Money smells strange when it burns, and Melody Dawn was not afraid to tell me so.
With no regrets, I put the shell of who I was in the box, and locked it with the silver key. And with a doll’s blank stare I watched it merrily blaze along with a bag of hundred dollar bills.
The old man in the antique shop had known what would happen when he put the box in Madison’s perfectly manicured hands, and then struggled not to show how miffed he was at Madison’s haggling, the paltry price she was trying to offer and her snooty demeanour.
Good riddance to Madison. Her expiring ghost did not even smell of melting plastic.
Melody Dawn smiled with that cupid-bow mouth that Madison had always feared would swallow her whole, and her ruined eye finally dropped in a graceful wink.
“That stinks!” she giggled, and I laughed too and cradled her close as if she was a baby. And of course, she was my baby once again, like she always should have been. She was my little daughter forever, and the dearest friend I have ever had. She was precious and real and we were never going to be apart again.
I stroked her hair and thought of how I was going to get her a new wig and have her eye fixed and her face re-painted so she would be beautiful once more. And I pictured the pink woollen dress and matching bonnet and booties I was going to knit her to replace the tattered little gown that hung on her like cobwebs, making her look bedraggled and sad.
Until then, I had not even remembered what colour her dress had been. Blue, it was – the brightest blue, just like the one cloudless and unbroken eye that still sparkled underneath blonde lashes.
“Everything of Madison’s stinks like rotten eggs,” I said, and we both laughed together as only little girls can. “I don’t need all that big city money of hers. I’ve got all that Grandma left me, and I can make my own.”
“By making pretty dresses for dolls like me, when you’ve made me new clothes and had me fixed up so I look like I used to,” Melody Dawn said, and I nodded.
“There’ll be so many well-dressed dollies out there when I get going, but you’re still going to be the prettiest of all. You always were.”
Grandma had taught little Maddie to make so many beautiful clothes for all her dolls, especially Melody Dawn. From that first moment on the wonderful Christmas Day when Grandma first laid Melody Dawn in little Maddie’s arms and helped her choose the loveliest names of all for her brand new baby girl, Maddie and Grandma had started planning what to knit and crochet and sew.
From muslin, silk and velvet, they made dresses and coats edged with ruffles and lace. Soft cotton and wool were used to craft perfectly delicate underclothes, and of course Melody Dawn had to have matching hats and bows and shoes. The doll was absolutely exquisite, a miniature version of little Maddie, who made Grandma smile with pride and talk about her “two beautiful girls” to anyone who would listen.
“Ridiculous!” Mother had sniffed, and Father frowned and hid behind his newspaper like he always did when Mother got angry with little Maddie.
Now I was little Maddie again, and Grandma’s magic was slowly flowing back into my hands as I re-tied the ribbon in my child’s soft hair, the silken ribbon that still, miraculously, looked as good as new.
“You’ll be pretty again, too, now Madison has gone,” Melody Dawn told me. “Don’t forget to burn all her ugly clothes, now! You can wear the dress-up clothes in the attic till you’re able to make yourself some lovely new ones.”
“Of course, sweet baby,” I said, and kissed Melody Dawn’s forehead, putting her on the nearest chair and running up the stairs to open the chest of dress-up clothes. I already knew what I wanted to put on – “the mermaid dress” I had once called it, a ball-gown of such a glorious emerald green that it looked fit for King Neptune’s queen to wear.
Madison had been going to sell it, along with all the other vintage things upstairs. “They’ll be worth a fortune!” she had bragged to her fake best friend on the other end of the flat little phone she had been holding in her perfectly manicured hand.
That phone would be going into the fireplace next, or into the rubbish bin if it would not burn – right after the ugly clothes had been reduced to ashes.
Coming down the stairs, almost skipping with joy that the mermaid dress was a perfect fit, I thought about how Madison would hate this shade of green, and smiled.
Madison loathed bright colours and tinkling music; babies were just a messy nuisance, and flowers and kittens made her sneeze. Madison liked straight lines, sharp skirt-suits, short haircuts and various shades of beige. Thin wire spectacle frames perched on her nose, because they made her look smart, in her opinion, even though she did not need glasses to see.
And of course, Madison liked money, lots and lots of money.
She liked to buy antiques at bargain prices, even if they were ugly, because they were fashionable and could be re-sold for even more money later on down the line. And she loved making all the big city money she could when she sat in her big beige office, closing deals in a big booming voice on that infernal phone of hers, and making middle managers press their lips tightly together at the clipped sound of her corporate high heels on the polished floor while young secretaries dashed from her office to the bathroom so they could break into dry-retching sobs unseen.
Now she was not even a heap of ashes or a memory, that shell in the wooden box locked tight with the tarnished silver key.
She was born from a crack in a doll’s ruined eye, on a dark day soon after Grandma’s funeral, when Mother threw Melody Dawn into a trunk and locked it just as tight as the now burned box. Like a ghastly egg, the eye had split open and revealed Madison to the world as little Maddie withered and shrank to nothing under Mother’s crushing words.
“You’re far too old for dolls. The only reason I’m not throwing this one out with the rest of your babyish toys is because it’ll be worth a lot of money one day. It’s time to start working hard and getting good marks at school – you’ll never get a good job unless you do!”
Mother and Father had sold the house in the woodland town where Grandma used to live, but Madison had bought it back years later for its desirable location. She would be the envy of all her false friends for owning such a place, she reasoned, and would throw the hugest party once the house was renovated and the walls were painted her favourite shade of beige! How much fun she would have at the party, knocking back flute after flute of the best French champagne and gloating to her sham friends about how cheaply she had bought all the hideous but valuable antique things that adorned her shelves.
She had brimmed with self-satisfaction, noticing that her hair needed cutting again as she glanced at herself in the mirror just before bed on that fateful night, when she had heard something moving in the attic and, muttering darkly about getting the exterminators in, had climbed the stairs.
Melody Dawn’s one perfect eye was full of love and light when I approached her.
“You’ll be so gorgeous when your hair grows back,” she said. I picked her up and cuddled her again.
“I guess that makes us both fixer-uppers, then,” I replied, and Melody Dawn would have rolled her eyes if she was able to.
“Please don’t talk like her – I want that nasty lady to stay gone,” she pleaded, and I gave her another gentle kiss.
“Sorry, sweetheart. She will be, as soon as I’ve got rid of all her outfits,” I said, and stood up and whirled her around in my arms in a funny little dance to make her feel better, as a music box I had found in the attic, all wrapped up in the mermaid dress, started to spontaneously tinkle out an old-fashioned waltz.
Some flowers would be nice, I decided as I looked around the room to see if any of the antique vases were attractive enough to keep. Roses and violets… and perhaps I should get a kitten to keep Melody Dawn and me company…
“How did you make Madison go away?” I asked when I had stopped for breath at last.
“She made herself go away – she thought she was getting rid of me, but it didn’t work. She didn’t like it when I asked for Play Doh and peanut butter snacks like you used to make for me, or when I asked her why she needed so much honey in her tea. It must have tasted terrible – honey belongs on scones, or toast, anyway! Not in tea!”
I stuck my tongue out in disgust, and we both got another frenzied attack of the giggles.
“You’re absolutely right,” I said. “I’d better get rid of all her horrible clothes, and then you can have all the peanut butter and Play Doh sandwiches or honey on toast you want!”
Melody Dawn beamed and winked her ruined eye at me again.
“I’m glad my darling mother’s come back to me,” she whispered.