They were beautiful, my dolls. The first time I freed them from their painted wooden cocoons, the honey and lemon scent of the linden filled my nostrils. I unpacked them one by one, placing them carefully on the floor in an ever decreasing circle as if they were dancing a Polka. I imagined them leaping and twirling round the forest floor, arms linked, flaunting their embroidered dresses and lace ribbons in the spring sunshine.
A few weeks later, I discovered why my parents had given in so easily, for I was presented with a sibling.
‘Meet your new sister, Irenka,’ Mama said, holding the squalling bundle out to me. ‘Her name is Matryona.’
A sister? I was 12 years old and had lived a life of spoiled solitude, the only focus for my parents’ love. I did not take to her. No longer the heart of my parents’ world, I spent many hours sulking in my room with my beloved Matryoshka. The dolls had tired of dancing in the forest and wanted to travel far and wide. ‘Take us to Paris, to Rome, to London,’ they asked, and so I did. The Seine trickled from the bathroom taps, the Cathedrals of Rome emerged from the icons and candles in the sitting room, while London sprawled onto the damp, cold concrete of the balcony.
One doll, the baby, a truculent creature, was restless and unable to stay with her wooden sisters for long. She was always disappearing on her own adventures.
‘Don’t go off by yourself, little one,’ I would scold her. ‘You will get lost.’ But she did not listen.
When my parents came back from the hospital that night, with faces as white as the Russian winter, they were alone. Mama stared at me, her eyes desolate. Then she handed me my baby doll, no longer lost, rescued from the delicate windpipe of her last adventure.
First published in 'From Glasgow to Saturn,' (Issue 34, September 2014)
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