Her skin was like coal, dark black and ashy in places, so dry she looked as if a stiff wind would blow her away like a mound a sand in a hot desert. She spoke in a whisper as Jessica passed.
She might have missed it any other day, walked by in her usual haste, but it seemed as if all other sound has paused momentarily for this woman’s message to travel to Jessica’s ear.
Like the lulling hiss of a snake, the word hit its mark, soft and swaying; Jessica turned briefly to meet the woman’s deep, black eyes.
“Excuse me? Did you say something to me?” Jessica walked a few steps toward the woman, sitting on the steps of a large, crumbling brownstone. Two cats sat beside her, a gray and a black, and a mongrel of indiscernible breed lay at her feet, baring its left canine in uncommitted warning. She was a large woman, buried in several layers of multi-colored skirts and sweaters. And her hair, wiry, mottled black and gray, stuck out from underneath a lavender knitted beret in reaching spreads like shadowed coral.
“Would you like to buy a doll? I make it specially for you.” She pulled a small cloth doll from a plastic grocery sack that appeared to hold several more like it in varying shades of tan, brown, black, and white. The one she held out to Jessica was white with a bright head of orange yarn wound into tight curls. The doll had no clothes, but it did have freckles, a tiny dot nose, and two painted-on blue eyes.
“You can pick a dress for her if you like? Just two dollars more.”
Jessica didn’t know why she stopped…why she was drawn to this woman’s childish, hand-made wares. But, she walked closer, and found herself asking about dress colors.
“Do you have red? It’s my favorite color.”
“No red. But, green…and green is better for your complexion anyhow, miss.”
“How much for the doll?”
“Okay. Okay, I’ll buy the doll.”
“And the dress?”
“Yes…the dress, too.”
The woman held out the doll and the dress as Jessica dug in her bag for the money to pay her. When she looked up and reached forward with her payment, the woman took her hand, with the money, between bother of hers and held them.
“Miss? Be sure to to be careful with her. She’s a sensitive girl, but she’ll do right by you, if you take care of her.”
The woman smiled, several teeth missing, and she looked deep into Jessica’s eyes, holding them hostage for several seconds.
Jessica took the doll and put it in her bag. She thanked the woman and turned back toward the busy sidewalk, finding her place among the hundreds of other people walking to work that morning.
It wasn’t until lunch time that Jessica remembered the doll. She pulled it out of her bag and took a long look at it. It was a simple doll. Maybe ten inches long, sewn from two piece of fabric. Something a child could make. The face was painted on and the hair nothing but glued-on bits of yarn. But, its likeness was disarming. Jessica put the dress on the doll and held it in her hands, looking at it.
It made her a little uncomfortable, but she set it next to her computer and began typing an email to her team.
About an hour later, immersed in various paperwork, Jessica realized she was overheating a bit. She grabbed an empty file folder, sat back in her chair, and began to fan herself with it. The doll caught her eye. She reached for it, and realized it had become warm between her monitor and computer tower.
She set it up against the window, and went back to work.
Within in half an hour, she found herself feeling rather cool, and reached into her bag for a sweater. As she buttoned it, the doll once again caught her eye. Behind it, out the window, she could see the first snowflakes beginning to fall. She reached for the doll. It was cold.
And suddenly, Jessica’s eyes widened with understanding.
She squeezed the doll, and within seconds, she felt pressure in her mid-section…her stomach ached.
She tickled the doll’s feet. In an instant, her toes began to curl and the soles of her feet began to itch. She held back a giggle.
She kissed the doll’s cheek, and a subtle warmth spread across her own.
Jessica looked around her, turned in her chair and glanced over her shoulder as if the whole world were watching. But, no one noticed.
The woman’s words echoed in her ear…“Miss? Be sure to to be careful with her. She’s a sensitive girl, but she’ll do right by you, if you take care of her.”
Oh my fucking hell, Jessica thought to herself. The possibilities….the possibilities….