By Judy McLain
Until Tilley came along, Pocket might as well have been raised by wolves or lesser canids.
Her father was a scientist, involved in creating a chemical compound that had the taste and texture of butter, could be used for baking because it maintained its molecular structure over 350 degrees and added no caloric value to foods.
Pocket’s mother was as slim and glamorous as a runway model and loved all things French. Pocket’s father, upon hearing that his wife loved croissant but would not allow herself to eat them due to their high calorie count, lived for the day when he could publish his research and have the testers bake his wife a croissant that would dissolve in her mouth and taste like Paris without spending any time at all on her trim, shapely hips.
Pocket’s mother worked in a high end jewelry store. Many people, men especially, purchased diamonds they could not afford because Pocket’s mother worked her magic on them. All she had to do was stick her manicured finger through a ring’s hole.
Poor Pocket. Yolanda was ice in duponi silk with lots of hair spray to keep her coif a stiff and perfect confection. When the adoption worker handed Pocket over to Yolanda for the first time she paused long enough to put on gloves before handling the newborn. Pocket’s new father was no better. He waved off Yolanda’s attempts to hand him their new baby by sticking his hands in his pant’s and walking to the other side of the room.
Yolanda hired Tilley when Pocket was eight weeks old. She made her wear a brown uniform with a white collar and a crisp, starched apron. To Pocket, Tilley was comfort. Tilley was love. To Yolanda Tilley was the hired help.
Yolanda used her own money and paid for Tilley to come every morning. Yolanda wanted Tilley to dress Pocket in the fancy matching outfits hanging in the closet in Pocket’s room. At first it was starched gowns and bonnets and crocheted booties trimmed in ribbon and lace. By the time Pocket was two there were taffeta and organza dresses and itchy woolen jumpers with clattering golden buttons in two rows down the front.
“Too stiff,” Pocket complained.
“Scratchy,” Pocket observed.
“Don’t Tilley. Stop,” Pocket demanded when Tilley tried to stuff the little girl into crinolines and pull on the frilly socks and hard patent leather shoes.
Tilley had taken care of her since Pocket could remember. Yolanda and Pocket’s father were seldom home before Pocket’s bedtime. Tilley brought clothes from her church’s donation box so Pocket could be comfortable. Everything that Tilley brought was soft and cozy. Tilley’s lap was lovely and abundant and Tilley was kind and patient. This was how Pocket learned how to be a nice person.
When Yolanda and Pocket’s father came home and Pocket was asleep in her bed the covers hid the flannel nightgowns Tilley had sewn for her. First, Yolanda, and then the father would come into Pocket’s room through the open door, walking on a path of light from the hallway fixture shining on the blue/green carpet. Pocket’s little head with its blond curls would be on her pillow, cotton sheets and a tightly quilted bedspread tucked under her chin. On the pillow next to her was the blue terry cloth bear that Tilley made for her out of an old washcloth for her first birthday.
Yolanda would move the bear, named Sasha, from the pillow. She would place it on the nightstand and make a mental note to tell Tilley that she didn’t want the bear in the bed with her daughter. It was lumpy. It was sticky from the cocoa Tilley gave Pocket every night before bed and smelled of toothpaste from Pocket’s goodnight kisses. Yolanda would forget about wanting the bear gone by the time she stood in the foyer of the house and reached into her black leather handbag to pay Tilley for the day. All she was thinking of was a stiff cocktail.
Pocket’s father, when he came into Pocket’s room, would light a cigarette with his gold plated lighter and take two puffs as he looked at the sleeping child. Her cheeks were chubby and she had small freckles across the bridge of her nose. He couldn’t understand why his wife wanted her. He had given his permission for the adoption but only because he was afraid Yolanda might get pregnant if he didn’t. He couldn’t bear the thought of his Yolanda ruining her perfection with a pregnancy.
He loved Yolanda only. Yolanda loved Yolanda. She wanted Pocket because her friends were having baby showers and she couldn’t stand not being the center of attention. Before Pocket came, Yolanda’s husband thought she wanted a baby for reasons other than attention and he had gotten her a French Poodle. It kept wetting on the oriental rug in the hallway and Yolanda had Pocket’s father take it back to the breeder.
Hiring Tilley had been a stroke of Yolanda’s own genius as the old woman never asked for anything and kept the child out from under her feet. Pocket was a whirlwind of energy with a penchant for singing nonsensical songs and laughing at just about anything. Yolanda had not known that children could make so much noise.
Pocket was 4 years old in 1959 when the first Barbie doll went on the market. Her father’s research partner was in New York on the first day of the American International Toy Fair and he grabbed one of the dolls for Pocket’s father because the unyieldingly stiff doll with its thickly painted eyelashes and thin crescent moon brows reminded him of Yolanda.
After seeing the doll, Pocket’s father waited for the perfect moment and gave the doll to Yolanda at a cocktail party. Everyone at the party was amused at its resemblance to his glamorous wife. Yolanda was flattered because by then Barbie was talked about everywhere, even on the news. Yolanda was hearing that every little girl wanted the doll but the stores in their town didn’t have them yet. When she got home and went into Pocket’s room to look at her she took Sasha away and replaced the terry bear with the Barbie doll. Her daughter would be the envy of everyone around and she now had an excuse to get rid of the hideous home sewn toy that Tilley had made.
