The congregation of First Christian Church of Clifton, California had been blessed by some generous benefactor who replaced their old worn out wooden pews with some new ones crafted by a local wood shop. It was under one of these beautiful white oak benches that Freddy Stockton found the doll while working there as a volunteer. It was made up as a female doll, a rather unique looking object. First thing came to his mind was the character Chuckie in the movie of the same name, however, he didn’t feel her as evil in any way, but felt an instant fondness for her. She smelled like honeysuckle in the springtime.
Sliding into middle age, Freddy had gradually neglected his health and physical appearance and took to watching TV after church services on Sunday afternoons, and who can watch football and drink beer without a bag of chips? His wife, Clara, finally said to him “For God’s sake Freddy, get off your ass and do something, before you turn into a round turd sitting there on the sofa.” That hurt a little bit. She was no raving beauty herself…Once maybe, that was a while ago. But beneath his hurt pride he knew she was right.
He remembered then, the preacher saying they needed someone to help clean up after services, run the vacuum, put things back in place, books, pamphlets, chairs, etc.. Freddy volunteered and went to work the next Sunday. It didn’t involve a lot of physical exercise, which suited Freddy just fine, but at least he wasn’t consuming mass quantities of useless calories, and he got out of the house, away from Clara.
People were always leaving their stuff behind, cell phones, purses…and that doll. The way the doll was made up, it looked like a home made job, but rather well crafted. She was in a long, one piece, cotton dress with a faded flower print down to her ankles, like a Quaker girl might wear. Below the dress were little black satin shoes and above at her bosom, small but prominent breasts. The hair was course black, long and straight. Horsetail came to Freddy’s mind. (Freddy grew up a country boy, he knew about such things). Her mouth was merely a series of double stitches of black thread, the corners curving up into a macabre grin. It was the eyes that impressed him most…Recessed under dark eyebrows, red-orange marbles that glowed and sparkled with their own inner fire. Above the left breast embroidered in gold thread, the outline of a heart with the moniker inside: “Clementine.”
“Clementine…come to Freddy.” There was a lost and found closet for these items but he took her home with him and sat her on a chair in the dining room. He just wanted to look at her. Clara would have none of it. “Freddy, I don’t like her, she’s staring at me with those blood-red eyes, she gives me the creeps. Get it out of here, get it out of the house before I burn it.”
Reluctantly, deflated and defeated, he moved her out to the back porch. “My Darling Clementine, my honeysuckle rose, you’re going to be alright, I’ll set you on the rocker bench, don’t be afraid, I’ll be right inside, I’ll leave the window open, if you need anything, just call my name,” he whispered as he wallowed in a bizarre and fatal fantasy.
Sometime late in the night he had a dream where he was hearing a familiar sound, over and over, repeating itself. It was the creaking of the rocker bench as he and Clementine were gently swinging back and fro. She had her hands on his genitals and he was aroused to full erection. The sound stopped and he woke up. He lay there thinking about the dream, about Clementine. Suddenly, the creaking started up again, only this time it was no dream, he was full awake…“Clementine,” He froze and his heart rate jumped and thumped inside his chest, he thought for sure it would wake his wife. Must be the wind, he reasoned, until he full realized there was no wind. No other sound but the steady cadence of the crickets in the background. The creaking stopped. The night was still as a dead raccoon and the light of the full moon glanced cold through the window. Yet, it was a warm night, he was sweating in his underwear. Freddy lay there for some time, not moving, then too curious, he raised his legs, dropped them to the floor and tiptoed to the window.
She was there, not moving. She looked like she had become full grown since he found her. Somehow, he was not surprised, it was what he wanted, what he dreamed, a fantasy becoming a reality, unlike his dream of owning a red truck. “Freddy you need a red truck like I need another asshole.” Clara would say. Freddy would hang his head in silence and go watch TV, maybe a western where men were men and rode wild horses. Meanwhile, all the macho guys at work drove pickup trucks or rode Harleys. Freddy drove a Honda Civic. Freddy knew what they were saying, “Here come Fat Freddy in his little Honda.”
Freddy watched his full grown Clementine, he watched her for some minutes, until imperceptibly, her breasts began to move as if she were breathing. His breath quickened, his knees weakened as she turned and looked at him directly, her pallid face a ghastly glow in the white moon-light. Her eyes glistened red as the blood of something just now dead. She spoke to him, “Freddy, come to me, come to me and love me.”
He slipped through the window, head first onto his hands and rolled over as Clementine slipped into his aching arms. He heard music playing and a man’s deep voice singing. It was Leonard Cohen, one of his favorite male artists, ”Dance me to the end of love…Dance me like they do in Babylon…Dance me to the end of love.” Freddy wanted to be a singer once, but that was just another dream that quickly evaporated once he got married. They danced on the deck, dancing and prancing and waltzing and woke up Clara.
