I've wanted a doll to myself ever since I was a young boy. I asked only once, and ended up cowering in the kitchen cupboard after Pa went red in the face and hollered something about me being a faggot. I didn't ask for anything again after that.
Mama says that Pa ain't a bad man, he just does bad things sometimes. That's why she doesn't cry when he pushes her, doesn't say a word about the splotchy bruises that litter her body in violent violet. Her dark eyes were sunken and tired, but she still sang. Mama sang like one of those ladies on Grammy's records, her voice strong and smooth like good cognac. Sometimes I can see the ghost of the man Pa was when Mama harmonizes - he strokes her hair, holds her like good china and calls his little bird, his Birdie. You can see he loved her once, almost believe that he still does.
I was playing Spy one day, peeking in through windows in the neighborhood. Mostly I just saw other kids playing with store-bought toys, their bellies flat on the living room carpet or grown-ups sitting comatose on the couch, basking in the soft glow of the television. So I trudged back home, but not before peeking through the front window and seeing Mama hunched over on the floor, small hands picking at the shattered glass strewn across the floor. Her face was paler than winter morning, her bottom lip quivering ever-so-slightly. Pa hovered over her like a vulture, grabbed a chunk of her hair and yanked it viciously, forcing her to face him.
"You goddam bitch, there you go, fucking up everything in this house," He spat venomously in her ear. "You waste of fucking space. I should've let you and your bastard son to rot on those streets. That's where you belong."
And then Mama did something she never did before. She started to cry, releasing a guttural sob from somewhere deep in her chest as juicy, glistening pearl-drops rolled down her cheeks.
Pa snarled. "Don't give me those crocodile tears, bitch." He slammed her head against the wall with an inconspicuous thud. The tears stopped. Everything stopped. It took him a minute or two to realize what he had done and flee the house without a second glance. It's just me and Mama now.
With her eyes taped open like this, it's almost convincing. I propped her up in her favorite chair, brushed the tangles out of her blonde hair. I make her talk by opening and shutting her slack jaw, and I learned to tie strings around her wrists and ankles for easier movement.
I can pretend it's Ma, but I know it's not. I couldn't clean the dried matted blood on the left side of her head. Her eyes are coated with a glaze of something beyond living. Her rose perfume isn't strong enough to mask the smell.
She doesn't sing anymore.