Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
By Jennifer L. Gifford
I’m an artist. I confine myself to one simple medium, but my art is one of a kind. Working in fear and pain, much the way Picasso worked in oils, I utilize whatever tools I have around me to complete my dark masterpieces. I specialize in the macabre, emulating the dark essence of it, capturing it in all its dark twisted beauty. Death, sweet death, is my greatest creation.
My pieces are never seen by others, and while one day I hope that my creations bring me notoriety, I make them for the soul purpose of my own enjoyment. They are my creations, though they didn’t start out that way. At first they belonged to God, but I stole them from Him, and I made them mine own.
My pieces as a novice were rough, choppy, and out of proportion with the form. But over time I learned to correct the broken limbs, the pasty complexion, and yellowish skin that had once been a drain on my energies, not to mention the scarcity of my precious resources. Much like any other hobby, it takes practice, dedication, and commitment.
Helena was my first success. She was so breathtaking, and still is, I sometimes sit in awe of my own handiwork. She was handpicked from hundreds of others. It was her face that captivated me, drew me to her. Helena was special.
She had a heart shaped face, soft and round with the cheeks of a cherub. Her hair flowed around her feminine features like spun corn silk. And the eyes, oh the eyes, so full and round – like her lips – were deep pools of cerulean.
I took her one night, bringing her to my studio, where I do all my work. I prepare them there, before putting them in the dollhouse. The building is old, a three story brick structure down along the Detroit River, and I own the whole building. It’s in a seedy part of town where everyone minds their own business, and doesn’t ask questions. But its quiet and I need quiet when I work.
The dolls always seemed so shocked to find themselves my helpless guests. I believe it’s because they have never been in the presence of a true artist before, so I imagine that is where their anxiety comes from.
I gave her a lethal dose of sedatives. It’s my own personal blend of prescription painkillers and good old-fashioned laudanum.
It’s best to wait until they are fully asleep before inserting the thick embalming needle into the side of their neck, near the carotid artery. Sometimes a doll’s eyes will flutter open catching sight of the needle sticking out of her neck. It’s intoxicating to watch as the fear washes over them in their last moments.
The needle is hollow, and with the needle at the neck, it’s easier to elevate the doll to let the blood drain. I empty it of blood, but not completely. That small amount of life left in them keeps them warm just long enough for me to prepare them. I must also admit, it’s here that I get a rush, knowing that their last precious drop of divinity is controlled by me.
Starting with her lips, I formed the full oval into a tempting pout. Next I scrubbed her form from head to toe before spraying her with a painting primer that serves as a sealant and topcoat.
I use spray paint as a foundation. It’s cheap, and it comes in a lovely variety of shades that I can match to any of the dolls’ skin tones. After, I painstakingly airbrush on all the subtle lowlights and glowing highlights their natural skin tone had.
While the paint dried, I started on her hair. I always like all my dolls hair to have loose curls that frame and accent the face. I want to show off the natural beauty of my dolls, not hide it. I think that’s what makes them all lifelike. The rest of the embalming process is completed while I finish the hair.
I artfully make up her face. Dramatic eyes, like a movie star. I injected super glue into the eyeballs themselves, at the corners. It keeps the eyes from decomposing, and gives their eyes that glow that seems to gaze at me with longing. Lastly, I put on a single coat of crimson lipstick. The effect is quite remarkable.
After her body dried, I fitted Helena into a rich ivory gown of Italian silk reminiscent of a ball gown of the 1930’s. It was such an expensive purchase, but I wanted something special for my first doll. It hugged her curves. While the jewelry I use was just flee market costume jewelry, the glass beads are the finishing touch to my work. I placed a silver and faux pearl drop necklace on Helena, and kissed her cheek gently. I knew that I was done.
I moved her back to my house, carefully propping her upright in her climate-controlled box in the basement. The rich sheer blue silk draped over her backdrop really compliments her beautiful hair and eyes.
Sure, all of my dolls are blondes, and are tall, and certainly curvy. But those are the type that I like to play with. They are all similar, and though I like all of my dolls, I admit that Helena was my favorite. Perhaps it’s because she was the first. Or maybe it’s the deep blue of her eyes that reminds me of my own face before the accident. She was my favorite, until I met you.
So you see, you shouldn’t be afraid of me. You are being given a unique and wonderful opportunity to be immortalized forever. I’m very particular, and I only select the best dolls for my collection. You will be the gem of my collection, and I have something special in mind for you.
Jennifer Gifford has always had a fascination with the dark and humorous side of fiction. She hates creepy old dolls, spiders, and garden gnomes. The inspiration for her stories strike her in the oddest of places, from an elevator, walking in class, even in the shower. Previously published in Danse Macabre, Mystery authors.com, and M-Brane’s Science Fiction Magazine. Her latest work can also be found at Dunsteef audio fiction, and recently by Atoh Press. In turn, her nightmares are often the basis for her husband's stories, because she fears that writing her own nightmares will make them come true. Jennifer has been writing for almost two decades. She is currently Senior Editor at Bete Noire Magazine.