Barbie Toes

It's not yet dark outside and Three's Company is on. Nothing bad can happen because there is Jack and Janet and Chrissy and it was my babysitter Greta who noticed that Chrissy always wears tight shirts and tiny shorts while Janet covers everything with high-necked blouses. I feel sorry for Janet because she lives in California and the blouses look stuffy and make my throat hurt just looking at them. My sister is on the couch behind me. She's four and stares at the television with a spacy look in her eyes that means she's falling asleep.

"Wake up," I tell her, and poke her arm.

For a moment I think she's going to cry but she doesn't and I realize she is even closer to sleep than I thought.

I finish my Pepsi and set the glass bottle on the floor beside me. I push my fingers through the carpet and it feels good, the shaggy fur running against my hand. Greta is not here and I'm the babysitter. I'm seven years old and my parents have gone to dinner. If I do a good job, they will pay me and I will be able to buy my own things. I have a list of Barbies I want. Real Barbies. Firm Barbies with tiny, pointed feet. Not the hollow, flat-footed ones that come in plastic bags from the dime store.

My friend Iris who is sometimes my friend and sometimes my enemy has real Barbies and when she was not looking, I took her mother's fingernail clippers and snipped off the toes on one doll. I put them in my pocket and brought them home and now they are in my sock drawer tucked inside a pair of tights.

When Iris is my friend, I feel bad about what I did and think about telling her the truth, that it wasn't her little sister Claudie who snipped the toes off her doll. But most of the time, I think Iris has plenty of Barbies with good feet, and Claudie isn't all that nice anyway.

The Barbie toes have been good luck. I take them out for softball games and put them in my shoe and I haven't been struck out once since doing this. The luck the toes bring is worth the trouble of having something bumpy in my shoe while I play.

I wish I had my good luck Barbie toes with me now. I wish I weren't sitting here in my Mickey Mouse nightshirt with Pepsi stains down the front. I'm wishing this especially hard because Three's Company is over and it's definitely dark outside and I have never needed my lucky toes more. I look at my sister and her eyes are closed.

9:30. My mother promised she would be home by ten. She was worried about leaving us without Greta, but my father yelled and threw his keys and said she would spoil us with her babying, so my mother agreed but gave us a worried look over my father's shoulder, just as he was closing the door.

Half an hour and I will be finished and my life will be better because I won't have Iris making fun of my dime-store Barbies anymore and maybe even this dinner will be just what my parents needed to help them quit screaming at each other so much. Before they left, my mother promised to bring us back dessert. I asked for key lime pie and my sister wanted strawberry shortcake and when my father said they didn't serve shortcake at the restaurant, my mother said they would swing by Butlers on the way home then.

I sit through Taxi but don't pay attention because I'm listening for the scritch of tires on our gravel driveway. I need to use the toilet but the bathroom is at the end of the hallway and it's dark, so dark, so instead I cross my legs and when that no longer works, I tuck my foot under myself so that I'm sitting on my heel.

By the middle of Starsky and Hutch, my parents are still not home and I have to go so badly it's all I can think about. Almost. The other thing I can think about is the creaking noise I hear from the bedrooms and the movie Greta let us watch last week, about a murderer who hid in people's houses with his axe. I know for certain that someone is here, holding his axe and waiting, and my only chance for survival is if I sit still and do not move.

I stare at the door and will my mother's face to appear in the window but then I think how awful it would be if someone else's face appeared instead, so I look at the floor. I worry that something terrible has happened to my parents and the thought of this sends a shiver through me and before I know what I'm doing, I've wet myself. The carpet grows damp and warm beneath me. I've done a stupid, babyish thing and want to cry, but can't because the person with the axe will hear. I stare at the floor and chew on my lower lip, thinking I'll never go anywhere again without my Barbie toes. There's a rattle at the door and when it opens, my father is there. The tears come hard and fast and my mother rushes in past him and kneels down in the soggy carpeting. I tell her what I've done and she turns to glare at my father.

My father's eyes are the color of river stones. He shrugs his shoulders and tries to grin and lifts the pastry box to show me they have kept their promise. But then they start yelling at each other, a swirling storm of angry words and clipped voices, voices that sound like the metallic snip I heard when the Barbie toes became mine. The carpet beneath me is wet and growing cold and I can no longer hear what they're saying because my own voice is so loud in my head, screaming "I'm sorry," again and again.

About the author:

Theresa Boyar is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee and recent winner of Half Drunk Muse's Penny Jar Prize Contest. Her writing has appeared in Rattle, Poet's Canvas, Eclectica, Rock Salt Plum, Tryst, and others. She lives with her husband and two sons in Helena, Montana, where she is currently working on a collection of short stories.