Christmas tree
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
The doll Mark Leyner gave his daughter ten years ago refused to go away. Now his family can't imagine the holidays without her.
Can an innocent Christmas present plunge a normal family into consensual madness? Yes, it can, especially if the catalyst is a three-foot My Size Barbie, the first exceedingly popular toy that my daughter, Gaby, ever asked for insistently. Her obsession meant I ended up in some remote Toys "R" Us (in another state!) one Christmas Eve about ten years ago, vying with other desperately doting dads for the last few items on well-looted shelves. But I managed to bag my first Big Gift.

The next morning, Gaby exuberantly unwrapped the My Size Barbie, immediately and inexplicably christening the doll Jessica Lynn Cohen. Why that oddly specific appellation, with its country-western triple cadence, we'll never know. It was Christmas, and it was her doll, and it stuck.

Gaby and Jessica Lynn Cohen became instant BFFs. Gaby lent Jessica Lynn Cohen her clothes, they played school, hosted tea parties, went to the park, sat on the stoop together, reenacted scenes from Disney movies. But then came the inevitable cooling off. Kids tire of gifts. And they abruptly and blithely cast them into oblivion. No big deal. We put Jessica Lynn Cohen in the basement, in a spare room we use as a catchall storage space.

In the beginning, we'd each move her around just to scare one another. But then she seemed to move around on her own. She'd appear in various rooms without anyone having touched her—or at least without anyone admitting to having touched her.

I'd go downstairs to attend to a blown fuse and there'd be Jessica Lynn Cohen in the boiler room. We'd find her in the pantry with her arms outstretched in a sort of pious Joan of Arc gesture of supplication or in the bathroom with one leg raised high over her head like a Folies Bergère dancer. Coming upon her this way could be frightening. She had taken on the stricken phantasmal look of a ghost from a shipwreck.

She also started terrifying other people. I could always tell by the ashen face of some poor plumber or cable guy that he had accidentally stumbled upon Jessica Lynn Cohen in a dark corner of the house.

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