That girl. She had asked her twice this week to pick them up.
She stood, happy for something else to do.
It was a mass grave of dolls. Piled on top of one another, strewn, left in uncomfortable positions. How had the girl collected so many dolls by age four? Moira had never been allowed more than three or four dolls at a time. But she was a very different mother than her own had been.
She knelt beside them. A Raggedy Ann doll lay face down on three naked Barbie dolls. She shook her head. Raggedy Ann had been hers, one of the few treasures she found fit to bring with her when she started her new life. She picked it up and held it for a moment. Put her nose to it and breathed in the scent.
The basement. Even after all this time, all the distance, it still smelled like the basement. She opened her eyes and stared into Raggedy Ann’s for a moment.
“God, I’m pathetic.”
She set the doll aside.
Then something caught her eye. The Barbies. She picked one up.
Two long, deep gashes had been cut into the doll’s back, maybe with a nail file, just below the shoulder blades. She put her fingernail in one, traced it down. She grabbed a second Barbie and turned it on its stomach. The same. The third, as well. She fumbled through the pile and turned each Barbie over with a flurry of speed, feeling sick, feeling helpless, remembering again that it was all real, and realizing she would never escape it.
Abandoned. They had been abandoned.
Every doll was scarred. She looked under Raggedy Ann’s dress and found two gashes, stuffing peeking through like exposed tendons.
She bit back tears and stood, turned away, held her hand to her face and swayed back and forth.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
She hummed and hummed the tune until her heart slowed. Then she went into the bedroom.
She left the door open. The light from the hall fell across Penelope’s face. Her mouth was open in sleep, and a tiny droplet of drool had gathered in the corner, ready to fall. With a small moan and a sigh, likely prompted by the intrusion of light, she rolled over onto her stomach. The thin straps of her nightgown did nothing to cover the scars on her back.
Moira went and stood over her daughter. She reached down and touched them, those two lines, red and jagged rises and falls, like the screen of a cardiogram.
“Those are my wings,” the little girl said. Moira snatched her hand away. Penelope’s eyes were half-open. “They’re not here anymore.” She yawned, sniffed, and settled back into sleep.
Moira had kept the truth from her, had planned to keep it from her forever. But Penelope knew. Somehow, without even being told, she knew what she was.