My Dolly

Picture Prompt Contest- Following a dad, who is dressed up for Christmas, even though he can't hang around for it


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1. My Dolly

Shiny, ebony boots. Stretchy trousers, hauled up with crisp bands. Buttoned up shirt and pillow padding. Fluffy beard, with the elastic pinching his cheeks. Glasses with a golden rim... But the finishing touch to the ensemble? With shaky hands, he adjusts the felt hat. The pom-pom is loosely sewn on and the trimming is rough with dried PVA. A smile creeps on his lips as he remembers the look on her face as she handed it to him last Christmas. So proud, so happy and so, so full of love. He hadn't had such a thoughtful present in a long time.

Awkwardly, he hoists up the brimming bin bag, so the bulk was bobbing against his back. All the stuff in there is just material. Tack. It's all nothing compared to the hat warming up his head. But it'll make her happy, he was sure. The way her face had become animated as the kids in the advert interacted with them all was just amazing. Stunning. If he could make her even half as happy as these toys should, he'd die a blissfully happy man.

After many huffs and many heaves, he manages to trek from the hallway and into the living room. Immediately the aroma of recently lit, scented candles hits him. His heels topple backwards slightly, before he catches himself. Catches his thoughts. Catches his memories. One particular memory that sticks out plays before him.

---

His large hands clutched her pudgy tummy, which was wriggling around from the amount of giggling she was doing. Bright shine her eyes, half from the glee and half from the candles dotted around her.

“Daddy, Daddy!” She waves the match around erratically. "Look Daddy! I got magic wand!"

Frantically, he snatched it off her and shouts, "Shoot, Doll, stop that!" A whimper came out of her throat and tears started to well up in her eyes. Tightly he clutched her, bringing her head to his chest. "Ah, Doll, don't cry. Please. I just...I don't want you to get hurt. You have to be very careful, playing with fire like that!"

"I be careful, Daddy, I pinky pwomise!" She stuck up her pinky finger.

"Right," he laughed, entwining his finger with hers. "Pinky promise."

---

He still remembers that promise, every single day. Whenever he gets a lurching feeling in his stomach of worry, that something is wrong with her, that just keeps him going. He smiles faintly at the candles, as the memory fades. Carefully, he fishes some more matches out of his pocket, the same brand of matchboxes they'd used, and scraped one against the bumpy side. A flame flickers, lighting up the room. Out the corner of his eye, he sees the light of the flame reflecting off a sphere. A bauble. His heart sinks. They've already decorated the Christmas tree?...oh, wait. The advent calendars that hang on the wall to the left of it remind him. Their little cardboard flaps are all open, bar one. It's Christmas Eve. He lost his chance, along with many others.

Trying to shrug off the sadness, he places the bag onto the floor and starts plucking out shiny presents from inside it. Each one is wrapped in gold and red glitter paper, with gossamer thread laced around the sides. The lads had all dabbled in when he came into the bunk room , bogged down with many a bag from Toys-R-Us. The result of it was fantastic. He knew she'd squeal with delight when she saw them. He knew she would spend ages staring at the exteriors, forgetting the goodies that were nestled inside.

--

Happily, he walked down the bustling street, hand in hand with little Dolly. Clumps of shoppers turned around to stare at her, cooing at her big brown eyes and blonde pigtails. She returned all these with a bashful glance at the floor. This caused another round of aw's. Just as he shot all them a proud smile, the small warmth in his hand left. His heart started pounding, at a million miles per hour. Hastily he turned around, and nearly collapsed with relief as he realised she was just transfixed by something in the window.

"It so pretty!" Her nose was pressed against the glass, of what seemed to be a jewellers.

He crouched down beside her. "Which one are you looking at, Dollypop...?" But his question trailed off as he eyed the purple pendant that had sent her all googly. His finger stabbed it. "That one?" She nodded eagerly. Once he looked at the price tag, he sighed and said, "You'll have to see what Santa Claus brings you."

"But Christmas is years away!" she protests.

"Well," he chuckles, "Patience is a virtue."

Her lips seal into a pout. "Pashent is not my virtoos!"

"It'll have to be," he murmurs, before grinning gauntly at her and taking her hand, swinging it as they carried on back down the street.

---

Bless her little heart, wrapped in its own glitter paper.

His hand glides onto the smallest box in the bag. It's the only one that's all gold. The rest either have gold paper and red bows or red paper and gold bows. Gently, he rattles it, hearing the chink of chain bouncing around. It is so delicate, yet so beautiful. Just like his Dolly.

God, why had he agreed to go on Christmas Day? It was extra pay, sure, but how could he go a Christmas without her? A tear forms in the corner of his right eye. Why? It was selfish and incompetent. If he could take back his agreement, he would in a flash. Maybe the boss would let him go home early. Who knows?

As more tears form and trickle down his chin, he glances at the mantelpiece. A picture of her was hanging up. It was the scene of last summer. The looming oak tree bears her weight, which hangs off a rope swing. Of course, meshing is padded all around it. No way José would he allow her to fall. The innocent glaze in her eyes and toys cheeks, fresh from the outdoors, made him stare at the picture for even longer. His bright little girl. As he rubs the glasses on the hem of his shirt, he starts breathing heavily. How had he left her for so long? How could he leave her again?

With a clenched jaw, he perched his glasses back on the rim of his nose, and picks up the now empty bag. No, no, he can't cry. He won't cry. He has to stay strong for her. Sure, this job may be killing him, but...he cranes his neck around the house. It's a stable house and a stable roof over her head. No, he couldn't ever take that away from her.

Quickly, he scuttles out of the living room and lands into the hallway. There's just one last thing to do before he goes. Sitting on the pillar, that holds up the banister, is a plate of wobbly cookies and a glass of milk. In an instant he gulps down the dairy liquid, then scoops up the cookies. He does keep one, though, nibbling it apprehensively before taking a satisfied munch. You can never tell what those wobbly cookies have in them.

When his sticky hands reach the doorknob, he hesitates. But then he laments and swings it open. The icy breeze from the outdoors slaps him around the face. The moment...no, the second...no, the micro-second he takes a step out into it, something tugs on his jacket.

"What is it?" he pronounces in a deep, friendly voice.

"...Daddy?"

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