Thursday, February 02, 2012

Short story: A Doll Maker


Image from www.collectibleporcelaindoll.com
 Note: I wrote this story for one of my writing classes last night. The underlying theme is labor estrangement (Based on Marx' Labour Estrangement text).

Claire squints her eyes to focus on the one-eyed porcelain doll’s face. She waits for the small paintbrush in her hand to stop shaking. She carefully paints the outer rim of the new eye with jet black ink, using small, quick strokes. Claire took great care making all her dolls, paying close attention to intricate details such as size, symmetry, color and texture. Claire enjoys naming each doll, giving them a unique identity and story through their facial expressions, clothing and accessories.
“Mommy!!” Rachel tightly hugs Claire from behind, throwing her coat and pink Hello Kitty backpack to the floor.
“Ah!”  Claire nearly drops the delicate doll in her hands. She sets the doll and the paintbrush aside on the wooden table.
“What’s the dolly’s name, mommy?”  Rachel’s bright hazel eyes twinkle, “Who’s it for?”
Claire picks up Rachel’s coat and shoes. She stuffs them inside the narrow closet overflowing with old cardboard boxes and a few winter coats and jackets.
“It’s for Mrs. Waterman’s doll collection, sweetie. I’m planning on presenting it to her. If she’s pleased, Mrs. Waterman might even recommend me to her friends and display the doll as part of her doll collection. Since Mrs. Waterman’s picky, Mommy has to do her best.” Claire reaches for the doll and paint brush again, “I’ll call her Laura, after Aunty Laura. She has the same soft smile, see?”
Rachel giggles with excitement.
Claire notices the growing pile of bills stacking up on the kitchen counter. Her headache returns. Claire’s crafts and doll making business hasn’t picked up after moving into the cramped, one-bedroom apartment after Jacob’s death last spring. Being a single parent, Claire couldn’t afford their old house with her sole income. When Sally Waterman invited Claire to a dinner party at her posh mansion, Claire decides it is the golden opportunity she needs for her business to prosper, especially as a new doll maker. Doll making gave Claire the freedom to work at home and take care of Rachel. Claire never imagined her childhood summers spent watching and helping her grandmother making and painting antique dolls at their cottage would help now.
“Hor d’oeuvres, mam?” A waiter offers her a tray full of colourful gourmet finger-food.
“Oh, Thank you.” Claire took a bite of her bite-sized caviar dish with a sip of her chardonnay.
“So this is how the rich live.” She mumbles to herself, her eyes filled with wonder and excitement at the breathtaking avant-garde paintings on the walls and the shimmering chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling. Chatter, live classical music and laughter resonate from the enormous room. Claire glimpses at the beautiful silk dress and glittering diamond jewellery of the woman next to her.  Claire feels out of place in Mrs. Waterman’s lavish mansion. She is hyper-aware of the fact that she’s in a foreign world, a world of aristocrats and celebrities.
 “Claire, dear!” Sally Waterman approaches Claire in a glittering, green sequined dress, her sparkling emerald earrings matching perfectly with her dress.
“Let me introduce you to a dear friend of mine. Claire, this is Madame Veronica. She owns a famous doll making business.”
Claire extendes her arm towards the distinguished looking middle-aged woman in the dazzling red velvet gown, “Hello, nice to meet you.”
“How do you do?” Madame Veronica politely nods and shook Claire’s hand. Madame Veronica has a thick French accent.
 “I am currently recruiting more workers for my doll making company, Magma. We just opened a branch right here in old Carlton Hill. Would you be interested? Sally told me you are a single mother. We have very flexible hours.”
“Umm...” Claire didn’t know how to respond.
Claire is happiest working from home but she thought about the bills piling on and the lack of steady income. Claire already used up all of her savings. What if there’s an emergency? Didn’t Rachel want to join Tae Kwon Do this year? Claire didn’t know much about the company and how they’ll use her talent but she made up her mind.
 She bit her lip, “sure. I’d like to know more.”
Madame Veronica smiles, “Here’s our business card. We are located right behind the Mimico buildings on Wesley drive.”
After the mouth-watering feast at the dinner party, Claire realizes she forgot to present her creation. Mrs. Waterman is nowhere in sight. Claire stumbles through the crowd towards the door. If she likes the job Madame Veronica mentioned, she wouldn’t need to present the doll after all.
Claire stares up at the gloomy grey factory building. Dark, billowing grey clouds of smoke puff out from the factory. Unsure if she’s at the right address, Claire hesitantly scurries in. Steady motor sounds and buzzing fills the hallways. Maybe my office is upstairs away from the factory, Claire wonders.  She still didn’t know many details regarding the job. Claire spots a yawning watchman in a khaki uniform seated in a wooden chair beside two large metal doors. 
“Hi there. Do you know where Madame Veronica’s office is?”
The watchman sneers, “office? Why would she need that? She owns the place but she never even set foot inside this factory once. You should see how horrible the management is down here!” he grumbles.
He rubs his rough grey stubble, “Anyway, why do you need to see her?”
 “Madame Veronica hired me as the new doll maker. She told me to come here Monday morning to get acquainted with my new position,” Claire glances around the dim-lit corridors, “Is there someone who can assist me?”
Oh!”  The watchman rubs his eyes; the flickering lights strain his sensitive eyes.
 “A doll maker, eh? Is that what they call a factory worker now? Funny fancy names they come with these days for all kinda jobs.”  He snorts, “They called my position ‘security operative employee’ when they first hired me.”
He opens the heavy metal doors. Claire peers in. Hundreds of factory workers in identical grey uniforms restlessly assemble individual parts of a doll on the massive conveyor belt. A supervisor yells orders to a middle-aged man to stop lagging behind. He hurriedly attaches the doll’s arms and places it on the conveyor belt, monotonously repeating his steps. Claire shook her head, disgruntled.
Claire scoffs, “This is Madame Veronica’s idea of doll making? They’re...they’re all just attaching individual parts of a doll.” She mutters to herself.
Claire thought about her experience of naming each doll she made with Rachel and the unique clothes and accessories painstakingly hand-made for each doll with love and care. She enjoys working on a doll from beginning to end, every bit of the doll made by only her with the individual customer in mind. No two dolls were the same, like people. Claire believes after a hard day’s work, the joyful expressions of a happy customer made her work worthwhile and rewarding.
Claire sighs, her eyes frozen at the conveyor belt fervently whirring on. Working as a factory worker wouldn’t offer any of these rewards. She knew she’d never be happy labouring in a factory assembling dolls for eight hours a day. She hates the idea of mass producing thousands of identical dolls with no individual identity or story or a sole creator. Claire drove back, strangely content to return home and work on her next doll but first, she headed to Sally Waterman’s mansion to present her latest antique doll.

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