Open your eyes, darling, my mother had said to me.
I stood in our living room, doused in the expensive perfume that sat on her glass dresser. The hem of my satin ball gown danced on the floor, the toes of my dress-up heels peeking out from beneath it. My father had been disappointed when I’d paraded into the room, hands on hips, showing off my new attire—he thought I was acting much too grown-up for his liking. His moans fell on deaf ears. It was my ninth birthday, after all.
I was full of anticipation. What could my present be? I had seen them, of course, hurriedly taking in deliveries of paper-wrapped parcels and glancing over their shoulders to check I wasn’t prying. It had been troubling me for weeks. A handbag? A puppy? My own bottle of perfume? I smacked my glossed lips together, pretending the sticky gloop didn’t bother me. Beauty is pain, I’d heard once before.
I blinked a few times to focus my vision. Sitting elegantly on the armchair was a doll, dressed in a powdered pink gown that was similar to my own. Her pale skin was a puddle of milk, the sort that’d be lapped up by a cat, with two circles of rouge dabbed on the apples of her plump cheeks. Her custard-coloured locks tumbled down her rigid back, ending at her waist, the tips softly curled. Her name will be Elizabeth, I proclaimed.
During the weeks that followed, I spent every break time skipping around the playground, clutching the clammy palms of those who wanted to hear everything about my glorious present. During assemblies, we’d whisper into each other’s ears to pass time, feeling the warm breath of the girl next to us strike our necks. They gathered around me like moths drawn to a flame, bright-eyed and eager with electricity. I’d spun them intricate tales of Elizabeth’s creation, which proved only too well my desperation for attention. Did you know, she was made in Buckingham Palace and the Queen chose to give her to me? I’d declared. Her dress is made from the same silk as the princesses’! I marched around, my nose tipped upwards with an air of newfound superiority.
But then, everything began to change.
I was soon thrown into her shadow. My friends started to disregard my presence and instead were captivated by Elizabeth. Elizabeth this, Elizabeth that. Playdates were never the same – we’d sit in silence, whilst the other one cradled Elizabeth in her arms, caressing her tresses of hair and speaking to her softly. I, meanwhile, would fail to conceal the pout of disapproval that formed on my lips, as if I were sucking a bitter lemon. Isn’t she pretty? My companion for the afternoon would coo. Yes, she is. I’m very lucky to have her, would be the reply, usually said through gritted teeth.
I began to glare at myself in the mirror, despising the reflection that stared back at me. My tawny brown hair was nothing compared to hers. I'd never been able to grow it past my shoulders. Her lips were so perfectly formed—parted slightly, as if a word was always ready to roll off her plastic tongue—and the expression painted on her face by her skilled craftsman was charming. Why couldn’t I be Elizabeth? She was everything I was not.
It was approaching my tenth birthday and my mother was planning my celebratory lunch. Shall I set another place for Elizabeth? she had asked me. The mere thought filled me with pure horror. All my party guests would make remarks about Elizabeth’s appearance, forgetting the reason they were there in the first instance. I wouldn’t let her steal the spotlight on my special day. Of course not, I’d replied with a scowl. She’s just a doll. She’s not real. My mother had been surprised by my stubborn refusal.
Bitter jealousy consumed me. She had held me in the palm of hands, as she did everyone – but now, I was a green-eyed devil, unable to rid the anguish and deep-rooted hatred I felt towards her. Her beauty sickened me, but my inability to be her equal sickened me the most.
One night, I threw her on the floorboards. Her false eyes snapped open, her eyelashes like spider’s legs. I pictured a fearful look appear on her face and gave a wry smile. I grabbed her perfectly manicured foot and started to pull. Twist. Pull. Twist. Pull. Pop. I held the flesh-coloured leg in my hand, staring at the gaping hole it left behind—the gateway to the hollowness of her body, devoid of anything but the air that I breathed. I was full of dissatisfaction even after I’d removed all four limbs—she still looked pretty, lying there like that. Vulnerable. Innocent.
I picked up my nail scissors, imagining myself as a hairdresser in a swanky salon, and began shearing off her hair. Chop. Chop. Chop. It still wasn’t enough. I flicked off the lid of a felt-tip marker and started scribbling over her porcelain face. The chemicals of its ink stung my eyes. I drew over her button nose and flawless lips, ruining her taut skin. I looked at her for what would be the final time. At last, her beauty was gone.
Years later, thoughts of the doll never failed to leave my mind—her limbless body, her hacked-off hair, her stained face. I felt murderous, shocked at the destruction I’d been capable of. Had I alleviated the pain? I could not be sure. Perhaps I’d made it worse. I’d look at my reflection and see what I’d become—the innocence and fragility I’d once known, and my way of perceiving the world, were shattered.
Charlotte L Oakeby
Charlotte L Oakeby is a seventeen-year-old, self-confessed perfectionist from West Sussex, United Kingdom, with a passion for languages and literature. Her love for writing began after cancer stole her father when she was thirteen. Her first piece of work is forthcoming in the Cosumnes River Journal. She can be found on Instagram or Twitter.