Charlotte stood on the shelf, her painted cherry smile held up at the corners by two invisible strings. On her cheeks blushed two pink circles, coordinating just right with the bow in her hair and the ruffles of her dress. Charlotte was the pink doll on the shelf, between the blue doll named Annie and the yellow doll named Savannah, and this all made Charlotte very happy. She hardly needed the invisible strings to hold her smile up.
Customers chattered happily as the snow swirled outside the window and frosted the streets like icing. Charlotte liked watching the customers and predicting which child might pick her up and take her home. No child had done this yet, but Charlotte was quite happy to wait.
One girl looked promising. She, too, wore a pink bow in her hair. Her lips were strawberry glossed and shiny, always smiling.
The girl’s mother brushed past Charlotte’s shelf, her purse catching on Charlotte’s extended arm. Charlotte fell to the floor, lips pulled neatly in a smile the whole way down. She suffered only minor injuries thanks to the rug—a chipped nose and a detached thumb.
Oh! said the mother, who picked up Charlotte and set her on the shelf, tucking the thumb under Charlotte’s boot before hurrying her child out of the store.
I suppose she wasn’t the one, thought Charlotte, smiling, but how very kind of her mother to remember my thumb!
Mother, this one’s nose is all broken, said the next girl who glanced Charlotte’s way.
Oh, what a shame, said the mother. She would be very pretty, otherwise, wouldn’t she?
Charlotte smiled at them with her painted lips and straightened against her stand as best she could.
Yes, said the girl. What a shame.
The girl reached for the doll next to Charlotte, the yellow one named Savannah, with the perfect face and in-tact nose.
I am happy for her, thought Charlotte, lips tugging against the strings.
When the storekeeper inspected the shelves that evening, he paused in front of Charlotte. His lips were not attached to any strings, so he frowned at her. He picked her up and tapped where her nose used to be.
Shame, he said.
He marked something in his record book, then dropped Charlotte into the trash can. She landed on a pile of used tissues—soft and warm. Charlotte was happy to be in the dark among the tissues, where she could forget about her no-longer-a-nose and her missing thumb and her invisible strings and how the girl had picked Savannah instead. It was almost as if she was whole once more, the darkness filling in her gaps.
She awoke in what could only be the landfill, and Charlotte was thankful for her lack of nose.
Oh dear, she thought. What an opportunity this will be.
A fly washed its hands of a frost-bitten apple, perching on a compost throne.
Hello, little fly, Charlotte said to her newest friend. The fly shivered and picked at its kaleidoscope eyes.
A glass bottle caught Charlotte’s interest—green glitter in the sunlight. In the reflection she could make out her own face, dirty and smudged and missing a nose. Her smile was still there, at least, in painted permanence. Charlotte wished for some scissors, to cut those invisible strings and let her lips fall into the slush.
Scissors were not necessary, though, she thought.
Charlotte could be happy without them.