“You little bitch,” the voice outside my door startled me. Instinctively, I snatched my towel to cover my naked body. Squinting, I walked towards the image that was peeking through the window of my cell door. “I hate you,” Melissa smiled, “look at that body. You look like a black Barbie doll.”
As I began to dress, the thought of Barbie stayed on my mind. Suddenly, I became very aware of my nakedness and began to dress quickly. I hadn’t thought about dolls in years but as I pulled my pajama shirt over my head, I couldn’t help but think of the Barbie dolls that I owned as a child. And as always whenever I think of dolls, I think about my cousin Cameron.
It was a treat whenever Cameron jumped on his Huffy and bicycled his way from his Barry Circle apartment complex in Bloomfield to our home in the next town over. My brother, Paul, and I loved having him over to break up the predictability of summer: swimming lessons at Gossely Pool and arts and crafts with Mom. Paul was two years older than me and Cameron was a few years older than him so there were times that I couldn’t play with them. The games got too rough or the bike rides were just too far away for a seven-year old. But Cameron would always promise me “a date” and make time to play girly games with me. He was nice to me—even let me put barrettes in his hair the last time we played beauty parlor. But I hadn’t seen Cameron in almost a year, since his parents had gone through a divorce. One morning he just showed up on our front steps with a brown paper bag tucked under his arm, his clothes neatly folded inside. He said he was bored at home; tired of seeing his mother drinking, crying, and moping around in her pajamas, howling along with Billie Holiday. But Cameron had changed since then. He’d grown a whole two inches and his voice sounded funny; it was pitchy and cracked when he spoke. He wore deodorant now and showed us the strands of straight black hair that had grown beneath his underarms. Three seasons had gone by but it was summer time again and our Cameron was back.
On that sunny day in July, Cameron and Paul had gone up the street to Mrs. Bagwells’s backyard to play tackle football with her son, Floyd, and a couple of other neighborhood kids. I sat on my bedroom floor with my dolls: all guests for afternoon tea. They were all gussied up from floppy fabric hats to plastic Mary-Janes. Some of them wore my novice attempt at braiding: lopsided plaits tied off with yarn. My Barbie dolls were all dressed to the nines in colorful pumps, designer dresses and handbags. I laid out a spread for a tea party that would be the talk of Windbrook Drive: tap water and checker pieces, my version of tea and cookies. As I was offering seconds on beverages, I heard the boys come bursting through the front door. Cameron was the first of the two to show up at my room.
“Hey, whatcha doin’?” he asked, picking one of my baby dolls up by her head.
“They’re having a party,” I answered, grabbing poor Tabitha from his grip.
“Tell ya what,” he said as I retied the doll’s bonnet, “Why don’t you go and get me and Paul a cold drink and then we’ll play house.” After the boys downed some KoolAid, we all met up in my bedroom. Paul had brought along The Incredible Hulk, Luke Skywalker and Stretch Armstrong. “Okay, this is what were gonna do,” Cameron kicked the tea party into the corner and pulled Ken and Barbie from the wreck. “We only want the sexy ones,” he said, dismissing the Cabbage Patch Kids and baby dolls. “The Barbies are sexy because they have titties and long hair,” he lifted Barbie’s skirt, “and plastic cunts.” Cameron gave a sinister smile while lifting his eyebrows a few quick times looking from me to Paul. Paul and I inched backwards as Cameron gave us a closer look and thumped the exposed underside of the doll. My brother and I looked at each other with twisted faces. Neither of us had ever heard Cameron use such nasty words before.
Cameron’s idea of house was quite different from mine. House quickly spun into a violent argument between the dolls.
