January 20, 2023

“Paper Dolls” by Rachel Gonzalez

“Paper Dolls” by Rachel Gonzalez

A Short Story by Our New Writer in Residence

He has a collection of paper dolls and a workshop dedicated to them. It’s a perfectly maintained and organized room filled with tools of his trade. Xacto knives and self-healing mats, tacky spray for stubborn pages, creasing tools for the ideal line. There are no unruly folds or crinkled edges in his workshop.

He’s a sentimental man. His favorite paper dolls live in a box on the highest shelf.  Sometimes he pulls them out to admire them, or to take inspiration for his newest project. His process is very thorough:

First comes the raw material. He can spot the potential of a page from a mile away. Be it the pattern or the texture or the pliability, he knows a good page when he gets his hands on it. He knows how to work with anything and he’s quite proud of that.

Next comes the vision. He examines and analyzes and plans the approach to create exactly what he wants. Some pages are easier to work with than others. There are some that resist the blunt edge of the creaser, or are too rigid to stay folded. Some tear too easily or simply fall apart. But he has gotten good at getting what he wants out of his materials. After years and years of practice.

His final step comes after his newest doll is finished. It’s the most intense and fastest step in his creative process. He loves his new doll and cherishes it and admires it and adores it. He runs his finger over every perfect crease and beautiful angle. He regards his own skills at turning this already beautiful material into something truly flawless. But it’s not too long before the doll fails him. With each fresh fold he assures himself this will be the one, the one to hold his attention forever more. No matter how smooth or unblemished, even the best of them are placed carefully in the box. And he is forced, through no fault of his own, to begin again.

His process was different with me, just this once. You see, I came with folds and angles and lines. I was already a paper doll. I am crinkled in some of my edges and taped back together and faded and mismatched. But he liked something in what he saw. Because he saw potential. So he began his process.

First, he took stock of my raw material. He looked beyond what I was, what was right in front of him, and saw what he could make me. He had such plans.

Next, he studied me from every side, taking what he liked and scrapping the rest. He took me in his hands and began to unfold my seams. He was so careful and considerate that at first I didn’t notice, or didn’t mind. He scraped against my wavy edges, defying them to lay flat. He undid and recreased my folds in a way that was more pleasurable to him. It didn’t matter to him that I am wearing thin. He only felt the softness that this wear brought out in me. But my creases were weak after it all, threatening to give out. Parts of me were so thin I can see the light go through. It had grown hard for me to stand without him.

Just like he’s always wanted.

Nothing like I’d ever wanted.

I rebelled against his kind hands until they turned rough. I undid his careful new folds despite his pinching and found my former comforts. I splayed out my wrinkles, my waves, my uneven sides. I bolstered my bare spots with brightly colored tape that clashed wonderfully. I adorned myself with paperclips and staples, shiny pieces of armor to help me fight back. I remembered something that he had long ago forgotten: paper cuts.

In the end, I didn’t go in the box. I went out the window on a breeze, I let him think it was his idea. That my stubbornness was not active defiance, but something that couldn’t be ironed or cut out of me. From the hands that tried to reshape me and the wrist that had flicked so many blades across countless dolls, I hit the air. A mutter about what I could have been seeing me out. I twirled and soared and spun around and around. Elating in the music that whistled through my seams. The seams of my paper body. As I flew he saw again what he had seen before. My beauty. My potential. I deftly outmaneuvered his expert hands as he made grab after greedy grab. My only wish was that I could have knocked the box over on my way out.

Imagine all of us, dancing with the wind. The chorus of us as we flutter and slice through the open air. The light catching on our curves as we shine on our own for the first time in who can remember. All of us. Glossy, matte, stained, lined, asymmetrical, free to be just that.

A flurry of ourselves, shedding his influence and expertise.

paper dolls

Rachel Gonzalez is Fictional Cafe’s 2023-2024 Writer in Residence. To learn more about Rachel, visit her page at Fictional Cafe.

#individuality#misandry#paper dolls#Rachel Gonzalez#submission#writer in residence
  • Rebecca Hughes says:

    I love this piece! It is intriguing and beautifully written.

  • Kim Savage says:

    What a great read! Brought me back to remembering a wonderful time in my life playing with paper dolls and all the childlike imagination that went along with the play. Thank you for reminding me of that great memory and to just be me with a lot of flaws. Great job, can’t wait to read more of your work!

  • Marlis says:

    Mesmerizing, and even with the metaphor dawning I needed to see it all played out. Thanks.

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