Saturday, May 3, 2014

An excerpt from Porcelain Society

Here are a few pages from my book Porcelain Society, just to give a taste of the world that these characters live in.

At the end of the car ride, Caylee could see the examination hall. Big and solid, it had a very simple and plain structure overlaid with the necessary ornamentation to give it the grandeur deserving a haven for the porcelain dolls. The center of the hall was a large, domed room where all of the dolls and their girls gathered and were sorted by dolls of softer cloth. As she knew to expect, Caylee and her guardian were shuffled away from the other girls they had arrived with. She was grouped with other girls her age. She had seen two of them before, but she knew none of them by name. This deliberate act of removal gave Caylee a sense of calm confidence. She could see the designs of the dollies even if she could not understand them.
Over the day she was brought before various dollies, sometimes plastic and porcelain ones. Her feeling of ambiguous anticipation eventually gave way to the typical kind of painfully edged boredom. She wanted to do well. It seemed important. It was for a different reason than it had been at these events in the past. Could she get through this and take from it what she wanted? She doubted it, and so she had to hide her concern. She was observed doing the things she had been taught. She walked across the room and sat. She spoke lines they had prepared for her. They were not the ones she had learned before, but the rhythms and sounds were similar enough to see if she could apply those lessons when needed. She saw the method of that test and it gave her an almost cocky smile when it was her turn to speak. This attracted an odd attention from the plastic doll who judged her performance.
She was questioned about mathematics, grammar and all of her practical lessons. She was questioned and drilled regarding manners. After most of her tests Mabel offered praise, even if it was guarded.
Mabel was pleasantly surprised and relieved. She had been certain Caylee’s question during the drive had been a portent of bad behavior even if it would likely have been unintentional. The odd occurrence would still have to be accounted for when Mabel spoke alone to the royals, but in the meantime there was no further danger. Caylee did nothing wrong and offered no resistance to her judges. In fact she did better than Mabel would have expected even before the unfortunate curiosity. Still, the last of Caylee’s tests was with royalty, and Mabel knew this had to be determined because news of that question had been delivered as soon as they arrived. Mabel didn’t even know what to hope for. On the one hand, she would be the safest if it went as could be predicted. Then again, if Caylee were really the special specimen Mabel felt she was, then this could be the opportunity to prove it to the royalty. Of course, that was all up to Caylee now. It was out of Mabel’s hands.
Eventually Caylee was led to a small but exquisitely furnished room where three dolls waited in fragile chairs. There were two plastic dolls, one on either side of the main seat. One had dark brown hair and a polite, almost condescending smile on her unmoving face. Caylee saw and disliked it instantly as it embodied the thing Caylee despised the most from the dollies. This was also the first moment she realized that quite often it was possible to get some idea what a dolly was like just by looking at her permanent expression. Another small piece of the mystery. Were the dolls formed by their faces? Or were the faces formed by the dolls’ minds?
That moment of recognition was noticed by all three dolls. The other plastic, a quietly wide eyed one had red hair that was not the artificial hair of the best and most revered plastic dolls, but was instead a painted mold of hair built into her plastic head. She turned her telling head toward the other two. The other plastic acknowledged the glance and knew what it indicated. This girl might indeed be different. The porcelain in the center did not move at all. She had seen, but she offered the little girl nothing, not even the slightest of movements.
Caylee remembered this. Its absence so far had made her wonder if she had gotten old enough to pass through the examination without this nonsense. It had almost seemed as if it were the most important thing to the dollies. Caylee could see nothing in it that she could be prepared for or anything the dollies could use. It had never mattered because it also seemed to be something that could not be failed.
Mabel ushered Caylee forward and then stepped back to the door. Left to her own devices, Caylee did the thing she had been trained to do. As she walked slowly and carefully forward, she did not glance back at Mabel, a good sign in the eyes of all three of the judges. At the appropriate distance, just barely a third of a step from ideal, she stopped and turned, curtseying to the red haired plastic first, then the brown haired one, then, finally to the porcelain, the highest of the royal dolls here.
In fact, this porcelain was not just any porcelain. Caylee could see the dress and the jewelery were expensive even by royal standards. She saw the expertly sculptured and beautiful features that should have been childlike but held some timeless and ageless quality. She also had thin hands, a narrow neck, more delicate and fragile features than any other porcelain Caylee had seen here today or perhaps even in the past. This doll was dressed in black. Very few dolls could do that. A symbol of her status? Caylee assumed so.
That frighteningly docile face offered a strangely cold but not intimidating voice. “Caylee.”
She did not answer, not even with the pause that might have provided the chance. It was the chance to speak but not the need, and Caylee was going to be as cautious as she could be. She felt a sense of impending danger.
I am Eleanor,” the stately porcelain informed her. “I have heard a few interesting things about you today.”
Caylee did not think about that. She just waited another half a beat. One of the plastics asked her, “Do you prefer blue or green?”
