The Doll Speaks: Dina Young’s “Frozen Charlotte”

This past month, members of the STL Scribblers community were challenged to write a 750-word story. We read the entries aloud at the last meeting and voted on them; congratulations to Dina Young, who wins the first ever Scribbler Flash Fiction Contest for her story “Frozen Charlotte.” (What was the prize, you may ask? Twenty-five bucks of book money and infinite glory!) It is Scribbler’s distinct privilege to publish the story in its entirety here. But first I asked Dina a few questions about its genesis and her other projects.

What was the inspiration behind “Frozen Charlotte”?

Walking my dog one day last summer down an alley behind Shenandoah Avenue near our house we wandered into a large empty lot where a house was demolished several years before. With my little dog leading the way we poked around in the straw and loose dirt that covered the area and found bits of broken glass and china, a 1940 penny, a clay marble, an old gas jet, and a small porcelain doll head.

A few days later we went back to the same lot and I looked near where I’d found the doll’s head and found the doll’s torso nearby. I did some research on the web and learned that a porcelain doll like the one I found was known as a “Frozen Charlotte,” after a mid-nineteenth century cautionary tale of the same name.

I couldn’t help but wonder where this doll had come from and what its life was like before it ended up there in the dirt. Since the doll wasn’t talking I started to create a story to answer those questions.

How did the word-count limitation affect your process?

I needed to do a little trimming from the first draft of the story, but not a great amount. I constantly checked the word count. In trying to keep the story short, I learned not to waste words by including details that weren’t necessary to the story. The length requirement didn’t change the story I wanted to tell, but it definitely affected the style of the story telling by keeping it very straightforward. This is my first experience writing flash fiction and I’ll definitely be doing more of it. I think this approach may also serve as a tool to help in getting unstuck when writing longer stories.

Can you tell us about the other project you’re working on?

I’m working on a novel about a man whose headstone I came upon one day while walking through Calvary Cemetery. His name was Prosper Meeker, and he died in 1933. Given his distinctive, Dickensian name I was curious to find out who this man was. Surprisingly I found some references to him on the Internet when I searched his name and learned that he survived a horrible accident as a child. Through some pretty extensive research I’ve learned a lot about Prosper’s life in early 20th century St. Louis, not enough to constitute a biography, but certainly enough for a novel. I’m intrigued by his story and want to share it with others.

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FROZEN CHARLOTTE

by Dina Young

Day fades into night and into day again. The unrelenting sun gives way to the cold darkness in an unceasing pattern that sets the rhythm of my life. I’ve languished in this place for years slowly sinking into the earth. From the corner of my eye I see glass and pottery shards sharing a similar fate. They cannot see or comprehend what lies ahead as I do. I am no longer whole. My head lies face up in a small depression, and my torso, missing most of my limbs, is a foot away. Though my eyes are still bright and my lips still beautifully rouged I am old and broken. In this peculiar situation my only comfort is to think back on happier times.

Life began long ago when I was created in Germany. I, and the thousands of others of my kind, represented the very finest in artistic and technical achievement of the day. We may have been mass-produced but our eyes, lips and other features were individually hand painted by the region’s craftsmen. If I may be permitted to boast, the blue bows at my calves and golden rings in my hair required double- glazing, which set me apart from many of my sisters and made me more valuable.   Along with others like me I was packed in excelsior and nailed into a wooden crate for an adventurous voyage across the sea to what I hoped would be a new home in America. There followed a trip on a steamboat, and then one by train then at last I saw daylight while on a wagon which brought me to Simmons Hardware store. There, along with my fellow travelers, I was placed on a shelf where I could see customers, especially little girls in pigtails with bows on their crinoline dresses. You may think me haughty but I’m proud to say I was the first of my lot to go home with a little girl. Her father paid the monumental sum of 50 cents to acquire me.

What followed constituted the happiest time of my life. I lived with the little girl and her family in a two-story red brick house on Shenandoah Avenue, in the south of St. Louis. The girl’s father worked at the Fox Brothers Milling Company nearby and she often waved at the upper story windows of the factory on our way to school in the morning. I was her constant companion riding along in the patch pocket of her pinafore, my arms permanently bent at the elbow, resting lightly on top of the pocket ensuring me a good view of the neighborhood and the comings and goings of the people who resided in it. Often at school the little girl would set me down under an oak tree in the schoolyard to visit with her friends and the others of my ilk brought to school by their little girls. I have no qualms in saying I was the prettiest of my kind there, a fact my little girl did not hesitate to announce.

Life went along pleasantly and I felt content. I even grew to like the family dog, a rotund bull terrier that often waddled over to the chair where the little girl sometimes left me and roughly sniffed me with his perpetually wet nose. One day the little girl’s older brother, whose greatest joy in life was making his little sister suffer, took me from the chair where I sat and unceremoniously deposited me under a heating grate in the floor in the little girl’s room. He thought this an act of genius and laughed about it to himself for days while the little girl searched everywhere for me. This is where my tale turns tragic. While savoring the sight of his little sister’s anguish the boy contracted a virulent strain of influenza and died three days later. In his febrile state the boy tried to tell the little girl where I was but the family and the doctor judged him delirious. From my prison I could see the family grieve for the boy while I grieved for the little girl.

No one ever did find me beneath the grate. I remained there for many years watching as families moved in to the house, lived there for a time, and then left. I was released from my prison only when the house was demolished. Now I lie here among many other broken things waiting for what, if anything comes next.

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