The Nesting Dolls, by Arvilla Fee

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The Nesting Dolls

by Arvilla Fee

I stop as though my feet have brakes, the familiar scent of rose water filling my nose. Mentally, I know I’m not standing in Gram’s cottage but in Dee’s antique shop, which is my once-a-month spending indulgence and my relentless search for Gram’s possessions. Beatrice May Callahan, called Bea, had been everything to me: my best friend, my confidant, my loving, funny Gram. Oh, how I’d adored staying with her in her white cottage with light blue shutters—it was a kid’s wonderland with cuckoo clocks, colorful throw rugs, handmade pottery bowls full of plants, wooden toys, jars of cinnamon drops and other candies, and a cat named Peanut.

My parents fought a lot and eventually divorced when I was eight, so Gram let me stay with her every day after school, some weekends, and any other time I could talk my mom into it. Gramp had died when I was one, and she’d never remarried. Gram was older than Moses (so she said) but could still dance and catch fireflies. She’d died just two months before I graduated high school, a sudden brain aneurysm they said, and I’d taken the loss so hard, I’d nearly failed my finals.

To make her loss even worse, my mom’s two brothers had swooped in like vultures, sold Gram’s valuables, carted the rest off to Goodwill, and then sold her house. My mom had been furious, but there was little she could do since her brothers were rich, carried attorneys in their back pockets, and had “helped” Gram make her will, naming them as executors. My mom did get Gram’s pearl necklace, two pottery bowls, and a framed picture of Gram when Gram was around nineteen years old, the same age I am now. I got Peanut. Had Gram lived, she would’ve been 84 years old today, and I would’ve baked an apple pie, which she’d always said was better than cake.

I slowly move forward, looking at various knick-knacks, bowls, and other small trinkets then stop again. There in front of me sits a blue and red Russian nesting doll—but it can’t possibly be the same one I played with at Gram’s! Gram had always told me the first doll was her gram; the second, her mother; the third, her; the fourth my mom, and the fifth, me—all connected forever. I carefully open the first doll to find a second doll, then another and another—until all five are sitting there. My hands shake as I turn over the smallest doll—there, on the bottom, are the initials BMC. Beatrice May Callahan! Barely containing my emotions, I place each doll back inside the other then take them to the counter.

Dee starts to greet me with her usual smile then frowns. “Hey, Jess! You OK?”

I hold out the doll. “Where’d you get this?” I ask, tears slipping down my face.

Dee tilts her head and reaches out her hand, but I’m afraid to let go.

“It’s OK,” she says softly. “Let me take a look.”

I reluctantly hand it over, and Dee turns the doll over in her hand. “Hon, I don’t know,” she says finally. “I haven’t seen it before; it’s not marked.”

When she hands the doll back, I open it and take out each doll again until I reach the last one. “Look,” I say, turning it over, “BMC – that’s my gram!”

Dee brings her hand to her mouth, her eyes widening. “Lord have mercy! It sure is! But I have no idea how those got here!”

I catch a whiff of rose water again, a scent Gram always spritzed on her face—saying she’d used it long before it became a fashion trend—and begin putting the dolls back together.

“Dee,” I say, my voice shaky. “Can I buy them?”

Dee pats my hand. “No charge, hon. They’re yours!” She wraps the dolls in tissue paper and puts them in a blue box.

I cradle the box next to my heart and thank her.

As I exit the store, I look at the sky and say, “Thanks, Gram. I’ll make your pie today.”

About the Writer

Arvilla Fee teaches English Composition for Clark State College and is the poetry editor for the San Antonio Review. She has published poetry, photography, and short stories in numerous presses, and her poetry book, The Human Side, was just released December 2022. For Arvilla, writing produces the greatest joy when it connects us to each other. 

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