It continued that way. It was always that way, a collection of questions which seemed to serve no purpose, some they had to already have the answers to. What is the name of the street you live on? Can you dance? What is your favorite lesson? Which of us has the prettiest dress? What is your favorite game to play with friends? How many prongs are on a dinner fork? What scent of soap do you prefer? Do you want to be tall one day? When did you last need a band aid? Caylee answered them all quickly and directly. There was no reason not to. The only questions that might have wrong answers were either easy or trivial. Caylee had never understood this part. Why did they ask these questions? Today it sparked her curiosity more than it had before. Did the questions in sequence reveal something to them? Was it the way she answered? Were there a few key questions couched among the meaningless ones? And even if she had all those answers, what purpose did it all serve?
Do you hug your best friend?,” the brunette plastic asked.
Not often.”
The porcelain asked, perfectly casually, “Are you afraid of us?”
Caylee did not answer. This was strange. This was a real question. That had never happened before.
When she didn’t answer, another question formed from the red haired plastic. “Do you like getting older?”
Caylee had realized that she had approached her unanswered question not so much with intimidation as with caution, also though, with curiosity. They were dealing a little more honestly with her. Was it due to her age, as this question suggested? Or was it something having to deal with her changes? How much did they really know? “I think I am afraid of you.” It was an honest answer, though she felt no fear at that moment. She almost felt a victory. The dolls were not hiding as much from her as they had.
Do you love your doll?”
Caylee did as she had before, she answered the prior question. “I do like growing. I understand more.” She realized that was more of an answer than she had to give and therefore was too much of an answer. She was off balance though from this new tactic.
Can you pretend well?”
Only sometimes.” This was a lie of course. She knew better than to tell that truth.
Do you want to ask us any questions?”
No.” She did not know what to ask. It was a missed opportunity that she already knew would nag her for the rest of the day.
Do you know why you are here?”
What flavor medicine does your doll give you when you are ill?”
Caylee felt both a sweep of relief and a sickened sensation at once with the resumption of little nothing questions. “Vanilla.” It resumed, but only briefly before she was dismissed.
Thank you,” the red haired dolly said, “You may wait outside, Caylee.”
With her final curtsey, Caylee took her first few steps backwards before she was able, by their custom, to turn and leave. It was over, but once she was outside the doors she felt a small, dread chill. Something had changed. Just as she was beginning to form an understanding of the dollies and their ways, they did something unexpected. She had already begun to wonder just how much about the dolls she understood. Now she had to consider something that felt poisonous. Just how well did the dollies understand her? Did they see that she was different?
Mabel was discussing that very thing with the venerable dolls who had questioned Caylee. “You were correct, Mabel,” Eleanor, the porcelain said. “She is something special.”
The brown haired plastic, who Mabel knew as Valerie, asked in her ever practical voice, “How long has she exhibited her suspicions?”
Suspicions?,” Mabel ventured. She did not know what they meant yet. The questioning of the little girls held nearly as much mystery for Mabel as it did for Caylee. What it all meant, what the royal dolls could glean from it, she did not understand.
Geraldine, the other plastic, explained, “Your girl Caylee, she does not trust us. Very unusual from a girl her age. Even though she admitted to fear, which would not on its own be a black mark against her, she exhibited a coolness that resisted our efforts to break through her barriers.”
Valerie continued, “She has proclivities and inclinations which are not common to the ordinary girl. Is there anything unusual about her behavior?”
She defied one of her teachers not long ago. Open defiance for no apparent reason.”
As though her defiance served itself,” Eleanor said. It was not a question.
Mabel could see that in some ways these mysterious masters of the world knew more about Caylee than she herself did. This was in part due to their understanding of the psychology of the little girls. It was also due in part, though they would not explain this, to the fact that they had already received a report about Caylee’s strange outburst during her lesson. Mabel told them, “She hums to herself sometimes. Without even knowing it, I think. What’s more, I believe it is a tune she made up herself. Her physician refused to believe that, but I still do.”
Mabel’s direct and unambiguous refutation of a doll of higher rank revealed her stance very clearly. “Does she get on well with other girls?,” Eleanor asked.
Not particularly. She has two close friends, sisters, one of them her own age. When she is with them she is very social. On her own she is not withdrawn, but she is…”
Eleanor supplied Mabel with the idea that escaped her, again with perfect precision, “Unconcerned. She does not feel any social necessity. This is also very unusual for any little girl and much more so for those as old as she is.”
There are so many little things,” Mabel said, hoping to avoid giving any other information, “so many -- nuances, I suppose. It is difficult to explain the things that make her unique.”
Unique?,” Geraldine asked. “It has been a long time since I have heard a doll boast of a unique child.”
Perhaps I overstate it.” Mabel felt a twinge of guilt. She may have inadvertently placed Caylee in some danger.
Valerie said, “I’m not certain Mabel is qualified to make that judgment, Geraldine. It was hyperbole I’m sure.”
Mabel was grateful for the defense. Even more, she was grateful Valerie seemed not only impressed by Caylee but perhaps even personally taken with the girl. The interview went on for another half hour as the plastics and the porcelain asked Mabel a succession of questions, some of which seemed relevant while others seemed trivial. At the end of their time, they came to a decision. Eleanor said with finality, “We will see this girl again. We will monitor her closely. In short time we will send summons for further review.”

Mabel knew this was the last of it. She did not speak a word, allowing the royal porcelain to have the last thing spoken. As Caylee had, Mabel backed away, then turned and left the room slowly. A short distance away Caylee was with one of the cloth dolls that managed the event. “Are you ready to go home?” Caylee just nodded. Something was different. Caylee could tell it. Mabel could tell that Caylee could tell. Nothing could be the same.