The blare of the telephone woke Ann from a deep sleep. She glanced at the clock by her bed. The red letters said, 8:00a.m. It was Saturday morning, when she usually slept in. It could only be one person who would have the nerve to call her at that time on a weekend, her mother. The caller ID confirmed it. Ann let it ring while she struggled to a sitting position and wiped the sleep from her eyes. She picked it up a second before it would have gone to the recorder.
“Hello,” she yawned into the mouthpiece.
The familiar voice that answered was chipper. “Good morning, Baby Girl. I’m sorry to wake you but I had to tell you before I left to get my hair done, just in case.”
“Tell me what, just in case?”
“I’m leaving for Florida next week.”
Through another yawn, Ann asked, “Going to see Aunt Sheila?”
“Moving in with her.”
Ann gasped, “Moving in?”
“Why do you sound surprised? If you talked to me more often, you’d know what was going on. You knew the house was on the market. I sold it a few weeks ago and I’m closing Monday. My flight is at seven o’clock that night. Can you drive me to the airport?”
The pang of guilt that was inevitable in every conversation with her mother cut through Ann’s chest. “Of course.” She found herself fighting back tears. “I didn’t think you’d really sell the house. You’ve lived there for forty years.”
“Now that your father’s gone, it’s too big for one person, and it costs me a fortune to keep it up.”
There was a pause that Ann didn’t interrupt before her mother added, “I get lonely. My best friends are all gone now and I don’t want to make new ones here. I’m alone.”
“You are not alone. You have me.”
“You work ten hours a day, and half the time you work Saturdays.”
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about. A single woman has to do all she can to take care of herself. Of course, that young man you’ve been seeing seems very nice, and it’s been what—two years together? If you were to marry–.”
“I’m not getting married just to keep you from moving to Florida.”
“I don’t expect you to. It will be all for the best. I’m alone here, Shelia’s alone there. We can take care of one another.”
“You and Aunt Sheila will kill one another inside of a month. You know that.”
Her mother chuckled. “Probably, but I’m not expecting to live in her house very long, only until I find myself a little bungalow close to her.”
“You always said that the perfect distance for relatives was a dial-one away.”
“I said a lot of things when I was younger. Things change.”
“What about me?”
“What about you? You have your own life to live. You’ll visit. Sarasota is one of the prettiest places on earth. I’ll probably see more of you after I move than I do now.”
Another stab of guilt poked Ann. “I’m sorry. I work such long hours–.”
“I understand that, Baby. I called because I wanted to let you know when I’d be leaving.”
“What about the furniture? Are you having it shipped?”
“I sold it all. They’re picking it up in the morning. I want to decorate the new house Florida style, with tropical prints and so forth.”
“I guess I should come get my things I left there.”
“Too late now. You graduated from college twenty years ago. I’ve been telling you ever since to come get your stuff if you still wanted it. It’s gone.”
“Gone? What do you mean?”
“I packed up everything the used furniture people didn’t want and donated it to the church’s re-sale shop last week.”
“Mom! I had boxes and boxes of things at your house.”
“You would have already taken it if you really wanted it.”
A groan leaked out of Ann. “I know, I know.”
“What do you really want? The clothes you left are long out of style.”
“I don’t care about the clothes.” Ann mentally searched through the boxes stacked in the closet of her childhood bedroom. “There’s only one thing I really want, Jennifer.”
“Your doll from when you were a little girl?”
“She’s gone too. Maybe if you went by the shop, she’ll still be there. You could buy her back.”
“I’ll go on my lunch hour Monday.”
“I don’t know if I’d wait. You ought to get it this morning.”
“I suppose.” Ann thought about her mother leaving Monday. “What time do you want me to pick you up for the airport Monday?”
“Make it around four-thirty. They want me there two hours ahead of time.”
“I’d have to take off early.”
“You can do it. I know you’re very important there, but that place isn’t going to shut down if you miss an hour’s work.”
“I know. I’ll be there. See you then.”
“Okay, bye, Baby Girl.”
For some reason she didn’t understand, Ann began to panic at the thought of losing the doll that had comforted her through her childhood, the doll she hadn’t even seen for years. She’d thought it was safe at her parent’s house.
I wonder what time the shop opens, probably nine. Ann slid out of bed and dressed in jeans and a tee shirt. I can stop at Mickey D’s, get a McMuffin, and be there when they open the doors.
When Ann arrived at the shop, the sign on the door said, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. She peered in the window. There wasn’t any sign of things from her mother’s house, much less her beloved Jennifer.
How can I kill an hour? Well, I should go to the ATM. I’m running short of cash. She walked down the street to the ATM, withdrew two hundred dollars, and tucked the bills neatly into her wallet.
Across the street was a small city park. She went over and strolled around a while before sitting down on a bench to watch the birds flitting around in search of breakfast.
