Miranda stood in the attic surrounded by cobwebs and old cardboard boxes. Dust balls itched her nose, and the cold, damp air made her shiver. Aunt Minna was on her knees hunched over an open box. “I thought since you’re here, you might as well get some of your things,” she said. “I’ll box them up for you. If you can’t get it all on the plane, we can mail everything before you leave.” She held up a doll with orange matted hair and no clothes. It winked, its left eye stuck shut. “Was this one yours or Elizabeth’s?”
“Elizabeth’s,” said Miranda. “The head fell off mine. We threw her out.”
Miranda had broken the head off her doll in a rageful fit when she was seven. She was in her room stifling an outburst, the reason for which she couldn’t remember now. A scream gathered inside her. She pounded her bed with her fists until her wrists hurt. She spotted her doll lying on her pillow next to a small brush and comb from earlier that day when she and Elizabeth had been playing beauty parlor with their matching dolls. Miranda’s lay on its back, its eyes stuck in a stare at the ceiling. Stupid doll, she thought. Laying there, doing nothing. She grabbed the doll by the legs, banged the back of its head on the wooden bed frame until it popped off and rolled across the floor, its dead stare aimed at Miranda. She cried and cried, did her best to reattach the head to the body. I’msorryI’msorryI’msorry.
Though Miranda couldn’t name it as such, the incident embedded a deep, searing shame in her, and it stayed with her, hidden beneath other unidentified emotions, tucked in her many layers. It was the same feeling she’d had when Aunt Minna found her and David “playing doctor” behind the chicken coop, or when Uncle Frank found her pressing her young body against Jack, the hired help, ten years her senior.
Now, it crept up on her, slow and gradual, the way day turns to night. Standing there in the attic, Miranda shrunk. Her edges shriveled, leaving her tiny and new inside.
Aunt Minna opened more boxes, retrieving baby hats and sweaters, small books, crayon drawings of stick figures with I LOVE YOU scrawled by a shaky hand. Inside one box with MIRANDA written across the corner of a flap, they found an old, broken Oriental fan Miranda hadn’t been able to throw away for some sentimental reason she couldn’t remember now, a plastic change purse full of fake foreign coins, a pop bead necklace, a 1973 calendar saved with the intent to frame the pictures of mountains, and the kaleidoscope Uncle Frank won at the Illinois State Fair in Canton the summer Miranda was nine.
She pulled the black cylinder from the bottom of the box and put it to her eye. The light from the bare overhead bulb was too dim to illuminate the colored chips inside.
“You just loved that thing,” said Aunt Minna.
Miranda moved to the window at the far end of the attic, passing through a spider’s web. She dragged the sticky strands from her hair and off her face and wiped them on her jeans. At the window, she put the tube to her eye and turned it. The plastic jewels tumbled against each other, taking shape, then changing again with the slightest move. Their colors were not as luxurious as she had remembered from years before when she sat on her bed until daylight disappeared, mesmerized by the changing colorful designs that formed and fell away. She thought it unfortunate that we can’t bottle moments of pleasure from our childhoods to consume years down the road when we need them because she could use something like that now.
She held her stomach, and a heavy pressing ache in her head grew. “I don’t feel very well,” she said. “I think I need to lie down.”