This Year's Toy
Rhonda Parrish
Break
Mary left her morals on the dirty floor buried beneath her discarded clothing. They peeked out at her now and then while the stranger grunted above her and the springs of the hotel bed squeaked, but she looked away so she didn't have to acknowledge them. She saw her self-respect peer in from the hallway, battered and neglected, and felt pangs of guilt.
Later, as she dressed and crammed the wad of bills from the dresser into her purse, she felt her conscience tugging at her sleeve and shoved it backward into the wall. A fine shower of dust fell upon it, and the picture above rocked on its nail, threatening to fall. She spun around to face it and found it cowering, crying, with its face pressed against the faded flower wallpaper. "Fuck!" she shouted, and stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
An hour later she was in a long line up at a checkout counter clutching a large yellow box tight against her chest. Her eyes darting warily from one face to the next while Christmas music assaulted her ears and garish lights blinked on and off around her. Finally, reaching the front of the line, she handed the doll to the pony-tailed cashier who smiled cheerily at her.
"This is the season's must-have doll." The girl said, chomping on her gum a couple times while scanning the box. "We've run out of these things three times this month and had to restock them. You've got a lucky little girl, you do."
Mary nodded, and handed the teenager a wad of bunched up bills. The cashier accepted them, taking her time straightening them out before placing them in the cash register.
"You'd be surprised what people will do for these dolls," the cashier said, putting the doll in a bag emblazoned with the store's logo.
Mary laughed then, a brittle sounding laugh that caused everyone around her to pause, and made the cashier's cheery smile falter just a little. "No, I don't think I would be," she said quietly.
Rhonda Parrish lives with her husband and daughter in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She has never sold herself to buy her daughter a doll.  Website