"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
It lies empty in her hands, worn cotton against faded velveteen and a wide red smile without a hint of rancor. Lilah's
fingers trace the outline of the mouth, the tattered river-blue embroidery that forms the blank cheerful eyes, the feel of
the head against the crook of her arm. She tugs at it, gently, until it falls comfortably against her once more, held
against her chest in a pattern of body and mind so familiar she thinks it was born in her this way, to feel the cotton
against skin and rub the well-worn pattern of the nose with her thumb.
It had hair once, she remembers. Great long blonde curly springs of things, hair. It itched and Lilah sneezed. Get it
away said stepmother, Lil-lee throw it away said stepmother in her saccharine steel do-me-daddy whisper. Get rid of
it, the horrid old germ-ridden stain-sodden blonde batty dirty old thing. The doll, yes.
The hair went. The doll stayed. The hair went in small curling clumps, one by one pulled gently from the soft white
head (no scissors, no blades against the cotton skin) -- she remembers that it had to go, and it went, and she did it
herself. She's good at that, she knows. She takes care of things. Takes care of herself, and her job, and her things,
and this... No, she doesn't need this. She wants to pack it all up in a box again, small and tight, put it back in the dust
she can't remember. She wants -- she knows -- why is this happening? What does this prove? That she's worthy?
It's limp against her, and she can feel the hardness of her own body in contrast. Oh god, she's breathing still. It wasn't
supposed to work, all her measures -- files and tapes and delicate little Polaroids like gaudy pornographic butterflies.
No. It was desperate because all that was left was desperation. He took that away from her, too. Took everything -- her
life, her job, her chance to fight for what she had. Now he's taken the high road. Oh Lindsey, Lindsey. She travels so
much faster when she walks with the dead, doesn't he know that?
She'll get to Scotland before he, the bairn.
Limp against her, white cotton and warm, scratchy red velveteen that still smells like mothballs. It fits so perfectly.
There's nothing there for it -- (maternal instincts, Lilah thinks, and wrinkles her nose in amusement) it just is. There.
Fitting. Perfectly. It knows her shape. Packed in a box of dusty odds and trailing ends, wrapped to ship by UPS upon
the regretful event of her sudden demise. Bits of life tied up and ready to send, except for the address -- to a college
roommate in Phoenix whose first name she can't remember. Nobody else. The box was going to lie here and rot and
she was -- she was --
She was Lilah Morgan and her loyalty was unquestioned, her credentials impeccable, her image flawless, her
standards Olympian. Nobody caught her speechless, nobody. She didn't have a chance to defend herself. She didn't
have a chance to protest her innocence, the lies they all expect from you. She didn't have a chance to say goodbye, to
shake Lindsey's hand warmly and spit in his face.
He did it all wrong. Cotton limp against her. Underhanded. Moral and underhanded. All of them looking at her, or not
looking at her at all. Her eyes itch, from the dust and their derision. Her arms curl of their own volition around the
now-warm shape in her arms, protected and protecting.
An address in Alabama, Arkansas, Alaska -- Lilah doesn't quite see, her eyes itch and waver. His. She doesn't know,
because she would report it -- but not this. Not a hunch. It's nothing important for them to know. Just a -- place he's apt
to be. His gift lies empty in her hands, worn cotton against faded velveteen and a wide red smile without a hint of
rancor. Lilah's fingers trace the outline of the mouth, the tattered river-blue embroidery that forms the blank cheerful
eyes, the feel of the head against the crook of her arm -- speak no evil, see no evil, think no evil. He will hold it and
wonder and be angry nonetheless. He won't understand how it holds her shape, comfortably, held against her chest in
a pattern of body and mind so familiar she knows it will look up at him this way. Call it a charm, a hex to ward off
ghosts. Feel the cotton against skin and know that her final warning will be one he can't hold against her, after all.
Lilah. Empty. Doll.