Introduction by AM Homes
Please enjoy this special bonus issue of Recommended Reading. For more about “A Real Doll” and Barbie’s legacy, read AM Homes’ conversation with MG Lord, author of Forever Barbie.
As you likely know, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach have co-written the new Barbie film—directed by Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. What you might not know is that long ago, in the mid-1980s, I wrote the following short story, which became rather infamous, “A Real Doll.”
As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to have a Barbie because my mother thought it was inappropriate, given Barbie’s extreme sexualized appearance. My parents were from the school of “here’s some plain paper and a pen to draw your own world.” I ultimately told my mother that I couldn’t go to my friend Suzy’s house without a Barbie and she took me to the toy store. I got one—there would never be more than one until years later when my junior high friend, Jim, got a job at Mattel. Not only was he in charge of Barbie’s wardrobe, he actually made a one-off AM Homes Barbie, who came with a desk, jeans, a white shirt, and a black sweater.
In 1986, I wrote “A Real Doll,” a story about an adolescent boy who develops an intense psycho-sexual relationship with his sister’s Barbie. When the story was workshopped in Hilma Wolitzer’s class at NYU, the students thought the story was “psychotic” and that it was impossible to date Barbie “because she didn’t have a vagina.” That comment took me by surprise then and still does—a bit too literal. When we sent the story to magazines, the editors were afraid to publish it as Mattel was notoriously litigious and protective of Barbie.
The story was ultimately published by Michael Denneny, who just recently passed away. He was the editor of the now-defunct Christopher Street magazine, which was a legendary gay men’s magazine. Michael decided to publish three of the stories from my collection The Safety of Objects in one issue, saying he didn’t care if they were sued as he had nothing to lose. I suspect it was the only issue with three short stories and perhaps the only one with a woman on the cover—a bit of gay history. The story also spawned the anthology, Mondo Barbie.
The Barbie movie is the latest in this doll’s long history, showing the evolution of Barbie and women’s lives over more than six decades. Barbara Millicent Roberts (Barbie’s full name) was first introduced in March 1959, and is now 64 years old. The short story, “A Real Doll,” is 35 years old, and I’m excited to introduce it to a new generation of readers.
– AM Homes
Author of The Unfolding
The Most Iconic Barbie Story Ever Told
A Real Doll by AM Homes
I’m dating Barbie. Three afternoons a week, while my sister is at dance class, I take Barbie away from Ken. I’m practicing for the future.
At first I sat in my sister’s room watching Barbie, who lived with Ken, on a doily, on top of the dresser.
I was looking at her but not really looking. I was looking, and all of the sudden realized she was staring at me.
She was sitting next to Ken, his khaki-covered thigh absently rubbing her bare leg. He was rubbing her, but she was staring at me.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hello,” I said.
“I’m Barbie,” she said, and Ken stopped rubbing her leg.
“You’re Jenny’s brother.”
I nodded. My head was bobbing up and down like a puppet on a weight.
“I really like your sister. She’s sweet,” Barbie said. “Such a good little girl. Especially lately, she makes herself so pretty, and she’s started doing her nails.”
I wondered if Barbie noticed that Miss Wonderful bit her nails and that when she smiled her front teeth were covered with little flecks of purple nail polish. I wondered if she knew Jennifer colored in the chipped chewed spots with purple magic marker, and then sometimes sucked on her fingers so that not only did she have purple flecks of polish on her teeth, but her tongue was the strangest shade of violet.
“So listen,” I said. “Would you like to go out for a while? Grab some fresh air, maybe take a spin around the backyard?”
“Sure,” she said.
I picked her up by her feet. It sounds unusual but I was too petrified to take her by the waist. I grabbed her by the ankles and carried her off like a Popsicle stick.
As soon as we were out back, sitting on the porch of what I used to call my fort, but which my sister and parents referred to as the playhouse, I started freaking. I was suddenly and incredibly aware that I was out with Barbie. I didn’t know what to say.
“So, what kind of a Barbie are you?” I asked.
“Well, from listening to Jennifer I know there’s Day to Night Barbie, Magic Moves Barbie, Gift-Giving Barbie, Tropical Barbie, My First Barbie, and more.”
“I’m Tropical,” she said. I’m Tropical, she said, the same way a person might say I’m Catholic or I’m Jewish. “I came with a one-piece bathing suit, a brush, and a ruffle you can wear so many ways,” Barbie squeaked.
