This story is by L’Michelle Bleu L’Eau and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She hurried six-year-old Ellie to finish dressing so they could eat breakfast. Today Rosa wanted to arrive at the bus stop on time, to avoid the forty-minute walk to the Smiths’ home. “Ellie, come to the table right now.”
Rosa placed a heated bowl of cereal with milk near Ellie’s seat. She sat and drank a cup of tea, wishing Joseph was sitting with her. “Your cereal will get cold.” Rosa warned
Watching her daughter near the table, Ellie fiddled with something in her hands.
“Mommy, please, can you put these barrettes that Marie gave me on my braids?” Ellie begged.
Ellie sat still as Rosa began braiding her hair. She dipped her spoon into the congealed cream of wheat. Rosa waited for the whining to start. As if the child read her mind, “My cereal’s not hot Mommy.”
The scuffed Buster Brown’s shoes swung against the chair legs. Today Rosa overlooked the tantrum. Times like this she missed her husband, he had away to soothe Ellie’s complaint. Thank goodness only two braids to deal with so far this morning. By seven thirty the Smith’s daughter, two years older than Ellie, would ask for ribbons on her braids.
Rosa cleaned the kitchen while Ellie brushed her teeth. She packed the lunch bags and practice books, placing them into her tote.
“Ellie, come along five minutes before the bus comes.” Rosa tugged her daughter’s hand, trying to speed Ellie’s pace.
Rosa raised two of the three children with her husband, Joseph. Together, they worked to ensure the girls had an education, a home filled with love, books, and joy. They juggled their schedules to avoid taking the girls to work. His sudden death left Rosa to raise Ellie alone and taking her to work. To survive, Rosa took on extra housecleaning jobs, washing, and ironing clothes to pay college tuition and bills.
Mother and daughter loved watching the sunrise as the bus approached the foot of the hill. Today, though, Ellie couldn’t wait to show off the barrettes. Rosa held Ellie’s hand. Together they trudged up the steep hillside to the Smith’s home.
Lowering her voice, Rosa said, “Ellie, remember your manners. Do you understand me?” as the servant’s door opened.
Ellie nodded. This was Ellie’s favorite mansion. The Smith’s home contained beautiful dishes, paintings, rugs, and the porcelain doll. Mrs. Smith sometimes gave Ellie things Sallie didn’t want, lovely dresses, ruffled socks, and bows, even though some items were new.
Rosa and Ellie entered the kitchen. “Good Morning Janelle,” Rosa spoke to the cook.
The aroma of prepared breakfast foods filled the room., “I see you made good timing today.” Janelle smiled, handing Rosa an apron.
Then she bent down to help Ellie, “My goodness, Ms. Ellie, don’t you look pretty today?”
“Thank you! Ms. Janelle, see the barrettes my sister Marie gave me?”
“Those are lovely barrettes. And so are you, Ellie.”
Ellie preened, until she saw Rosa’s warning, the arched eyebrow. “Sit down, take out the math book and paper. I will return shortly.”
Ellie couldn’t wait for Sallie to appear; she would wave hello and show off her barrettes. She opened the math book.… though her little stomach growled from the aroma of all the food. The sliver of bacon Janelle just gave her tasted great. Janelle always rewarded Ellie’s patience with leftovers from the trays returned to the kitchen.
Rosa walked into Sallie’s bedroom. A little girl in pristine white underwear played with puppets on her bed. Her clothing and dolls scattered across the floor. Rosa wearily glimpsed at the clutter. “Sallie, come on, let’s get ready for school?”
Sallie jumped up, then threw the puppet on the floor. A defiant Sallie glared at Rosa with a pout. “I want two braids with ribbons today?”
Rosa resisted letting this child bait her. “Sallie, I can do two braids with ribbons after we find a nice dress for you to wear.” When Sallie was presentable, Rosa took her downstairs to have breakfast with her parents.
In the kitchen, she ran water into the sink full of dishes, pots, and pans waiting to be washed. Rosa sighed.
“I fed Ellie a little something. How was Sallie this morning?” Janelle’s question interrupted Rosa’s thoughts.
“Her usual behavior.” A comment only the help understood.
