"Made Anew in a Heartbeat"
[Sunday, March 8, 2015]
"Mummy, Mummy, I need you!"
Edison pattered into the kitchen.
"In a minute, love, I'm doing
the dishes," Elisabeth said.
"It can't wait a minute,"
Edison said, tugging at her.
"I think Shiv is sick."
Instantly she abandoned
the dishes and grabbed
a towel beside the sink.
"Let me just dry my hands,"
she said. "What makes you
think Shiv might be sick?"
"He's not throwin' up but
he went all quiet and that's
not like him," Edison said.
"He won't move or answer
when I call his name."
"That's not a good sign,"
Elisabeth agreed as they
headed to the living room.
"I'm scared," Edison said.
"Did I hurt him somehow?"
"Did you follow the rules for
people with a rough past?"
Elisabeth asked gently.
"Uh huh," Edison said.
"That's why I didn't try
to touch him, I came
and got you instead."
"That's exactly right,"
Elisabeth said. "I doubt
that you really did anything
wrong, Edison. Sometimes
Shiv's past just upsets him."
The moment they reached
the living room, Elisabeth
could see Shiv sitting in
the corner by the play fort,
hugging something tightly.
"See?" Edison said, pointing.
"I see," Elisabeth said. "I don't
think Shiv is sick, just ... busy
in a very quiet way. Can you
choose a quiet activity from
the shelves, please? I need
to check on him, and he won't
appreciate an audience."
"Okay," Edison said,
reassured now that she
was handling the matter.
He took out a puzzle map
of world parts, a control map,
a circle of plain white paper,
the colored pencils and holders.
Elisabeth approached Shiv
slowly and carefully.
He didn't look flushed,
he wasn't grimacing, and
his breathing sounded fine.
He was just hugging a doll
for all he was worth.
Elisabeth sat down on
one of the floor cushions
that lay beside him.
"How are you doing,
Shiv?" she asked.
"Hugo, are you okay?"
Elisabeth tried next.
"Edison is worried."
A minute later, he gave
a slow blink and then
peeked up at her
through his fringe.
"Hi there, Hugo,"
she said. "How
are you doing?"
He shrugged at
her, no more than
a twitch of his shoulder.
"Okay, we can play quietly
for a while," Elisabeth said.
"I'll just sit here and keep you
company. I won't interrupt."
She glanced across the room.
Edison was taking out each
of the continents one at a time,
pressing it on the paper circle,
then tracing the edge to make
a copy of the world map.
"Don't worry, Hugo, Edison
won't bother us either,"
Elisabeth went on. "He's
over there working with
the geography puzzles."
A soft sigh made
the fringe ripple.
"Everything will be
fine," she assured him.
He didn't say anything,
just sat on the floor
cuddling the doll.
the sunbeams creep
across the floor.
He drifted closer
to her, leaning against
her side without actually
coming in for a hug.
That was fine too.
They could snuggle
however he wanted to.
Eventually he started
to stiffen up again, though,
and when he leaned away
she didn't chase him.
Elisabeth could tell when
Hugo shifted back to Shiv,
because he blushed scarlet
and shoved the doll under
the nearest floor cushion.
"Welcome back, Shiv,"
she said. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," he snapped.
"The fuck you care?"
"Edison got worried
when you stopped
moving or talking,"
"So?" Shiv said, glaring.
"He coulda just took
the damn thing back
if he wanted it so bad."
Elisabeth shook her head.
"No, you weren't done with it,"
she said. "Edison didn't want
the toy, he thought that you might
be getting sick, so he asked me
to check on you. May I?"
Shiv huffed at her, then said,
"Fine, what the fuck ever,"
and sat more-or-less still
while she checked his health.
"You're okay," she said.
"You were just busy."
"You don't gotta tease me
about it!" Shiv said, frowning.
"I know it's babyish, okay?"
"What's babyish?" she asked.
Shiv gave a guilty glance
at the floor cushion.
Muttering to himself,
he yanked the doll out
and shoved it at her.
"Here, you can have
this back now," he said.
"Oh, you've met Michelle,"
said Elisabeth. "Edison likes
to share her with friends.
What did you think?"
Shiv hunched into a ball.
"Dolls are for babies."
"Well, they can be, but
this style is more for toddlers,"
Elisabeth said. "She's heavy,
stuffed with millet and lavender.