She actually squeaked. It turned out that squeaking was Barbie’s birth defect. I pretended I didn’t hear it.
We were quiet for a minute. A leaf larger than Barbie fell from the maple tree above us and I caught it just before it would have hit her. I half expected her to squeak, “You saved my life. I’m yours, forever.” Instead she said, in a perfectly normal voice, “Wow, big leaf.”
I looked at her. Barbie’s eyes were sparkling blue like the ocean on a good day. I looked and in a moment noticed she had the whole world, the cosmos, drawn in makeup above and below her eyes. An entire galaxy, clouds, stars, a sun, the sea, painted onto her face. Yellow, blue, pink, and a million silver sparkles.
We sat looking at each other, looking and talking and then not talking and looking again. It was a stop-and-start thing with both of us constantly saying the wrong thing, saying anything, and then immediately regretting having said it.
It was obvious Barbie didn’t trust me. I asked her if she wanted something to drink.
“Diet Coke,” she said. And I wondered why I’d asked.
I went into the house, upstairs into my parents’ bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet, and got a couple of Valiums. I immediately swallowed one. I figured if I could be calm and collected, she’d realize I wasn’t going to hurt her. I broke another Valium into a million small pieces, dropped some slivers into Barbie’s Diet Coke, and swished it around so it’d blend. I figured if we could be calm and collected together, she’d be able to trust me even sooner. I was falling in love in a way that had nothing to do with love.
“So, what’s the deal with you and Ken?” I asked later after we’d loosened up, after she’d drunk two Diet Cokes, and I’d made another trip to the medicine cabinet.
She giggled. “Oh, we’re just really good friends.”
“What’s the deal with him really, you can tell me, I mean, is he or isn’t he?”
“Ish she or ishn’ she,” Barbie said, in a slow slurred way, like she was so intoxicated that if they made a Breathalizer for Valium, she’d melt it.
I regretted having fixed her a third Coke. I mean if she o.d.’ed and died Jennifer would tell my mom and dad for sure.
“Is he a faggot or what?”
Barbie laughed and I almost slapped her. She looked me straight in the eye.
“He lusts after me,” she said. “I come home at night and he’s standing there, waiting. He doesn’t wear underwear, you know. I mean, isn’t that strange, Ken doesn’t own any underwear. I heard Jennifer tell her friend that they don’t even make any for him. Anyway, he’s always there waiting, and I’m like, Ken we’re friends, okay, that’s it. I mean, have you ever noticed, he has molded plastic hair. His head and his hair are all one piece. I can’t go out with a guy like that. Besides, I don’t think he’d be up for it if you know what I mean. Ken is not what you’d call well endowed . . . . All he’s got is a little plastic bump, more of a hump, really, and what the hell are you supposed to do with that?”
She was telling me things I didn’t think I should hear and all the same, I was leaning into her, like if I moved closer she’d tell me more. I was taking every word and holding it for a minute, holding groups of words in my head like I didn’t understand English. She went on and on, but I wasn’t listening.
The sun sank behind the playhouse, Barbie shivered, excused herself, and ran around back to throw up. I asked her if she felt okay. She said she was fine, just a little tired, that maybe she was coming down with the flu or something. I gave her a piece of a piece of gum to chew and took her inside.
On the way back to Jennifer’s room I did something Barbie almost didn’t forgive me for. I did something which not only shattered the moment, but nearly wrecked the possibility of our having a future together.
In the hallway between the stairs and Jennifer’s room, I popped Barbie’s head into my mouth, like lion and tamer, God and Godzilla.
I popped her whole head into my mouth, and Barbie’s hair separated into single strands like Christmas tinsel and caught in my throat nearly choking me. I could taste layer on layer of makeup, Revlon, Max Factor, and Maybelline. I closed my mouth around Barbie and could feel her breath in mine. I could hear her screams in my throat. Her teeth, white, Pearl Drops, Pepsodent, and the whole Osmond family, bit my tongue and the inside of my cheek like I might accidentally bite myself. I closed my mouth around her neck and held her suspended, her feet uselessly kicking the air in front of my face.
Before pulling her out, I pressed my teeth lightly into her neck, leaving marks Barbie described as scars of her assault, but which I imagined as a New Age necklace of love.
“I have never, ever in my life been treated with such utter disregard,” she said as soon as I let her out.
She was lying. I knew Jennifer sometimes did things with Barbie. I didn’t mention that once I’d seen Barbie hanging from Jennifer’s ceiling fan, spinning around in great wide circles, like some imitation Superman.
