A broken doll doesn't care who threw it away. It makes no difference to it who tossed it out the car window to get soaked by the rain in the gutter. It's only a toy, and a toy has neither compassion nor contempt for the sad sighs cast in its direction by passersby. It's only a lifeless thing, and it makes no difference to it whether or not it was loved by its former owner. A human being is different. He can love a thing, even if it doesn't love him back.
Rick walked among the piles of discarded scrap-iron and shrapnel that had replaced the wildflowers and birdhouses of peacetime. He walked the same streets he'd been walking every day of the twenty-odd years since he'd taken his first steps. He walked them because, though they'd changed, they were still his streets, and his father's streets, and his grandfather's streets. His great-grandfather had walked them as an immigrant, and had found them as alien as bird would find the bottom of the ocean. Even back then, he'd sized up the look of things in South Korea and decided it was not where he wanted to build his family. The ancestor never got used to the sounds and smells of his new home, but he never revealed this to the son his wife would deliver a month after they moved. His son was born American and raised American, with a good American name, from a good American film, as would his son be, and his son after that. By the time Richard Blaine Kim III left for his daily walk, leaving behind his own wife in the house that now belonged to him, it was his turn to look around him and wonder how any sane individual would consider raising a child in such a place.
She was crazy, Rick decided. From their first date, Jin Ae had been in total agreement with him on the topic of having children. Despite the protests of their respective parents, neither of them saw parenthood in their own futures. "You say that now," his mother would always chide with that look on her face, but he was a sculptor, and just the thought of an unsteady toddler charging through his studio made him shudder and strengthen his resolve anew. Meanwhile, Jin Ae, who irritated her own parents further by introducing herself as and answering to "Jenny," always said that she could barely keep a carnivorous plant alive, so what was she expected to do with a human baby? She was saying that right up until the previous week, when her sister had to go and have a baby. Now, instead of, "what the hell am I gonna do with a baby? I barely have enough time to clean up after Rick!" it was, "well, I was thinking I don't need that big office. It might be good for a nursery."
Rick turned it over and over in his head as he walked, and could come up with no answer to the "what am I gonna do about this?" that rang in his ears from every corner of his consciousness. So lost in thought was he, that walked straight into the NO TRESPASSING sign affixed to a chain-link fence that hadn't been there the day before. Once he'd recovered and his vision cleared, he stared through the links and wondered what was going on. There didn't seem to be anything amiss with that side of the neighborhood, yet there it was, barbed-wire-topped and bisecting the subdivision neatly and menacingly.
"Outstanding," he thought, "because there's not enough going on that makes no goddamn sense." Determined to find at least one answer that morning, he walked the length of the fence, searching for more signage, or a posted notice perhaps, just anything that would explain the sudden need for such a palisade. He found no balm for his piqued curiosity, and so it flared ever higher, leading him to a furrow under the fence. Some big dog must've been caught on the wrong side when they put the thing up and been pretty desperate to get home to leave that kind of crater. Kneeling down and peering through the space below the fence, Rick supposed he could probably fit through there if he didn't mind getting a little muddy.
"What the hell? Why not?"
On a normal day, he'd have told himself, "because there's a fucking NO TRESPASSING sign and the big, nasty dudes with the big, nasty guns like to shoot the Smart-Ass Asian Kids Who Think They're Too Good To Follow The Rules." It was nothing like a normal day. He shimmied under the fence and figured he'd have seen anyone likely to challenge him. After walking around for a few minutes, it seemed he'd figured right. There wasn't a soul to be found. Other than the lack of inhabitants and a noticeably greater amount of garbage left on the curbs outside every house, there wasn't much to distinguish this part of the neighborhood from the side where Rick lived. Emboldened by the desolation, Rick decided to check out the inside of one of the vacant houses. Because it was tract-housing with only a handful of different models, it was easy to find one that looked just like his own. When he tried the doorknob and, finding it unlocked, entered, he thought this must be how Atreyu felt at the Magic Mirror Gate in the Neverending Story.
It was clear that until very recently, a family had occupied the house. All of the furniture had been dismantled, but it was still no work at all for a sculptor's brain to see the parts and imagine the dining room table they had once been, or the sofa, or the crib. In every corner were planks, poles, and piles of hardware. With everything sorted as it was, Rick could only surmise that this was the doing of the military, engaging in some last-ditch effort to strip-mine civilian communities for supplies after burning through the existing resources. He was just about vibrating with anger at the thought when he stopped cold at the door to what had once been a little girl's room.
The walls were still pink, but the canopy bed was a ruin of hacked plywood and torn linen. And then there were the toys - the dolls with smashed faces and dismembered teddy bears. There could be no weaponry created from these carcasses; they were ruined simply because they could be.
Rick sank to his knees. It wasn't that he disliked children; that wasn't it at all. That he didn't want to be a father did not also mean he believed in cruelty toward those so young and so small they couldn't even grasp the concept of war. Seeing a such a happy sanctuary of innocence so defiled was more than he could stand without a few tears. He sifted through the wreckage, recognizing princesses and fairy queens he'd seen advertised in bright, shiny commercials, but stopped when he came upon an oddity -- something out of place even among abominations. Its strangeness was twofold. First of all, it looked more like something one would imagine belonging to a much older child than the one who played with those other toys. Secondly, it appeared to be completely intact. Rick had never seen such a thing, a near-perfectly constructed human skeleton done in metal -- stainless steel perhaps -- a tiny one, as if it belonged to a baby, or a young toddler who would soon be old enough to walk.
To be continued...
© 2009 Heather Harris