Doll Crimes

Doll Crimes

By:   Karen Runge  Completed
Language: English
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‘It’s not that there aren’t good people in the world. It’s that the bad ones are so much easier to find.’ A teen mother raises her daughter on a looping road trip, living hand-to-mouth in motel rest stops and backwater towns, stepping occasionally into the heat and chaos of the surrounding cities. A life without permanence, filled with terrors and joys, their stability is dependent on the strangers—and strange men—they meet along the way. But what is the difference between the love of a mother, and the love of a friend? And in a world with such blurred lines, where money is tight and there’s little outside influence, when does the need to survive slide into something more sinister? ©️ Crystal Lake Publishing

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41 Chapters
1
    1  My mother, she’s standing at the counter with her hair shining loose over her shoulder, her eyes just as bright, her smile so wide she can only be oblivious to the lipstick marks on her teeth. She’s laying her change out onto the counter, one coin at a time, placing each down with a sharp, metallic tap on the smooth space between the till and the gum rack. The tapping sound, clear and deliberate behind the dancing wall of her voice, feels like the echo of a giant clock in the background. Ticking down to something. Tap-tap like tick-tock.“Eighty-nine,” she says. Tap-Tick. “Ninety.” Tap-Tock.Beside the rows of coins, stacked up to tens in neat piles, are two crisp bills. Beside the bills are her intended purchases. There are only three—a vanilla-scented lip balm, a box of salted crackers, and a carton of full-cream milk. “One hundred,” she beams. Tap. Tick. “Nearly there.”She’s twenty cents off the total. She’s fumbling in the de
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2
    2  My mom was fifteen years old when I arrived in her world, and the way she tells it, you’d swear there was never a sign for her that she was even pregnant. “You gave me the worst cramps I ever had in my life,” she’s said to me. Like I was a forgotten tampon or a plate of bad seafood. “But when I first saw you, it made it all okay.”I know it’s not okay, and she knows it’s not okay, but since so much of life is pretending what’s horribly wrong is actually really okay, maybe the truth doesn’t matter so much in the end. Pretend okay. Real okay. Maybe there isn’t always a difference. A teenager gets pregnant, or not. A baby is born, or not. So many beautiful, terrible journeys leading out from so many different possibilities. Like a pane of glass cracking, fractures making fractures, a fragile crisscross of lines spreading out in a spiderweb shatter. “When something scary happens, or something hurts you, you have to weigh the bad up
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3
    3  Where we are now, this town has been home for a touch over two weeks. It’s a moderate size suburban square, sprawling, kinda poor but not trash-torn. There’s a water tower up on one of the higher hills, which you can see from almost everywhere around. It doesn’t look so big from a distance, though it must be, or it wouldn’t loom like that. Metal bars and splayed legs. A dome-topped cage held high. The high street isn’t long but it snakes around in sections, hiding the post office behind the supermarket, the library behind the mechanics. I don’t know where the schools are yet—maybe tucked farther back.My mother says this town is a perfect ‘launch pad’. Small, safe. Separate, but connected. It has a coach depot and a train line and a highway running by. It’s a place with many exits. No locked doors. We live like rumors in towns like this. Sketch-book versions of ourselves with scratched-out features and unknown names. Vague address, no
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4
    4  No matter how clearly I see it all in my mind, I’m not always sure how true what my mother tells me really is. How bad it was, I mean. Memories have a way of getting uglier when they’re of someone or something we don’t like. It’s not like my mother starved to death, or lost her teeth from malnutrition when she was carrying me, or died giving birth to me, so she must’ve had some kind of help. That Man must’ve been doing something for her. For us. Or, someone had to.The way she talks, the way she changes… I don’t always know what to believe.“Well, there was your Auntie Clem, of course,” Momma says. “When I first found out I was pregnant… You can’t imagine how I felt. I was very young, and very alone. A stupid kid about to have a kid. I understood enough to be scared of you. You were this major thing about to happen to me, and I had no idea what I was supposed to do about you. I wanted to kill myself just to get out of it all. I even
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5
    5  When we get back ‘home’—Susie’s home, more a collection of random furniture and broken knick-knacks crammed within solid walls than it is a ‘home’—my mother shrugs off her jacket and throws it on the kitchen table. I set down the milk, the eggs and lube I carried under my own jacket. I keep the two packs of gum in my back pocket. Those are for me. “We didn’t think to take any bread,” my mother says. She rolls her eyes at me, smiling.Aren’t we silly? that smile says.I sit down at the table and watch her as she moves through the unfamiliar kitchen, checking cupboards and drawers and back shelves. She finds a frying pan, a bottle of sunflower oil. A brick of cheese at the back of the fridge wrapped in grease-paper and mummified to something hard that crumbles to shards when she breaks off a corner.“Parmesan,” she smiles at me. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.She makes us scrambled eggs. Soft yellow lumps spiced with finely grated
