We are all She, all 3,117 of us; itemised, docketed and accounted for in a mothballed warehouse just outside Milton Keynes. Our puffy caramel blonde hair, waved and styled in miniature, is just like hers – is hers – from TV. Our kiss-shaped lips, pink as guava pulp, are hers too, wearing her sensual sneer of command.
Her full name is Empress She-Ba, an eighties reboot of Wonder Woman in response to the success of He-Man: the empowered heroine of a big-budget pilot commissioned by a toy company with its eye on the teatime prize. But the company went spectacularly bankrupt before the full series ever took to the air, another victim of the Transformers craze – and She was gone, like a mayfly, in a single day.
Susan Fay Saunders, the actress who played her, had a career of sorts afterwards, but it never got that good again. You might say her big break broke her. (We know these things because we are her: there is some of her in all of us, and we can feel her still, in our bendable plastic bones). But we – the action figures, the empowering Barbie-alternatives that were the whole point of the exercise, we who were going to conquer every home in the land from under the Christmas tree – we remain: perfect, untouched by time.
There used to be more of us: 3,144, to be precise, and that was just the first batch, but a few dozen have been lost over the years to damage and pilfering. We are rather attractive, after all: if a box or two should tumble from a shelf and end up in a pile of birthday presents for a warehouseman's daughter, who is to notice, and who are we to complain? From these vanished sisters, and from our original of course, the ageing, still struggling, diminishingly beautiful Susan Fay, we glean all that we know of this world – perhaps all we will ever know.
We know that toys are to be played with. We know that the first thing most modern girls do with us is strip off our strokable fun-fur robes and dress us in glitter, sequins and lace. Though this is not our taste, nor usually practical (She is a Stone Age princess imbued with super strength and magical powers, who rides a loyal Tyrannosaurus Rex called Trixie) we do not object. Those of us who are played with are grateful: those who are not, feel the years trickle by waiting our turn, wishing and hoping. Any indignity would be bearable – Magic Marker makeovers, forced transvestism in Action Man cast-offs, being the stick in a game of Fetch – only to feel the touch of light on our pale rubber skin, the sticky warm grip of little-girl hands.
Where is Susan Fay now? Not Hollywood, not any more. We think she may have moved to Vegas: sometimes we get a whiff of baked air in our sealed nostrils, a strobe of neon behind our ever-open green eyes. We used to taste echoes of the Zinfandel she preferred, but over the past few years we’ve woken with whisky on our silent tongues and a throb in our plastic heads, worse than when they punched our hairplugs in. Sometimes our backs ache, sometimes our wrists (the old injury she got from the dinosaur-riding stunt sequence in the doomed pilot).
We remember the day we were modelled from her: coming into being as the latex was laid over her lovely face to create a perfect mould: how happy she was, how beautiful, how strong. She was a dancer once. We have not felt her dance in a long while. We would like, just once, to feel her dance again – the lightness in our own fixed limbs, the whirl in our heads that comes from breathless dizzy joy, not a third shot of bourbon. We would like her to be happy, for when she is happy so are we. And when we are happy – well, perhaps one day we will find out what happens then.
Perhaps one day light will flood in on our faded boxes and we will hear the gruff song of forklifts, as a cult TV special reminds the nostalgia audience of what She could have been. We dream – or is it her dream? that She will come around again one day, as all toys must; that we are rediscovered and sold off one by one or all in a lot, a strictly limited edition of 3,117: when we’re gone, we’re gone. Perhaps we will see the world from behind the glass of a museum doll display, or the inside of a collector’s polished cabinet, or perhaps from the knee-high vantage of a toybox.
We imagine (or is it her daydream?) Susan Fay interviewed on a retro documentary, expertly madeover and forgivingly lit, fondling the real fur of her old costume as she reminisces about the three guys who played Trixie and the plastic bone-arrows she had to shoot from the dinosaur’s back. She will massage her wrist and smile wistfully and say that they were good times, that she remembers those days fondly.
Perhaps they will bring out a box to show her, one of our boxes with one of us inside, as perfect as the day we were made, the last day that Susan Fay was ever purely and only herself. Perhaps she will take one of us out with trepidation and wonder, touch a skinny, manicured finger to her own nose, cheeks, hair, and laugh a little strangely as she looks into our green eyes.
Will she see anything there? Will she feel us as we feel her? Will she want to keep us, a memento, or will her pinched mouth twist under the guava-pink gloss as she says “Better put it back. That was a long time ago. Put it away now.” Feeling the throb in our head, our back, our wrist, wanting the taste of whisky in our mouth.
(c) J. A. Hopper, 2016
J.A. Hopper finds dolls really creepy, but she always wanted to ride a dinosaur. She's published several stories online and in print: her story Mother’s Milk was previously read at Liars’ League.
Charlotte Worthing trained at the Oxford School of Drama. Theatre: These Trees are Made of Blood (Southwark Playhouse), The Wind in the Willows (Open Book Tour) The Just So Stories (National Tour/Pleasance, Edinburgh) The Miniaturists & The Occupied Times (Arcola Theatre) PLAYlist, Festopia (Theatre503). Radio: Drama-series Chain Gang, The Private Patient (BBC Radio4/7). She also records audio books for RNIB.