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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Fake Girl

      Lester and Lydia Liitning's six year old daughter Lacey Ann was nicknamed Thunder. Whenever she felt thwarted, slighted, or even slightly peeved her bright face would scowl and darken like a storm cloud.  She would rumble and roar, rattle and pound, and hurl and smash while onlookers and her unfortunate parents ran for cover from the tornadic girl's tempestuous outbursts. Mild conditions were unpredictably brief and would change without warning to moderate or severe.  Every year her birthday produced an especially turbulent season.  The upcoming seventh annual celebration of "Thunder" Ann Liitning promised a continuing trend of ill temper with the near certainty of worsening as the day approached.
     This unsettled domestic climate was further excacerbated by the yearly birthday dress shopping tradition Lydia had insisted on starting while Lacey was still a manageable babe-in-arms. Lydia now regretted these excursions and approached them with a phobic anxiety.  Her husband Lester was no different from his wife and like any survivor of multiple natural disasters often exhibited signs of post traumatic stress disorder.  His preferred coping mechanism was a dreamy-eyed dissociative mental state in which he repeatedly mumbled, "Of course dear, you're right dear, yes dear."
     Young "Thunder" Ann Liitning took her parents in stride.  They were weak impermanent structures to be buffeted and broken at will.  They meant as much to her as a grain silo or trailer park might mean to a summer twister.  Perhaps because they stood up to her unpredictable moods in a similarly rickety manner.  As a result, this year's birthday dress shopping had started early and lasted an unseasonably long time.
     Hurricane Lacey struck retail locations uptown, downtown, crosstown, and out of town. She blustered and raged through outlet malls, boutiques, specialty shops, and thrift stores. Confused clerks, disorganized merchandise, and maltreated retail managers littered her path of petulant destruction. For two full weeks she pounded her parents' chequebooks and rattled their nerves.  Dresses and outfits were tried on, thrown aside, picked up again, bought, returned and exchanged for fancier, trendier and more expensive junior miss fashions. Her whirling stormy track eventually led through little India, to a small storefront attached to a larger garment warehouse.  She barged through the door letting it bang shut on her bedraggled parents.  The effusive shopkeeper greeted them with the enthusiasm of a lifelong people-person and heavily accented English.
     "What a lovely young girl!" his compliments temporarily stalled Lacey's temper, "You obviously know your own mind.  What lucky parents you must have!  Come, come you must try this on, and this! Why, I'll show you ten colours!!"  
     Lester and Lydia huddled near the door like rain-soaked strays while the salesman worked a miracle.  He danced Lacey from from one end of the small store to the other, past shelves stacked to the ceiling with expensive, intricately decorated fabrics and foreign looking dresses.  Maybe it was the incense laden air, the vibrant coloured garments seeming to bring the mannequins to life, or simply the reprieve from Lacey's oppressively violent personality but Lester's eyes began to clear.  He took in the store as a swirl of colour and light and joy.  Lydia stopped trembling. Her anxiety eased when she heard with amazement her daughter's voice.  It wasn't raised in anger or screaming frustration.  Her little girl was laughing.
     The Liitning's reprieve did not last long.  Like shell-shocked survivors peeking from under shelter at the clear blue sky, they realized this bright ray of hopeful sunshine was just the eye of the storm.  The forward wall of Typhoon Lacey had passed, laid waste, and now the trailing front swept forward to pummel survivors, fling wreckage and devastate whatever dared continue standing.
     "I like them..." said Lacey waving her hands at all the dresses stacked to the ceiling in white-painted cubbies, "but I really want that one!"  She pointed directly at a small child-sized mannequin half-hidden behind a sari rack and a revolving bangle display.
     "I am so sorry but that outfit is just not available."  The shopkeeper pressed his hands together and almost seemed to bow as he smiled and apologized.  "Perhaps, this one over here is more to the young lady's taste?" 
     Just one street away a car skidded through an intersection and collided with another.  The screech and pop of the crash coincided with Lacey's steely reply.  "I.  Want.  That.  One."
    "Of course dear, yes dear."  Lester desperately grabbed for his wallet. Lydia began shaking like an abused schnauzer and shook her head at the shopkeeper; tried to form words, to warn him.  
     "I apologize, good sir, good lady, but this dress is just not for sale."
     Lacey inhaled. She turned red. She turned purple. She clenched her fists and ground her teeth. Her body went rigid and sweat formed on her brow. Her mother squeaked like a mouse and threw her jacket over her face. Lester surrendered. He might have even given a final guffaw as he relaxed his whole body, looked to the ceiling, and waited for the inevitable.
     "I can, however, trade you for it.  You see those clothes belong to her and I cannot in good conscience leave her naked in my store." The shopkeeper pulled the little mannequin into full view.  The dress was gorgeous.  Lacey could not have appreciated the stitching, or the sequins, or the quality, cut, and sweep of the fabric.  She only knew it was pretty and she wanted it.  
     "Daddy!"  Lacey didn't understand trading, giving one thing and getting another.  She understood her parents opening their wallets and paying money for whatever she wanted.  She needed 
her father to fix this situation by capitulating to her inevitable will and getting her the object of her desire.
     "Trade, of course, yes dear, of course.  Um sir, what would you need for a trade?"  Lester was on unfamiliar ground as well.
     "As I said, I cannot leave this young girl naked in my store, it would not be decent."
    "Mannequin." Lacey interrupted.  "She's a mannequin, and it's not like she'd even care if she had clothes.  It's not like she's real.  She's just a...a...fake! She's a fake girl!  I want that dress!"
     "Um, we don't have anything really to trade you for.  My watch?  Here take my watch! Or my wife has a ring...a wedding ring, my grandmother's, but we can get another!"  Lester began thrusting items at the strange shopkeeper hoping against hope some trinket or shiny bauble could, like a talisman, forestall the doom rising in his daughter's eyes.  
