Everything seemed fine as we settled into our new home on Fourth Street. Not being from Winona, I had to laugh that most of the homes in our price range still had dirt floors in the basement. By “we,” I mean my dog, Roxy, and me.
“Don’t go digging under the foundation!” I admonished her jokingly, waving a hand at the uneven floor. Roxy glared at me balefully. I know that supposedly dogs are man’s best friend, but Roxy seems like a disapproving mother-in-law most days. She didn’t like the basement much. If I carried her down the stairs she would plaster herself to my side, occasionally pawing at the bumps in the hard-packed dirt until we walked together back up. She’d nudge me along as if to say, “Hurry up!”
One evening as I carried boxes down to the basement, the single bare bulb over the stairway swung as Roxy stood at the top of the steps and barked in that yappy way that goes right through me. My nerves were a bit strung from the move from Michigan, which explains why, when I caught the glint of two blue eyes staring at me from a corner, I screeched and dropped the boxes.
The eyes didn’t blink, and as my own eyes adjusted to the dim light, I realized it was some forgotten doll a previous tenant must have left. I lifted it carefully off the floor, brushing it off, more afraid of meeting a brown recluse spider than breaking the doll.
The poor thing was covered in grime. As I walked up the creaky wooden stairs carrying it, Roxy’s high-pitched yelping turned to a low growl.
“Oh, hush up, miss!” I scolded absently. “You ought to like how dirty it is. Poor doll looks like she’s been buried! You dug her up? Maybe there is treasure down there!”
Under the glare of the overhead fluorescent kitchen light, I could see that the doll used to be quite lovely. Curly brunette hair, white china face with flushed pink cheeks and a benign smile, ruffled blue gingham dress with a once-white apron and pantaloons. She probably had a bonnet somewhere in time.
I tried to ignore the fact that some previous owner had played rather hard with this doll. She had only one hand with stuffing poking out of the hole, her nose was chipped, and her eyes wobbled in all directions.
“Let’s see if we can get you cleaned up a bit,” I muttered. Roxy curled up in a corner, never taking her eyes off us.
I stripped off the ruffled dress and lacy pantaloons and filled the sink with soapy warm water. I scrubbed at the wee clothes, happily noticing that although they were yellowed, the dirt washed off easily. I moved the dishes and flatware to the counter and hung the clothes over the dish rack to dry.
“Your turn!” I chirped as I picked up Miss Sunshine. I wanted her to have a positive, affirming name after the loneliness of the dank basement.
Miss Sunshine’s eyes wobbled at me as I dipped her into the water. I intended to submerge her to make sure no bug had taken up residence in her cotton-stuffed body.
But her china head must have been filled with styrofoam or something, because I could not get it under the water. It was like trying to stick two opposite magnets and together. Every time I tried her wobbly eyes would float straight up, staring into mine.
I gave up and used a washcloth for her face, which despite the chipped nose now looked almost pleasant. I wrung her cloth body as best I could and placed her on the dish rack. I pushed the rack toward the back of the counter—pointless, because Roxy hops onto any counter when she smells something interesting.
When I went to bed after tidying the kitchen, Roxy did not crawl into bed with me as usual but stayed in the kitchen doorway, never taking her eyes off Miss Sunshine.
A bloodcurdling yowl flung me from my bed and pulled me blindly toward the sound. I flipped on lights as I ran and narrowly missed breaking my toes as I had forgotten I had moved to a new place.
Roxy had blood on her paws. Blood was splattered across the floor.
Roxy trembled and whined as I caught her up to check for injuries. I saw Miss Sunshine laying in a corner, and a foot away a steak knife. She was dry but dirty. Roxy must have dragged Miss Sunshine back through the basement.
“Oh, Roxy, my poor baby! Did you try to get to Miss Sunshine? I thought I put the knives all away. I didn’t mean to leave one out!” I hugged Roxy and petted her and checked her tongue and face for cuts. The only injury I saw was a cut on her leg. The knife must have dropped on Roxy as she tried to scramble onto the counter, I thought.
I grabbed Miss Sunshine and tucked her into a cabinet and placed the knife in the sink to wash the next morning. I cuddled with Roxy in my bed until she fell into a fitful sleep.
When I woke the next morning and made coffee, I noticed the doll clothes were missing from the dish rack. As I opened the cabinet to fetch Miss Sunshine I muttered about Roxy, who had taken up residence under my bed and had probably shredded them.
There sat Miss Sunshine with her benign smile, fully dressed.
I stood there, dumbstruck, as her head tilted slightly to the right and her eyes fixed on mine. I suddenly realized that the knife had soil on it.
From the basement I heard a soft shuffle and click, like china bumping against wood.
Amy Anne Morgan emigrated from Winona to Flagstaff, Arizona in order to shovel more snow at a higher altitude. Her heart is still in Minnesota (actually, whoever is hiding it, could they please return it?) and she blogs incessantly at veritatemcarpe.blogspot.com. Her special-needs dog, Roxy, is alive and well and chasing squirrels.