Listen to an
Ship of Dolls
by Shirley Parenteau
Minutes later, Lexie stood with Jack in the carpeted hallway outside a plain paneled door. What she was about to do went against everything she had ever been taught. This wasn’t like slipping into the classroom after school. That might have earned her a scolding. This could get her into a lot of trouble. But she had to do it.
Jack leaned against dark wainscoting nearby, looking nervous. He wasn’t supposed to be upstairs in his mother’s boarding house, except for his own room at the end of the hall.
Lexie shouldn’t be here, at all, but she didn’t have a choice. Not in her heart. Only one thing mattered more than getting caught; being with Mama again. To do that, she had to write the best letter in the whole class. And to do that, she had to hold the doll, to know what the doll would say to those girls in Japan. It was the only way to write that letter better than anyone else.
Still, getting caught wouldn’t be fun. She glanced down the stairs to a rain-streaked window, feeling as rain-blurred as the glass while she gathered courage to open Miss Tompkins’ door.
"Go on in," Jack demanded. “Or forget the doll!”
I have to do it, Lexie told herself again. I have to.
She smelled simmering beef and onions and knew Jack’s mother was making stew for the boarders’ supper. Miss Tompkins room was right above the kitchen. Anyone walking around up here might be heard downstairs. Could she walk softly enough that Mrs. Harmon wouldn’t hear her from the kitchen?
Someone in a nearby room turned on a radio, making her jump.
Jack rocked on the balls of his feet. “What are you waiting for?”
“If Miss Tompkins catches us….”
“Maybe the door’s locked.”
“Nobody locks doors here. I don’t think there’s even a key.”
Lexie looked at the doorknob, remembering how Grandma was always watching for some sign of Mama to root out of her. Sneaking into Miss Tompkins’ room was sure to be one of those signs.
“Why do you need the doll?” Jack added, sounding impatient. “She’s not going to write the letter for you.”
“I’ve only ever held my cloth doll, Annie, that my grandma made for Christmas when I was little. I don’t know what a store-bought doll would write in a letter. Annie’s so soft and sweet and loving, she’d just say, “Give me a hug! A pretty store-bought doll like Emily Grace would say more. I know she would. I just don’t know what!”
“Then don’t be a baby!” Jack grabbed her hand and shoved it onto to the knob.
Lexie snatched her hand away. “Miss Tompkins might be in there!”
“She went out. But she’ll likely come back if you don’t get a move on.” He glanced down the stairs again. “Better not let Ma catch us sneaking into a renter’s room.”
If she does, Lexie warned herself, I’ll never know what to say in the letter. I’ll never get to Mama. She grabbed the knob. This time, she turned it.