At five minutes to ten, she crossed the street again and lined up at the shop door behind a young mother and her daughter. The girl looked around five years old and had light brown hair pulled up into a pony tail. Her huge brown eyes examined Ann. She clung to the mother’s hand and leaned her head against her hip. The mother looked very young, less than thirty. She could have been quite beautiful but wore no makeup and her long, un-styled hair was tied back with a ribbon. Her dress, a cotton print with a full skirt, was faded from much washing, and imitation leather sandals were well worn.
The shopkeeper, a thin, smiling woman in her seventies, unlocked the door, and Ann and the mother and daughter went inside. On one side of the shop were three rows of clothing, the children’s things against the wall, and then women’s and men’s clothing hanging on long racks.
In the center of the shop were rows of tables with odds and ends. Ann scanned the first row. The tables were filled with various kitchen items. As she walked past the used Mr. Coffees and grease-stained waffle makers, she spotted the thermos her father had carried to work with him for years. It was embossed with a Marlboro logo, an award from the company, exchanged for the UPC codes from a dozen cartons. Her father was a two-pack a day smoker and died from lung cancer at sixty-three. How ironic, the thermos lived longer than he did. A flash of anger ran through her and Ann turned her head away and moved on to the next table.
Children’s toys were lined up in similar groups and she saw a little wooden train engine her brother had carried everywhere with him when he was five or six. He’d felt the same way about that little wooden engine as she did about her doll. When he was upset, he would take it out of his pocket and clutch it in his hand so tightly that his fingernails would turn white. She picked it up and turned it over. Yep, it’s Bobby’s. His initials, RG, were carved on the bottom. Tears welled up in Ann’s eyes and she blinked them away, squeezing the little toy tightly in her hand, she closed her eyes and held it against her chest.
Bobby, her curly-haired, laughing younger brother had died in a traffic accident a year earlier. He’s gone, too. Dad died, Bobby died, and now Mom’s moving to Florida. I’ll be all alone.
She looked ahead to the next table. The little girl had escaped her mother’s grasp and was standing in front of a row of dolls. There were Barbies in evening gowns propped up on wire stands, Cabbage Patch Kids with their grotesque heads, and a few average-looking baby dolls, the kind that would wet when you fed them with a little plastic bottle, and there in the middle, was Jennifer, sitting with her legs pointing out in front of her.
As the girl stood at the front of the table staring at Ann’s doll, a voice with an edge of panic came from the other side of the room and called out, “Annie, Annie? Where are you?”
So she has my name. How cute.
Without taking her eyes off the doll, the girl answered, “I’m right here, Mommy.”
Carrying a hanger with a girl’s dress, the mother rushed to her daughter and grasped her hand. “I told you never to go where I can’t see you.” She let out a sigh of relief.
Little Annie tugged at her mother’s hand and pointed to Jennifer. “Look, Mommy. I want this one. Can I have her? You said I could pick out something for my birthday.”
The mother picked up Jennifer and looked at the string tag with the price. Her face became etched in sorrow and Ann saw that her eyes were glistening with tears. She set the doll back in its place. “I’m sorry, Annie. It costs three dollars. Can you find one of the other ones for one dollar?”
“I don’t want one of the other ones. I want this one.”
“Baby, why does it have to be that one?”
“Look at her face, Momma. She’s smiling at me.”
Ann looked at the doll. There was no smile painted there, but she knew exactly what the little girl meant.
The mother picked up the doll. “If I buy this for you, I won’t be able to get you a new dress.”
“I don’t care. It’s my birthday. This is what I really want.”
The mother sighed, “All right.” She carried the doll to the register and handed it to the clerk. As little Annie clung to the counter and peered over it at the lady, her mother dug in the pocket of her dress, taking out a stack of tissues, a hair ribbon, and her keys. Eventually, she found three crumpled, one dollar bills, spread them out across the counter, and then searched for the coins for tax.
Ann stood behind the mother, frozen. At first she wanted to cry out, “No, you can’t have her. She belongs to me,” but she stopped herself. Where would Jennifer be happiest, sitting on a shelf in my closet, or being cherished by another little Ann?
The young mother was still searching for the last penny she needed for the taxes. “Here we go,” she said, putting the penny on the counter. She knelt over and handed the doll to little Annie, who clasped it to her chest with both arms, her smile spreading all the way across her face. As the mother knelt to hug her daughter, the big pocket of her dress hung open.
Ann laid the engine on the counter. She took her wallet from her bag to pay for the toy. When she opened it, the row of twenty dollar bills was screaming at her. She took out all but one and folded the bills in half before she slipped them into the still-open pocket of the mother’s dress.
As the mother and daughter turned to leave, she smiled down at little Annie and asked, “What are you going to name her?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think a good name would be Jennifer.”
Annie stared into the doll’s face and then grinned back up at Ann. “You’re right. She likes that name.”
Ann watched them until they left the shop before she found the coins to pay for the little wooden engine.
The clerk smiled at her. “Is this all you could find today?”
Anne picked up the little locomotive. She started to put it into her purse, but stopped and stuck it into the front pocket of her jeans where Bobby had always carried it. She patted the pocket and smiled back at the clerk. “That’s right. This is all I need.”