“Woman, didn’t I tell you to have this house clean and my dinner cooked?!” Wielding Armstrong, Cameron head-butted Barbie, sending her flying in my direction. “I’m not done with you!” He snatched the doll by her hair and smacked her around a few times before grabbing The Hulk. “Get out of that stupid dress!” He tossed me the Barbie doll. “Here! Take her clothes off. And you,” he tossed Paul the Ken doll, “pull his pants down.” Paul and I looked at each other, our brows gathered to the center of our foreheads. But we just shrugged our shoulders and obeyed our older cousin. I wondered if Paul’s heart was beating as fast and uneven as mine, if his palms were sweating, or if his stomach was twisted in one big knot. When I looked at his face, it was easily readable. Despite having just played football in the sweltering heat, Paul’s complexion had gone from flushed to wan. His features held a hangdog expression. I knew that I shouldn’t be stripping Barbie. I didn’t want to do it. Something bad was happening. As soon as the dolls were disrobed, Cameron picked right up, issuing threats through clenched teeth and fighting the dolls. “Oh, you wanna fight back, do ya?” Ken stood in Barbie’s face. “Well, I got somethin’ for people who like to fight back.” Cameron slammed Barbie to the floor and wedged Ken between her plastic legs. “Take this, bitch,” he said, saliva bubbling at the corner of his angry mouth. “A big, fat dick outta teach you a lesson, knock some sense into ya,” Cameron pounded Ken into Barbie wildly and without mercy. Barbie’s leg popped off. “Hey fellas,” he said to the other figures, “You want some of this?” He grabbed Hulk, Skywalker and Armstrong and gave Barbie the same treatment from each of them. Cameron made lewd noises and groaned disgustingly as he thrust each action figure’s pelvis against Barbie’s face. When I caught a glimpse of my brother, his nine-year old face seemed much older. He looked back at me, his eyes wide and glossy and then in the next instant, he looked away.
As “the lesson” wound down, both Cameron and the “fellas” seemed to have grown exhausted. “Next time,” Cameron said breathlessly, “it’ll be in your dookie hole. Now go clean yourself up, stupid.” He handed me my crippled Barbie. I took her and said nothing. “Hey Chas,” my cousin looked at me, his eyes no longer filled with fury, his face handsome, relaxed and smiling. Cameron was back. “Next time we play, I’ll be the husband and you can be my wife, okay?” I felt my head nod in agreement. Cameron stood, pinched my cheek painfully hard, placed a sloppy kiss on my forehead and exited the room with my brother following close behind. I realized that I was wringing something in my hand and without looking, I felt fabric and knew that I was still holding Barbie’s clothing: evidence of the crime that was just committed against her. I tossed them away from me and wiped my hand against the leg of my shorts. Cameron’s grunts and moans, his bad words and dirty names remained in the room with me. Bitch! dick… titties… cunt… whore!
I jumped, startled as something brushed against my face. I blinked my eyes into focus. Paul’s hand rested lightly on my cheek, his concerned eyes meeting my confused ones. He nodded once, almost undetectably, and left the room as quietly as he’d reentered. My fingers found my face and felt the lingering warmth of his touch. I breathed.
Alone, I sat holding a broken Barbie. She was no longer beautiful. Not her painted blue eye shadow or her pink lips, not even her long hair. I hated her. I took her by the hair, and carried her to the kitchen. And then I did something that I was not supposed to do. Not allowing my disobedience to deter me, I pressed in the knob and turned it. There was a rhythmic clicking sound before blue flames burst into life. I held my hand close enough to the flame to feel its heat. If my mother had walked in, I would have gotten my hands spanked for operating the stove. I looked at Barbie with her wild whore-hair and held it to the orange-blue fire and watched it ignite. Black smoke rose from her melting tresses. A sickening smell of burned plastic singed my nostrils. The fire grew and suddenly I became afraid of its spread. Without thinking, I tossed Barbie into the sink and turned the faucet on. I looked at her feeling ashamed of myself, of my fear, of my guilt and confusion. Her head was misshapen, her face distorted, her scalp a surface of tiny pin holes specked with patches of black plastic. Terrified at what I’d done, I picked her out of the sink and wrapped her neatly in newspaper before I carried her outside to the trash shed. But instead of tossing her into the receptacle, I dug a small hole under the space beneath the shed and laid Barbie to rest with all her whorishness and shame and covered her with dirt. As I walked away, I shook my head, repulsed. What a way to treat a guest. Barbie was dead. She’s been killed in my own bedroom while I sat silently and watched. Despite the July heat, a chill scurried up the length of my spine. Shuddering, I recalled Cameron’s words: Next time we play, I’ll be the husband and you can be my wife… his ominous promise that I would be next.