NEVER TELL • by AJ Smith

When the old doll Grandma gave me first started to talk, I thought I was imagining it. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, between going back to work and Julie still getting up in the night. Of course, I did what I always did: kept it to myself.

Doris was a Mama Doll. Made in 1920, she was my grandmother’s first and only doll. Doris looked odd — a hand-painted ceramic head, and dirty clay hands and legs, and a squashy body that seemed to forever be losing straw. The Mama doll had a mechanism that said Mama when turned over. But, since the day my grandma gave her to me the device was broken. Her face was delicately painted with blue eyes and light pink lips. But time had not been good to Doris and her face was now cracked and hideous.

Friends always commented on Doris.

“I couldn’t sleep with that doll in my room.”

“She gives me the creeps.”

“Every time I see that old doll I get the chills.”

But never did she scare me. Even now, it’s more of a worry than a fright. Why had she started to talk? I was given Doris twenty years earlier and she’d sat perfectly quiet on my dresser all this time. It seemed to me she was trying to give me a message, but it was hidden in strange words and phrases.

The first thing she said was, “Shh. Never tell.” I, of course, pretended not to hear her, to which she then said, “It looks like rain in Cherry Blossom Lane.”

What was this all supposed to mean? I found reasons to avoid going into my bedroom and started to leave piles of folded clothes just outside the door. But nighttime always came and Doris didn’t mind waiting. “Momma’s gonna be really mad,” said Doris in her high pitched voice. Again, I said nothing and Doris said, “Not last night, but the night before, twenty-four robbers came to my door.”

Later, when Julie woke up screaming, I dragged myself out of bed and walked towards her room with my eyes half open. “Never tell secrets,” whispered Doris as I walked past my dresser.

“What?” I whispered, forgetting that I wasn’t going to respond to the crazy doll.

“Shh. Lady, turn around, turn around, turn around.”

Julie let out another yelp and I hightailed it out of there.

I fed Julie and rocked her back and forth, thought of Doris and what she was trying to tell me. Maybe all this waking in the night was causing me to go crazy. Tomorrow.  Tomorrow I would see. Tomorrow I would stop avoiding her. Tomorrow I would try to talk to her.

In the morning, I felt sick to my stomach. What was Doris trying to say? So, I went to my dresser and faced her. “Okay, Doris. I’m listening.”

“Shh. Listen. When Momma comes home you say nothing. Not a word. Our secret.”

“Did you ever tell the secret?” I asked, deciding to play the game.

“Never tell. Down where the lights grow dimmer and dimmer, I felt my love grow thinner and thinner.”

“Do you want to have a tea party?” I asked. It occurred to me that Doris had not been played with for eighty-five years.

“Tea party! I will be your new best friend.”

So, Doris and I had tea and she told me about the old tree swing that she and my grandma used to play on, and the skipping songs that my grandma sang to her, and the little girls that lived on the farm next door, Faye and Flora.

“And what about the secret?” I finally asked.

Doris started to recite another nursery rhyme, “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. Shh. ”

I realized, then and there, that Doris was never going to tell me the secrets that my grandma whispered to her when she was a little girl. So, I began, “When I was very little I cried whenever I was alone. I couldn’t tell anybody how sad I was… ”

AJ Smith writes poetry and short stories. She is hard at work on her first novel.

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