When you put your ear to her chest,
then you can hear my heartbeat."
"Yeah, so?" Shiv said warily.
"The style more popular for
infants is called a towel doll,"
Elisabeth said. "It's a soft head
stuck on a towel, with knots tied
to make the hands and feet."
"Huh," Shiv said. "That
doesn't sound familiar?"
"If you had one, you might not
remember it," Elisabeth said.
"Then there's another kind
of doll for preschool kids,
called a dress-up doll, with
arms and legs and clothes.
Edison likes those too."
"I didn't even know that dolls
came in kinds," Shiv said.
"Most toys do," Elisabeth said.
"Would you like to see more of
ours? We keep a basket of dolls
to share with whoever needs them."
"But they're for ... little kids,"
Shiv said, nibbling his lip until
a spot of blood appeared.
"Or bigger kids, or grownups,"
Elisabeth said. "Molly, Heron,
Drew, and Aida have all used
them for classes on babysitting
or parenting skills. I use them
to teach babywearing techniques."
"How does that even work?"
Shiv said, looking utterly baffled.
It was the best opening she'd get.
"Let me go get our doll basket, and
I'll show you," she said warmly.
Elisabeth checked on Edison
as she walked past him.
He had finished tracing
the continents and was now
meticulously coloring them in,
matching colors to the puzzle.
A lot of strokes went outside
the lines, but that was all right.
The idea was to practice his grip.
"How are you doing over here?"
Elisabeth asked. "Any problems?"
"I'm fine, thank you," Edison said.
"Is Shiv okay? He's not sick?"
"Shiv is fine too," Elisabeth said.
"I'm going to show him babywearing."
She found the big wicker basket
full of dolls, some new, some old, then
came back with it balanced on her hip.
"Wow, that's a lot of dolls!" Shiv exclaimed.
Elisabeth looked at the basket. It was
good and full at the present moment.
"Yes, we get dolls from some local folks
because they know we hand them out
at Soup to Nuts and other places,"
she said. "If you look, you can see
clothes from Home Economics and
Neighborhood Knitters on them."
"Uh huh," Shiv said, not moving
to touch or even look closer.
"Let me show you how to use
a ring sling," Elisabeth said.
She pulled out a length of
green-and-gold cloth covered
in Celtic knotwork and held
together with two brass rings.
With expert grace, she wrapped
the sling around herself and
fitted a heavy doll into it.
"See, you can put a newborn
lying down, an older infant
sitting up, or a toddler on
your hip," Elisabeth said
as she switched positions.
"I seen women use them things,
but never how they worked,"
Shiv said, leaning forward.
He lived in a black neighborhood.
Elisabeth had seen other women
carrying babies African-style
all around North Omaha.
"Would you like to try?"
she encouraged him. "It's
a useful skill for babysitting --
and a profitable one, too."
"Guess it won't kill me,"
Shiv said, and let her wrap
the ring sling around his body.
"When a doll has weighted filling,
we call it a heavy doll," she said
as she placed it gently in the sling.
"This shape, with a bag of beans
instead of legs, is a bunting doll.
It's named after its clothing."
"The velour feels so soft,"
Shiv whispered, petting it.
"Almost like Microfyne."
"You are a genius," she said.
"These are actually therapy dolls
because their weight soothes
people. Adding clothes made
out of Microfyne would make
them even more comforting."
"But it's expensive," Shiv said.
"Therapy tools often are,"
Elisabeth said. "Don't worry.
We can start with scraps that
would otherwise get thrown away.
Later on, the price will come down
and more people can use Microfyne."
"That doesn't suck," Shiv said
as he wriggled out of the sling.
"If it's therapy, though, then why ..."
His gaze flicked to Michelle again.
Elisabeth picked up the doll. "Edison
has always craved contact and attention,"
she said. "Michelle helps him to stay
grounded when he needs to wait for us
or he has trouble sleeping. The weight,
soft texture, and my heartbeat all serve
different purposes. Want to hold her?"
Shiv looked around to make sure
nobody else was watching.
Edison was completely absorbed
in trying to fit South America
back where it belonged.
"I guess," he said slowly.
As soon as he picked up
the doll, his posture softened.
Elisabeth could almost hear
the click as his body shifted
into parasympathetic mode.
