by Sandra Arnold
When Mrs Berriman came to get her hair permed by Jenny’s mum she asked Jenny if it was okay to put her baby in the doll’s cot. Jenny nodded and took her doll Patsy out of the cot and watched Mrs Berriman tuck the baby inside.
“Aw! He looks just like a doll himself, doesn’t he, Jenny?” her mum said.
Jenny looked at Patsy. She didn’t think Patsy looked anything like Baby Berriman. Patsy’s head was covered with blonde curls. Her eyes clicked open and shut. Her eyebrows were painted on and her body was cold and stiff. When you turned her over she said mama. The baby’s head was covered in fuzz like a new chicken and he breathed and made tiny snuffling sounds. Jenny touched his soft cheek. Mrs Berriman and Jenny’s mum smiled at each other and Mrs Berriman said, “Awwww. You’d like one like that, wouldn’t you Jenny?” And she turned to Jenny’s mum and said, “You’ll have to get busy!” and they both laughed and Jenny’s mum said, “One’s enough thank you very much.” Jenny wondered what was so funny.
Baby Berriman began to cry and Jenny watched open-mouthed as Mrs Berriman lifted him onto her knee, unbuttoned her blouse and put her tittie in his mouth. Mum explained that this was nature’s way of feeding a baby. Jenny asked if mum had fed her like that and mum said, of course, that’s what titties were for. When Mrs Berriman went home Jenny touched the place in the cot where the baby had slept. It was warm and smelled of talcum powder. She lifted Patsy off the floor and held her to her tittie and made the sucking sounds she’d heard the baby make. Jenny’s mother laughed and said one day Jenny would have a real live one of her own.
The night after Mrs Berriman’s visit Jenny dreamed that Patsy was alive; that she was crying. Even though it was still dark she got up and tip-toed across the landing, down the stairs and into the living room to her doll’s cot. She touched Patsy’s cheek. It felt cold and hard and stiff. She shivered.
Jenny’s best friend Wendy came over to play, bringing her dolls in her mother’s shopping bag. Two dolls were walkie-talkies and had three changes of clothes each. One was a replica of a newborn baby with a screwed up face. The girls undressed the dolls, bathed them in a dish of soapy water, dressed them again and Jenny showed Wendy how to feed them like Mrs Berriman did. She told Wendy about Baby Berriman’s soft skin, his warmth, his bendy legs, his snuffly sounds. “Better than a doll,” Jenny said, looking at the newborn doll lying blank-faced and silent on the floor. She asked her mum if they could borrow Baby Berriman to play with. Her mum laughed and said no, she didn’t think so, and why didn’t the girls take their dolls to the park and get some fresh air?
On their way to the park Wendy said she had an idea, but first they’d need to go to her house. Her mum was at work, she said, but Wendy had a key. In her pink and white bedroom with the matching quilt and curtains and the Victorian doll’s house and the Silver Cross doll’s pram that Jenny wished with all her heart she could have for Christmas, but which her mum said was too expensive, Wendy opened the bag and tossed the dolls on her bed and told Jenny her idea. Jenny shivered with the thrill of it.
At the shopping centre they saw a woman parking a pram. They watched her checking the baby before she slipped into the bank. A few people were walking down the street looking in shop windows. A couple of cyclists pedalled furiously trying to beat the lights. The girls were quick. The baby was in the shopping bag before the lights turned red.
In Wendy’s bedroom the girls peeled the patchwork quilt from the baby and laid it on the floor. They stroked its soft hair and tiny toes and fingers. Jenny showed Wendy how to hold its head up, the way she’d seen Mrs Berriman do it. They played princesses who needed to hide from the wicked king who had captured their father and killed their little brothers. They arranged the dolls upside down on the floor and cried over their dead bodies.
The baby started whimpering so Jenny lifted her T-shirt and held the baby to her tittie. To her surprise she heard no guzzling noises and the baby started crying louder. She put it back on the floor and it screwed its face up and turned red and beat the air with its little fists. Wendy’s eyes widened. She put her hand over the baby’s mouth to stop the noise before the neighbours heard.
Jenny pulled Wendy’s hand off the baby’s face. They’d better take it back, she said, wrapping the baby in the quilt. When she put it in the bag and closed the zip it stopped crying. The girls retraced their steps to the bank. The pram had gone. In its place two stern-faced policemen were talking to people and writing in notepads. Jenny started crying. They should hand the baby over to the policemen, she said, and explain they’d just borrowed it. “Don’t be stupid,” said Wendy.
The park was full of children playing and mothers pushing prams and people throwing balls for their dogs. The girls walked around the edge until they found a quiet corner behind the trees. They hid the bag in a bush. As they walked away Jenny began to sob.
“It’ll be dark soon. What if no one finds it?”
“It’ll cry and they’ll hear it.”
“What if they don’t?”
They ran out of the park and without looking back ran all the way home.