An hour later, the kitchen was spotless. Rosa took Ellie upstairs as she cleaned the bedrooms and bathrooms. Ellie was always excited to clean Sallies bedroom. Occasionally, she wished this was her bedroom. Except Rosa taught her to put all belongings away. Or risk a spanking. She realized Sallie didn’t worry about cleaning because she had Rosa to pick up behind her.
Sallie’s room had many dolls. Ellie’s favorite doll had porcelain skin, rosy cheeks, and lips and a mass of yellow curls. Sometimes Sallie would let Ellie hold the doll, but that did not happen often. The times Ellie could play with the porcelain doll, she held it close and prayed, “I wish you belonged to me.” If the doll belonged to her, she would cherish it and take it everywhere, change her beautiful clothes, and sleep with her every night.
The porcelain doll was often left in a heap with the other dolls. Ellie always took responsibility to find the porcelain doll in the rubble when she helped clean Sallie’s room. She took cleaning seriously. Using polish on her rag, Ellie dusted the doll’s shelf until it shined. Next, she spruced the dolls’ dresses, placing them on the clean shelf.
One day in early March, they walked down the hill. Rosa asked, “Ellie, in a month it will be your birthday. Any ideas on a gift?”
Ellie had given a gift a great deal of thought, “Mommy, I want a porcelain doll like Sallie’s doll.” Rosa couldn’t afford that doll. She might find a doll at the thrift shop.
April was pleasantly warm. It thrilled Ellie her birthday was in a week. Both sisters planned to come home. Mommy promised they would have a celebration. Rosa planned to bake Ellie’s favorite coconut cake with sprinkles.
The Monday before her birthday, she and Sallie were about to play tea party. Ellie noticed the porcelain doll was gone.
“Sallie, what happened to the porcelain doll I bring to our tea party?” she searched the room.
“Oh, that one!” Sallie rolled her hazel eyes.. “I didn’t want her anymore. Mother took it away.”
Ellie was heartbroken.
“Just invite one of the new dolls.” Sallie, indifferent to Ellie’s distress, continued to sip from the teacup.
How come Sallie didn’t ask if she wanted the doll? Ellie’s chin quivered. Grieved by the disappearance of the porcelain doll, Ellie no longer wished to play tea party with Sallie.
On the bus ride home, Rosa saw Ellie’s gloomy face. “Did something happen at the tea party?”
“Sallie’s mother,” Ellie’s voice thick with tears, “gave the porcelain doll away.”
Rosa hurt for her daughter. “I’m sorry. Sometimes people don’t always appreciate what they have.” She dabbed at Ellie’s tears.
“Rosa,” Mrs. Smith’s elegant navy silk dress looked out of place as she stood by the servants’ door.
“May I see you a moment?”
I hope I’m not about to lose this job. Rosa noticed the shopping bag on the floor.
“Here are some things for Ellie. Isn’t her birthday soon?” Mrs. Smith nodded toward the bag. “I thought she would enjoy these items more than Sallie.”
Relief washed over Rosa. “Thank you, Mrs. Smith. That is truly kind of you.”
Ellie’s sisters arrived Friday night for the birthday celebration. Saturday afternoon, a bright yellow linen tablecloth, napkins, and charming tea plates from Mrs. Smith hand-me-downs adorned the kitchen table. A three-layer coconut cake, with decorative lit pink and white stripe candles, glowed from the center of the table
Marie embraced Ellie and whispered. “Make a wish.”
Ellie wished the porcelain doll lived with a happy family. A quick poof and the candles flickered, then went out. Two gifts were on a chair, wrapped with bright yellow paper and big silvery bows. Berniece gave Ellie the first gift. Inside a portable chalkboard with a variety of colored chalk, an artist sketchpad, with a box of pastel pencils. Ellie thanked her sisters, then planned a game of hopscotch after dinner to use the chalk. Marie gave Ellie the second gift
Excitedly, Ellie tore the wrapping paper, then slowly lifted the lid. There was the porcelain doll. The doll wore a gingham pink and white dress with a bow that matched her own dress. Rosa had sewn each dress, especially for her birthday. Ellie, overjoyed, gave a deep kiss to the doll cheeks, then a big hug for her mother and sisters.
Into adulthood Ellie cherished the porcelain doll. As her daughter turned six and could hold the doll, Ellie shared how she came to own the doll. Her daughter treasured the porcelain doll because of Ellie’s love for the doll. Eventually, the porcelain doll became a family heirloom.