Brian J. Helt

Scars On A Doll and The Art Of Release

Tamara’s severed foot landed in the plastic waste bin with a muted, fleshy thud and its soft percussion cooed hollowed melody into Ori’s ears.  The long walk to inventory and back was a trip he had made countless times daily under the sickly fluorescent lights hanging high above him, mindless.

Flesh on the right, compartmentalized and divided by the gradation of skin tones, skeletals on the left.  He kept his eyes on the flesh inventory labels: fingers, hands, arms, head templates, torsos hanging by their fixtures, breasts piled one on top of another.  Feet were kept at the back.  He turned the corner of the last shelf and raised Tamara’s foot up, comparing skin tones and as Ori thought of her, he saw in his mind, her eyes; the eyes of devastation and sharpness, a stare that pierced deep into the heart of a human with the canorous reminder: you are only that, only human, you are imperfect and aberrated.  He knew that he was closest to perfection with Tamara, closer than he had ever come with any other one before her, entirely within his grip.  She was perfect and perfectly tractable.  The soothing inebriation that came with the taste of control was something that haunted him and though he tried his best to expel it from his heart, he simply could not.

Ori found himself back at his work station and the stool was hard against his hindquarters and he knew that he had spent a long day in that spot, working on Tamara.  He took his shaping tool in his left hand and one of Tamara’s new feet in his right and while keeping an eye on Tamara’s old foot, began to shave away at the arch of it.  Bit by bit he peeled away flakes of silicone composite, translucent with the faint remembrance of fleshy pinks.  The flakes flittered down onto his lap, rolled off and fell onto the concrete work floor and still, Ori worked, lost in his own meditation.  Synthetic precision, he reminded himself, was the only perfection in the sex-death-world, the world of flesh smashing against flesh, sticking into flesh before birthing more flesh, born of flesh only to die as flesh.  Nothing greater.

Ori glanced at the clock.  Five Minutes.  He hated to wait for her.  He had always hated that.

Any time now, she would call to tell him she was outside, as she did every night and through the torment of waiting, falling under the whim of another, a whirling synthesis of excitement undercut with dread gripped Ori at his core as he wondered what damage she had done to herself this time.  Had she tried to re-angle the septal cartilage of her nose, tried to thin it out again?  Had she gone after the bleach?  Ori wondered when she would finally cut deep enough to hit that human nerve and return to herself.  But he knew the more likely case was that one day she would cut too deep and the bleeding would not stop and she would fade away into the obscure and shapeless void, as all things of flesh do and Ori knew that he would blame himself for it until the day he died.  If only he could replace the parts of her he had broken, fix them the way he replaced the dolls’ broken parts.  But somewhere in him he knew the pieces that were broken in Ellie, he couldn’t fix.

The truth, Ori thought, is that the scars a human leaves upon themselves are nothing compared to the scars they leave upon another, intentional or not.

The prattling chatter of Ori’s phone, dancing across the table as it jittered and chimed, tore him from his saturnine meditation.  He snatched his phone up with the same hand that he held his shaping tool and swiped his right index finger across its screen to answer.

“’Lo,” he said.

“I’m outside,” Ellie replied.  Her voice came through the phone like a crumpled plastic bag.

“Be out in a sec.”

Ori hung up his phone, slid it into his pocket and placed both feet between Tamara’s legs with the shaping tool between the feet.  He drew the big tarp over her as he returned to the foot of the table, fastening it with four large clamps at each corner.  After, he crossed the warehouse to the entrance and shut off the anemic fluorescent tubes hanging sickly above.  He opened the entrance door and locked both the handle and the deadbolt as he listened to Ellie’s car gasp and wheeze behind him across the gravel driveway.

He turned around and saw the apparition of her, through the driver’s side window; platinum blonde hair, fire engine-red lipstick, dark ink rising up the side of her neck.  Something like a frenzy of joyful bees awoke, stirring in the hive of his heart.  He crossed in front of the car, his boots crunching and grinding the shards of rocks below them.  The headlights blinded him, white ringing pain in his eyes and ears and he opened the passenger side door, inviting out the bowel-screams and soprano-shrieks of some death metal, tussled by the dissonant tremolo of a shaking guitar.  Ori was transported years before when things were different, and the two of them were on their way to oblivion, together, tweaked out and blistered.  Ori fought off the recollection, shooing it away as he tried his best to focus on the moment before him.