“I’m sorry if I scared you.”
“Scared me!” she squeaked.
She went on squeaking, a cross between the squeal when you let the air out of a balloon and a smoke alarm with weak batteries. While she was squeaking, the phrase a head in the mouth is worth two in the bush started running through my head. I knew it had come from somewhere, started as something else, but I couldn’t get it right. A head in the mouth is worth two in the bush, again and again, like the punch line to some dirty joke.
“Scared me. Scared me. Scared me!” Barbie squeaked louder and louder until finally she had my attention again. “Have you ever been held captive in the dark cavern of someone’s body?”
I shook my head. It sounded wonderful.
“Typical,” she said. “So incredibly, typically male.”
For a moment I was proud.
“Why do you have to do things you know you shouldn’t, and worse, you do them with a light in your eye, like you’re getting some weird pleasure that only another boy would understand. You’re all the same,” she said. “You’re all Jack Nicholson.”
I refused to put her back in Jennifer’s room until she forgave me, until she understood that I’d done what I did with only the truest of feeling, no harm intended.
I heard Jennifer’s feet clomping up the stairs. I was running out of time.
“You know I’m really interested in you,” I said to Barbie.
“Me too,” she said, and for a minute I wasn’t sure if she meant she was interested in herself or me.
“We should do this again,” I said. She nodded.
I leaned down to kiss Barbie. I could have brought her up to my lips, but somehow it felt wrong. I leaned down to kiss her and the first thing I got was her nose in my mouth. I felt like a St. Bernard saying hello.
No matter how graceful I tried to be, I was forever licking her face. It wasn’t a question of putting my tongue in her ear or down her throat, it was simply literally trying not to suffocate her. I kissed Barbie with my back to Ken and then turned around and put her on the doily right next to him. I was tempted to drop her down on Ken, to mash her into him, but I managed to restrain myself.
“That was fun,” Barbie said. I heard Jennifer in the hall.
“Later,” I said.
Jennifer came into the room and looked at me.
“What?” I said.
“It’s my room,” she said.
“There was a bee in it. I was killing it for you.”
“A bee. I’m allergic to bees. Mom, Mom,” she screamed. “There’s a bee.”
“Mom’s not home. I killed it.”
“But there might be another one.”
“So call me and I’ll kill it.”
“But if it stings me I might die.”
I shrugged and walked out. I could feel Barbie watching me leave.
I took a Valium about twenty minutes before I picked her up the next Friday. By the time I went into Jennifer’s room, everything was getting easier.
“Hey,” I said when I got up to the dresser.
She was there on the doily with Ken, they were back to back, resting against each other, legs stretched out in front of them.
Ken didn’t look at me. I didn’t care.
“You ready to go?” I asked.
“I thought you might be thirsty.” I handed her the Diet Coke I’d made for her.
I’d figured Barbie could take a little less than an eighth of a Valium without getting totally senile. Basically, I had to give her Valium crumbs since there was no way to cut one that small.
She took the Coke and drank it right in front of Ken. I kept waiting for him to give me one of those I-know-what-you’re-up-to-and-I-don’t-like-it looks, the kind my father gives me when he walks into my room without knocking and I automatically jump twenty feet in the air.
Ken acted like he didn’t even know I was there. I hated him.
“I can’t do a lot of walking this afternoon,” Barbie said.
I nodded. I figured no big deal since mostly I seemed to be carrying her around anyway.
“My feet are killing me,” she said.
I was thinking about Ken.
“Don’t you have other shoes?”
My family was very into shoes. No matter what seemed to be wrong my father always suggested it could be cured by wearing a different pair of shoes. He believed that shoes, like tires, should be rotated.
“It’s not the shoes,” she said. “It’s my toes.”
“Did you drop something on them?” My Valium wasn’t working. I was having trouble making small talk. I needed another one.
“Jennifer’s been chewing on them.”
“She chews on my toes.”
“You let her chew your footies?”
I couldn’t make sense out of what she was saying. I was thinking about not being able to talk, needing another or maybe two more Valiums, yellow adult-strength Pez.
“Do you enjoy it?” I asked.
“She literally bites down on them, like I’m flank steak or something,” Barbie said. “I wish she’d just bite them off and have it over with. This is taking forever. She’s chewing and chewing, more like gnawing at me.”
