The Favorite

by Candice Snow —

Shortly after I was first admitted to the hospital, my mother began collecting dolls. Her favorite was the largest of the collection, which was gifted a place of honor on the bench nearest the front door. At four years old, I had to hurry past it to go anywhere in the house—the kitchen, my bedroom, the backyard—but no matter how quickly I moved, its two inescapable eyes fastened to the back of my retreating head.

Sometimes I’d catch Mama brushing the tangled mop of synthetic curls, and she’d wave me over. “You want to try?” she asked, holding out the brush in offering.

I shook my head no.

Its stiff, lifeless form sat still in her lap, smiling complacently as my mother ran the brush bristles from the top of its head to the nape of its neck. I hated its mouth the most. A full mouth of perfectly straight teeth, lips curled up at the ends in what was supposed to be a smile. We shared the same swollen face, the same blue eyes, the same brittle bits of blonde hair, but the doll’s fixed expression was one of sinister glee that I had never before seen in any real-life child.

“Did I ever tell you,” my mother continued, “when you were a baby, complete strangers would say you looked just like a little porcelain doll?”

I shook my head no.

“Come here.”

I shook my head no.

“What’s wrong?”

I pointed to the doll.

“It’s plastic,” she said. “It’s not real. It can’t hurt you.”

Eyes sharply focused on the smiling figure, I wheeled my child-sized IV stand over to the couch and breathed a sigh of exultation when Mama placed the doll on the floor beside her, freeing up her lap. Hoisting me up, careful not to tangle tubes connecting me to assorted bags, she began running her shaking fingers gently across my scalp.

“Your hair is so beautiful,” she whispered. “Her hair is not as soft as yours.”

As I grew taller, the doll was gifted my favorite red-and-black checkered dress. I made it a point to glare at her to show I didn’t approve of the stolen gown. She’d smile at me in return, as if she knew how much I hated her for taking my things and replicating my face, bloated as it was with infection. I was a sick child, and she wasn’t sick at all. She was plastic. She would never outgrow my clothes. Her body would never fail from frailty. She would never die.

After the birth of my sister, the dolls in my mother’s collection slowly began to dwindle, one by one, room by room, until only my mother’s favorite remained on its seat by the front door.

I began to feel its eyes on me when I’d sneak to the kitchen for sugary treats I was forbidden from eating. Plump fingers tentatively probed the high kitchen counter for half-full soda cans or forgotten juice boxes left near my big brown bottle of medicine. I’d poke and prod and try my best to climb up in search of things that would only aid in the declination of my health. Cold and silent as death itself, I’d sense eyes, watching. Sweaty with an unearthly dread I could not comprehend, I’d leave the items untouched and retreat to a safer room.

Mama refused to bring my infant sister anywhere that might make her sick, so Dad took me to the hospital to remove the tubes from my body. Each of my doctors happily assured me I was out of death’s doorway at last, and what a lucky little girl I was to have such loving parents.

I pondered my mother’s love on the car ride home, struggling for an answer as to why she refused to part with my plastic doppelgänger. I would have pondered her reluctance for the rest of my life had I not offered to throw away my father’s fast food wrappers once we pulled into the driveway.

In the metal trashcan placed on the side of the curb, I found her face-down in the garbage, buried deep in the remains of last night’s dinner, as if she had never meant anything at all.

Candice Snow is the author of The Birth of a Phoenix, and in the rare instance she’s not procrastinating, you can find her hard at work on her next novel. Despite being born in Southern California, her fear of tangling in seaweed and drowning a watery death kept her from learning how to properly surf. She currently resides in Los Angeles. She likes the color pink. She also likes the word “catawampus.”