With a slender hand, nails painted black, Ellie turned the nob on the stereo and quieted the noise as Ori sat down, swallowed by the scent of cigarette smoke choking out the fruity florals of some cheap perfume.  The roof light faded once the door had closed with a whinnying cry from the dried metal joint and Ori caught a glimpse of Ellie’s swollen and bruised nose.  In the fleeting moment, he saw the realization in her eyes, that of her self-exposed injury and she turned towards the steering wheel after putting the car in drive and creeping slowly along the driveway.

“How was work?”  Ellie asked.

“Not too bad.  Got a repair order today, probably finish tomorrow.  How about you?”

“Same.  Had a shoot at Old Oaks Inn.”

“Kind of like way back when, huh?”  Ori asked, met only with Ellie’s silence though she had undoubtedly heard his question.  “Not too shady, then?”

“Not too shady.”  Ellie paused.  “So I got some big news.”

“What’s the news?”

“Talk about it over a beer?”  Ellie asked and the unsure tone of her voice made Ori suspicious.  He knew her too well to believe all was well.

“Sure,” Ori replied.

As Ellie pulled onto Old Valley Road, Ori leaned over and turned the nod of the stereo all the way to the left, silencing the death metal and leaving only the muted roar of the tires as they rolled along the cracked and bumpy road.

“So was that before or after the shoot?”  Ori asked.

“What?”  Ellie asked.

“Did you break it?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ellie said, her voice unsteady.

“Don’t deflect.  Did you do it?”

“Why are you nagging me?”

“I’m not nagging.”  Ori defended.

“Well you’re gonna start, I can already tell,” Ellie pressed.

“Just tell me, was it part of the shoot?”  Ori asked.

“You know they’re not Johns right?”  Ellie asked with a new venom to her voice.

“I know that, Ellie.”

“So why would it matter if it was part of the shoot?”

“Because it would.”

“And why’s that, Ori?  Are you gonna go hunt them down?  Beat them bloodied?  What’re you going to do, Ori?”

“That thing’s fucking broken and you’re gonna tell me that it’s a fucking fantasy and that it’s okay?”

“Maybe I broke it myself.  Maybe some big motherfucker smashed it with his fist before ramming his cock in me, what the fuck do you care?  It’s not like you would never have done the same.”

Ori cringed.

“I care because it’s fucked up that you think that’s normal.” He said.

Ellie shot Ori a glance that by which he knew she meant business.  “I don’t think you get to decide what’s normal anymore, Ori.”

A silence, which let in the howling from the unkempt road below and the air as it rushed all around the car, seemed to stretch so far and so long.  He felt naked in that car, stripped of all power he ever had.

“I think I get at least some say.”  Ori declared.

“Don’t try that shit with me, we both know it was the only option.” Ellie said, desperation glowing at the edges of her words.

“Maybe it wasn’t to me.”

“Oh, and were you just gonna drop everything?  Become an upstanding citizen and role model?”

“At least I didn’t kill it like some fucking gnat.”  Ori said, tasting the bitter poison of his own words.

As Ellie crammed her foot onto the brake, the tires seized at their four corners and screeched, sending the car into a gentle fishtail before arriving to a nauseating and lurching stop that threw both Ori and Ellie back and forth.

“Get the fuck out,” Ellie said with a sharp finger pointed across the center console.

“Ellie, I’m-“

“Get the fuck out!”

Ori gripped the handle of the passenger side door and gave it a pathetic tug, leaned over and lifted himself out of the car.  The scent of hot rubber perfumed from the asphalt and found his nostrils, burnt and curdled.

The engine to Ellie’s car revved as she sped off down Old Valley Road and into the night, gone again, leaving Ori behind.  He thought about all the things he had put Ellie through and began down the block under the sodium vapor streetlights.


Tamara laid across the worktable, legs ajar, body centered within the rectangular frame.  Her eyes shot invisible tethers into the space between the air and the nothing and they remained fixed and immovable like some exotic and ornamental flowers.  Ori sat on his stool and stared into the vaginal cavity as he replayed the previous night in his mind over and over and over again.

Despite the very palpable urge to avoid those thoughts, he couldn’t stifle the remembrance of all the previous nights at shady motels, sitting in the adjacent room, listening so closely with his ear to the wall, ready to pounce.  He shook off the specter of years since gone and stared into the fleshy silicone composite of Tamara, seeing her as she was, rendered eternal, an everlasting configuration of the only perfections of the human specimen.  Things were different now. He was different, or so he promised himself.

She was truly amazing, Tamara, a staunch and glowing monolith of glory which spat in the face of the human, a grotesque beast, not above the slovenly mewling of swine and shit-eaters.  The human is a machine, Ori thought, of consumption and hatred.

