Home: Figments: Paper Dolls

Paper Dolls

Leila has this collection of paper dolls. Some of them are tattered and yellow; those she keeps tucked away safely, so that she may later pull them out and fondly recall the times, long ago, when she played with them as they were new. She has new ones as well, all fresh and sharp; these she’ll touch with a smile, and picture the way they should dress, or imagine how they would act, or where they will go together.


She delights in each one, seeing each unique cut or tint of color. The paper dolls provide her endless fascination, as she discovers each one’s unique quality. She’s aware that all she sees are her perceptions; her image of each doll, the picture-perfect image, isn’t exactly what the doll is—paper and paint and glue. She knows that what you or I may see in the doll doesn’t always match her impressions, but she adores them just the same. Perceptions vary, as each doll is complex and unique. Leila has a keen ability to pick these complexities, to predict the unpredictable, to expect the unexpected—and appreciate the nuances when she finds them. Sometimes the differences she sees in the dolls aren’t kind, but she’ll delight just the same.


I remember sitting with her, tittering as we spoke of one particularly pretty doll. He was so cute and perfect, made out of the finest material, cut with the most careful accuracy. Yet despite his perfection, one part—a rather essential part—would invariably bend in the wrong direction. Leila would point at him in astonishment, and describe his contortive aspect, whereupon I would blush, and we’d both break out in a fit of giggles. I don’t think anyone but me ever understood why Leila’s eyes would sparkle when she spoke about him.


Sometimes she’ll remember him, and we’ll giggle again, but she’s since moved on to other dolls. One is a little taller, with parts that fold in all the proper directions, but she finds him to be just as cute and perfect and unique as the last. She tells me about him; whether she’s unhappy or pleased, appreciating his complexities. As she admires this doll or that one, arranging them here and there, she manages to make each doll more complex, and ultimately, more attractive.


Of course, when she opens her box of paper dolls, she doesn’t always know what to expect. Leila is the master, and yet the dolls lead her in the precise direction. This symbiotic command comes with a natural ease. Leila will look at a blank page, discover what the paper feels it should be, and then draw out its very essence. She seeks the chiaroscuro, the light and the dark, appreciating the influence one can have over another. It is this fulfillment of what can be—this is the curiosity that makes each of her dolls so perfect in her eyes.


When a doll is new, it holds a certain sense of appeal. Leila delights in the mysterious, pressing on layers for the first time. There is always a sense of excitement as she explores the possibilities of a new doll, as if each feature she discovers has some special meaning. As she adjusts each little bit of clothing and ties every new ribbon, the dolls become the focus of her being. Even with distracting lessons or life, her attention drifts back to the doll, and she finds herself lost in paper dreams.


These frail mysteries can never last—as Leila plays her subtle games, performs her experiments and pin-points clever secrets, her perceptions transform. Fascination becomes familiarity, and those special qualities, which once intrigued her, become her comforts. She never forgets these worn and tattered dolls, rather, her affection for them warms. Not all of the dolls earn this privilege—only the most complex and subtly inspiring. Others will fall from her favor and be left in some shady corner, momentarily crumpled and forgotten.


I’ve always been aware of Leila’s natural sense of authority. Still, I’ve suffered an irresistible temptation to play with the other dolls without her permission. I see the crisp folds, fine lines, and intricate designs, and all I can think of is to savor them—to examine their delicate textures with my fingertips, to catch a glimpse of their unique creativity, and even to catch the nuances of subtle fragrances. Alas, it is not for me to know the dolls to such an extent—but belong to with them; I can only touch, once I ask.


Surely, I ought know better than to break such a rule—yet I might again. Once, I wanted to play alongside her, with her most special doll at the time, but she kept him all to herself. I can’t blame her for this, or even call her selfish; he was hers, and hers alone. Still, when she was away, I succumbed to temptation, and stole a forbidden moment. It wasn’t long, before one awful day, with fire and daggers in her eyes, when she only had to look to see the truth. The tears of guilt drying on my cheeks told the story, and Leila, with the ability to read the stained slate of my soul, knew. She left me alone with only my regret to shield me.


I never expected to see Leila or her paper dolls again. This is why, even now, I’m awed by her complete forgiveness, even with my bends and tears. I suppose Leila is a greater person than I will ever be able to understand. When she eventually returned to me, she picked me up and helped to mend and piece me back together. I was eternally thankful to be back with her and swore my fealty to her. I could never again betray her in such a way. I could never survive the resultant turmoil. It was a most terrible way to learn a lesson, but in the end, I am fortunate—I am hers, tailored by her perceptions.


Nowadays, Leila never plays with me as often as I would like. When she does, though, her familiar caress gives me purpose. Every time she takes me out, arranges my hair, and smoothes the wrinkles from my dress, I feel proud to be Leila’s paper doll. In her possession, she finds my unique differences, and encourages them to bloom like springtime flowers. Even when she casts me aside, I know she loves me all the same. But when she takes me into her hands, I am alive, complex and beautiful, and no longer simple glue, paper and paint.


KLF