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J.S. Kierland

Living Plastic

They sat under the willow tree turning and twisting the soft plastic arms and legs, slipping electric colors and bright plastic shoes on to naked dolls. Sammy squeezed a pair of blue jeans over slim hips and Phoebe showed him how to stuff the bright orange turtleneck under the flowing blonde hair. Cliffy moaned as he tried to force his doll into a glowing pink party dress that had somehow turned inside out to expose the curve of the plastic underneath. He finally handed the doll to Phoebe and she adjusted the dress and spread its pink ruffles until they fluffed over the doll’s slim thighs and legs.

“Put the clothes on her, not her on the clothes,” Phoebe told him, and went back to fitting the studded black motorcycle jacket on the svelte redheaded doll she turned between her fingers. She knew the boys were only playing with her because she had been away to what Cliffy called, “the place in the long thin trees.” She'd gone there to gain back the weight and to stop vomiting. It had been her first time and she'd been surprised to find so many other girls with the same fears and problems she had. Her cure went on for three endless weeks, and she wondered if she'd ever stop thinking about fat fingers, chubby faces, and growing breasts. The real test came when she sat down to her homecoming dinner at the big oak table with the family. She ignored their strained voices and furtive glances and tried not to give any hint that she was about to rush for the toilet to throw up at the end of each bite. Her Mother finally wheeled in a large cake topped with burning candles that spelled WELCOME HOME PHOEBE in dark dripping chocolate. They had all brought her presents for the occasion. There were brand new ice skates from her parents and handmade earrings from her brothers. “If they don’t fit I can always take them back,” her mother blurted and even her father laughed. Phoebe put on a fake smile, and wanted to go upstairs, close the bedroom door and be alone with her dolls. For three horrible weeks she’d thought about nothing else but the smooth, slim bodies of her perfectly shaped Barbie dolls and their bright electric clothes.

The boys waited for her to finish putting on the motorcycle boots. One of the shoes on Cliff's doll hung loosely on its torn strap but the magnificent pink dress glowed in the bright morning sun. Sammy's doll was perfect in its form-fitting turtleneck and glittering black heels. Phoebe finished dressing her redheaded doll in the tight leather pants and studded jacket, and snapped her onto the sleek motorcycle.

The boys giggled and waited for her to yell, “Ready, set, GO” and they popped off their doll's heads and passed them to each other, snapping on the new heads so that the dolls were transformed and wearing different clothes. The boys shrieked and laughed, and kept popping the heads on and off in a blur of revolving hairstyles.

Phoebe laughed with them, waiting for the kitchen window to open as she passed her doll’s head into the mix of tiny hands pulling off detachable heads, snapping them on the slim waiting bodies, and holding them up to show before starting all over again. She loved laughing with her brothers and was glad to be with them again, even though she longed to be alone in her room.

The kitchen window opened, got jammed, and Phoebe waited until it finally straightened and shot up all the way. Her mother’s shrill voice poured down over them, “What’s going on? Are you making the boys play that awful doll game again?”

Phoebe’s finger came up to her mouth and the boy’s loud laughter turned into light giggles. “It’s all right, Mamma,” she yelled up at the window. “We don’t play that game anymore.” The boys hunched their shoulders to repress their laughter and crawled further under the willow tree to begin changing the clothes on the dolls again. When they finished they looked up at Phoebe and held their dolls in position. “It doesn’t hurt at all,” Phoebe whispered, and the boys leaned forward, waiting for her, “Ready, set, GO!”


J.S. Kierland is a graduate of The University of Connecticut, The Yale Drama School, and has been playwright in residence at Brandeis University, The Lincoln Center and Lab Theatre in New York, and The Los Angeles Actor's Theatre.  His short stories have appeared in Playboy, Muse & Stone, Colere, The Bryant Review, The Oracle, and others.  He has also written two major movies that he refuses to talk about, and has rewritten others that have hospitalized him on occasion. In a desperate escape he fled Hollywood and now lives somewhere in the mountains of Arizona with a bird feeder and a Yankee baseball hat.