Monday, November 19, 2018

Dollface by Michael Bracken


When I was a child, my father died in an accident, leaving my mother with nothing but funeral expenses. Soon after that we moved from Canton, Ohio, to Waco, Texas, to live with my mother’s younger sister and her family. We were only able to take with us what we could carry on the train, so I took my favorite doll, a stuffed clown with a celluloid face molded into a permanent smile. Dressed half in red with white polka dots and half in white with red polka dots, Jeepers went with me everywhere.

While my aunt welcomed us into their apartment, neither my uncle Fred nor my cousin Darla—a girl a year older than me that my uncle repeatedly referred to as “Dollface”—were as accommodating. My mother and I were given Darla’s bedroom and she was forced to sleep on the couch.

Darla and I had never met before our arrival that summer, but she took an instant disliking to me and did anything she could to torture me when our parents weren’t paying attention. The first time Darla hit me hard enough to make tears well up in my eyes, I ran to my mother and told her what had happened. She, in turn, told my uncle, who was home because he did not work.

He called Darla into the living room, had her sit on his knee, and told her what I had told my mother. Then my uncle asked, “You wouldn’t ever do anything like that, would you Dollface?”

“No, Daddy.”

“And, if you did, you would apologize, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Do you have any reason to apologize now?”

“No, Daddy.”

“There,” my uncle said as he turned his attention on my mother and me. “That’s settled.”

I tried to protest as my cousin smiled at me from her father’s lap. “But—”

“Seems your boy is a bit of a whiner, Maylene,” my uncle said. “You might want to set him straight about making false accusations.”

My mother and my uncle stared at one another for a moment, and then my mother grabbed my arm and dragged me into the bedroom. After she shut the door, she squatted so that we were eye-to-eye. She still held my arm and she pulled me close.

“We have nowhere else to go,” she said, “so you play nice with your cousin, and if you can’t play nice, you just stay away from her.”


Her grip tightened and tears leaked onto my cheeks, the pain far worse than when Darla had hit me. “You hear me,” my mother demanded. “Play nice with your cousin or stay away from her.”

After my mother finished with me, I remained in the bedroom hugging Jeepers. He knew the truth about what happened, even if he couldn’t ever tell anyone.

My cousin’s torture escalated after that as she found new ways to cause me pain with each passing day. I had given up tattling to my mother, even when Darla pushed me down the last few steps of the apartment building and I scraped my face.

When my mother asked what happened, I told her I tripped.

When my uncle saw the scrapes on my face, he laughed. He tousled my cousin’s dark hair. “Good thing you’re not clumsy like that, Dollface.”

Darla smiled up at him.

My aunt said nothing. She never did.

That night I cried myself to sleep while I hugged Jeepers.

“Your boy isn’t right,” my uncle told my mother over breakfast the next morning. “Boys aren’t supposed to play with dolls.”

“He’s had a rough time, losing his father and all,” my mother explained. “He needs something to comfort him.”

They spoke as if Darla and I were not present.

“He needs to grow a pair,” my uncle said. “He never will if you coddle him like you do.”

“He’ll be fine, Fred,” my mother insisted. “Just give him time.”

My cousin didn’t.

Two days later, after waking from an afternoon nap my mother insisted I take, I awoke to find Jeepers gone. I frantically tore the apartment apart looking for him, but he was nowhere to be found until Darla strutted into the living room dragging my doll by one arm.

I snatched Jeepers from my cousin and ran to the couch where my mother was sitting. As I turned him over I saw that his smiling celluloid face had been torn off.

I shoved Jeepers in my mother’s face. “Look what she did!”

My uncle, sitting in the recliner facing the television, turned to see what I was yelling about. He caught my cousin’s attention and asked, “What happened, Dollface?”

“He left that thing outside,” Darla said. “The neighbor’s dog got it. I saw.”

“I didn’t!” I protested. “I never would! She did it! She did it! She did it!”

“That’s enough,” my mother yelled. “Go to the bedroom. Now!”

I started to protest, but my mother pushed me off the couch and shoved me toward the bedroom. As I closed the door, I heard her apologize to my uncle for my behavior.

Jeepers and I hid in the closet for a long time, hugging and crying and wishing my father was alive and that we didn’t have to live with my aunt and my uncle and my cousin. I wanted everything to be the way it had been in Ohio.

I didn’t leave the closet, even though my mother tried to entice me out for dinner and again at bedtime, until well past midnight. I crept into the kitchen, took a knife from the butcher block, and found my cousin asleep on the couch.

What I did was messy and took a long time in the dark, but when the adults finally awoke, Darla could no longer torture me and Jeepers had a new dollface.


Bio Michael Bracken, recipient of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement, is author of several books, including All White Girls, and more than 1,200 short stories published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Espionage Magazine, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and many other anthologies and periodicals. He lives and writes in Texas. Learn more at



  1. Excellent! Like something out of Rod Serling's imagination. Well done!

  2. Loved the story, Michael, but I wondered if that boy's name was Ed Gein. ;-)