Dumpster Diving

Trish O’Brien-Edwards

Dumpster diving was never my thing, but when I saw the doll by the curb, I couldn’t pass her by. I saw her on my way home from working as a cashier at Walgreen’s, her arms outstretched, waiting for someone to pick her up. She was in front of a house I’d passed before, Colonial style, with a “for sale” sign in the middle of the yard.

I abruptly stopped my Audi, causing the man behind me to honk his horn. I gave him the “I’m sorry, it’s my fault” wave and put the car in park a few feet past her.

I sat for a few minutes shrunk down in my seat, watching her in the rearview mirror. Next to her was a menagerie of things: an old wooden rocking horse with one of his legs broken, a panda bear with his stuffing escaping from a hole in his head, a cracked pink piggy bank.

I got out of the car when I saw no one was coming and walked past her a few driveways. I circled back around and picked her up thinking she looked like someone I knew once. Her yellow blonde hair was cut short and made her look permanently surprised. I almost dropped her when I thought she said my name. “Mama,” I heard on closer listening.

I put her in the trunk, but when I got back into the car, I realized I didn’t want to leave her alone in the dark. I know it sounds crazy, but I didn’t want her to be scared, so I got her out and put her in the passenger seat next to me, belting her in.

I caught myself looking at the doll as I drove. I couldn’t place the name to the face, but I was sure it would come to me in time, like when I was taking a shower or checking out an old woman with expired coupons for Metamucil.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “You’re safe.” I blushed, realizing that I was talking to a doll.

I couldn’t let my boyfriend see her when I got home, so I smuggled her in under my work smock and went straight to the bathroom. He already thought I was crazy and this would prove him right. We’d had a fight the night before about whether or not I believed in evolution. Not that I ever had a real opinion about it, but the thought of coming from monkeys gave me the heebie-jeebies.

“You’re so stupid,” he said to me. He thought he was smarter than everyone else, especially me, because he’d gotten into law school. He didn’t finish, not being able to get through his first year, but the fact that he got accepted was enough to give him a big head. “You just don’t understand the theory.” He went on to draw a diagram showing Darwin’s ideas.

“It’s not that I don’t understand,” I explained. “It’s that I don’t want to believe it.” I walked away. I had a habit of walking away from him.

“Suit yourself. But you look like a fool to people,” he called to my retreating back. I flipped him off before shutting myself in the bedroom.

I filled the sink with warm water and a splash of my Body Works bubble bath. The yellow gingham dress she wore was torn and made for a much larger doll. I gently took the parchment thin dress off revealing her smooth plastic flesh.

I set the doll in the water, soaping her hair and face first. She had a crack in her back and I rubbed my thumb across it, pushing the soap in. Dirt had crusted around the fissure, and no matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t come out. I grabbed my boyfriend’s toothbrush and rubbed it on the bar of Dial soap forming bubbles then scrubbed her with it. I submerged her into the water to rinse, watching the air escape from the hole in her mouth.

“What are you doing in there?” my boyfriend jiggled the locked bathroom door.

“Nothing,” I called. It wasn’t the first secret I’d kept from him, though maybe the most benign. I’d kept things from him from the beginning, not thinking we would be together for so long. If I had, I might have told him about the abortion I had the first few months we were dating, or that my father used to hit me until my head swam against reality. And the worst secret of all, that I didn’t love him.

The relationship should have ended many times, but something always happened that forced us back together as we drifted apart. His father died when we were sophomores and I was getting ready to break up with him. I went with him to the funeral out of sympathy and saw what a crappy family he had and felt sorry for him. His mother hit on the priest after the mass, and his brother didn’t even show up. That gave him at least another six months. Then I didn’t get into grad school. I turned to him then, abusing him with my passion. He’d gotten into law school and I hated him for it. Hated that he was going to make something of himself while I floundered. Hated him for all the time he had to study while I was washing his dirty socks. I stopped doing his laundry in rebellion. He didn’t realize until he didn’t have any underwear and had to go commando to a job interview.

He was ready to be an adult while I was still practicing. He wanted to stay home and watch TV, while I could still picture myself drinking until I puked all over someone’s couch. We compromised and I puked on his couch. He didn’t like it that I went out with my friends on Friday night instead of staying with him, or that my pocket collected phone numbers at the bars we went to. I didn’t like that he was boring as hell and it didn’t seem to bother him.

We didn’t like the way things were going, so we moved in together. This way we were with each other constantly to make the fighting easier. No more late night screaming matches over the phone. We were able to yell in person, maybe even lob a plate or two. We’d even thrown around the idea of getting married to make the intolerable situation permanent. We were thinking a spring wedding.

“If you don’t come out of there, I’m going to break down this door,” he hollered overdramatically.

“Fine.” I opened the door to find him looking through the peephole.

“Great look for a lawyer,” I said, before pushing him out of the way. He wobbled like a Weeble, but ended up on his butt.

“Bitch,” he called after me down the hall from his place on the floor.

I put the doll down on my bed and wiped her dry with the towel I’d wrapped her in. I wanted her to look as good as she did when she was new, her hair in shiny yellow ringlets, her cheeks rosy and fresh. I wanted for her to get another start.

I tossed her dress in the garbage. She wouldn’t need it. I would buy her a whole new wardrobe including a red coat with fur trim and a white wedding dress with a gauzy veil. And a new bed too. She was going to have a chance to live her life all over again.

“Is this what you’ve been doing?” he said from the doorway. “Playing with dolls.” He had a sneer on his face like he did when he found out I’d been hiding Snickers bars under the bed when I was supposed to be on the Atkins diet. “I thought even you were too old for that.”

I didn’t say anything, just brushed the dolls hair with a brush I’d found in my purse. It wouldn’t pull through, so I was mostly combing the frizz into place.

He snatched the doll away and held her to his face for inspection. “Looks like you.”

When I grabbed for her, he held her over my head. I reached for her only to have him hold her higher. I jumped, but he leaped on the bed to get away from me. When I fell to the floor on my final attempt, he laughed like I hadn’t heard him do in months.

“It’s hard to relive your childhood when you’re still in it.” He dropped the doll next to me and walked away, taking his smirking face with him.

I looked at the doll. She was cleaning up a bit. Her hair was wiry, but wasn’t sticking up anymore, and she was clean and had lost the smell of garbage.

I said her name under my breath, the same as mine.

I grabbed a pair of underwear and stuck it in my purse. I could buy a new toothbrush later.

“Where are you going?” he demanded as I headed out the door.

I paused. “Toyland,” I answered. “Don’t bother to follow.”

“I am a graduate of Iowa State University where I studied literature and creative writing. I live in Ames, Iowa with my husband of twelve years.” E-mail: trishieo[at]yahoo.com.

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