Two half-spheres of plastic, one pale yellow and the other transparent, formed a small ball a little bit larger than a marble. Inside you could see three small beads, light blue, pink and white. The ball had a flexible plastic handle. It was my sister’s doll’s rattle. When I was small, every little girl had her doll, her precious baby. To have one you had to be a sweet little girl, a girl who wanted to be a mummy. My mother said I was too rough to deserve a precious baby-doll. More than once she’d discovered me trying to open up the rattle of my sister’s baby-doll or to break my brother’s marbles on the pavement to free the coloured forms you could see inside, which I was curious to touch, and because my teddy bear always wound up on the floor under my bed instead of lying properly on my pillow. But my sister, who was four years older than I was, had always had her dear baby-doll, soft and sweet-smelling in her bed or in her arms, clothed in rompers printed in a pattern with jumping clowns and tiny many-coloured flowers.
Each year at school a day was chosen when the girls who were being prepared for their first communion had to bring their baby-dolls to be baptized. When it was my sister’s turn, she was so excited that on the eve of the baptism she stayed up late writing little cards as souvenirs for her teacher and all her classmates. On the cards she wrote the date of the baptism, her doll’s name and the name of the godmother, her best friend Katiusca. For the occasion my mother dressed the doll in clothes we’d worn when we were newborn babies. After the baptism at school, which was performed by a real priest, the doll was treated more than ever like a real baby. If before my sister hardly ever let me hold it, now she wouldn’t even let me touch it. I couldn’t wait to play “hospital,” a game we sometimes played while our parents were napping. We’d shut ourselves up in our room and imagine we were in a hospital room; I was the nurse, she was the mummy and the doll was the newborn baby. I took advantage of the situation to hold it, looking for any excuse I could find: “no, dear lady, you’re still too weak, the doctor says you should rest so I’ll give the baby its bottle.”
One Christmas morning I woke up and finally found in my bed a baby-doll for me, wrapped in a small yellow blanket. Its head was covered with white hair and the look on its face was truly ugly – its mouth was open, its eyes looked unhappy and its face was full of wrinkles like ones formed by desperate screaming. I had a crying baby-doll and I tried to love it, at least as much as I loved my sister’s. But hers had the peaceful face of a baby about to fall asleep, and on top of its head there were little traces that perfectly imitated a newborn baby’s soft fuzz. And hard as I tried, I couldn’t love my unhappy-faced baby-doll. I had no desire to prepare souvenir cards for its baptism day and I didn’t even look for a godmother. I remember that on that morning I put a little bonnet on its head to hide its white hair and my brother burst out laughing, saying: “Your doll looks like an old woman who has to be spoon-fed.” Even my father, who drove us to school, started laughing. “It’s so ugly,” said my sister,” who by then was in middle school, “if I were you I’d take a Barbie to be baptized instead of that little abominable snowman.” I should add here that she’d never once paid a compliment to my baby-doll, nor asked to hold it. I still preferred hers to mine but when I’d ask her to lend it to me she’d refuse, even though she no longer played with dolls.
When she was twenty-two my sister died of a serious illness that had given its first symptoms when she was nineteen. On the day we buried her, my grief-stricken mother wanted to put her baby-doll next to her, considering how she had loved it. But in the end she didn’t, because a few months earlier the doll had lost a leg and my father still hadn’t sewed it back on. .
I looked at my sister’s bed with the sheets that my mother continued to change as often as she did mine, that bed still next to mine with the sorry-looking doll lying on it, alone without the girl who had played at being his mummy for so long. What I missed most was her voice. Despite the quarrels we had when we were little, we’d always told each other everything, and there were the many secrets we’d talk about every night when the lights were off and everyone else was sleeping. At times I’d wake up during the night and realize that the sound of her breathing was missing in the room. Then I would cry, because at that time of night the awareness that she was dead was worse. After about two years, the doll’s head fell off. It happened while my mother was making our beds, and there was a haemorrhage of bits of cotton leaking from its neck. My mother put it in a cotton pillow-case, tied it with a pink ribbon and put it into the upper reaches of our wardrobe. “I know.” she said, “there’s a shop called ‘the dolls’ surgery’ - I’ll look for the address later and get them to put the head back on and fix that leg once and for all.”
I no longer live in my parents’ house. So many years have passed that by now I could be my sister’s mother and my mother her grandmother. The last time I called my mother for Christmas, we talked about my sister and her dear baby-doll, and she was at peace. She told me she still had to look for the address of that doll surgery.
I can picture the bundle of the pillowcase tied with a pink ribbon in the wardrobe we had as girls, with my sister’s baby-doll in it and my mother who still changes our bed-sheets. As for my own baby-doll, I don’t remember when I lost sight of it. Maybe it got lost, or else I’d neglected it so much that in the end my mother donated it to the charity sisters, and so it wound up in the arms of some needy child. I remember the morning of its baptism. Right before leaving for school I went back and threw it on my bed. Then I picked up my Barbie and took it to school to have it baptized. I remember how it was dressed: a fuchsia-coloured miniskirt, a sleeveless shirt with green, yellow and pink stripes, high-heeled shoes and a white visor. I’d followed my sister’s advice, and I didn’t regret it.
translated by Brenda Porster