He wondered why Ellie couldn’t be more like Tamara.  A doll is not prideful, does not go against its best instinct, will not scream or insult but most important of all, Ori reminded himself, a doll cannot be hurt.  He hated himself in that moment, that very human moment as his own imperfection stared him in the eyes, inescapable, no new thing.

From his pocket he pulled out his phone and scrolled through the contacts to Ellie’s avatar before pressing it with his finger.  The dial tone rang rapturous in his ears and at the moment he wondered if Ellie would ever pick up, her voice rattled in the speaker.

“’Lo?”  She said.

“Hey, it’s me.”  Ori said through an awkward pause, unsure of what to say.

“What’s up?”  Ellie asked and Ori could tell she was still so far from him.

“I wanna talk about last night.”  He said.

“Can’t.  Got a shoot in a minute.”

“Pick me up tonight?”


Ellie was the first to hang up and Ori kept the phone to his ear with his eyes fixed on Tamara, wishing he could trade one for the other.


Time crawled by like a lost crab across hot pavement.  It had taken all day, which it shouldn’t have, but by the time the warehouse was approaching its closure, Ori finished the repairs on Tamara.  With the lower skeletal joints tightened and feet replaced with a seamless composite fill, he put the final cosmetic touches on her; new nails, eyelashes, lip and nipple pigmentation.

She was heavy across his shoulders as he carried her to a crate.  Feeling as though he could drop her at any moment, he strained to lower Tamara onto a chair in the crate before taking a wide fastening belt and propping her upright before clicking in the belt which kept her that way.  He stepped back.  He saw Tamara sitting there, almost alive, and knew she would outlast him and her owner and he could no longer find the comfort in that.  The eternity of Tamara in the face of his own fading human existence terrified him in that moment, and she seemed to remind him that at the time of her owner’s death, she would remain on this earth without him as he would have moved onward into the void.

When he turned around, he saw her standing there like a doll escaped from its crate, staring at him with her anguished eyes, buried under the soil of a young woman with nothing to fear and nothing to live for.  Still, her pain, the agony he knew was inside her, reaching in all directions for years, seemed to peek out through the cracks of her crafted exterior.  She was nowhere near perfect, her thighs and arms riddled with the pink pigmentation of cicatricial tissue, stitching her together like a bundle of found rags and Ori wondered if any of them had been carved in his name.  He was ashamed in how he hoped there was at least one.

Her hair had been dyed and bleached so many times that it reached out for years like the spectral arm of a never before thought of god-being, untamed and wiry, and looked as if it would snap if given the slightest tug.  But she was there, she was in that moment, an expanding and contracting respiration and so was Ori, and he thought in that moment that between two metabolic, organic beings, there was no room for a doll, no room for the synthetic and imagined love story.  Between two people, there was only room for the true and fleeting war of adoration and love and self-loathing whereby both parties do their best jobs of destroying one another.

Ori knew he had already destroyed so much of Ellie.

In that moment, he could almost feel the words crossing his own flushed lips: I love you, but something kept him silent, something composite, something muted, something of a doll inside him.

“You’re early,” said Ori.

“I-” Ellie began before her words trailed off and her eyes searched the floor to recover them.  “I can’t drive you home tonight.”

“What’s wrong with your car?  I might be able to fix it” Ori asked though he knew the truth, anticipating what would undoubtedly come.

“Car’s fine.  I just can’t drive you home.”

“You could’ve texted me.  Didn’t have to drive all the way out here.”

“I just know,” Ellie said as her eyes rose to meet Ori’s, “that if I did, everything would be undone.”

“What’re you talking about, Ellie?”

“All the work I’ve done and the decisions I’ve made would be undone and I’d have to go back if I drove you home because I know that’s where you would take me, like you always have.  Even before we cleaned up and quit the old life, it’s always been that way.  You’ve always had that power over me, even when you didn’t want it.  And I’d do the same thing tomorrow night, and the night after and I’d never really ever do it, make the break, because I’m in love with you, and you’re the worst thing for me.”

“Take you?”  Ori asked, fighting back the storming beehive inside him.  He wanted to scream at her and the urge pulled and tore at his guts and chest.  He wanted to shout out how different he was, how things would never be as bad as they were all those times before.

“I’m leaving, Ori.  I’m moving to the Palm Desert.”

The words struck Ori with a tragic familiarity and he knew in a flashing moment, smaller than a second spun out like the sugar chains of cotton candy, he knew that he had done this.

