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Grant Flint

The Dollmaker

Throbbing down his memory lanes, cascading, a torrid waterfall -- four or five or six women he was now going with simultaneously -- the dear Preacher Lady now gone, but new entries, possibilities, terror every day, two or three new each week -- he kept records, you had to keep records, that was the secret.

You left one, drove two blocks, stopped, turned on the overhead light, wrote a half page of notes -- her sister lived in Iowa, her son's name was Ryan, she liked Latin in high school, psychology in college, she thought you maybe had one or two ladies going in the personal ads, she liked three fingers, not just one, in her vagina...

Records, records. Key to survival.

By the time of the sweet goodbye with the Preacher Lady, he had been with Libby the Witch, the Doll Maker, for several months.

Met her that night at La Vin, restaurant/coffee shop/bar on the Solano Ave, Berkeley -- and he knew instantly which one she was. Personal ad ladies always sat there very, very still, but fidgeting so violently inside there was an aura of silent screaming about them, sore thumb sticking out.

Knew instantly she wasn't right, not his dream girl --

He was half-turning, already turned in his mind, to escape when she saw him.

"Well, hello," he said, moving over the five steps to her.


"You're Libby?"

She nodded, he sat down. "You have beautiful hair," he said.

She nodded, poker-faced.

He did all the talking while he tried to think how to get out of this gracefully, with her ego and his innocence still intact.

He complimented her on every possible semi-good thing he could find in her, ordered wine, she ordered spaghetti, then he ordered spaghetti, then they ordered more wine.

What a dour face. She sat there listening to his barrage of sweet talk, saying little to nothing. It was like a challenge. She wasn't going to make it easy for him to dump her gracefully. She was, instead, more or less dumping him as they went along.

He was intrigued. What was it with her? Did she have some secret attribute he was missing? How come she was so superior?

As he fed her, rapidly running out of money, and wined her, and extended what was usually a half hour meeting for no no’s, an hour meeting for princesses, into two hours -- she began to look better.

Her figure was fine. Pneumatic breasts. Her hair was all ringlets. Blond ringlets. She looked like one of the painter, Durer’s, models -- a strong-faced, ugly/beautiful peasant from Holland or Germany or Denmark. He told her this, leaving out the ugly part.

Her scowl decreased about ten percent.

She treated him like some kind of snake-oil salesman. As though she had to listen but sure didn't have to buy.

Turned out she lived only four blocks away, so he walked her there, gave her a little peck on the cheek at her door --

Her strange letter came two weeks later.

"Dear Harry,

"Two glasses of wine and a rainy afternoon has prompted me to write you a letter. Does the lady have no shame?

"I must say that I was very confused when you didn't call. I must be losing my touch, but I could've sworn that you were attracted to me. Sensuous and kind are still a dynamite combination, however, it is not kind to lead a lady on and not call and I never had a chance to test the sensuous part.

"I hope you have found the one in a thousand -– you’re an attractive man.

"Confused, but still learning,

                  "I remain,


He called Libby, went to her place. Her two kids were with the ex-husband for the night. Libby and he sat on the floor in front of her fireplace drinking wine and still that stupid poker face. Rejecting him again!

He was about to leap up and tear out of there, when she said, "I'm a doll maker. I make dolls. Special dolls. Would you like to see Cindy?"

She brought out a huge doll. Over two feet tall. All dressed up. With the most evil face he had ever seen, in real life or in nightmares.

"This is Cindy," Libby said.

"Hi, Cindy," he said, avoiding its evil eyes.

"Cindy has a clitoris, don't you, Cindy?" Libby said, and she pulled down the doll's drawers, lifted up its dress and exposed its red velvet clitoris.

Well. Interesting.

"Cindy likes you, don't you, Cindy?"

"I do!" the doll said, using Libby's falsetto voice.

"Shall we keep him?" Libby asked the doll.

"Yes! Keep him! Don't let him go!"

For the first time since he met her, Libby smiled. She took off with the doll, returned almost immediately, sat down on the floor, put her head in his lap.