“Freddy, what the hell is wrong with you? Are you drunk again? Stumbling around out there in the middle of the night, that red eyed witch has put a spell on you, come back to bed before the neighbors call the police.”
Clementine whispered in his ear as he held her tight, “Freddy, we must do something about her, she’s not good for you.”
“She’s my wife, I love her,” he said, halfheartedly.
“You’ve given her everything you’ve got, it’s our turn now, you love me Freddy, you have always loved me, and I don’t mind if you’re fat, I rather like it.” she said as she pressed herself into him. And then those fateful words, “We must kill her Freddy, we must kill her.”
He heard himself saying the words like he was speaking outside himself in another room, “But how? How can I kill the one I love?” not even trying to hide his sudden exhilaration.
Clementine had an answer, “ Gas! you have a gas stove and a gas oven and a gas heater. You go to work while she’s still sleeping, right?”
“Before you walk out the door, turn on all the gas. Five minutes later…Kaboom!”
“Blow up the house? No! Too extreme, we need something more subtle, like…drop dead heart attack…or poison.”
“I’ve got it,” said Clementine, excitement in her squeaky little voice. I notice you have a fine, healthy oleander bush with red flowers over there against the back fence, you know that plant is poisonous, you know that, right Freddy?”
“Yes, I have known of this,” he said with much enthusiasm.
“All you have to do is make up some juice from the leaves and put it in her Chardonnay…Bingo, a heart attack.”
After a few days, Freddy trimmed the bushes and saved some of the oleander leaves and flowers in a Ziploc bag. Clementine watched and rocked in the rocking bench as she bided her time.
Clara’s birthday was coming up that Friday. Freddie thought that would be a good time to do the dirty deed, buy her a nice bottle of red wine and add the juice, the red would hide the color. That night after she went to bed he brewed up the concoction, boiling it down to a concentrate of brown syrup. “How much should I use?” he asked myself. “All of it,” Clementine said inside his head. Sealing it tight in a canning jar, he marked it OJ and hid it away.
Friday came and Clara took the day off from work. She got up late, had some breakfast and went to the Mall. She had a manicure and a pedicure and she bought herself an expensive handbag, “Because I’m worth it.” Later in the evening she had some friends over. They sat out back on the deck and drank wine and did chitter chatter in their giddy, girly way. Freddy was in the kitchen. He could hear them. Someone mentioned the doll sitting on the rocker bench and then came laughter. Clara said, “That’s Freddy’s new girlfriend,” more laughter. Freddy’s face reddened. A verse from the Scriptures flashed through his mind, “And Paul, bound in binders, said to the Roman Centurion, is it unlawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?” It gave him hope, redemption and inspiration.
Dinner was a simple but elegant meal of roast leg of lamb, asparagus with cheese sauce and wild rice with butter, and then a cucumber salad with rice wine vinegar dressing. He also bought a bottle of red wine; Napa Cabernet, not too expensive, but more so than they were used to.
Clara was very pleased. It would seem she had forgotten about Clementine. “Freddy, you are so good to me, but you shouldn’t have spent so much on a bottle of wine.”
“That’s alright Dear, only the best for my love on her birthday,” he said as he served up the dinner. He kept the wine in the kitchen, away from his wife. He had already drank most of a bottle of Chardonnay and he realized he must be careful now, “Only the best for my wife on her birthday.” Pouring two glasses of red, he placed them on the table. They toasted, they drank and they ate. “Let me refill your glass Dear,” Freddy offered.
“Don’t mind if you do, but not too much, you know I’m a cheap drunk.” Clara said.
Freddy poured the OJ into Clara’s glass and filled it just above half way with the red. He poured himself a half glass. Returning to the table, making sure Clara’s was in his left hand and his own in his right. “Excuse me Dear, I need to make a quick run to the bathroom.” He took a whiz and came right back. They ate some more and drank some. Freddy never made it to the salad because suddenly he didn’t feel so good. ”I don’t feel so good Clara.” he said.
“Maybe you drank too much wine while you were making dinner, you always do that Freddy, Oh, by the way, I switched our glasses when you went to the bathroom, mine was too full, I don’t want to get drunk on my birthday.” Freddy felt like someone just kicked him in the head. He got up and staggered outside to get some air. Clementine was there, swinging in the rocker. She looked at him through those blood-red eyes on fire with that lecherous grin and reached out to grab him as he fell into her arms.
“Freddy my love, it was you was lost, but now you are found. I found you Freddy and I am keeping you forever.”
John O’Donovan is retired and lives in Southern California with his wife and two dogs. His short stories have appeared in The Chamber Magazine, Bear Creek Gazette and Brief Wilderness Press.