“I’ll make her stop. I’ll buy her some gum, some tobacco or something, a pencil to chew on.”
“Please don’t say anything. I wouldn’t have told you except . . . ,” Barbie said.
“But she’s hurting you.”
“It’s between Jennifer and me.”
“Where’s it going to stop?” I asked.
“At the arch, I hope. There’s a bone there, and once she realizes she’s bitten the soft part off, she’ll stop.”
“How will you walk?”
“I have very long feet.”
I sat on the edge of my sister’s bed, my head in my hands. My sister was biting Barbie’s feet off and Barbie didn’t seem to care. She didn’t hold it against her and in a way I liked her for that. I liked the fact she understood how we all have little secret habits that seem normal enough to us, but which we know better than to mention out loud. I started imagining things I might be able to get away with.
“Get me out of here,” Barbie said.
I slipped Barbie’s shoes off. Sure enough, someone had been gnawing at her. On her left foot the toes were dangling and on the right, half had been completely taken off. There were tooth marks up to her ankles.
“Let’s not dwell on this,” Barbie said. I picked Barbie up. Ken fell over backwards and Barbie made me straighten him up before we left. “Just because you know he only has a bump doesn’t give you permission to treat him badly,” Barbie whispered.
I fixed Ken and carried Barbie down the hall to my room. I held Barbie above me, tilted my head back, and lowered her feet into my mouth. I felt like a young sword swallower practicing for my debut. I lowered Barbie’s feet and legs into my mouth and then began sucking on them. They smelled like Jennifer and dirt and plastic. I sucked on her stubs and she told me it felt nice.
“You’re better than a hot soak,” Barbie said. I left her resting on my pillow and went downstairs to get us each a drink.
We were lying on my bed, curled into and out of each other. Barbie was on a pillow next to me and I was on my side facing her. She was talking about men, and as she talked I tried to be everything she said. She was saying she didn’t like men who were afraid of themselves. I tried to be brave, to look courageous and secure. I held my head a certain way and it seemed to work. She said she didn’t like men who were afraid of femininity, and I got confused.
“Guys always have to prove how boy they really are,” Barbie said.
I thought of Jennifer trying to be a girl, wearing dresses, doing her nails, putting makeup on, wearing a bra even though she wouldn’t need one for about fifty years.
“You make fun of Ken because he lets himself be everything he is. He doesn’t hide anything.”
“He doesn’t have anything to hide,” I said. “He has tan molded plastic hair, and a bump for a dick.”
“I never should have told you about the bump.”
I lay back on the bed. Barbie rolled over, off the pillow, and rested on my chest. Her body stretched from my nipple to my belly button. Her hands pressed against me, tickling me.
“Barbie,” I said.
“How do you feel about me?”
She didn’t say anything for a minute. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, and slipped her hand into my shirt through the space between the buttons.
Her fingers were like the ends of toothpicks performing some subtle ancient torture, a dance of boy death across my chest. Barbie crawled all over me like an insect who’d run into one too many cans of Raid.
Underneath my clothes, under my skin, I was going crazy. First off, I’d been kidnapped by my underwear with no way to manually adjust without attracting unnecessary attention.
With Barbie caught in my shirt I slowly rolled over, like in some space shuttle docking maneuver. I rolled onto my stomach, trapping her under me. As slowly and unobtrusively as possible, I ground myself against the bed, at first hoping it would fix things and then again and again, caught by a pleasure/pain principle.
“Is this a water bed?” Barbie asked.
My hand was on her breasts, only it wasn’t really my hand, but more like my index finger. I touched Barbie and she made a little gasp, a squeak in reverse. She squeaked backwards, then stopped, and I was stuck there with my hand on her, thinking about how I was forever crossing a line between the haves and the have-nots, between good guys and bad, between men and animals, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop myself.
Barbie was sitting on my crotch, her legs flipped back behind her in a position that wasn’t human.
At a certain point I had to free myself. If my dick was blue, it was only because it had suffocated. I did the honors and Richard popped out like an escape from maximum security.
“I’ve never seen anything so big,” Barbie said. It was the sentence I dreamed of, but given the people Barbie normally hung out with, namely the bump boy himself, it didn’t come as a big surprise.
She stood at the base of my dick, her bare feet buried in my pubic hair. I was almost as tall as she was. Okay, not almost as tall, but clearly we could be related. She and Richard even had the same vaguely surprised look on their faces.
