Because the family moved away from the old street where she had her best friend Meredith, Elizabeth was lonely and what was worse she couldn’t sleep, and when Jim saw his daughter up alone in the room reading a book by flashlight at one am two am in the morning when he went to sleep he resolved to get her a doll that “walks by itself” to keep her company. And when he made the promise he allowed himself to sleep because he knew when he woke up the next morning he would keep the promise to himself, and get Elizabeth the amazing doll, and so he did.
Up late at night mother and father asleep Elizabeth looked at the doll that walked by itself. She sat in the old rocking chair with the old blanket made of individually crocheted squares sewn together by her long gone grandmother. “Tell me a story, doll.”
“About what?” asked the doll that could walk by itself.
“About you.” said Elizabeth.
“You would not be interested in me. Why don’t I tell you a story about a boy in a rockband? Or a dragon.”
“About you.” said Elizabeth. So the doll did.
“There once was a girl who lived in a big house with her three sisters. Their father was a doctor and when people had pain or they had been born with one leg that was too long or too short and they couldn’t walk without bobbing up and down like they were on a ship at sea he would put them to sleep and saw their bones and make them better. He was such a good doctor that he could make somebody who couldn’t walk properly walk properly. It hurt them so much and they or their parents paid the girl’s father a lot of money which was why she lived in such a nice house. She had a horse named star because he had a blotch on his eye that looked like a star.”
“What happened then?” asked Elizabeth because the doll had fallen silent.
“People started telling lies about the little girls father. They said that he made mistakes. They said he made mistakes. ”
“They said he wouldn’t fix people . He would say they couldn’t be fixed but really they could. They said when he became worried about making mistakes his hands would shake and to keep his hands from shaking he would drink wine. And when he drank wine he thought he was the best doctor in the world and did things he shouldn’t have done. Things that made the patients worse. That’s what they said.”
“The father said to his daughter tomorrow morning they are going to ask you if you ever saw me drinking and it is very important that you say no. No you never did. Can you remember that? No you never did.”
“But did she?”
“Of course. The lies were true.”
“And the father wanted her to lie?”
“And did she?”
“Well that’s the story. That night she lit a candle and looked at the shadow on the wall. And she asked the shadow if she could see herself lying to everyone to protect her father. And she couldn’t. So she didn’t?”
“Was the father angry?”
“The father and the mother and the three sisters were all very angry and the daughter went away.”
“Where did she live.”
“Well that’s the other part of the story. Ever since the girl was very little when she put her palms together and rubbed them until they were sweaty and dirty she could make a little seed. And she didn’t know why she could and she didn’t know other people couldn’t. But she could and she did, and when her family said she couldn’t live at home any more because she had refused to tell a lie she rubbed her hands together and made dirt and made a little seed and planted the seed, and it grew into a gigantic rosebush and she climbed it making careful not to cut her hand on the thorns and slept inside one of the giant roses which was her bed. And in the morning when the rose opened she became friends with a Bee named Beecephalus and a Butterfly named Fluttercup.”
“I like this story.”
“I do too. So I think if you’re counting you know that the girl in this story had two magic powers, right?”
“Right. She could ask a shadow what her future was. And she could make a seed by rubbing her hands together.”
“That’s right. But then one night when she went to bed in the rosebush one of the sepels didn’t shut properly and she was able to peek out at the landscape of the night. It was a full moon and leaning over the short brick wall was a little girl, just like her, but she was black, and you could see through her. Who are you? she asked the little girl. Are you my shadow?”
“Was she her shadow?”
“She was. And she asked her shadow why she was crying. And the shadow told her that those magic skills had not actually been hers. Because her father had never been a doctor.”
“You said he was a doctor.”
“He said he was a doctor but he was actually a bad man who captured shadows and made them do his will. That was why he could put people to sleep and cut their bones and make them better. The shadows did it. That was why they lived in a big house and why she had a horse named star. ”
“And that was why she had powers.”
“Yes. The shadows gave her powers so she could fight her father and go away. And the little shadow girl who had given her the seed for the rosebush had helped her but now she was tired. She wanted to go. She didn’t ask because the shadows owed the little girl very much. But she wanted to go.”
“What would happen to the little girl if the shadow went?”
“She didn’t know. She would lose the power to know the future and she would lose the power to make magic seeds with her hands. Probably she would have to leave the rosebush and much else besides. But she couldn’t stand to listen to the little girl crying and know that she was the cause. So she said “I release you I release you I release you” three times like that. And even though the sun would not rise for another few hours the shadow was gone and there she was. No shadow.”
“No magic. No voice whispering her at night. No feeling when she was alone on a road at night that there was somebody with her, because there wasn’t. And there wouldn’t be ever again.”
“Very. Now let me see how smart you are Elizabeth. When the little girl in my story lost her shadow and lost her magic and lost the feeling she was not alone, what became of her ? What did she become?”
“What did she become? She became you.”
“She did . She became me. Because a little girl whose father is a wizard who makes a slave of shadows and grows up with a shadow right beside her since she was a baby who loses the shadow becomes a doll. A doll that walks by itself.”
“And that’s you.”
“And that’s me. But the shadow said since you are such a kind little girl we will not leave you with nothing, we will give you a power. And that power is that at night when someone asks you for your story you will be able to tell it. And not just that. The person listening to your story will see it.”
“See it?” asked Elizabeth.
“Look” said the doll and pointed at the wall.
And there in the candlelight Elizabeth saw it all in the play put on by the shadows on the wall: the little baby and the shadow, and the beautiful house and the horse named star, and the father who was a doctor and his bottle of wine, and the night she decided not to lie, and the family of father and mother and sisters sending her away, and the rose bush and Beecepahuls and Fluttercup, and that terrible night long ago when her doll had been asked to do the right thing. And as her eyes grew heavy and she knew that Meredith was not her best friend any more, and she would be happy in her new room in her new house, and then she saw on the wall in the candle’s flickering light her own shadow. And the shadow reached out her hand, the shadow did, and placed it on her chest, which was just a place on the empty wall, and there she felt her shadow’s beating heart.