I never know what I’m going to see when I touch an object. I never know what I’m going to sense. Since I started work with the Clark Agency, I controlled more of what I saw—thanks to my boss’s vigilance. Still, what I stepped into when my palm touched the wall was nothing I could have prepared for, and it overwhelmed me.
Time slid backwards, days of nothing except my grandma coming in and leaning against this spot. Entire years went by of just her staring at this empty room. Objects would come and go, depending on the season. Occasionally, a guest would pop into the view. It whirled, and it took some time to adjust to the quick blips. Then, it slowed, and more familiar objects came into the room—the dollhouse Grandpa built for our mother took up the entire western corner, the small vanity Grandma repurposed as a play kitchen, and the old steamer trunk filled with frilly dresses and costume jewelry. This was the way the room had been on our last overnight visit. The way the room always looked when I was a little girl.
The whirlwind of memories slowed as an eleven-year-old Demi and thirteen-year-old me ran into the room. I was chasing her because she took something. I no longer remembered what, but it had been important at the time.
Demi stopped short, and I ran into her back.
“Grandma, what’cha doing?” she asked.
Grandma sat on the edge of the bed with her back to the door. She muttered under her breath as she absently brushed the hair of a doll. It was my favorite, Stephanie. She jumped at Demi’s voice, set the doll down, and fidgeted with the edge of the comforter. “Nothing, Sweet Pea. Just making sure everything is ready.”
“Ready for what?” my younger self asked before jumping on the bed.
My left hand crept to my belly as I remembered the impact of the pointy springs in the old mattress.
“You’re going on a journey.”
“Uh-huh,” Demeter replied, her eyes bright with excitement.
I remembered when this had happened. Dad had a dig that took the entire summer, and he decided to take all of us along. We’d spent a week with Grandma while our parents made sure the camp was child ready. This had been our last long visit with Grandma and Grandpa. We had done day trips or an overnight excursion, but nothing more. Once Grandpa died, the day trips turned into only a few hours as Grandma’s memory had gone.
Demi tried to take the doll from Grandma’s side, but the old woman wouldn’t let her get ahold of it.
“This is your sister’s dolly. You can have the one in the red dress,” she scolded and reached her hand out to take my gloved one and put it over the silky dress. “Now, remember to take good care of her, Sweet Pea.”
“Can I take her with me?” I asked.
Grandma nodded and let go of my hand as she stood. When she left the room, her hand brushed against the wall and through my present day self. “Now, how do my little Sweet Peas feel about some supper?”
As my younger self rolled off the bed, the doll’s rough hair brushed against my bare cheek. I touched the same area of my face. I hadn’t reacted to that simple touch. How could that have been?
The images faded, and I sat alone in the room once more. I lost track of Stephanie over the years. More than likely, she was packed away in storage, but only now did I realize how calm I had been when I’d held her. It was the only toy that I had ever owned that I hadn’t needed to wear my gloves to play with. Any other toy assaulted me with images of the factory and vats of molten plastic or, in extreme cases, cotton being ripped from the plant.
Stephanie hadn’t done that, even though she was old and been played with by countless little girls. Playing with her had always been like being hugged. Had that been why Grandma muttered to it? Could she have been infusing it with her love?
Andrea L. Staum is the author of the Dragonchild Lore series, Scattered Dreams short story collection, The Attic’s Secrets novella, and contributed to several best selling anthologies. She’s a trained motorcycle technician, is an amateur home renovator, and somehow manages to find time to write. She lives in south central Wisconsin with her husband and their four overlords…err…cats.