BY LAWRENCE COATES
The woman decided to design the downstairs bathroom in a Raggedy Ann theme, and once she did, there seemed to be an endless supply of Raggedy Ann products to fill it. She found a Raggedy Ann soap dispenser and a matching Raggedy Andy lotion dispenser at Meijer’s, and a toothbrush holder with Raggedy Ann’s face on it. On the wall above the toilet, she hung an open cabinet where she placed miniature dolls and memorabilia, and she found a new red wagon on sale, three feet long, that fit opposite the sink, in which she placed full-size Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls, along with some imitation hay, as though they were going for a hay ride.
Did she know what she was doing? Decorating her new condominium like a doll’s house, to invoke childhood’s innocence against pain and decay? Did she know that Raggedy Ann was first created by an author of children’s books, to cheer a sickly daughter? Did she know that the author kept producing a Raggedy Ann book every year, for twenty-three years after his daughter died from an infected vaccination, becoming colder and more business-like with every book?
No, she knew none of these things, though she had more in common with the author than with the optimistic doll who smiled at her every time she went downstairs. Her husband was sick, had become sick almost as soon as he entered into the place where they would spend their retirement, and all the dolls and teddy bears and wicker and lace decorations would not heal him. His feet were swollen and painful from chemotherapy, and he rarely went downstairs anymore. When she was downstairs, she could enter into the bathroom and smile and hide.
In the first book, the author introduced his daughter with Raggedy Ann in her arms. After her death, she became frozen in time, never aging, never growing old. In the second book, Raggedy Ann flew on a kite, but then fell, drowned in a bucket of paint. She was miraculously resurrected, her face repainted, and she was given a red candy heart on her chest that said “I Love You.”
When the woman was downstairs, she knew that under the gingham dress of every Raggedy Ann doll, she would find a red heart painted on the chest. She knew the words the heart contained. She knew this without looking. And because she knew it, she never thought about the day when the condominium would seem too large for her alone, when the possessions she had gathered to her would no longer comfort her, when all would be sold. She never thought about the wagon going at a garage sale, her dolls bought carelessly for a dollar or two, given to children who would love them for a year and then abandon them, Raggedy Andy used as target practice for a BB gun, Raggedy Ann floating face down in a precious blue swimming pool.
Lawrence Coates has published work in The Missouri Review, Greensboro Review, The Berkeley Fiction Review, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and he teaches Creative Writing at Bowling Green State University. His fourth novel, The Goodbye House, will be published in the fall.