April 2
by Vivian Sheperis

After that day I never played with dolls again. It happened on the seventh step, in the middle of my fantasy, halfway up the oak staircase. A baby doll lay on each of the steps, three through nine.

The staircase hugged the right side of the parlor wall up to the attic door. It was open on the left, guarded with a wrought iron railing rolled with fanciful designs. My ten-year-old mind saw this as a hospital, each stair a private room for a sick child. I was their nurse.

I had a collection of seven dolls, presents from Santa over the last seven Christmases. However, just before this last December at age nine, I had passed that crucial threshold of realizing Santa was really Mom and Dad. A doll’s status dropped a few notches, and now, well into my tenth year, my pituitary gland was foreshadowing big changes.

On this sunny but cool day in late summer, I carried the seven dolls from their shelf in my closet to the living room staircase. I placed one doll on the third step and the rest in succession up to the ninth. The fifth step held an imaginary bed of cool sheets for the largest, and I lay her on her back. On the sixth was a crib for the smallest baby, peaceful on her stomach and swaddled in a pink blanket. Each child had an ailment for which only I had the cure. Intuitively, I knew their pain and gently touched the sore place. All were sleeping, breathing calmly, and their nurse sat down to rest. I kept my vigil, eyes roving from one child to the next.

More quickly than I would have wished, an extraordinary wave of magical energy began to rise from the scene, lifted towards the ceiling and disappeared through the attic door.

I sat rigidly and stared at seven wooden stairs with seven plastic dolls. Their breathing had stopped, eyes tightened shut by crusty hinges. Hard limbs in attitudes meant to simulate life were frozen like the dead in Pompeii. My nurse’s uniform was a pair of blue overalls, and sanitary white shoes had turned to scruffy brown oxfords.

I didn’t stay long after the shift. There was nothing more to do there. I gathered the seven bodies in my arms and carried them back to their corner of the closet. They lay buried in the dark for a year or so until Mother did some spring-cleaning. I don’t know what their ultimate fate was, for I never sought their company again.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a woman, I put away childish things.” And that was a loss I’ve never forgotten.

-Vivian Sheperis

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