Playing With Dolls
― Joan of Arc
She was old. A gift to my mother from her mother from her mother before. She was taller than most dolls. Tall and lean with peculiar creases where leg met torso. The legs didn't turn in their sockets. They didn't have sockets. The legs would tip back and forth with the stiffness of an arthritic swimmer, skin a pale peachy pink, slight dimples behind the knees. I think her hair was real. It was thick and curly and dirty blonde. She was my mother's bridal doll, and I was about to kill her.
In the late 1970s, when I was about six years old, I was a weird kid. I didn't like to wear dresses, and I didn't much like playing with dolls. Most kids I knew played games like change the diaper or feed the baby. This mystified me. I already had to help do that stuff with my little sister and babies of my parents' friends, and that wasn't much fun at all. The way I figured, people who liked changing diapers were crazy. Very occasionally, I'd pick up my dolls and play with them. Sometimes I played terrible car accident. That limbs could be removed from the torso of a Barbie knock-off was an amazing feature. Arms and legs would litter my room in gory disarray while I ran around making ambulance noises. Other times I'd play mating season. Since I didn't have any boy dolls, I'd fashion a makeshift penis by jabbing a safety pin into the crotch of one doll and then have it hump another, doggy-style. When you grow up on a farm, that's just the way things are done. Captured spy was another fun game. Mom got pretty mad when I broke a bunch of straws off her broom to jab under the fingernails of a trussed-up doll exhorting it to reveal the top secret plans.
I had special plans for the bridal doll. This would be a one-time-only affair. Today I was going to play Joan of Arc.
What was anathema for city kids was commonplace for me. No one hid the matches or knives from me. Although I wasn't big enough to wield an axe safely, I knew how to strip tinder with a pocket knife. I knew how to build and tend a fire, and if I let the wood stove go out, I was in trouble. Today wasn't about cooking stoves, though. Dad was burning brush in the back yard, and I was going to play with fire.
I suppose I knew about Joan of Arc from tv and from Jehovah's Witness literature. I liked to look at the line drawings in the magazines and books while the elders droned on and on at meetings. I remember seeing drawings of people being burnt to death at stakes, Bibles chained to their chests, flames licking at their upturned faces. Although Joan didn't have a Bible strapped to her chest, neither would the doll.
And so I gathered up sticks and branches and dried old weeds. Since my little sister wanted to be a hairdresser, she cut off all the doll's hair. The doll looked up at us with blank glass eyes. She accepted her fate. I jammed a stake into the ground, tied the nude doll to it with baling twine, and built up the pyre.
I watched in morbid fascination. It looked exactly like what I imagined a real person would look like going up in flames. She didn't burn like a bit of wood. Her skin begin to melt and then slough off while smoke poured heavenward. Her glass eyes rolled in her head.
My reverie was interrupted by the angry shrieks of my mother. Play time was over.