Play Time

Photography by Devon Butler

Flakes of Tahiti Sunrise nail polish are stuck to the doll, miniscule orange shapes adorning the plastic locks. Late afternoon sunlight seeps through the blinds as Megan sits, playing with her favourite Barbie. Perfect blue eyes and a plump pink smile stare blankly, waiting for love. Dress me. Speak for me. Play with me.

Megan knows her thoughts and wants to play so badly, but guilt overwhelms the poor girl. So many options and so little time. Setting the doll down gently, Megan stands and admires her room; her toys and no one else’s. There is the ceramic ballerina she received from mother for her 4th birthday, the dress-up chest, the kitchen set. A beat up looking cardboard box tucked away in Megan’s closet that once carried a shipment of Always Tampons now warehouses the rejected, forgotten train set. The freight cars, being too small to hold any doll, instantly disappointed Megan. The toys will have to commute in Barbie’s old jeep- dreams of new travel dashed.

As always, Megan’s heart is set on the dolls. Perhaps they can hold a fashion show. Mother generously donated these items as a way of purging her closet of ill-received gifts and mementos from teenage years in what Megan has heard her call “The Eighties.”
Donning fake pearls, neon resin bangles and a broach the size of her fist, Megan begins speaking gently under her breath to Janice, her prized Barbie. Only half aware of the outside world, Megan drifts into her imagination.

“Oh you look just lovely today! I need a touch up, don’t you think?”

Rifling through the chest she retrieves a cracked plastic case so often admired. Cheap smelling blush particles rise into the air as she opens the lid. Eyeshades of teal, peach, pink, plum and green obediently wait in line above the miniature lipsticks. Crumbling from use and smelling faintly of talc, the lipsticks cry out to touch their owner’s lips. The air hangs heavily in Megan’s room with pieces of dust twinkling as it lazily floats higher and higher. The scent of a young girl’s childhood is in every empty space of Megan’s surroundings: in between curtain and wallpaper, among the china figurines lining the shelves, even on the train.

Sequined pumps, far too large for the girl’s tiny feet are the finishing touch. With the dolls and stuffed animals having found their seats, Megan begins her premier down the cat walk. Wild applause greets her as she rounds the end heading back for the first wardrobe check; the bears, the trolls, the Polly Pockets all boisterously cheering and clapping. But something catches Megan’s eye. Alone, on the edge of her bed sits Janice, rigid and unmoved by the performance. Her blank smiling face no longer begs for love, or attention of any kind.

She sits and stares through Megan, arms extended in a permanent “L” shape. Quiet surrounds her. Unable to comprehend this sudden change in attitude from her faithful companion, Megan stands, staring back into Janice’s eyes. A slightly downturned smile crosses the painted lips. Green eyelids change shape as Megan brings her eyebrows in closer, scrutinizing the moment.

Janice is blond. Megan has mousey, brownish hair. Janice has blue eyes and Megan, ordinary, dull, grey. Janice has lovely, straight shiny hair and an abundance of perfectly moulded, inoffensive cleavage. Megan has not yet began to grow into the lovely young lady figure her mother has assured her will come in time. Peering down to her chest, chin tucked in, Megan frowns.

She can feel the doll’s judgment and unwarranted criticism. Megan has been a good owner. She has never cut Janice’s hair or coloured a body part with marker or pen. She has never subjected Janice to a play date with the magnifying glass, or King Kong. She has never even decapitated Janice. So why the sudden change? Why the silent disapproval? The icy blue eyes penetrate Megan, silently exploring, studying and taking note.

The light has faded to a weak grey hue. She turns from Janice to the still-loving smiles and wide eyes of her other toys. There is a hesitance in the girl’s movements that wasn’t there before. Trolls throw their arms wide open, inviting Megan’s touch. The stuffed animals are less enthusiastic, slouching slightly, allowing the exhaustion from undivided attention get the better of them.

Megan’s mother calls from the kitchen telling the young girl to brush her teeth and get ready for bed. Meagan comes back in from wetting her toothbrush and hastily scrambles into her night clothes. She collects her dolls and unceremoniously dumps the glassy eyed creatures and plastic parted individuals onto her closet floor, shoving the door slightly against a bulging mass.

If Megan felt a moment of awkwardness, a slight stirring of contempt or pity from Janice’s glare, it is quickly forgotten. After the nightly routine of story reading and tucking in, Megan allows her mind to relax. Her breathing is deep; her pulse slows and concentrates on resting. Adrift in a sea of thoughtless wonder and imagined glory the girl falls asleep.

Something in the depths of Megan’s mind creeps forth, treading softly around the corners of her lobes; an electric pulse. It winds its way into her sleep, capturing her dream, molesting her peace. Megan’s eyes break open, her heart suddenly beating through to her throat and behind into her eyes. Mechanically, Megan rises from her bed, grabs a hold of Janice’s petite body crammed in between the mattress and headboard, and charges towards her door.

If one were to ask Megan why she hurled the doll into the hallway making Janice bounce off a small table holding displaced objects: a rubber band, a broken pair of glasses, she could not answer. If one asked the girl why she left her beloved Janice poised against a baseboard, legs scissor split, arms held out helplessly, she would not remember. Something from deep inside young Megan awoke that night, something as ancient as birth with the quiet strength of rebellion.

Megan woke before her mother. The radio was silent, and the percolating hiss and dark scent of coffee brewing was absent. Quietly positioning a kitchen chair, Megan reached above her head and withdrew the battered tampons box. With some difficulty she hoisted it down to the floor and slid it across the room. Megan began unpacking the cars, tracks, stop signs and bridges. Her delicate fingers worked with fervour and grace that suggested this game was well practiced; a plot she had rehearsed a million times before.

Soon Megan was cross legged, admiring her handiwork. A small grin brushed her lips. Megan turned, headed back to her treasure chest closet and rifled through.
Megan watched Janice. Poor Janice. She was lying on her back, skirt suggestively tossed to her chin, hair tangled and ratty. Makeup was whorishly smeared on her lips and around her eyes. She began binding the doll’s arms and legs, hog-tie style.

If only Janice had the foresight to calculate her actions of yester-night and redeem her good name. But it was too late.

Already past the railroad crossing, and closing in on the bridge, the train came barrelling down. Janice stared up into the ceiling in those last moments, her eyes devoid of emotion, blank with shock. A brave smile stretched across her face, slightly mad. While the rumbling closed in and heat from the engine engulfed Janice, her last vision was that of unbrushed hair and a devilish smirk.