Jenny Upside Down

garrie keyman

 

            Jenny's grandmother gave her a doll. It was a church doll, made of soft cloth so that if Jenny dropped it during the sermon, it wouldn't make noise. Jenny happily studied the pretty face with expressive blue eyes and the bowed lips stitched with bright red thread.  She ran her fingers down the twisted yellow braids of yarn.   

            "Turn it upside down," Jenny's grandmother had told her.

            Jenny had. And when she flipped the gingham skirt, a second doll emerged from the folds, an ugly one: a witch with a craggy face and a threatening glare. Jenny was taken aback. She quickly turned the doll upright and hid the witch beneath Gretel's ample dress and delicately embroidered apron.

            Grandmother laughed. "It's two dolls in one," she told Jenny. "That way, you only have to carry one, but you'll always have two you can play with."

            Jenny mumbled a thank you. She liked the pretty, familiar face of the Gretel doll with the long blond braids, but she held tight to the dress, pinning it beneath her arm so that the witch remained hidden. Jenny felt privy to a secret. All weekend long while Grandma visited, Jenny carried her new doll, and the more she thought about the gift, the more it awakened her mind.

            She began to think about how sometimes, when the day was running smooth as a carnival Ferris wheel and she was gliding happily along, something would happen to make everything sour. Suddenly nothing would feel smooth anymore and life became a jolting ride like a jaunt in Grandpa's tumbled-down Studebaker. Then, Jenny realized, she turned upside down like her doll. Beneath Jenny's skirts was as ugly a witch as the one that was hidden under Gretel.

            "Such an ugly face!" Mother would declare just when Jenny's day had turned sour, so that Jenny would know her witch showed. Jenny would know she had turned upside down and had hiked her skirts over her head. She hated being called ugly. Jenny always wanted to be thought of as pretty, just like the way that she felt every Sunday.

            On Sundays the family went to Church. And though Jenny sometimes wondered what it would be like to sleep-in, like the neighbors, she enjoyed rising early and getting ready as the bells of St. Martin's called to her from their steepled perch across town. Jenny liked her special dress and the attractive way Mother tied her long hair with a ribbon. She had a pair of trim white gloves with pearl-button closures at the wrists, and a small pink clutch purse that she only toted on Sundays. In the clutch purse was a monogrammed handkerchief she had gotten from Grandma last Christmas. Black patent maryjanes and delicate lace anklets completed Jenny's outfit.

            When Mother called her to breakfast that Sunday, Jenny grabbed her new doll and skipped down the stairs. The tantalizing smell of muffins was a Sunday staple that everyone enjoyed as the bells in their tower beckoned worshipers to service. After the family had eaten and everyone was scrambling for the car, the aroma of coffee still hung in the air along with Mother's usual words. "C'mon," she would urge. "We'll be late."

            When they had reached the lot beneath its canopy of elms and were headed for the sanctuary door, Jenny noticed how everyone was smiling. Everyone always seemed to smile on Sundays at St. Martin's, but today Jenny noticed it more because she was holding the doll that Grandma had given her. Friends and neighbors, acquaintances and strangers alike, all greeted one another kindly. No one seemed sour at St. Martin's.

            Soon Jenny sat wedged in the usual pew beside Mother. She glanced thoughtfully around the congregation, contemplating all of the people and how each one had their own secret witch lurking just beneath a well-appointed surface. Jenny was certain that even if she flipped kind Mrs. Pennybaker upside down there would be a craggy old woman underneath. And Jenny knew Reverend Sikes was the same. She knew it because, yesterday, when she had been riding her pink stingray with the handlebar streamers and the sleek banana seat, she had passed the parsonage and overheard him cursing. Only his legs had been jutting from beneath his car as he worked on the engine, but Jenny knew it was the Reverend. Something had soured his day, and just as she had peddled past, Reverend Sikes turned upside down beneath his car quite loudly.

            After service, every third Sunday, was The Social. Jenny liked the basement of Fellowship Hall with its kitchen in one corner and the rest of the room set with long rows of tables end-to-end. Each table was topped by gilt paper doilies and lined with folding chairs. The ladies of the Social Committee always made certain that a dainty array of bite-sized cookies and wee tea sandwiches were attractively arranged between white paper napkins and styrofoam cups of punch and coffee. But that particular Sunday Mother had dallied so long talking to the Reverend's wife and introducing Grandma, that by the time Jenny's family reached the refreshments all of the goodies were gone. Jenny glared. Her neck grew hot and she felt her skirts start to billow.

            "Well," soothed Father, as a storm gathered behind Jenny's eyes, "there's still punch." Filling a cup, he held it out to her. With eyes like slits, she yanked the cup, splashing the front of her dress.

            "Oh, Jenny," Mother sighed, the lash of her voice stinging despite its softness.

            Pouting, Jenny plopped down the cup by an empty foil tray and splattered the doilies with droplets of scarlet. Her day gone sour, she stomped across the room to sit with her face toward the wall. There, pulling off her punch-stained gloves with the pearl-button closures, Jenny opened her clutch purse to shove them inside. It was then, just as Mrs. Chalmers the choir director stopped by, that Jenny spied the monogrammed handkerchief her grandmother had given her last Christmas. 

            "Such an ugly face!" declared Mrs. Chalmers, bending over and cocking her head like a pullet. Jenny did not look up. She stared into her little pink clutch purse with dismal, downcast eyes as her skirts flew clean over her head, blocking out the rest of Mrs. Chalmer's words. Some of the punch had dribbled through the clasp of the little pink purse and had splotched her handkerchief garnet.

By the time Mrs. Chalmers had given up trying to talk to Jenny and had walked away, Jenny had taken her church doll from under her arm where it had been tightly pinned all weekend, and promptly stood Gretel on her head.  With Gretel's golden pigtails dangling, Jenny shoved the doll's skirts over Gretel's head, exposing the witch. When she tucked the doll back under her arm, Jenny felt a wee bit better. Just a wee bit.

            Soon Jenny's family joined her at the table near the wall. Her parents and grandparents chatted amiably with other members of the congregation and no one interrupted Jenny's sulk till Reverend Sikes strode by. He pulled Jenny's braids, re-igniting the stormy look in her eyes. But instead of noticing the sour expression fixed on Jenny's face, Reverend Sikes spied her doll.

"Such an ugly doll!" he declared, laughing.

Jenny blinked, surprised. Unlike Mother or Mrs. Chalmers, Reverend Sikes had overlooked her ugliness. His attention had been drawn to the witch's face, instead.  Jenny glanced at Grandma who offered a small, warm smile. Grandma understood. The storm blew over and Jenny very nearly smiled back, so relieved was she to have the witch doll's face – instead of her own -- called ugly.

Mother was watching. She looked at Grandma, then at Jenny's new doll, and before long Mother's mind was awakening, as well.

            Later, when they were all in the car heading home, Father glanced back, loosening his tie. "How 'bout ice cream at Cap'n Freeze?" he suggested. Mother turned in her seat, not at all certain how Jenny would receive Father's offer. Mother knew how even sweet offerings looked sour when viewed upside down, and Jenny had been turned entirely on her head by the events back in Fellowship Hall. But Jenny hadn't been listening just then and had missed Father's offer. Mother saw Jenny was busy watching the trees whiz by in their autumn attire so, using her awakened mind, she glanced at Jenny's doll.

"Sounds like a good idea," Mother announced when she spotted Gretel peering from the crook of Jenny's arm. Jenny's grandparents nodded their approval of the plan.  "Then Cap'n Freeze it is," said Mother, sharing a smile with Grandma. "It's unanimous."                                   

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