"It's okay to like dolls," she said,
watching him cuddle Michelle.
"Lots of people do, even adults."
Surprisingly, Shiv nodded.
"I stayed with this little old lady,
the one who got me into soaps?"
he said. "She loved dolls, had
the spare bedroom full of 'em."
"If the dolls had the spare room,
then where did you sleep?" she said.
"In the attic," Shiv said, and when
she frowned, he added hastily, "I liked
the attic! It wasn't much, but it was
all mine, and quiet. I had a bed,
a little blue dresser with a box of
books on top, a desk and chair,
some rugs. There were rabbits."
"Pet rabbits?" Elisabeth asked.
"Huh? No. Stuffed ones," Shiv said.
"You know, like ragdolls, but bunnies."
"Oh, that sounds nice," she said.
"I've seen toys like that before."
"I liked to pet their ears. I didn't
get many toys," Shiv said quietly,
then peeked up at her. "I've been
remembering more of my past."
"Congratulations," said Elisabeth.
"That can be hard to work through,
but it's better to know than not know."
"Yeah, I guess," Shiv said. "It was
a nice place, but way too good for me.
I was mean to Mrs. Clementine, and
I wouldn't mind, so they took me away."
"That's sad," Elisabeth said. "Moving
is hard on anyone, but especially kids,
because they don't get to choose."
"Yeah well, that's why I ran away
when I got old enough," Shiv said.
"So I could choose it myself."
"Understandable," she said.
"You must have missed out
on a lot of things, though. Do
you want to pick out something
to make up for a little of that?"
"Like what?" Shiv asked.
Elisabeth waved a hand over
the doll basket. "Sort through these
and see if you like any of them. We
have dolls for all ages in several styles.
If you find one like Michelle, it can have
my heartbeat in it, or another sound."
Hesitantly, Shiv began unpacking
the dolls from the basket. As
he went, he grew more eager,
and even more confident.
"I used to do this back at
the Wright house," he said.
"They had a lotta dolls too,
all-colored ones like these."
The Finn family doll basket
had all ten of the skin tones ...
along with a few others.
"What the hell?" Shiv said,
holding up a green doll.
"We try to keep some
for the crayon soups too,"
Elisabeth explained. She
lifted out another example.
"It's a mermaid!" Shiv said.
"And she's got dreadlocks."
"Those are made out of
hand-dyed wool roving for
different shades of blue and
green," Elisabeth replied.
Shiv petted the doll for
a minute, then set her aside.
"Better leave that one for
someone who needs it more,"
he said. "You don't got many of
the ones that have crayon hair."
Elisabeth sighed. "I know," she said.
"They're favorites because they're
so pretty. It's even harder to find
dolls with crayon skin tones."
Shiv's face scrunched. "Yeah,
I remember Mrs. Wright telling us
we was lucky to have black dolls,
'cause they didn't use to make many."
"Maybe when Edison has children,
he'll tell the same story about
crayon dolls," Elisabeth said.
"We can hope," Shiv muttered.
He kept coming back to
a medium-brown doll in
a powder-blue bunting.
"Do you like that one?"
Elisabeth asked. "You
can have it, if you want."
"With a heartbeat?"
"Of course," she said.
"Hold it to your ear, like
you did with Michelle. We
usually load them with mine
before they go in the basket,
but we could change that."
Shiv pressed the doll
to his ear and grinned.
"I hear it!" he said.
Slowly Shiv started
putting the other dolls
back into the basket,
lingering over their hair
and sometimes the clothes.
"Older children like to play
with these dress-up dolls,"
Elisabeth said. "I can't count
how many crafters I know who
use dolls to test patterns on, too."
"Really?" Shiv said. "Huh ...
I guess it uses less material."
"Exactly!" said Elisabeth.
"You figured that right out."
"Ohh," Shiv breathed. "Look!
This one is just like Dr. G."
It had fair skin, blue eyes,
and sandy blond hair bundled
underneath a dusky blue cap
with a multicolored pom-pom.
The hand-knitted cardigan
boasted outrageous stripes.
The pants were much simpler,
made from no-sew fleece.
"That doll was modeled after
Graham, yes," said Elisabeth.
"Some girls made it, along with
the clothes, as a project for
Home Economics class."
"Would you like to keep him?"
Elisabeth said. "Decide now,
because a doll like that won't
stay in the basket long at all."