She was on me and I couldn’t help wanting to get inside her. I turned Barbie over and was on top of her, not caring if I killed her. Her hands pressed so hard into my stomach that it felt like she was performing an appendectomy.
I was on top, trying to get between her legs, almost breaking her in half. But there was nothing there, nothing to fuck except a small thin line that was supposed to be her ass crack.
I rubbed the thin line, the back of her legs and the space between her legs. I turned Barbie’s back to me so I could do it without having to look at her face.
Very quickly, I came. I came all over Barbie, all over her and a little bit in her hair. I came on Barbie and it was the most horrifying experience I ever had. It didn’t stay on her. It doesn’t stick to plastic. I was finished. I was holding a come-covered Barbie in my hand like I didn’t know where she came from.
Barbie said, “Don’t stop,” or maybe I just think she said that because I read it somewhere. I don’t know anymore. I couldn’t listen to her. I couldn’t even look at her. I wiped myself off with a sock, pulled my clothes on, and then took Barbie into the bathroom.
At dinner I noticed Jennifer chewing her cuticles between bites of tuna-noodle casserole. I asked her if she was teething. She coughed and then started choking to death on either a little piece of fingernail, a crushed potato chip from the casserole, or maybe even a little bit of Barbie footie that’d stuck in her teeth. My mother asked her if she was okay.
“I swallowed something sharp,” she said between coughs that were clearly influenced by the acting class she’d taken over the summer.
“Do you have a problem?” I asked her.
“Leave your sister alone,” my mother said.
“If there are any questions to ask we’ll do the asking,” my father said.
“Is everything all right?” my mother asked Jennifer. She nodded. “I think you could use some new jeans,” my mother said. “You don’t seem to have many play clothes anymore.”
“Not to change the subject,” I said, trying to think of a way to stop Jennifer from eating Barbie alive.
“I don’t wear pants,” Jennifer said. “Boys wear pants.”
“Your grandma wears pants,” my father said.
“She’s not a girl.”
My father chuckled. He actually fucking chuckled. He’s the only person I ever met who could actually fucking chuckle.
“Don’t tell her that,” he said, chuckling.
“It’s not funny,” I said.
“Grandma’s are pull-ons anyway,” Jennifer said. “They don’t have a fly. You have to have a penis to have a fly.”
“Jennifer,” my mother said. “That’s enough of that.”
I decided to buy Barbie a present. I was at that strange point where I would have done anything for her. I took two buses and walked more than a mile to get to Toys R Us.
Barbie row was aisle i4C. I was a wreck. I imagined a million Barbies and having to have them all. I pictured fucking one, discarding it, immediately grabbing a fresh one, doing it, and then throwing it onto a growing pile in the corner of my room. An unending chore. I saw myself becoming a slave to Barbie. I wondered how many Tropical Barbies were made each year. I felt faint.
There were rows and rows of Kens, Barbies, and Skippers. Funtime Barbie, Jewel Secrets Ken, Barbie Rocker with “Hot Rockin’ Fun and Real Dancin’ Action.” I noticed Magic Moves Barbie, and found myself looking at her carefully, flirtatiously, wondering if her legs were spreadable. “Push the switch and she moves,” her box said. She winked at me while I was reading.
The only Tropical I saw was a black Tropical Ken. From just looking at him you wouldn’t have known he was black. I mean, he wasn’t black like anyone would be black. Black Tropical Ken was the color of a raisin, a raisin all spread out and unwrinkled. He had a short afro that looked like a wig had been dropped down and fixed on his head, a protective helmet. I wondered if black Ken was really white Ken sprayed over with a thick coating of ironed raisin plastic.
I spread eight black Kens out in a line across the front of a row. Through the plastic window of his box he told me he was hoping to go to dental school. All eight black Kens talked at once. Luckily, they all said the same thing at the same time. They said he really liked teeth. Black Ken smiled. He had the same white Pearl Drops, Pepsodent, Osmond family teeth that Barbie and white Ken had. I thought the entire Mattel family must take really good care of themselves, I figured they might be the only people left in America who actually brushed after every meal and then again before going to sleep.
I didn’t know what to get Barbie. Black Ken said I should go for clothing, maybe a fur coat. I wanted something really special. I imagined a wonderful present that would draw us somehow closer.