Pocket woke up in the morning screaming for Tilley. Together they searched for Sasha but couldn’t find her. The miniature hard plastic woman on her pillow frightened Pocket. After her parents left to go to their jobs Pocket took the doll outside and smashed it with a hammer. She dug a hole and placed the Barbie in it, covering the head and other pieces with dirt as she filled in the hole to hide her angry work. Later that evening Tilley gave her another Sasha, this time in green but still soft and lumpy and soon she had the new Sasha smelling like the old blue Sasha. Just like the blue Sasha, Green Sasha didn’t have eyes or a bathing suit or tiny high-heel shoes but if you tucked her next to your neck she fit just right.
Pocket grew up enough that Yolanda no longer saw the need for Tilley. Tilley was fired. Yolanda explained the situation to Pocket after waking her up in the morning. She told Pocket to get dressed and Pocket now had to wear the scratchy, restrictive clothing in her closet. Then Yolanda took her to her hair salon to get her a short hair cut called a Pixie. Yolanda told Pocket she would look like Audrey Hepburn and that it would be more attractive than Pocket’s mess of curls and much easier for Pocket to take care of. That night Pocket lay in her bed with hot tears filling her ears. She had Sasha but she missed Tilley terribly. And she hated her hair.
Yolanda quit coming into Pocket’s room at night and so did her father. Pocket woke up in the morning to the sound made by a small blue alarm clock that was sitting on top of her dresser, a gift from Yolanda. The little girl stuck her head under the water faucet in her sink and once her hair was wet she combed it down flat and straight with some pink goo in a jar the way Yolanda wanted. She would fix breakfast for herself and watch television. She went to school when the school bus came around the corner to pick her up.
At school she had lots of friends. The other kids knew how to be children and even though they thought she was odd because the only friend she had ever had was Tilley, they taught her how to play, how to climb the monkey bars and how to swing on the swing-set.
One morning before school Yolanda told Pocket that Tilley died. Pocket asked her teacher to tell her about dying. A mean boy named Lawrence heard the conversation and cornered Pocket on the playground. He explained the real truth about what would happen to Tilley’s body in the ground. As soon as Pocket got home she went into the yard and dug up the Barbie. It was dirty but the only damage she could see was what she had done with the hammer. The painted on eyelashes were still there and the doll look every bit as plastic as Yolanda. She put the Barbie back in the hole and covered her up with dirt and determined to wait.
Pocket’s father did not have success with inventing the butter substitute. He started working for a drug company and soon he was making so much money it didn’t make any sense for Yolanda to keep working at the jewelry store. Yolanda was bored until she met some other women who were also mothers of kids at Pocket’s school and started playing bridge with them and having them over for coffee and cake. Because the other women were room mothers, Yolanda became the room mother for Pocket’s class.
Pocket watched Yolanda drinking cocktails with her lunch on the weekends. She watched Yolanda laughing at the television with her head thrown back. Pocket’s eyes followed Yolanda as she tottered on her high heeled pumps from the wet bar to the black vinyl sectional sofa in the living room at night before Yolanda told Pocket to get ready for bed. Every time Yolanda drove Pocket to school with a box of cupcakes from the bakery for her class she sipped from a small metal bottle in her purse.
Pocket found a better hiding place for Green Sasha and continued digging up the Barbie, hoping it had finally decayed and returned to be one with the earth as Lawrence predicted.
Pocket grew up and was a popular teenager and although she was short and had a round figure, there were several boys who liked her enough to call her in the evenings after school. Yolanda was nothing but surprised. Pocket got invited to parties and dances and Lawrence, who quit being mean so Pocket would like him, asked her to go steady. When they graduated from high school they both went to the same college. After college Lawrence asked Pocket if she would marry him.
Yes! Yes she would!
There was an engagement party and Pocket’s parents finally met Lawrence’s parents. Yolanda got drunk. Pocket’s father spent most of the evening on the phone in the hall with his new secretary. Lawrence’s parents were happy to be bringing Pocket into their family and when they met Pocket’s parent’s friends they told them about their joy for their son. Lawrence’s mother went into the kitchen to see if she could help Yolanda and found Yolanda reading notes from the caterer about how to cook the cheese puffs she was serving her guests. Yolanda hid the notes behind her back and pretended to know how to work the controls on the oven.
Lawrence’s mother cleared her throat and spoke.
“Yolanda, since I met your daughter I’ve wanted to ask. How did you come up with such an unusual name as Pocket? I’m guessing she was just so cute as a baby you wanted to keep her in your pocket. ”
“Are you talking about Paquette? It’s French for God’s sake, from Voltaire’s Candide. What kind of an ass would name their kid Pocket?”
Yolanda wasn’t always so charming.
After the wedding, before she and Lawrence left for their honeymoon, Pocket stepped into her backyard with her new husband and told him about burying the Barbie she found on her pillow so long ago. She reminded him that it was he who told her about decay which was what prompted her to dig up the doll every so often to check and see if it had gone away.
“It didn’t matter how long she had been buried or how many times I checked, she never changed. She was always there. So, I quit interrupting the ground. I stopped being mad and got on with living and tried to be happy.”
“I don’t know how you turned out so well. Your parents are really horrible, you know.”
Pocket agreed. She knew that she had been given to two very selfish and self-involved people but without Yolanda there would have been no Tilley. Yolanda gave Tilley the money she made selling rings to rich men and Tilley had given Pocket everything else.
*Previously published March 2019 by The Weekly Knob on Medium.com