Running north, ignoring my shinsplints, Bobo pulling on his makeshift leash – we were on a mission, going to Junktiques on North Winooski, not a mile from where Aviva was born, where yesterday she and I wandered among broken keepsakes and VHS tapes, computer monitors heavy as elephant bones, dulled silverware, electric guitars in cracked cases.
In the store, I heard a cry, instinctively looked up half-expecting it to be my own after a week of crying for the woman I called my teacher. And there it was, this god-awful doll with eyes so round she looked petrified into stillness, as if she might have liked to blink if only her eyelids would budge.
But she just stared at us blankly as Aviva pushed on her heart, inciting a metallic sounding song with words that could have been about the falling snow or my darling Clementine or some guy with sweaty pits named Mike Wizowski you made out with once at a high school dance. Mike Wizowski, Mike Wizowski, she sang.
Can I get it? Can I get it? she asked. Get, get, get, I thought, this must be the primary word of her existence, or ours. How do I get this, can I get it, I don’t get it, call me when you get there, get, get, scram, go away! Meeting fear with fear, chasing away demons who long ago moved to unknowable time zones, forgetting us and the beds we used to share.
How much is it? I asked. You ask, she said. No, you, I said, I don’t want the doll. So she approached the clerk, who looked ubiquitously bored behind the register, an oversized CASHIER sign hanging over his head, as if to clarify his role.
She asked him so earnestly my heart chipped a little and when his answer came $1, she looked up at me, eyes as expectant as that doll’s. I shrugged and raised my eyebrows at her, feeling so parental. Then we ran out into the new rain, breathlessly crossed to our car and got in. When can we get a cleaner car? She asked, pulling the belt tight across her chest. When can we get a bigger car, a minivan like Emma’s? I heard myself respond generically, every family is different. Where was my voice? Who was I then?
At home she disappeared upstairs into her own world, I downstairs into mine, wondering how it is we manage to swim between them, to keep finding each other when the boundaries are so flooded, blurred, erased, sometimes impossible to traverse. Is this what happened for Deborah? Swimming only in place, too exhausted, uninterested or unwilling to keep treading water on a doomed mission to recover the body, the life of her beloved?
Turned out Aviva had culled out 100 pennies, leaving me a nickel like an offering in the blue jar on my dresser. She burst into the kitchen, pulsating with victory, with anticipation, the rush of acquisition, the idea of the doll better than the doll would ever be. Can I get it? She asked. Yes, I answered, such an easy favor to curry it felt like cheating.
And so next morning I found myself the courier, with Bobo on his jumprope leash, ever the shapeshifter running through my life from one Junktiques to another, sifting through other people’s treasures, purchases made with pennies collected or stolen from other women’s dressers, sometimes desperate, sometimes expectant of the prize, and never winning by the rules.
The clerk didn’t look surprised when the front door jingled. I’m back for the doll, I told him. He nodded slightly, heading back to some hidden corner where he retrieved her from the mass grave of old shoes, the amnesiac suits discarded, the remembering too painful, abandoned time and again, submerged in dreams, as if we could drown the shadows that trail us down every street in every neighborhood in every region of our lives, no matter how fast we run.
We looked at each other, the doll and I, eyes wide, the finality of it washing over me as we ran home together, the little girl song bumping along in the canvas bag across my back, bruising against my wing bones, her voice still surprising me every time, even now.