Shiv squashed the doll to
his chest. "Can I really?"
Elisabeth pushed down
a desire to find the people
who had convinced a little boy
that he was worthless and he
deserved nothing, not even toys ...
and then strangle them very slowly.
"You sure can," she said. "I think
it would make Graham very happy
to see you with that doll. I know
I'm glad you like it so much."
Shiv put the dress-up doll
beside his bunting doll.
Then he went back to
packing the others into
the basket, arranging them
so that their faces showed.
His hands slowed, then stopped.
"I'm still too old for dolls," he said.
"Well, I'm older than you, and I still
play with dolls," Elisabeth said lightly.
"Do you think that makes me a baby?"
"Of course not!" Shiv exclaimed.
"Then neither are you," Elisabeth said.
"You're a young man who enjoys touching
soft things and is also working his way
through babysitting credentials."
"Oh hey, check it out," Shiv said,
brightening as he took out his wallet
to show her. "I got my booboo card!
Molly gimme it just last week."
Elisabeth looked at the card,
which covered basic first aid.
"Well done, Shiv," she said.
"You worked hard for this."
Shiv smiled a little, ducking
his chin against his chest.
"Yeah, I did," he said, and
went back to sorting dolls.
"This one's different," he said.
It had fair skin and brown eyes
with short hair the color of coffee.
The body was just a square blanket of
white terrycloth on one side and white knit
with barely-there stripes of gray-green
and tan on the other. Knotted corners
made up the doll's hands and feet.
"That's a towel doll, also called
a blanket doll or a lovey," she said.
"Babies like them for teething. You
know who else loves these things?
College students, because loveys
pack down so small that they'll fit
into the pocket of a backpack."
"Nobody would know they had it,"
Shiv whispered, squeezing the doll.
"That's right," Elisabeth said.
"Nobody would know you have
any of these, unless you tell them.
That's entirely up to you, Shiv."
He shook his head. "Everyone
would see me carrying them in."
"I think I know just the thing,"
Elisabeth said, and went to fetch it.
"Here. Who's going to notice you
carrying a reusable bag? You do
that all the time for shopping."
"Yeah," Shiv said, reaching
for the messenger bag.
It was brown denim trimmed
in animal print, with grommets
and carabiners adding interest.
Shiv poked a finger through
one of the grommet holes.
"With these, I could pick it up
just using my superpower."
"You sure could," she said.
"Would you like to have it?"
"Yeah, but ... this is kind
of a lot," Shiv hedged.
He hadn't let go of the bag
or any of his dolls, though.
"That's okay," Elisabeth said.
"Sometimes you'll get more things,
other times not. Another day, it
will be someone else's turn,
and that will be okay too."
Shiv nibbled his lip, but
at least this time he
didn't break the skin.
"Yeah, but this is
the last one," he said,
stroking the towel doll.
"Someone might need it."
"That's okay," Elisabeth said.
"We see plenty of those -- there's
a local club making them for us,
the police, and the firefighters.
We'll get more of them soon."
"Okay," Shiv said abruptly,
shoving the dolls in the bag.
Elisabeth resisted the urge
to punch the air in triumph.
Shiv had survived so much,
and his harsh background
made him prickly at best,
shatterprone at worst.
She tried to make up for it
by being kind to him and
helping him fill in gaps
that he missed earlier,
but that only went so far.
A low sound made both of them
look toward the wooden shelves.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to make noise,"
Edison said. "I'm done working with
the world map. Is everything okay?"
Shiv flicked a glance at the closed bag.
"Yeah, kid, it's all good here," he said.
Edison scampered over to them.
"I'm glad you're not sick," he said,
putting Michelle back into his lap.
"Can we go back to playing, or do
you need to do something else?"
Shiv's gaze lingered on his bag,
or more likely, the hidden dolls.
"I dunno ..." he hedged.
"Well, those dishes won't
do themselves," Elisabeth said.
"You boys can keep each other
company while I get back to work."
She kissed Edison on top of his head,
brushed her fingertips over Shiv's arm,
and then headed toward the kitchen.
As she paused in the doorway,
she saw Shiv's hand sneak into
the bag and retrieve his heavy doll.
Elisabeth sighed in relief and
slipped out of the living room.
Things could change so entirely,
made anew in a heartbeat,
because someone was kind.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.