Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash
My sister’s dolls whispered to me.
Not the dolls that she played with (and wore down) regularly. But the more ornamental dolls that sat on her shelf. Given to her by family members from their world travels. Most of these dolls were porcelain and wore clothes made of authentic material (not polyester like Barbie’s). Among them was a guitar playing girl from Spain, a Virgin Mary wearing a crown from Rome and a Japanese Geisha doll.
The more extravagant the doll, the more family members felt they showed they cared about her. The poor girl whose mommy went to Heaven before she got to know her. Why spend quality time with her when they could give useless gifts? Being the older brother, all I got were cheaply made t-shirts.
The whispering started one day while I was playing with my action figures in my room. A “battle royale” was about to commence, when I heard noises in my sister’s room. Whispers.
The three family bedrooms were on the top floor, while the rest of the living spaces were on the first level. I thought my sister was downstairs with my father, but the whispers told me differently. What was she up to?
Her door was open a crack. This was years before her room became a fortress that she forbid others to enter.
I stopped and listened. There was no doubt that whispers were coming from her room. Sounded like more than one person. I didn’t recall any of her friends coming over.
I threw open her door, expecting to catch them in the act of whatever it was they were plotting.
Her room was empty.
The whispering continued.
My eyes traced the sound to her shelves. To those dolls.
Frozen as their features were, the waves of whispers flowed to my ears. Their breathiness sent chills down my spine. The first time I’d ever experienced such a thing.
One of them giggled.
I listened closely trying to understand what was so funny.
“Sissy!” A voice startled me.
I turned to find my sister standing in the doorway. She grinned, happy to be able to call me a hurtful word long before we were told how bad it was.
“Caught you playing with my dolls.”
“The Green Goblin needs a hostage,” I lied.
“Stay away from those dolls,” she threatened. “They’re special.”
“So are you,” I taunted. “That’s why you take the short bus to school.”
I ran out of her room before she screamed.
She was in her room the rest of the day.
I wondered if she could hear the whispers, too.
But I knew better than to ask.
Dad picked me up from baseball practice and stayed outside to water the lawn before he had to go pick up my sister from gymnastics. My sister and I were often left alone in the house years before our friends’ parents allowed them to be. It wasn’t strange to me, so I was never scared.
Until the whispers.
I swear they were louder when I was home alone. I could hear them clearly in my room. Their airy voices wafted down the hall and through my door.
Most days, I ignored them, but today, I found myself creeping into my sister’s room. I expect to find them moved or their expressions changed. But they remained as they had for as long as I could remember.
There was more giggling now. Not just from one doll, but from all of them. Though their mouths didn’t move, I began to distinguish specific tones from each doll.
Instinctively, I turned to look at the doorway, expecting to see my mother there. But I was still alone.
Except for the dolls.
No. That couldn’t be my mother’s voice. Yet, it was comforting. I wanted to stay there and tell the dolls everything I’d felt since my mother died. Instead, I bolted from the room faster than The Flash.
I’d heard the whispers when I was downstairs eating dinner. My father had become quite the chef the past couple of years. His food always tasted good, but never as comforting as the few meals I recall of my mother’s. Her homemade soup when I was sick. Her “messy” spaghetti when she was too tired to cook a full meal.
“How was everybody’s day?” My father asked in his usual attempt to keep family unity.
Should I tell them about the whispers?
My sister was talking about a grand gymnastics move she made.
“What?” I asked, snapping out of the daze.
My father repeated the question.
“Not much,” I responded.
His face filled with disappointment at my answer. “Nothing interesting at school? Or when you came home?”
“Nope.” I was getting used to lying.
My father went on telling us about his day and asking us if we’d be OK if a friend of his joined us for dinner that weekend. A special friend.
I thoughtlessly nodded as the whispers engulfed me.
I got out of the house as much as I could. Our yard was large and still contained the swing set we were quickly outgrowing. Behind our yard was a field. A vacant lot that was never developed for some reason (though years later I’d heard a townhouse had been built there).
When the whispers reached me in the yard, I bolted towards the fence. Assuming my father wasn't watching me, per usual, I climbed over our fence and dropped myself into the field. Time to explore.
Though I’d never seen anybody in the lot, it was always littered with discarded furniture, broken bottles and other trash. That day, there was also a litter of kittens.
I looked around. There was no mother insight. Had she abandoned them?
Poor weak, motherless things. Their pink forms cried from loss and hunger. I knew how they felt.
How could I help them?
The whispers told me what to do.
The whispers were now constant. The airy voices never left me, even in school and at baseball practice. When something bad happened to a classmate, I heard them giggle. Sometimes I giggled with them. When I tried to ignore them, they whispered my name.
Sometimes I thought I heard my mother whispering among them. But when I listened closer, the whispers turned to hisses.
The voices told me to do things. Fun things. Scary things. Things people tell you not to do.
Sometimes they wanted me to hurt myself. Or others.
It was only scary if I refused.
When my father brought his lady friend home, the whispers were louder than ever. They drowned out her words. Instead of this woman’s many questions, I heard my mother crying.
My silence upset my father, but he didn’t speak to me about it.
I overheard her whisper to my father when they thought they were alone. Her words finally audible.
“He hates me,” she said with a hint of insincerity.
“Give him some time to get used to this,” my father’s voice tried to sound hopeful, but he knew it was hopeless.
“When are we going to tell him about-”
The whispers returned.
I spent more time away from home. Exploring places in town where I could be alone to listen closer to the whispers. To make out their voices. To do what they told me to do. And not get caught.
My father drove around after work to find me. When he did, he’d lecture me all the way home. Something about responsibility of being the older brother to my siblings. Plural.
Thankfully the whispers drowned him out.
My father and his lady friend continued to whisper about me.
“He needs professional help,” my father concluded.
“Give him a little more time. He’ll come around.” There was fear in her voice, but she hid it well. She didn’t want to be the cause of my being institutionalized, but she desired it.
The voices concurred.
The whispers and voices were so loud now, I could barely hear anybody else. My sister avoided me. My father and his lady friend “walked on egg shells” around me. Soon, I was forgotten.
And a new voice filled our house.
The crying was constant.
My new half-sibling spent most of its life so far in my parents’ old bedroom. Now, their bedroom. How could she sleep in the same bed? (I’d heard whispers of her objecting to that, but my father assuaged her.)
The baby kept them and my sister awake all night, every night. But I slept like a baby, the whispers lulling me to sleep.
My father and his lady friend were happy to have me out of sight.
When the baby napped in the afternoon, my father and his lady friend would watch television in the den (my sister at gymnastics). They’d quickly drift off to sleep themselves.
One day, I went to check on my new half-sibling.
It slept in stillness. It’s skin as white as the porcelain dolls on my sister’s shelves. I knew I should love it, but I hated it for how in its few weeks of life, it had already disrespected my mother. It hurt her. Made her cry.
The whispers told me what to do.
Tom Misuraca studied Writing, Publishing and Literature at Emerson College in his hometown of Boston before moving to Los Angeles. Over 100 of his short stories and two novels have been published. This year, his work has appeared in SIAMB! (Something Involving A MailBox), Literature Today and Roi Fainéant. Last year, his story, Giving Up The Ghosts, was published in Constellations Journal, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is also a multi-award winning playwright with over 150 short plays and 13 full-lengths produced globally. His musical, Geeks!, was produced Off-Broadway in May 2019.
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