There was a tropical pool and patio set, but I decided it might make her homesick. There was a complete winter holiday, with an A-frame house, fireplace, snowmobile, and sled. I imagined her inviting Ken away for a weekend without me. The six o’clock news set was nice, but because of her squeak, Barbie’s future as an anchorwoman seemed limited. A workout center, a sofa bed and coffee table, a bubbling spa, a bedroom play set. I settled on the grand piano. It was $13.00. I’d always made it a point to never spend more than ten dollars on anyone. This time I figured, what the hell, you don’t buy a grand piano every day.
“Wrap it up, would ya,” I said at the checkout desk.
From my bedroom window I could see Jennifer in the backyard, wearing her tutu and leaping all over the place. It was dangerous as hell to sneak in and get Barbie, but I couldn’t keep a grand piano in my closet without telling someone.
“You must really like me,” Barbie said when she finally had the piano unwrapped.
I nodded. She was wearing a ski suit and skis. It was the end of August and eighty degrees out. Immediately, she sat down and played “Chopsticks.”
I looked out at Jennifer. She was running down the length of the deck, jumping onto the railing and then leaping off, posing like one of those red flying horses you see on old Mobil gas signs. I watched her do it once and then the second time, her foot caught on the railing, and she went over the edge the hard way. A minute later she came around the edge of the house, limping, her tutu dented and dirty, pink tights ripped at both knees. I grabbed Barbie from the piano bench and raced her into Jennifer’s room.
“I was just getting warmed up,” she said. “I can play better than that, really.”
I could hear Jennifer crying as she walked up the stairs. “Jennifer’s coming,” I said. I put her down on the dresser and realized Ken was missing.
“Where’s Ken?” I asked quickly.
“Out with Jennifer,” Barbie said.
I met Jennifer at her door. “Are you okay?” I asked. She cried harder. “I saw you fall.”
“Why didn’t you stop me?” she said.
She nodded and showed me her knees.
“Once you start to fall no one can stop you.” I noticed Ken was tucked into the waistband of her tutu.
“They catch you,” Jennifer said.
I started to tell her it was dangerous to go leaping around with a Ken stuck in your waistband, but you don’t tell someone who’s already crying that they did something bad.
I walked her into the bathroom, and took out the hydrogen peroxide. I was a first aid expert. I was the kind of guy who walked around, waiting for someone to have a heart attack just so I could practice my CPR technique.
“Sit down,” I said.
Jennifer sat down on the toilet without putting the lid down. Ken was stabbing her all over the place and instead of pulling him out, she squirmed around trying to get comfortable like she didn’t know what else to do. I took him out for her. She watched as though I was performing surgery or something.
“He’s mine,” she said.
“Take off your tights,” I said.
“No,” she said.
“They’re ruined,” I said. “Take them off.”
Jennifer took off her ballet slippers and peeled off her tights. She was wearing my old Underoos with superheroes on them, Spiderman and Superman and Batman all poking out from under a dirty dented tutu. I decided not to say anything, but it looked funny as hell to see a flat crotch in boys’ underwear. I had the feeling they didn’t bother making underwear for Ken because they knew it looked too weird on him.
I poured peroxide onto her bloody knees. Jennifer screamed into my ear. She bent down and examined herself, poking her purple fingers into the torn skin; her tutu bunched up and rubbed against her face, scraping it. I worked on her knees, removing little pebbles and pieces of grass from the area.
She started crying again.
“You’re okay,” I said. “You’re not dying.” She didn’t care. “Do you want anything?” I asked, trying to be nice.
“Barbie,” she said.
It was the first time I’d handled Barbie in public. I picked her up like she was a complete stranger and handed her to Jennifer, who grabbed her by the hair. I started to tell her to ease up, but couldn’t. Barbie looked at me and I shrugged. I went downstairs and made Jennifer one of my special Diet Cokes.
“Drink this,” I said, handing it to her. She took four giant gulps and immediately I felt guilty about having used a whole Valium.
“Why don’t you give a little to your Barbie,” I said. “I’m sure she’s thirsty too.”
Barbie winked at me and I could have killed her, first off for doing it in front of Jennifer, and second because she didn’t know what the hell she was winking about.
I went into my room and put the piano away. I figured as long as I kept it in the original box I’d be safe. If anyone found it, I’d say it was a present for Jennifer.
Wednesday Ken and Barbie had their heads switched. I went to get Barbie, and there on top of the dresser were Barbie and Ken, sort of. Barbie’s head was on Ken’s body and Ken’s head was on Barbie. At first I thought it was just me.
“Hi,” Barbie’s head said.
