Baby Dolls by Mathew Roach

When Mike goes to buy a present for Kayla, the decision forces insecurities to the surface; by Mathew Roach.

Mike loosens his tie and collar button with one hand as he crosses through the double doors of Wal-Mart. He walks into the cool air and pauses for a moment, taking in the calming breeze. For a second, the defeated the look on his face lifts. He closes his eyes. Then his iPhone rings. Mike sighs as he fumbles in his suit jacket's breast pocket a moment before he finally gets hold of it. He takes it out without looking at the screen, answers it and says, "Yes, dear, I'm at the store."

"Good," comes his wife's voice from the other line, clearly annoyed, "it's about damn time. What's taking you so long?"

Mike pauses in irritated silence.

"You're going to miss everyone sing 'Happy Birthday' to Kayla if you don't hurry."

Grabbing his temples Mike says, his words having a bite to them, "I know dear, but I'd be able to get out of here faster if you would stop calling to remind me I'm late!"

"I'm sorry," she says, "there's just a lot going on here and I don't want you to miss it."

Deflated, Mike says, "I know. I'm hurrying, I promise. Love you."

"Love you too."

He hangs up the phone, puts it back in his pocket and passes the door greeter. He stands there in his dark blue polo shirt with tan khakis, and gives Mike a tobacco-stained smile and nod of welcome. He looks up at the security television just above the double doors and sees himself: a handsome, if not tired looking, black man with bags under his eyes.

Mike heads to the toy department at the back of the store. He turns down the doll aisle. Looking through the shelves, he finally sees the one that Kayla has being wanting. There is one black and one white doll. He picks one up in each hand and looks between them, a mixed look of frustration and confusion on his face. After a moment, he sits down on the tile floor and leans his back on one of the shelves, just staring at the dolls. He puts them down beside him and places his elbows in his lap with his hands on his face. He sits there until he hears someone say calmly, "Sir, are you okay?"

"I don't know," he responds quietly, not removing his head from his hands.

A gentle hand touches his shoulder and the same soothing voice says, "Is there anything I can do for you, sweetheart?"

He lifts his head and looks into the gray eyes of an older lady. She helps him up and waits patiently for him to say something. Mike takes a deep breath and regains his composure. He looks down into the woman's kind eyes and says, "Today is my daughter's birthday and I'm supposed to get a doll for her that she's been wanting and I don't know which one to get." He gestures to the two dolls on the ground. The woman picks them up.

"Why is it troubling you so much? I'm sure whichever one you get she'll love because you got it for her."

"It's just..." he trails off. He pulls his wallet from his back pocket and hands a picture of Kayla to the woman. In it, she is standing in front of the zebra pit at the zoo, her blonde hair glistening in the sun and her blue eyes glittering with excitement; her pale skin just starting to turn pink from the afternoon's activities.

The woman returns the picture to Mike. There is a small pause as he puts it back. "How long have you had her?" she says, breaking the silence.

"About two months. We threw a party for her and invited our family and friends over to introduce her to everyone. But," Mike stops a moment, clears his throat, and then continues, "Her mommy is white like her, and Daddy... isn't, and I think that makes her nervous around me, or me around her. I don't know. I just... want her to like me." He finishes, hands trembling. She hands Mike both dolls and before she walks away, gives him a small smile and says, "She will. Just give her time."

Both dolls in hand, Mike heads for the registers at the front. He puts them down on the conveyor belt as his phone rings again. He fetches it from his pocket and answers. "Yes, dear?" he says agitated, face scowling.

"Where are you?" comes Kayla's tiny voice.

"Everyone wants cake but I said that we couldn't have any until..." she stops talking.

Mikes face softens and he says sweetly, "Until what, sweetheart?"

"You get home. I told everybody no cake until Daddy gets home." Mike's eyes light up and a smile spreads wide across his face.

"Yeah, sweetheart. Daddy is on his way. I love you."

"I love you too, Daddy."

Mike hangs up and puts the phone back in his pocket. He lets the cashier ring up both dolls. He walks out of the store with his head held high.


  1. Your tightly constructed story really packs a punch, raising timely themes for our modern world e.g. how we connect with others, identity, self-awareness, miscommunication and fear. The expressed emotion is raw and realistic but not overstated. Many thanks,

  2. Hi Mathew, a tricky theme handled with great skill. Perhaps its not the child making the decisions but the influences around her that create the conflicting emotions your character feels. An interesting and good read. James McEwan

  3. a feel good read. and why not? but it also poses interesting questions which are well handled.
    well done

    Michael Mccarthy

  4. great Story Mat, touches on several thoughts of life's way,. I like the solution for it as well.

  5. The title (very appropriate after reading the story) led me down one line of thinking, and I almost passed. But what a pleasant surprise when I gave in and read it anyway. The dilemma, the emotions, the pace of the story, and, as Michael notes, "a feel good read, and why not?" Nicely done and such a great touch. Enjoyed this.

  6. Great themes; race/colour, giving love, being loved. What's so skilful about this is the switch - just under half way - from the reader thinking that Mike is just tardy or forgetful, to the revelation of his dilemma, and what brings a tear to the reader's eye is that in the end the colour of the doll doesn't matter because the love is there.
    I'm reassured how often very little children are 'colour blind'!

  7. To Kayla it will mean only that she has two dolls to play with instead of one. Good Thinking, Mike.

  8. I thought the relationship between husband and wife could be more pleasant. The actions of Kayla having a black daddy and a white mom were priceless. No issue with her. Two dolls. Good ending. I enjoyed this story.