Last Look by Phebe Jewell

When Cassie finds the blowup doll in the park a second time, she knows it’s a sign.

Lately she notices strange coincidences: peaceful protesters run over the same day a jet carrying 374 people plunges into the ocean. A popular mayor resigns because of allegations of sexual abuse while a medieval cathedral burns to the ground. The world is disintegrating, and she is the only one who recognizes these events as portents of things to come.

The first time Cassie came across the doll, news of a tsunami wiping out coastal towns left her in tears. When she couldn’t take in any more scenes of villagers staring ankle deep in mud at blasted streets, Cassie escaped to the park, only to discover the doll among tall grass, a naked meditator in half lotus. An art installation commenting on the fragility of life, perhaps? Life imitating art? Cassie studied the quiet park, wondering which house bordering the lake belonged to the artist.

This morning Cassie arrives at the park before the dog walkers and the fishermen. Two crows plague a young eagle off his perch at the lake edge. The light changes so quickly Cassie’s phone can’t capture the shift from gray to pink to blue to silver. Surprised to see a woman sitting at the picnic table under one of the flowering apple trees, Cassie approaches before realizing the plastic woman holds two doll heads in her outstretched arms, their bodies nowhere to be seen.

“What are you doing here again?” Cassie whispers.

The doll’s eyes wear a look of bored indifference, a blank stare passing right through Cassie. She pulls up the news feed on her phone and reads the first reports of a massacre in a mosque in the Midwest.

The doll has to go. The doll is the messenger. If the doll disappears so will the disasters.

She remembers a book of illustrated folk tales she loved as a girl, pages filled with dragons and beasts balancing the earth on their backs. One twist could bring the whole world tumbling down.

Cassie tugs the heads out of the doll’s grip and carries them on her open palms like grapefruit.

“Sorry,” tucking them under the table.

A single kayak skims the middle of the lake. Cassie scoops up the doll in her arms and carries it to the water’s edge, avoiding its eyes, tracing the paisley pattern on its dress instead. Red and white sperm-shaped tear drops on a faded blue background.

Raising her arms above her head, she hurls the doll into the lake. The doll rolls along the water’s surface, arms and legs windmilling in an awkward greeting. Ripples from the kayak rock the doll back and forth as Cassie watches from the shore. Turning to face Cassie, the doll holds her in its cool, unbroken gaze.

Phebe Jewell’s recent work appears or is forthcoming in Monkeybicycle, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, Maudlin House, Crack the Spine, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she also volunteers for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for women in prison.

Woman looking at a statue head
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