I couldn’t respond. She was on Ken’s body and I was looking at Ken in a whole new way.
I picked up the Barbie head/Ken and immediately Barbie’s head rolled off. It rolled across the dresser, across the white doily past Jennifer’s collection of miniature ceramic cats, and boom it fell to the floor. I saw Barbie’s head rolling and about to fall, and then falling, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. I was frozen, paralyzed with Ken’s headless body in my left hand.
Barbie’s head was on the floor, her hair spread out underneath it like angel wings in the snow, and I expected to see blood, a wide rich pool of blood, or at least a little bit coming out of her ear, her nose, or her mouth. I looked at her head on the floor and saw nothing but Barbie with eyes like the cosmos looking up at me. I thought she was dead.
“Christ, that hurt,” she said. “And I already had a headache from these earrings.”
There were little red dot/ball earrings jutting out of Barbie’s ears.
“They go right through my’ head, you know. I guess it takes getting used to,” Barbie said.
I noticed my mother’s pin cushion on the dresser next to the other Barbie/Ken, the Barbie body, Ken head. The pin cushion was filled with hundreds of pins, pins with flat silver ends and pins with red, yellow, and blue dot/ball ends.
“You have pins in your head,” I said to the Barbie head on the floor.
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
I was starting to hate her. I was being perfectly clear and she didn’t understand me.
I looked at Ken. He was in my left hand, my fist wrapped around his waist. I looked at him and realized my thumb was on his bump. My thumb was pressed against Ken’s crotch and as soon as I noticed I got an automatic hard-on, the kind you don’t know you’re getting, it’s just there. I started rubbing Ken’s bump and watching my thumb like it was a large-screen projection of a porno movie.
“What are you doing?” Barbie’s head said. “Get me up. Help me.” I was rubbing Ken’s bump/hump with my finger inside his bathing suit. I was standing in the middle of my sister’s room, with my pants pulled down.
“Aren’t you going to help me?” Barbie kept asking. “Aren’t you going to help me?”
In the second before I came, I held Ken’s head hole in front of me. I held Ken upside down above my dick and came inside of Ken like I never could in Barbie.
I came into Ken’s body and as soon as I was done I wanted to do it again. I wanted to fill Ken and put his head back on, like a perfume bottle. I wanted Ken to be the vessel for my secret supply. I came in Ken and then I remembered he wasn’t mine. He didn’t belong to me. I took him into the bathroom and soaked him in warm water and Ivory liquid. I brushed his insides with Jennifer’s toothbrush and left him alone in a cold-water rinse.
“Aren’t you going to help me, aren’t you?” Barbie kept asking.
I started thinking she’d been brain damaged by the accident. I picked her head up from the floor.
“What took you so long?” she asked.
“I had to take care of Ken”
“Is he okay?”
“He’ll be fine. He’s soaking in the bathroom.” I held Barbie’s head in my hand.
“What are you going to do?”
“What do you mean?” I said.
Did my little incident, my moment with Ken, mean that right then and there some decision about my future life as queerbait had to be made?
“This afternoon. Where are we going? What are we doing? I miss you when I don’t see you,” Barbie said.
“You see me every day,” I said.
“I don’t really see you. I sit on top of the dresser and if you pass by, I see you. Take me to your room.
“I have to bring Ken’s body back.”
I went into the bathroom, rinsed out Ken, blew him dry with my mother’s blow dryer, then played with him again. It was a boy thing, we were boys together. I thought sometime I might play ball with him, I might take him out instead of Barbie.
“Everything takes you so long,” Barbie said when I got back into the room.
I put Ken back up on the dresser, picked up Barbie’s body, knocked Ken’s head off, and smashed Barbie’s head back down on her own damn neck.
“I don’t want to fight with you,” Barbie said as I carried her into my room. “We don’t have enough time together to fight. Fuck me,” she said.
I didn’t feel like it. I was thinking about fucking Ken and Ken being a boy. I was thinking about Barbie and Barbie being a girl. I was thinking about Jennifer, switching Barbie and Ken’s heads, chewing Barbie’s feet off, hanging Barbie from the ceiling fan, and who knows what else.
“Fuck me,” Barbie said again.
I ripped Barbie’s clothing off. Between Barbie’s legs Jennifer had drawn pubic hair in reverse. She’d drawn it upside down so it looked like a fountain spewing up and out in great wide arcs. I spit directly onto Barbie and with my thumb and first finger rubbed the ink lines, erasing them. Barbie moaned.
