Lesley was not so secretly smug as she held the tiniest brush in the shop and carefully swept perfect little eyelashes onto the doll's face. The face that was easily taking shape through her skill.
Lesley was new to the shop but not very new to this sort of creative work and the others were only a little bit resentful of her ability to take the blank porcelain and give it personality and sparkle and life. And people like the jobs that they're good at so Lesley enjoyed painting the faces, she enjoyed pretending that actual children would buy the dolls and actually play with them but she knew that probably didn't happen much. These were the sort of dolls that the Miss Havishams purchased and put in cases next to their wedding cakes. Obscenely most of the crafters in the workshop were becoming Miss Havishams through their unnatural exposure to the dolls.
Lesley wouldn't though, her life was much too chaotic to stuff in a glass case. It wasn't measured in tiny brushes or the little bow of perfectly pink and pouty doll lips. And she was getting a reputation for that life too. With great control Lesley added another eyelash.
Doll heads alone are creepy because they're decapitated, a doll head with a body doesn't look any more like it can talk back to you but it looks a little more like it can turn around and walk away. Like it has its own vitality and can assume control of its life, assume responsibility, not need someone to go out and live live live and then come home and share all that life with another, like a mother bird stuffing life down the throat of a baby bird. A baby bird that can't even move its lips. A baby bird that just looks at you with unblinking eyes and absolute passivity.
It's the control of adding exactly the sparkle that she imagines, exactly the way she imagines it that really gets Lesley these days. In the beginning she was a little proud but mostly in awe of this thing she could do well, painting, now, now that it hasn't brought her to fame or riches but has brought her a passable life most of the time, now that it hasn't really let her down but everything else has, she wields it like a sword -this I can do, this you can not take away. This is my power.
A lot in life is beyond our power. We can't make people stay and love us. We can't make things better with kisses or prayers or screams. We can paint the perfect hint of a smirk on a doll's face and smirk back at it with our own secret smile and feel a tiny bit unburdened, but then the doll doesn't change and move on to the next emotion with us and it's hard. Do you put yourself in a glass case with the doll and live within those bounds or do you pray and scream some more and hope someone else will come along and love you? stay with you, live with you, share the burden?
The burden is not Lesley's daughter. Lesley has very firm rules about never ever ever thinking of her as a burden, the burden is everything else. The burden is the rent and the groceries and the gas money to visit her in the hospital and the hours spent sitting next to her bed in silence. Not the time together, that isn't a burden, it's the helplessness of being next to the bed and not in it, or not working together, washing dishes and talking about boys. Putting makeup on her daughter's face instead of this empty doll and sharing secret smirks that dissolve into giggles. That change and grow into other things and don't stay exactly as painted.
Is it the miracle that things change or that they stay the same? The dolls, if they were played with, would get scuffed and ratty and they might even break. They might break and get glued back together again, they might have scars but those scars are signs of having been loved. The dolls, if placed in a glass case by Miss Haversham, won't even get dusty, they will just sit there for all time with that tiny secret smirk but nothing else. They might share that smirk with Miss Haversham but if she only shares it back with them, nothing will change, it will never grow into a giggle.
Lesley's daughter is too damaged to giggle too. She's like the dolls but unlike the dolls, the dolls are fragile but not so fragile as a damaged person. They don't rely on a network of veins and neurons and a million automatic reactions to stimuli that become less automatic as the damage remains. A doll can't heal itself and the miracle is the things that change, the things that get better and don't fall into entropy, dissolve into their bedsheets and slip away in the night.
And sometimes the miracle is that we have the power to make a doll's eyes sparkle when the laws of physics and the matte of the paint says that they should not. And the miracle is that our own eyes sparkle when the sorrow is so big and so wide, but there is always triumph to be had. And doing something well is its own pleasure, doing something better than the person at the work table next to yours, that's worth a little sparkle and a smirk.