"Kiss me," she commanded.

So he did, the fireplace log popping away nearby, snapping and popping. Kissed her and kissed her, and some of this, more of that. Fondling, gasping, nibbling, touching, tickling, nudging the secret places until she began making a moaning sound which became exactly like a train coming in the distance, coming closer, closer, wailing right by him, loud and haunting, scary, wonderful, then going on by, fading, fading into the night.

He was hooked. Afterwards, they were lying there, glistening in the flickering, popping fireplace light, and he told her what a grand doll she had, what a fascinating doll, her face representing all the secrets of Woman, but innocence, the power, the wanting, the trickery, the pride, the passion, the subtle female cunning.

Actually the doll's face scared the bejeebers out of him, but Libby was delighted.

"You're the first man ever who understood her!" she exclaimed. "The rest of them have all been terrified! As though she were some kind of evil witch or something! I'm so delighted! If you understand Cindy, you understand me."

Well, at least he had got some animation out of her. From stone-faced to this with only one enormous lie. Pretty good.

Many, many nights of passion. Her gloriously pneumatic breasts, bouncy. Her magnificent train wail.

Then, herpes.

"I have herpes," she finally admitted with great trepidation. I’m leaving, he told himself righteously. Just a matter of doing it gracefully.

"But it only came once, that one time four years ago, never again, and so it's like I don't have it -- and if I did, they say there's a warning first, you get signs --"

So long, sweetheart, he told her in his mind. But the graceful exit went on and on -- and there were those train wails --

But then there came a really bad night.

"Wouldn't it be fun to do it in Bobby's room?" she asked mischievously. It was great to see her face light up on these rare occasions.

"Oh, sure, yeah," he said with false enthusiasm.

The Freudian association was overbearing to him. In psychology 1A he had learned that all mamas want to copulate their sons and vice versa. Too close to home. Was in the same bed as his mother those first nine years, same bedroom the next eight years, saw her naked once too often putting on her monthly "rag" -- "She's got the rag-on" -- was smothered by her awakening kisses too many mornings. Though she was, as all mothers were, entirely innocent.

"Bobby is gone," Libby said wickedly, "and we can do it in his room, on the carpet!"

"Great!" he said with sinking heart. Herpes, and now incest.

They desecrated her son's room on the royal-purple carpet with his Star Wars posters glaring down at them, and she pulled his pants off him, then yanked his shorts down, then pushed him on the floor, then wiggled, wiggled, smirked, giggled down, down towards his innocent boyish member, pulling her peanut-butter colored panties down, down over her pale thighs, her eyes blazing, and she landed on his cock with a squish, flattening it.

"I'm sorry," he apologized after four minutes of severe efforts on both their parts.

She committed that sin, corrupted her son's room forever, and he couldn't get a hard-on.

"It's the herpes, isn't it?" she said, about to cry.

"Oh, no, no, no -- not that at all. Who knows?" He shrugged mightily there on the floor, his pants around his ankles, she sitting desolate on him, the house quiet as the grave.

"We need to get off by ourselves," she said two weeks later. "I know just the place."

Had she been there with someone else in the past? Of course.

A romantic motel, no TV, by the ocean, two and a half hours north.

"This is our last chance," she didn't say out loud, but screamed, "to save our ‘romance'. Or say goodbye."

For lovers only. Overlooking the pounding ocean, Mist coming in, seagulls complaining, smell of salt water slightly sickening.

"Screw me!" she commanded.

He tried. The bed, king-sized, was very firm. They banged around a while, mechanically doing this and that, new positions, really not having a lot of fun.

The next morning, all alone on the beach, they hid between two ridges of sand dunes, the wind blowing her hair. They huddled there from the stinging sand, disheartenly ate their 20-inch loaf of French bread, a slab of cheese, and drank a bottle of red wine, using pale-white paper cups.

She lay on the smoke-colored blanket, the grass on the huge sand dune crisp-brown behind her. Her face ugly this day. Bloated. Nondescript nose. Double-chinned. Fat-faced. Age spot-brown, tinted sunglasses. Smile. Lying there in her sour-cream white, hooded sweatshirt, faded blue jeans, ugly bare feet, ugly wild-rose pink-painted toenails. But beautiful -- because she didn't love him. He was a servant she allowed to tag along.

