A beautiful doll
There’s nothing to be afraid of, really
Roses, Roses, Roses
The Spunky Shirley doll was flying off the shelves that year. She was the first of her kind: a lifelike toddler that walked, talked, drank from a bottle, peed and even pooped (plastic panties and diapers included). Personally, she creeped me out, but as a Toys R Ya’ll employee in charge of the doll section, I had to deal with her.
Dealing with her meant stacking the pale green and pink boxes of her five high, scanning the new boxes that came in weekly on huge pallets, and separating the variations of the spunky one: Asian, African-American, Native American, and Caucasian. You think those guys at Mattel would have at least given them different names, but no: four faces, all named Shirley.
“How do you look at those faces all day?” my co-worker, Rose, asked me. Rose was a pretty Millennial who looked like Snow White with a pierced nose. Management made her take the steel hoop out before every shift, so she had a big red hole in her nostril.
“You get used to it,” I said, tidying up the Cabbage Patch dolls; they were always slumping over in their boxes.
“They remind me of that episode on The Twilight Zone,” she said, looking up at the Malibu Ken and Barbie 2-for-1. “You know, the one where the doll talks?”
“How do you even know about that show?” I asked. “Way before your time.”
“My parents own the boxed set. Anyway,” she went on, waving her hand in the air as if to push my last question away—her nails were short and painted black—”this doll starts threatening the family, saying shit like, ‘You better be nice to me, or else.'”
“Then she trips the dad and he falls down the stairs and breaks his neck.”
“Nice story, Rose. Well, Spunky Shirley would never do that to me,” I said. “And the Cabbage Patch kids over there? Spineless. Literally.” Rose didn’t laugh.
“She fucking creeps me out,” Rose said, staring at Native American Shirley with a muted rage. Then she gave the box a little kick.
“Hey!” I said. “Knock it off. That’s a $100 doll. Get back to work.”
“Ooooh,” she said, mocking me. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your little baby doll. You probably liked Chucky, the murdering red-headed doll, too, didn’t you?”
“Get the fuck outta here,” I said, laughing.
“Whatever, doll lover.”
“Get back to work, Rose.”
“When no one’s around you probably fondle them and—”
“God damn it!” We both cracked up. “Go, you asshole!”
After Rose left, I sort of felt bad for Shirley. Just like Madonna, people either loved or hated her. No one was indifferent. I picked up African-American Shirley—really just an Anglo face with brown skin—and looked deep into her glassy eyes. She walked and talked and peed and pooped; next year she would probably spit up a little, but it wasn’t her fault if she was creepy and annoying. She was designed that way. Still, if you want to know the truth, I never liked being alone with those dolls on slow nights. Her battery was built in, so she would blink occasionally. I know it just meant that her battery was working, but it never ceased to startle me.