Take me through the procedure. One more time. Just so I’m prepared.
Make an 8-inch cut in the chest
We never bought her brand-new toys, sparing the rod does not have to mean spoiling the child. She was happy with our homemade gifts: hand-drawn top-trump cards fashioned from cereal boxes and sticky-back plastic; bottle bowling pins; sock monsters; tin-can robots with sharp edges carefully sanded soft.
Cut through the breastbone to expose the heart
And then she was three-quarters-to-six, a rag-tag mop of curls and an eye for harmless mischief which charmed everyone she met. The playdates came, and went, and came again. Birthday parties exploded in clouds of icing and glitter, knee-deep in wrapping paper, shiny to the touch, and plastic bags with plastic toys and plastic-coated lollipops that glistened sticky in the sun.
I packed her off each time with Tupperware: homemade hummus, hand-moulded pittas, cookies sweetened with honey from the hive. She returned with a crumb-filled box, a giveaway slick shimmer of sugar on her lips, eyes glazed hazy.
Stu told me to let it go.
The nights drew in.
Connect to bypass machine
She wrote to Santa in conscious cursive, looping letters into candy canes, dotting each i with a star. I peeked over her shoulder, swallowed hard, and wondered what to do.
Remove the diseased heart
‘A Barbie’s not so bad,’ he said. But Barbie’s where it starts. Next comes princess shoes and pastel-painted horses and tacky tat that’s all the same, same, same.
He said to leave it in the box, surrounded by the appendages: shoes, handbags, necklace, skateboard, teeny-tiny mobile phone.
I ignore him, focus on recycling: cut the box into playing-card rectangles, carve clear pvc into tiny stars and store them in a craft box, leave just one square spare.
I slice through polymer torso, cut a window, pop out flesh, smooth and cool, place it to one side.
Replace with healthy heart
With nail scissors, I slice the shape: a human heart: transparent, fragile. I prick my finger and watch blood bubble, print pvc with a piece of me, place it gently in the space, watch it swallowed whole.
Close breastbone with wire, leaving the wire inside the body
Years of sewing has made my stitches neat. She will love her plastic princess and pepper her with kisses and the bumps beneath the breastbone are proof that she is extra special, with a heart that’s made to last.
Stitch up the cut
I wrap the doll in tissue paper, finish it with ribbon and a tag in Santa’s hand.
Seal with a kiss
I tuck the parcel in the present drawer, pack my bag, perch on the edge of the bed. Stu tells me I’ll be back to give it to her myself. I listen to my heart skip its beat in the dark and wonder.
Abi Hennig lives in Brighton and spends her time teaching, writing mini stories and losing gracefully at complicated board games. Her words have popped up in various places – recently in Ellipsis Zine, Molotov Cocktail, and Janus Literary. She tweets (@abihennig).