Marlene

I’ll never forget the day I met my best friend Caroline. We’ve been friends for a long time now, but it wasn’t easy to get her to like me, not at first anyway.

Outside the snow was falling gently and it was bitterly cold. First I heard the tinkle of the little bell above the door as it opened slowly. I watched the two of them rush in and shake off the cold. The mother was first, holding her daughter’s hand in her own white-gloved one. She was a beautiful woman and wore a scarlet hat with a peek-a-boo black veil down to her nose. Behind the mysterious veil two big blue eyes looked all around, searching for something. The daughter was very pretty, like her mother. She wore a beautiful cream-colored hat which tied beneath her chin in a bow of matching satin ribbon. Her eyes were blue too and her cheeks were all red like apples after being in the frosty air. But she didn’t smile like her mother, she didn’t smile at all.

“Caroline, do you see anything you like?”

“No, mother,” she answered dutifully, “not really, but I’ll keep looking if you don’t mind.”

“How polite,” I said to myself and thought about the boring day I’d been having until they showed up. I’d been hoping to find a new friend today. This little girl looked like she could use a friend. I marched right up to her and extended my right hand.

“Hi, my name is Marlene,” I said.

She tilted her head to the left and then to the right. Her long blonde ringlets bouncing back and forth. I wondered if she heard me. I repeated myself.

“Hi, my name is Marlene, what’s yours?”

“My name is Caroline.”

“Do you want to play?” I asked.

“No, not really. I’m looking for a present. It’s my birthday.”

“Happy birthday to you,” I began to sing.

“Stop, you’re embarrassing me,” she cried.

I stopped right away. I had heard that word before and knew its meaning well. Her mother was now coming in our direction.

“Oh Caroline, how sweet. Is this going to be your new friend?” She bent down and picked me up.  I felt that if I was as polite as her daughter, maybe I could find that new friend today.

“Hi, my name is Marlene,” I smiled and blinked my eyes.

“You’re adorable,” she gushed all over me. I expected her to plant a big kiss on me with her Chinese red lips. Thank goodness she didn’t. I would have died.

“Caroline,” it’s getting late, “would you like to invite Marlene home for your birthday party tonight?”

“I guess so,” the birthday girl replied sullenly. I could see I would have to really work at this friendship.

We left, Caroline holding me by the hand, half pulling, half dragging me. I was having a lot of trouble keeping up, no matter how hard I tried.

I couldn’t believe how beautiful her room was. It looked like the room of a royal princess. The walls were papered with velvet butterflies of all shapes, sizes and colors imaginable, and there was a big canopy bed with bunches of pink ruffles on the top and bottom. Caroline placed me down at the vanity table covered with big and small bottles of perfume, most of which had names I couldn’t pronounce or remember.

I sat right next to her at the table and was served a big piece of birthday cake which she insisted on feeding me. I had more of it on my face than anywhere else.

I knew we would be best friends forever because that night we slept side-by-side and when I woke up during the night, I found her arm hugging me close to her heart.

Many years have gone by; we stuck together through the bad and the good. Oh, there were a couple of times our friendship was put on the shelf, but now she’s all grown up, married and has a little girl of her own, Elizabeth, who looks just like her.  Now she’s my best friend. Not that her mother and I are no longer friends, it’s just that time moves on and we must grow up. Of course, growing up doesn’t mean forgetting. If anything, it means memories, it means sharing tender moments.

“Elizabeth,” Caroline called, “are you ready?”

“Yes mama,” she answered, “I’m just putting a new dress on Marlene.”

“Oh yes, I forgot.” Caroline remembered the first day she had seen her. “Remember to leave the old one on my bed,” she shouted up to her daughter, “I want to put it in with all of my other treasures from my childhood.”

Elizabeth ran downstairs, dragging Marlene by the hand.

Caroline remembered the snowflakes falling as she dragged the very same doll home on her birthday a long time ago.

 

Copyright 1987

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