The ocean screamed, wailed like she used to do. The ocean was noxious-colored, looking like the color of "Nyquil" he took for the flu. A haze there. Salt-white breakers fighting in.

“I'm selling the piano and going to Paris for the dollmaker’s convention," she said. "In two weeks. For a month."

"I love you!" he suddenly blurted out, metallic taste in his mouth, which was his way of saying, I can't stand you, but I hate change and you are leaving me and I need you.

She just smiled faintly.

"One thing," he said, minutes after he had recovered somewhat. "Don't fool around over there," he demanded, begged of her. "If you do, I'll know it."

She merely smiled slightly, looked guilty and superior.

He knew then like it was written in huge letters in the sky what was going to happen. His chest trembled.

"Tell me the truth always, please," she wrote from Paris. "I learn so much from your insights and I can connect with someone who 'says' his heart, bad and good. Otherwise, there is no texture, no depth to the person and no place to put love.

"It's as if in not telling the truth, instead being agreeable or tolerant all the time, it makes one without texture like a porcelain statue."

If I tell you the truth, he thought, I am gone.

"It is impossible to truly love, because there's no place for the love to go -- not inside or stuck in many parts, but love only as something which lies lightly on top -- enveloping but never touching, as a piece of cellophane covers a statue.

"I want my love, next time --"

Next time?

"-- next time to have texture, depth, interest, movement -- not just be 'nice', pleasant, agreeable, supportive."

I’m "nice," he thought, "pleasant, agreeable, supportive" because if I told you the "truth," I would leave you.

"I'm sorry," she wrote, "you feel somehow anxious about me. I could hear it on the phone. Maybe you were just lonesome....

“....I can give you one chamber of my heart. Maybe two -- but not all, never all, and it makes me very sad.

"The heart seems to be the most important & developed of the doll I’m making here. It is trying to mend and be beautiful again.

                  "Love, Libby

                           "and licks and kisses and hugs"

August 16, Tuesday, Paris

"Dear Harry,

"I am taking a rest from working on my doll’s hand which is going slowly.

"Our life is much like being at camp. We work on dolls, take walks, write letters, read & share the shopping & cooking. The meals have been wonderful and healthy. We also drink a lot of good red wine.

"I am getting a little tired of being only with females, nice as they are. I feel that homosexuals of both sexes are stuck. I never feel about them that they are flowing, but that they are fixed.

"They are all lesbians here, except for one other woman and me.

"Tomorrow, if we finish the hands, we start on the face. I'm anxious to work on the face as it will really become a character then.

“Today I received a lovely letter from you. You’re so wise and understanding of me -- even to anticipating my mood. Naturally, this being doll camp, everyone knows everything about everyone's lives, so naturally, there was a big to-do when Libby got a letter from Harry. They all wanted to hear any of the sexy parts. I edited for my public. More! More!

                  Love, Libby."

Libby's next letter:

"... Not having balls myself, I am usually unaware of the actions & words which de-ball a man. Never had a brother, and my father -- So I never do it intentionally.

"I don't like to hurt, but you can be sure I will do it again & again."

(Why? Are you stupid?).

"It is your job to stand up for yourself. I am not always a mind reader.

“It's midnight & I’m exhausted. Cannot keep sewing another minute. I think of you as I go to sleep & I wish your hands and your mouth were all over me & I could feel you against me all hot and wild & I’d moan & flush with pleasure.

"Instead, I pull the sheets up around my neck, listen to the river as it goes by, read your letters again and go to sleep to dream of dolls & plays & you.

                  "Love Love,


            "We’re invited to Betty's and George's wedding the weekend I'm home."

September 3, Saturday.

Four nights before, he had awakened, slobbering in sweat. A premonition.

