By Reema Rao-Patel
You told yourself you wouldn’t be like those American mothers, seduced by consumerism’s false promises. Buying this for a happier baby. Buying that to be a better mother. Yet you find yourself at Mommy & Me Paper Maché, asking to see the HER TWINN™ catalog the others are passing around. You are going to make your daughter a doll that looks just like her. All the mothers are doing it.
Step 1: Please provide a photo from each angle listed. Circle the skin tone that best represents your child.
Nothing quite matches your daughter – an irreproducible combination of your jaggery and his “tar.” A color that justified disowning you.
Step 2: Measure the distance between your child’s eyes. Mark the width of their nose, bridge and tip.
Both attributes are his. She doesn’t have enough of you to be taken back by your family.
Step 3: Attach a three-inch lock of hair.
The paperwork details more than a marriage license, but all the mothers say it’s safe to provide the information.
HER TWINN™ arrives the next week in a box marked “Fragile: Handle with Care” on every side.
You remember bringing your daughter home from the hospital four-and-a-half years ago. Only cautioned to support the neck. Someone should’ve wrapped your body, your whole soul, with “Fragile” tape. You cried for months and so did she, which made you cry some more. At some point, it was hard to tell who was making whom cry. Your husband kept researching “baby blues,” while you yelled, “It’s not baby blues!” He would take the baby from you then, until inevitably she needed to be fed.
You open the box and find that HER TWINN™ doesn’t look exactly like your daughter. But it’s her. You see it, you tell yourself. You’re sure if you held HER TWINN™ up to your little girl, strangers would say, “I can tell they’re sisters.”
You hold her tenderly like she’s fresh dough. Sift your fingers through her hair, minding the knots. You like that this doll won’t cry, which means you won’t either. She won’t tell another mother at a playdate that Mommy and Daddy fight louder than the television, so that mother won’t look you in the eye when you come for pickup. She won’t thrash unprompted on the sidewalk, cracking hard like a whip, so that a biker yells, “Hey lady that’s dangerous!” No shit. She won’t beg, “No Mommy! Only Daddy!” at bath time. This doll is yours alone. Even her skin, you see now, turned out the lighter swirls of packaged jaggery.
HER TWINN™ doesn’t blink. It makes you think about the times you wanted to slap your daughter, hand itching, and how one day you did. She once tore your flesh, but worse yet, your heart when she still asked you to tuck her in that night. To lay the stripes of her blanket longways, not horizontal, the way she likes. She still looked at you with glossy love in her eyes.
HER TWINN™’s eyes are glossy too. Her rubber face, however soft, won’t crumble from a slap. Not even a dent. All the mothers agree it’s great quality for the money.
That night, your daughter asks to hold HER TWINN™. She is armed with a dripping bubble wand bound to wreck the doll’s hair and markers that’ll mar its cheek. Some damage is inevitable, but you tell your girl no. Not yet. You deserve a second chance.
All the mothers say so.
Reema Rao-Patel is a writer from Chicago, whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flash Frog, Pigeon Review, Avalon Literary Review, The Wayne Literary Review & elsewhere, as well as longlisted for The Masters Review 2022 Summer Short Story Award. She’s received support from the American Short Fiction Workshop, Key West Literary Seminar Writers’ Workshop, Chicago Asian Writers Workshop, and the Fine Arts Work Center x Kundiman Winter Scholarship. Currently, Reema is working on a short story collection and teaching her dog to roll over.