Flash Fiction: Too Late for the Doll Hospital by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Asking you to meet me on Dead Horse Bay could be interpreted as passive aggressive.  But I could have chosen Barren Inlet or the Millstone Trail; Brooklyn is paved in symbols. You were late. Broken bottles glimmered all along the stained-glass shore. As I bent towards a cracked plastic baby face, you came around the bend.

It had been ten years since you got on the bus without me. Twenty years since we were girls who played until dusk; the shades of our hair tangling in the breeze.  My mother once said she was afraid she would have to cut us apart with her meat scissors. Even as teenagers we walked fingers entwined. When boys asked if they should be jealous, we’d wink; even our lashes were syncopated.

Your voice left its twang at some prairie pit-stop. “Do you still remember how to play?”

When we were kids, we played The Game of Lost Things. We liked to try to figure out why they had escaped or been abandoned. We’d take them home, hidden under sweaters and behind our backs, to rot in sour-salt piles in the backs of closets.

I pointed to the doll and told you go first, curious to see what you’d say.

“After surgery at the doll hospital, they throw the old and ugly faces into the sea. Your turn.” California spattered freckles across your nose.

I stared into the curling pink plastic. I see it at once. The salt ate her chest. The waves plucked off her arms and feet. She felt sand between her fingers and air between her toes. A crab came to live inside her right arm and she felt it scuttling. Then she drifted too far from herself and went numb.

A gull caught her up, her ringlets in its blonde beak.  She thought she was saved. She did not see the second gull, but she saw the grey feathers falling. They fought for her hair. Brittle sections of scalp flaked off. Her eyes rolled out of her head. The gulls wrapped their eggs in her golden curls.

She was left with a mask for a face. She floated for weeks. When the sea eels looked in her eyes, all they saw was sky.

But I said, “I wonder what the new face is like.”