The dolls arrived, far more than expected, and we piled them into the last of the remaining stock shelves, which they sprawled into and filled up, like a musty tide of lace and cotton stuffing. This time they’d come straight from the estate of a recently deceased collector who’d spent decades devotedly building up this army of small pretend persons.
In the mass grave-like piles we kept and shuttled them in, they looked dead in a way they didn’t to their long succession of owners. The child owners would take the baby ones everywhere and could hear them crying, sensing the needs of something they’d placed themselves in a role of caring for. The older owners didn’t care this way, but they still cared others, and would carefully reglue their lashes and re-sow their tiny outfits. They valued them as depictions of times closer to when they first owned them, retained in the wear of the time between. They could see in them when girls wore ball gowns and picked flowers and boys wore suspenders and caught fish down by the river- the same thing they could see in their lladro collections who’s figures were from a non existent past of role conforming purity and innocence.
The chances didn’t look good for the dolls being readopted. The doll collecting generation was shrinking, dying of old age, with the doll hospitals that catered to them closing too. We also hadn’t seen anyone buy dolls for their children in a long time, which was put down to the historically large surplus of plastic toot they had to compete with. The buyers were also worried their children would be scared by such hauntingly aged things and throw them down some stairs or bury them in a closet.
Ursula was doing her best to watch out for the dolls as the auction approached. I could see her running, swinging one of them by the bare leg as she scoured the showroom looking for the missing bonnet it was incomplete without. Meanwhile Estoban had adopted the dolls as a means of terrorising everyone else. By begging him to stop breastfeeding them we’d only made him take more delight in the act. Ursula managed to confiscate one of him before he could lift his shirt and play out another milking. She smoothed out its dishevelled hair and returned it to a safe shelf.
The special doll sale went about as badly as expected. While manning the door for dispatch after it closed, I brought out a porcelain headed doll with finely painted freckles to a woman who’d purchased it for $30. Her dress is dark green velvet, and her eyes had long eyelashes that swung closed when she was lying. The woman took the doll from me in two hands, holding it in her arms gently, supporting the head, like a real baby. She looked embarrassed, telling me “I just like her for the dress really…”.