenings, over time, fabricated a continuity of existence between himself, his living and the dolls and their living. The dolls were receptive and understanding, they stared ahead with unspoken acceptance of all he said. In Harry's world, particularly his work, their unswerving commitment and solid reality was nurturing and, at all times, an escape.
He was a little inconspicuous man and knew it. The part he took in life was insignificant; and his world turned upside down every evening by being filled with the joys of uncomplicated and warm interaction with the dolls. The dolls were not dolls, they were friends and confidantes. They shared, it was just that. And Harry found it almost impossible to share in life with others, to share his heart, thoughts and deepest feelings.
There were girlfriends of sorts. He could never make it with women as he conceived other men did. His father thought him a touch queer; not homosexual, only dead between the legs.
His mother rationalised his single status to the end of her days as nothing more than, "Harry being Harry".
His sister was too busy with her life to think anything.
Harry could never figure out the fuss about his lack of female company; why people frequently discussed it and prodded him about it. It was obviously to himself that he was different and there was a reason for this. But this was only part of his story, the part he couldn't find the words for. He wanted to explain to his mother, especially to her, but the words never materialised. The dolls were his feminine world. They were close to him and gave him the femininity he desired and was warmed and complemented by. In the clandestine evening meetings he didn't have to share them with others - the evenings were completely theirs.
Harry received a phone call at work from the police requesting that he go home immediately because a break-in had taken place at his unit. When he walked through the front door the police were waiting. The place seemed normal, with everything in its place. He went from room to room checking if anything was missing. The policeman followed. His spare bedroom door was locked. He hesitated before opening it. It was never locked; his anxiety rose. He felt embarrassed. He asked the police to wait in the lounge room. He unlocked the door, he wanted to burst into tears. His dolls were scattered, broken, as if a mad person had gone wild. He didn't take it in, the shock was numbing. Harry mechanically turned around and walked to the lounge room. He informed the police that nothing else was taken except his television and C.D. player.
The police left. Minutes after the police the neighbour who had alerted them knocked. She came in. Harry was in the dolls' room amidst the ruins of his friends. A life lay around him, a life gone. Tears ran down his cheeks. The neighbour found him on the floor with his most loved doll in both hands. The doll's hands had been severed and her legs broken. The neighbour was speechless and exited as quickly as she could.
The gossip came and went. Harry experienced violent impulses. He wanted to crush the "bastard" who had destroyed his secret world. It could never be the same; their eyes would never shine and hold his as they did before. Their bodies mangled, their clothes ripped, their personalities gone. His evenings were destined to be boring, meaningless, cold. Harry walked now in the evenings to placate his mind and heart. His hurt and anger grew. He didn't do anything rash. One night he got drunk; on another, he engaged a prostitute. But failed at both times to cover the misery with joy.
There were submissions to God, but nothing came to soothe. He was bleeding, felt drained.
His anger finally diminished. Three months after the robbery Harry was having one last smoke before going back to work after lunch. He stood on the loading dock looking at the brick wall of the building opposite. He felt dead. His eyes alighted on a council dump bin near the dock.. Sticking out of the rubbish was a tiny arm. He looked furtively around, saw no one and went and pulled at the arm. That night at home he washed and dressed the doll. Meaning came. The doll blankly looked at him and he began to talk about the other dolls. He felt a little crazy, lighter and happier. Harry began in earnest to collect dolls. The difference from before being that there was an anxiety to his every purchase. Each new doll held a hope and purpose that was never realised. His anxiety, over months, turned to despair. As his collection grew, his despair grew. Harry was fracturing more and more. Dimly he perceived that the past wasn't to be regained, and he couldn't conceive a future without his dolls. He kept trying. Harry was in crisis. The first real crisis of his life.
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