“Why do you let her do this to you?”
“Jennifer owns me,” Barbie moaned.
Jennifer owns me, she said, so easily and with pleasure. I was totally jealous. Jennifer owned Barbie and it made me crazy. Obviously it was one of those relationships that could only exist between women. Jennifer could own her because it didn’t matter that Jennifer owned her. Jennifer didn’t want Barbie, she had her.
“You’re perfect,” I said.
“I’m getting fat,” Barbie said.
Barbie was crawling all over me, and I wondered ifJennifer knew she was a nymphomaniac. I wondered if Jennifer knew what a nymphomaniac was.
“You don’t belong with little girls,” I said.
Barbie ignored me.
There were scratches on Barbie’s chest and stomach. She didn’t say anything about them and so at first I pretended not to notice. As I was touching her, I could feel they were deep, like slices. The edges were rough; my finger caught on them and I couldn’t help but wonder.
“Jennifer?” I said, massaging the cuts with my tongue, as though my tongue, like sandpaper, would erase them. Barbie nodded.
In fact, I thought of using sandpaper, but didn’t know how I would explain it to Barbie: you have to lie still and let me rub it really hard with this stuff that’s like terry-cloth dipped in cement. I thought she might even like it if I made it into an S&M kind of thing and handcuffed her first.
I ran my tongue back and forth over the slivers, back and forth over the words “copyright 1966 Mattel Inc., Malaysia” tattooed on her back. Tonguing the tattoo drove Barbie crazy. She said it had something to do with scar tissue being extremely sensitive.
Barbie pushed herself hard against me, I could feel her slices rubbing my skin. I was thinking that Jennifer might kill Barbie. Without meaning to she might just go over the line and I wondered if Barbie would know what was happening or if she’d try to stop her.
We fucked, that’s what I called it, fucking. In the beginning Barbie said she hated the word, which made me like it even more. She hated it because it was so strong and hard, and she said we weren’t fucking, we were making love. I told her she had to be kidding.
“Fuck me,” she said that afternoon and I knew the end was coming soon. “Fuck me,” she said. I didn’t like the sound of the word.
Friday when I went into Jennifer’s room, there was something in the air. The place smelled like a science lab, a fire, a failed experiment.
Barbie was wearing a strapless yellow evening dress. Her hair was wrapped into a high bun, more like a wedding cake than something Betty Crocker would whip up. There seemed to be layers and layers of angel’s hair spinning in a circle above her head. She had yellow pins through her ears and gold fuck-me shoes that matched the belt around her waist. For a second I thought of the belt and imagined tying her up, but more than restraining her arms or legs, I thought of wrapping the belt around her face, tying it across her mouth.
I looked at Barbie and saw something dark and thick like a scar rising up and over the edge of her dress. I grabbed her and pulled the front of the dress down.
“Hey big boy,” Barbie said. “Don’t I even get a hello?”
Barbie’s breasts had been sawed at with a knife. There were a hundred marks from a blade that might have had five rows of teeth like shark jaws. And as if that wasn’t enough, she’d been dissolved by fire, blue and yellow flames had been pressed against her and held there until she melted and eventually became the fire that burned herself. All of it had been somehow stirred with the lead of a pencil, the point of a pen, and left to cool. Molten Barbie flesh had been left to harden, black and pink plastic swirled together, in the crater Jennifer had dug out of her breasts.
I examined her in detail like a scientist, a pathologist, a fucking medical examiner. I studied the burns, the gouged-out area, as if by looking closely I’d find something, an explanation, a way out.
A disgusting taste came up into my mouth, like I’d been sucking on batteries. It came up, then sank back down into my stomach, leaving my mouth puckered with the bitter metallic flavor of sour saliva. I coughed and spit onto my shirt sleeve, then rolled the sleeve over to cover the wet spot.
With my index finger I touched the edge of the burn as lightly as I could. The round rim of her scar broke off under my finger. I almost dropped her.
“It’s just a reduction,” Barbie said. “Jennifer and I are even now.”
Barbie was smiling. She had the same expression on her face as when I first saw her and fell in love. She had the same expression she always had and I couldn’t stand it. She was smiling, and she was burned. She was smiling, and she was ruined. I pulled her dress back up, above the scar-line. I put her down carefully on the doily on top of the dresser and started to walk away.
“Hey,” Barbie said, “aren’t we going to play?”