betty and annie and faye but betty always wanted to be called another name: not a favorite sweater shrunk but one too small to begin with, never a big enough silk scarf to be folded and swung open again. this was dirt country. this was hills. this was the sears roebuck catalog feeling nicest as outhouse tissue paper. daddy built the house with his own two hands. bought the materials for two dollars. mother was the type to keep sweeping the dirt floor, for how else does coal become a diamond but work?
the little girls from hazard wished for dolls. this was the depression-era rationing for butter and breaking out of too small shoes hard times 'cept you can't tell three small children not to get wide-eyed at things they want behind a glass store window. somehow the money was saved for the dolls, first miracle in all of kentucky maybe. to make sure the gift was prized and loved and worshiped but never broken or mishandled, mother stored each dolly in her designated box, belly-up under the bed, adult supervision required. all nested like that, the dolls had a safe place away from clumsy girl hands. the girls were given some time each week to admire, but never, not once, to hold.
the little dolls of hazard
started aching at their corners, crushed under dust and dented beneath the fat of a cat that was meant to live outside. they stayed in their boxes, so beautiful there, still a window away. no brushing of doll hair, no dressing of doll limbs, no possibility for porcelain to peel away, paint to fade. No playing momma and baby and no break. when daddy said one day it was time to move to a sparkling city called detroit the little dolls would stay with the cats in kentucky. no room in the car for beauty. not one last look at their shining eyelashes. first museum, then memory.
mother was not cold or calculating just the kind of woman who perhaps thought perfume was wasted if it was outside its golden glass. silk ribbon untied as tired as string. she’d let the little girls look at the dolls. consider how much they'd wanted such fine, fragile gifts: what would they be worth if they were broken? betty and annie and faye all feathers not to be ruffled. all eyes and dirt fingernails against the paper and plastic. careful is a word meaning full of care which means something else altogether.
a hammer to be passed down generations. the grain of the wood whittled from daddy’s work. betty and annie and faye outliving their husbands, drinking clinking glasses of vodka, southern comfort. the same old stories again. betty pulling out all her best jewelry for her granddaughters, saying she just had the silver polished and she’d like to guarantee when she's good and dead these little pieces of shine won't be in any box with her. here, each of you pretty young things, pick out which one you want, promise me you'll wear it ‘til it powders to dust then rub that on your cheeks like rouge.