Excerpt: “Of Guys And Dolls” by Stella B. James From Tainted Love: Women in Horror Anthology

True to my word, I leave the closet alone. Despite the various hats that fall on me when I move a hanger, or a random photo box that spills out at my feet, I don’t rearrange anything. I tackle under the bed instead.

With my long hair braided to the side to keep it out of the way, I lay flat on my belly to army crawl half way under and pull everything out. Balled up dresses, scraps of torn paper, an old pair of sneakers, and about five shoe boxes full of cards and letters find their way to freedom.

I leave those alone, wondering why she would stash them instead of throwing them away. I find a bigger box last, one meant for boots maybe, and back away to pull it out.

Opening the top reveals a bunch of weird looking homemade dolls. Thirteen of them total. Each of them looks different, but familiar all the same. I run my fingers over their stiff hair and rough bodies, trying to place the name for these things. Turning them over, I notice they have names stitched to them. The red haired one I’m holding is named Carla.

Carla. Carla. Oh, her friend. I find the scrapbook and match each obituary to a doll. Maybe she made these of them? It’s kind of sweet to preserve their memory in this way. Strange, and sad, but sweet. Only one of them doesn’t have a name yet and it also lacks any personal touches.

“I see you found my dolls.” Katy doesn’t look mad, but not too pleased either.

“They match your friends. Did you make them?”

She shrugs, handing me a coffee. “Kind of. I buy them in the French Quarter and finish them up the way I like.”

“Who is this?” I ask, holding up the plain one.

“Not sure yet. Guess it will have to be a surprise.” She sits down beside me, picking up a random doll.

I try to listen to how she fixes up each one, but I can’t stop the cold chill setting in my bones at her last remark.

It’s the last week of July that Katy finds me at the kitchen table doing a crossword puzzle. Something plops on the paper before me, and I recognize it as one of her dolls. It’s wearing a red dress and has long blonde hair, braided to the side. I finger my own braid as I look down at it.

“Is that me?”

“Sure is. I worked on her all week. Figured it would be a nice surprise since you’re heading back to Baton Rouge next week.”

Her sad tone catches me off guard, and I hold the doll to my chest. “You know I have to go back. I have to get my classroom ready and my apartment’s renovations were finished days ago.”

“I know.” She huffs out in frustration and takes the doll back, smoothing out its silky dress. “I’ll just miss you is all. I’ll keep her safe until you leave.”

Ted slams the door upon arriving home, barking out Katy’s name, and I excuse myself for a walk. I’m not in the mood to hear them fight. I don’t think I can stomach the guilt I’ll feel. I wish Katy would just pack up and leave with me.

I like Ted. He’s a good man.

Just not for her.

***

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