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6
    6  Susie has a laptop, like the one I want one day. Silver and flat with keys that light up. I want to learn how to type, when I’m older. I want to teach my fingers to move that fast. My eyes fixed on the words in front of me. Those messages I see. Susie doesn’t have a dog, but I think he’s the type who’d suit one. Something big and burly up on the couch with him, his arm slung around snug shoulders. His fingers rubbing a soft ear in slow circles. I know how it might feel.I can’t find Susie’s porn collection. I guess it’s on the laptop, but I don’t know the password. I’ve searched everywhere for magazines—I want to know what type he’d buy. Ball gags and whips, wide eyes streaming tears, bulging at the choke. There’s a kind of man who likes this look—tears black with mascara, streaking down soft cheeks. That kind of man: you can’t always tell. Maybe he goes for the blonde types, pink types, the types who giggle a lot and pretend they d
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7
    7  The longest we ever stayed put in one place was from when I was a toddler to around age five, six at most. Old enough to remember, but not in any solid kind of way. That place in small-town Carris. Our smallholding on the edge of a rural, mountain-locked valley. If I hear or say the word home, this is what I remember. The house, the driveway, the trees. Like a house in a forest, except for the road. The summer thunderstorms, and the way the roof creaked. The warmth inside, burning out.“Each memory you hold is just a moment that’s already passed,” my mom says. “The only way to be happy in life is to live in the now.”She would look wise saying this if it wasn’t for her smile. Goofy, with squinted eyes and tongue caught between her teeth. It means she’s planning something, about to say something completely different, because really she’s desperate to change the subject.“…and now, I say we go get doughnuts.”“… and now, I say we fin
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8
    8  The city we’re visiting today, it’s one we’ve been to before. At least, that’s what my mother tells me. We must’ve last been here when I was still really young. It has a few streams and canals zigzagging through it. It has unusually narrow roads. There aren’t as many tall buildings, not over six stories anyway, and a lot of people ride around on bicycles. It’s pretty, but kind of worn down, run down, trash in the gutters and faded posters on the lampposts and outer shop walls, half-torn and weathered. “Let’s see if we can find it,” my mother says.We’ve been walking this street a long time now, following the fence with its line of trees, looking for the entrance to the park. The fencing that surrounds it has been erected flush against the original low stone walls; a high crisscross brace of metal with barbed wire nesting along the top. Maybe there are problems with crime in the area at night. Probably the park has only two workable
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9
    9  I don’t know anything about my real dad, but if you can make a woman a father I think maybe Auntie Clem was this for me. She was my mother-father, which still makes me lucky, because not all kids get to have a father, male or female. Not even for a while. Sometimes having one wouldn’t be so good for them anyway. I can say this from being in other kid’s houses. Going through their drawers and cupboards. Sleeping in their beds.A unicorn diary with a lock that popped right open. I didn’t even have to search for the key. Those pages full of looping, curling handwriting, hearts hovering above all the ‘i’s’, spelling out sad words.A plastic Tupperware stashed under a bed, filled with moldy cupcakes and half-opened chocolate slabs, all the edges nibbled at like a night squirrel with clever hands. The word PIGLET taped to the lid, scrawled out in big block letters. Not my box and not my name, but even I felt a little insulted.Once, when
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10
    10  The way Momma and me walk back from the park, it’s the way we’ve walked unfamiliar high streets in the middle of the night. Dusty backroads with no streetlights. Highways that snake ahead to secret places we can’t reach. We walk with our arms looped together, our steps skittering in and out of time. She’ll squeeze me where she holds me and I’ll squeeze her back. She’ll nudge me with her elbow and I’ll smile. My mom and me, this growing up thing is something we’ve had to do together. Sometimes we’ll walk a long way before we talk.“Crystal ball, crystal ball…” she whispers to me, just loud enough to hear over the background rush of cars and bikes and strangers’ footsteps passing back and forth.“Round and small…” I say back.“What will we have when we have it all?”I haven’t thought about this in a while now. It’s been so long since we played this game. “A house in the woods with a moat all around it,” I say. Then think. “No, a h
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