Today is Dolly’s Birthday. According to the State of Ohio, she’s 41. Actually, she’s 13. I’m currently working on a novel centered around events that took place on her first birthday, back in 1999. But I wanted to do something special for today, so here’s a bit from the last novel in the Apocrypha — A Doll’s Odyssey.
II. Criminy Crimea or, Meet me in Sevestapol, Louis
Sunday, August 15, 1998, Cincinnati, Ohio
Dolly came padding and shuffling down the back stairs in her fuzzy slippers. One could tell it was early morning by her generally rumpled condition and the red-gold halo her unruly hair formed around her head. Pillow hair, she called it. She was dressed solely in the aforementioned slippers and an oversized terrycloth bathrobe that must have belonged to her lover, Drummond, who was easily twice her size.
She reached the bottom of the stairs and stopped sleepily for a moment, dithering over whether to go out front and get the paper or if it would be more gemütlich to start up a pot of coffee.
Then, like the sun breaking through a layer of cloud, her nose woke up and she could smell that there was already coffee brewing. Her heart swelled with affection for the man who shared her life. He didn’t drink the stuff himself, but had started a pot of it for her before he left on his morning run. He was always thinking of her like that.
She shuffled over to the coffee maker and found a cup set out on the counter, along with a cream pitcher full of her favorite condensed milk and a little silver tray piled high with packets of her favorite sweetener. A spoon stood in the cup. Tied to the spoon by a green curling ribbon was a mylar helium balloon with Garfield the Cat printed on it and a large numeral “6”.
There was a running joke in the household that her feline buddy, Orange Jell-O, most times known as Jelly, was the model for the cartoon cat. He was big and orange and lazy and had an attitude. But he adored Dolly.
“What’s that all about?” she asked the empty kitchen with a sleepy rasp to her voice. She released the balloon to bounce against the overhead and drift in the wind from the ceiling fan.
Pouring a cup of the rich, brown liquid, she savored the aroma of it.
Just like a freakin’ commercial, she thought wryly to herself. She poured in a liberal dose of condensed milk and the contents of a handful of the blue packets of sweetener, then shuffled back over to the table in the breakfast nook, stirring the hot liquid briskly as she walked.
When she got there, she found a wrapped box at her place at the table. It was a heavy box, but what it contained was quite dense. She shook the package and could feel the weight of the contents mostly centered in the box. Whatever the box held, it was asymmetrical. It seemed to want to tumble, a bit like a precessing gyroscope. She set her coffee cup down and turned her full attention to the mysterious parcel.
It was wrapped in creamy gift paper, embossed with the words “Happy Birthday” in a fancy script. That was odd. She had been born in February, if her Genesis could have been called a birth.
She twisted at the waist and stared for a moment at the helium balloon, bouncing against the blades of the lazily turning ceiling fan. Turning back to the package, she saw a small folded card — a gift tag, really — tucked under the binding ribbon. She finagled it out with her slim, elegant fingers and opened it, recognizing Drummond’s messy script immediately. It took her several tries to decipher it, but eventually, she could make out:
You are six months old today. I realize it is not an anniversary, so it’s not properly your birthday, but it is a milestone, and an important one nevertheless. So here’s a present. Happy Un-Birthday.
I love you,
This was so like him to get her a present just because he felt like it and then make up some occasion. But then, she was six months old. And it was a big deal for her, even if nobody else in the world knew or cared. She shivered a little with delight in her lover and then started in on the package, tearing it open greedily. She recognized the Browning Arms box immediately when it was exposed and she gave a little cry of glee, her nails scrabbling on the slick cardboard as she rushed to open it.
“Oh, wow! A new High Power! Oo! And it’s .45 ACP, too! Neat! OH!” Then she got the box open and found that there had been some custom engraving done on the weapon, chased in gold.
“Gabrielle Dolly, August 15, 1998, with love, from Mitch,”
…she read aloud, a tear coming to her eye and her voice as she did so. By the time Drummond got back from his run, she had it out of its wrapping and cleaned of the cosmolene, had dug out some snap caps, and was sighting it and dry-firing it all over the kitchen.
“I see you found your present,” he said dryly as he came through the back door.
“Sure did,” she said, carefully pointing the pistol at the floor with well-trained muzzle discipline before she bounded over to give him a big sloppy wet kiss. “It’s neat. I love it! Thanks! Can we go to the club this morning and get it sighted in?”
“Sure. Sure!” he laughed, holding up both hands in surrender. “I’ve got us some time with Wex already scheduled. I figured you’d want to. I also figured you’d want to pick out a new holster for it, but in the meantime…” he reached into a basket of laundry and pulled out another wrapped present, “… I thought this might come in handy.”
“Wow! A Bill Taylor holster!” she enthused when she got it peeled. “Wow! You love me. You really, really love me!”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to think that that is the reason, but, yeah. Pretty much.” He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into his side while she eagerly inspected the fit of her new gun in its new holster. “And since I also thought you couldn’t stand the suspense of any more presents, I’ll just tell you. There’s a box of wadcutter in the bread box and a case in the back of the Jeep.”
The smile on her face and the glow in her eyes just about made his day. Then she put the gun down and thanked him properly and it did make his day.