He knew what it was as soon as Libby came home from Paris, was walking up the exit hall from the plane toward him: She looked more -- French, somehow. Worldly. Thinner. Cynical. Like the tired wife coming in the door at 2 a.m., met by her cuckolded husband. He knew, he'd been there in real life.

Her eyes were stubbornly guilty, even as he sensed a mute plea for understanding, forgiveness.

He said nothing. He was free. He was sick, soured, miserable. But free. The only hold she ever had over him she had now lost. As long as there was hope he might someday win her -- she had him. Now -- having betrayed him, given the final insult -- she had nothing.

September 4, Sunday.

The wedding was a posh set-up. Jewish, elaborate, in a palace-like building on Nob Hill, champagne coming around in a flurry on silver trays. Even a band. There were flowers everywhere, violets, pink and yellow roses, standing room only, people whooping it up in a refined way.

The witch, sweet doll maker, was as he had never seen her. She was smiling non-stop. Jet lag? She was holding his hand. She was introducing him to all her friends. She was making hinting remarks about weddings.

"Esther says you're really a gem," Libby told him proudly. Esther was her good friend.

In the middle of the ceremony, which went on and on in stages, bride reading her marriage poem to groom, groom reading his vow of perpetual -- on and on -- in the middle of it he took Libby by the arm, led her, her face wondering but trustful, off away from the excitement, back into the darkened banquet area where he sat her down at the table, poured some more champagne and set the stage.

He believed she perhaps thought he was going to propose. Instead, he said, "You can tell me now. What did you do in France?"

"What --? France? Do?"

"After the doll camp."

"After --?"

"Just tell me. I already know."

She told him, it was nothing, meant nothing, it was just that she was in France, and nothing had happened, just a bunch of lesbian women around for four weeks, that and his hot letters, so -- it was nothing, nothing at all. Just a 26-year-old Count. An accident.

"That's it, we’re through," he said.

"What? What?" She stared at him in complete, numb shock. "Through? Through?" She began to cry.

They left. The wedding was still in process. She explained twice more on the way home it had meant nothing. He was only 26. It was just an accident.

Harry said nothing. Not a word. She begged him to speak. He was silent.

She had broken his heart. In some fundamental way. Got even for all the other personal ad women.

There was something about her he had loved. Maybe it was the secret part, hid far beneath, protected, which she would give to no one. Which he had to have, to touch, to win over, to give into. To love.

September 5th, Monday, Labor Day.

She called. He was polite at first. Pleasant, calm, understanding. Untouched. He offered to write a personal ad for her.

"I'm a little drunk," she admitted. "Wine."

She invited him to dinner.


She talked about his gabbiness, how he talked too much. She talked about honesty. She wanted him to tell her more about Kathy, her ex-husband's girlfriend he'd met once while Libby was in Paris.

"Is she prettier than me?"

"Of course not."

"Are you being honest now? With me, now?"

"I think we should finish it," he said.

Long silence.

"I'll put the play tickets in your mailbox," he said.

"No," she said.


“Well, we could go, I guess. Just be friends," he said.


"Well -- you think about it."

He didn't feel as bad as when his first wife left him. Nothing would ever be that bad again. Because that was losing his family. Too much like when his father had died when he was three and a half.

This wasn't as bad as when Ellen left him. Which was much less bad than when his first wife left him.

Libby had left him that night when he woke up in a sweat when she was in France.

September 7, Wednesday.

Libby called. "I'm kind of weepy," she said. "Having some wine."

Then she hung up.

She called up near midnight again. Same thing.

The next day he went by her place by accident, force of habit. Her car was in the driveway.

He guessed he probably hoped she would be standing out there on her porch. She would see him go by, and she would wave. Maybe she would run out toward him, her face open, her secret self exposed.

He would stop the car with trembling hands. Would welcome her open heart.

That would be nice. If life were like that.

©2008 by Grant Flint

Grant Flint has appeared in The Nation, Poetry, Amelia, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Common Ties, The San Francisco Chronicle, Weber, Hudson View Poetry Review, The Oracular Tree, Foliate Oak, and other literary reviews. He is old, shy, and does stand-up comedy.

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