     "No, no sir." The shopkeeper bobbed his head.  How can he still smile, wondered Lydia. Didn't he know the end was coming, disaster was nigh and its name was Lacey?  "This barter can be a straight exchange.  Your beautiful daughter has a perfectly lovely ensemble, I'm sure it will fit very nicely on my "fake" girl."
     Lacey's dress was a day old.  It came from an outlet mall thirty kilometres outside the city.  Lydia had a tailor alter it to fit the little girl's exacting tastes and fashion sense.  It was sunshine yellow with ribbons and darts and complicated pleats.  It flounced and twirled and featured a full collection of gaudy accessories.  
     "This thing is garbage!  You can have it!"  Lacey's words stung her mother like grit in a windstorm.
   With gentle hands the shopkeeper removed the mannequin's sequinned dress and gracefully surrendered it to Lacey's grasping fingers.  The terrible blonde girl spun to the changing room at the rear of the store.  She squealed in delight as the dress sparkled in the mirror.  Flinging the changing room door wide she flounced and twirled around the little shop.
     "Isn't it lovely!  Oh yes I'm glad it's mine, it's mine, it's mine, it's mine!"  Lacey sang like a bird welcoming spring.  Any onlooker might say that little girl was a ray of sunshine!  Her family knew this sunny moment was an all too rare respite between turbulent fronts but for now they were grateful for the break.
     "We're just happy you're happy, dear." Lester smiled.
     No one noticed the shopkeeper collecting Lacey's discarded clothes from the changing room, or using them to re-dress the mannequin.  He hummed and whistled to himself as Lacey danced and chirped. 
   She was a twirling, glittering whirlwind lifting here and touching down there, spreading song and joyous light throughout the store.  Lacey had gotten her way and she was ecstatic and beautiful for a precious few seconds. Her parents lived for this. Their little girl was still a storm, she would always be a storm, but in this fragile moment Lacey was an electric storm of joy.   
    "Look!" She hollered, "Look! Look! I look just like the statue!"
    And she was right. Lacey was holding the re-attired little mannequin girl's face in her hands and pretended to stare deeply into its eyes.  Then giggling and calling for her parents to keep watching she struck a mimicking pose.
      "The Fake Girl looks just like me!" Lacey marvelled.
       Lydia pressed into her husband's chest while he buried his face in her hair. Overcome with relief and dreading the next outburst they didn't notice Lacey grow quiet. The moment stretched like a cat. However much she loved her daughter, Lydia could not help wishing her little girl were different, more grateful, and respectful and that the precious little girl child she had hoped for would appear and this tempestuous little monster would be gone forever.
   Lester gently lifted Lydia's face. His shirt was soggy with her silent, burning, frustrated, humiliated tears. He knew he should say something encouraging, or comforting but found nothing inside. Coping with Lacey had dried up his emotions. He looked vacant and felt like his soul had been bleached. He was just very tired and knew if nothing changed and improved very soon every hope he had for his family would be gone.
   "Sir, Ma'am? Are you all right?" The bowing salesman approached them showing concern. "Come, come. I think the little miss has changed her mind."
    He beckoned the couple to follow him to the change rooms at the rear of the store. Lacey was wearing the dress she had on earlier and swishing back and forth in the mirror.
    "You know, I actually like this one better. Mom, Dad, can we go now?"
On their way out they passed the little girl mannequin once again dressed in the glamourous flowing sequinned salwar kameez. She was once again partially concealed behind saris and a display of bangles and jewelry. Maybe if Lester and Lydia weren't in such a hurry to take advantage of Lacey's sudden change they might have given it a second look and been amazed at the close resemblance between the doll and their daughter. They might have seen the panicked look in the mannequin's eyes as they seemed to follow them then freeze in place; or wondered at the lifelike warmth, colour, and texture of the skin as it seemed to quiver and pulse with life and then be still.
    The Liitnings left the store as quickly as they could and raced home to finish the preparations for Lacey's birthday. At the party everyone remarked on the drastic change age seven had brought to little "Thunder" Ann Liitning. She smiled, was polite to all the guests, and even said thank-you to her parents. Soon people stopped calling her "Thunder" and she became just plain old Lacey. Some said it was a miracle, others said Lacey had grown out of tantrums. Whatever it was her parents took it as a miracle, or a blessing and never went back to that little dress shop again.

    
   

     
   
     

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Weary

Piers surveyed the bloody field. Crows and camp followers stripped the dying of the final shreds of life, wealth, and dignity.  The dead were already stripped of all they had and would ever have and took no notice. As an old soldier, Piers took a moment to mourn and wish them well on whatever journey lay before them, then gathered his wits before any tears cracked his stoic facade.

Tonight would bring feasting for the victors, drinking and plunder.  The fallen, well, there was nothing for them to do but rot in the field where Piers and his comrades had slain them. Any survivors were fleeing to the mountains and the dubious hospitality of the hill tribes. The people of these plains fought desperately, Piers didn't know what they called themselves, but they weren't disciplined and couldn't match the ferocity of his soldiers. Raised since birth to fight, Piers, his brothers and sisters, almost his entire family served the army.
  
  If he asked questions instead of following orders he might have known this battle was nothing but a tax dispute.  Tribute had not been paid and the people here, the slaughtered and scattered, became examples to quell any other whispers of defiance or rebellion.  Piers used a long knife to scrape bloody mud from his boots and swatted away the gathering flies with his free hand. Dark clouds gathered but the late fall day was warm and muggy.  A storm. He hoped it would flood the field and hide the corpses.  No one was going to bury them.  They were a warning.