“When do you leave?”  Ori asked through a knot in his throat, telling himself that after what he had brought them through all those years before, that this is what he owed her.

“Tomorrow.”  Ellie replied.  Her words, bladed by their truth, sunk into him and cut through the core of his soul and Ori worked furiously to unscramble the tangled lines of his heart, to unlock the puzzle of this torrent inside him.

“How long have you known?”

“Studio called me last week with the offer.”  Ellie replied.

Silence returned; crept into the warehouse like a low lying fog.

“You don’t think I can change,” Ori began, “but I can.  I did.  The minute you told me you were-we got clean, we’ve stayed cleaned.  On the straight and narrow.  It was all for you.”

“Ori,” Ellie said with a matched pace of her words, “if it wasn’t a game of power to you, I’d have kept it.  I’d have stayed with you.  But this is who you are, you’re a pimp.  You’ll always be a pimp.”

Ori stared into the floor, seeing for the first time, the pocks and scratches etched into the concrete year after delicate year.  A silence had snuck in between the two of them, standing so far from one another, each positioned at opposite points of the universe.  The air had frozen inside the warehouse as Ori looked up saying, “I regret everything I ever put you through.”

The door thudded hard, severing his words, and the latch clasped with a quaking resonance that could’ve pushed Ori into the ocean all those miles away.  She was gone and he was left with nothing more than his workstation and the dolls which seemed somehow all too permanent for him.


The following afternoon, in a rapturous moment, Ori was torn from his thoughts as the freight door rattled and shook with a rapping from outside.  He pulled the chain adjacent to the freight door and watched it climb incrementally with each tug, revealing a freight truck and a man standing at its rear with a coffin box.

Ori took the clipboard from the man who stood, waiting.  When he finished, Ori handed the clipboard back to the man before retrieving his dolly from his workstation.  He tipped the box up and slid the tongue of the dolly underneath before tipping it back towards him and wheeling the coffin in, peaking at his path from the side as he craned his neck outward.

He tipped the box down in front of his work table and, with a crow bar from under his worktable, pried open to the front palate of the coffin box to reveal a doll.  From the interior of the box, he pulled out the order form, seeing that it called for a renewal of hair and eyes, cosmetic touch ups and a vaginal replacement.

With the doll sprawled out across his work table, Ori observed its ivory flesh contrasting with the heat of fiery red hair and the celeste-blue eyes that reached out into the void, through the space of all things.  It could’ve been so much more than a doll, a supreme apex of ornately chosen features, the gorgeous sum of its parts.  But it wasn’t, not anymore at least.

As Ori kept his gaze on the doll, he saw not a doll but a clumsy aluminum skeletal frame, bound by tight silicone composite, trimmed, buffed, glued and painted and the synthetic odor of the composite reached into his nose and Ori knew he was truly alone.

He closed his eyes and saw her laid out on the table before him, Ellie, the scarred and misarranged misanthrope, choosing all the wrong ways to be human, or so it had seemed to Ori.  He wondered if she was as miserable as he, imagining her bleached hair, choked and dried, resting atop her head where the contours of her face were far too pronounced from the heavy hand of too much make up.

Ori opened his eyes, hoping to see Ellie standing before him, his eyes meeting only the doll, laid across the table in her contortion of limbs, gaping and vapid.  A hatred boiled inside Ori as the doll reminded him that it was everything Ellie wasn’t and he knew he had received all he had worked for.

Across from his work table, he saw the clock staring back at him, immovable.  Time stood still.  He turned towards parts inventory and took small and slow steps to it.  There seemed to be no rush as the boundaries of time had dissolved into the horizon.  Infinite.

He felt his phone buzz in his pocket in that very moment, and with a diving, digging hand, tore it from its denim tomb to see a screen unlit, and to feel the stillness of its non-vibrating being.  A stone.

Ori stared into the blank screen.  He waited for it to ring.  He waited an eternity for Ellie to call or text or anything, powerless in the shadow of her whim.  He was alone in the vacuum, surrounded by the inanimate death locked inside the dolls who seemed to watch him, waiting too.


Brian credits attending CSSSA/Innerspark in 2006 and again in 2007 for igniting his passion for writing.  He continued to study Creative Writing at San Francisco State University which took that passion and directed it towards a focus on fiction.  Brian’s work has appeared in publications such as Ginosko Literary Journal, Forge Journal, The Blue Moon Literary and Arts Review and more.  You can follow him on Twitter at @brian_helt.