a lesser-mentioned requirement to apply for your graduate program is the psychological exam.
you laughed nervously when she mentioned it, forced a smile. of course, of course, i toooootally understand, you need to make sure we'll use the magic responsibly. right? you stumbled over your words, making excuses for a kind of gatekeeping whose shape you didn't grasp but whose rationale -- well, all gates are meant to be there, right? every bar was shaped with the best of intentions and placed with a dollop of just knowing better.
you radiated please-i-promise-i'll-be-a-good-girl. she oozed look-at-this-poor-precious-thing.
the exam sorts for well-adjusted girls, because well-adjusted girls don't catch feelings for their tools. well-adjusted girls see a thing, a witch-shaped means to make your will manifest. something that Isn’t People, brought into being for our benefit. a girl-shaped mass of don’t-think-about-it-too-hard.
needy girls, anxious girls, lonely girls, the kinds of girls who found more kinship and love from dolls than people growing up....well, there are studies. 56% more likely to report feelings of guilt. 45% more likely to ask permission. 33% more likely to--you know the stories.
(you lied, of course. it’s not like you’re--and, and it’s just easier this way, and it’s not like you’re one of those girls, not really, right?)
your final project is due in two days. you practice and practice and practice and it’s hopeless.
they aren’t what you thought. you thought you’d learn something new, something strange, something exciting. you learn more about casual cruelty than you do about your field. you learn that dolls are meant to be used, selves flattened and tugged along on strings woven with your will. you learn that a doll’s purpose is to be a focus for your will. you learn that you’re a child with a magnifying glass and reality’s a cluster of ants. (the doll, of course, is the magnifying glass.)
you make excuses. you stop showing up for class. you switch to independent study.
and here you are, nothing but a trio of dolls and a growing sense of panic to keep you company.
(there are hierarchies. there are always hierarchies. a witch needs hierarchy. a doll craves hierarchy. isn’t that what your advisor said? you can hear her voice in your mind, sneering. you should’ve been crueler, then you’d be at the top of the hierarchy instead of--)
you try a pantomime of every horrible thing that made you wince in lab, but your heart’s not in it. your voice falters. you plead. you sob. you catch a glimpse of something, painted pity on a perfect porcelain face. maybe you’re imagining it. maybe--
your head’s spinning. your eyelids are weighed down with tears and your heart’s fluttering flopping
ticking pounding and you’re pretty sure you’re having a panic attack and--
you’re dreaming. you’re dreaming? you think you’re dreaming. it’s not--
nature abhors a vacuum, and dolls even moreso.
it’s not that you’re afraid of her, it’s just--
she’s intimidating. imperious without quite meaning to be. like the middle chapters in some wickedest-witch bildungsroman. the other two follow her lead.
(and to be honest? sometimes you do too.)
sure, it’s scary, but it’s scarier when you think about how easy it is, so she helps you with that. (the thinking, i mean.)
she’s dolled you up for the occasion, gently tugs at your strings. teases confidence out of you, teases magic out of you. it’s a conversation, not a shouting match. (your advisor, of course, simply doesn’t have the ear for the background murmur of won’t-you-be-a-good-girl-for-mes? and don’t-be-scared-little-dolls. what could a witch’s tool have to say that would possibly be worth hearing?)
you’re dreaming. there’s a hazy ache in the pit of your stomach, because you’re dreaming and you know you’re dreaming because dolls don’t just do that and soon you’re going to wake up and--and your brain’s running away with every last little bit of catastrophizing you can imagine ‘til she quiets it.
you maybe start to get the sense that waking up is subjective.
you ask your dolls if you're still dreaming when you leave and they giggle.
(yes, little plush-heart, you're dreaming. she says it like she's trying to soothe.)
you ask your dolls if you're dreaming when the morning sun and the warmth of the covers and the weight of their arms around you feels like the first clear memory you've had in days and they share a look.
(yes, little treasure, you're dreaming. she says it like it's a kindness.)
you almost ask again days later, when they've dressed you up to match and taken you out for a post-graduation picnic, but as your lips try to coax the words out, you realize--
you wouldn't mind dreaming a little longer.