Ken and Barbie dolls.

Dishes washed and put away, kitchen sink scrubbed and counters wiped down, leftovers packed up and stowed in the fridge…there were no more tasks left for Marley to do on this Saturday night to keep herself busy, and it was only nine o’clock, still too early for her to go to bed.

Marley settled herself at one end of her big couch, drew her knees up and hugged them, while trying to think of any other busy work she might do to occupy her mind. Keeping herself busy kept her from thinking about the things that invariably triggered her depression—things like her dysfunctional family, her social ineptitude, her terminally-single status, and her abject loneliness. She thought about her friends from work, all of whom, she was sure, were at home right now enjoying their families or, even better, their lovers.

Lovers. The word brought to mind the disturbing picture of her sister Jane and her lard-ass lover Morris in bed together, naked, having bland, lumbering, and pointless sex. Marley shuddered at the thought. Put in that context, maybe life without a man wasn’t such a terrible fate. After all, Jane had not one, but two, men in her life, yet she wasn’t happy, nowhere near it; in fact, she seemed downright miserable. And given the choice of either of those two men—Morris or Tris—to share her life with, Marley would take a hard pass on both. The more she thought about it, every married person she knew—her parents, brothers and sisters, Buck and his wife Tina, the shelter director, Pete, and his wife—was in a relationship that was either loveless, abusive, or unfaithful…or a combination thereof. So why did Marley long so desperately for a man in her life? Perhaps Inga was right. Maybe she didn’t need a man at all. Maybe all she really needed was, indeed, a vibrator. And, of course, her hairbrush.

Sitting on the couch and letting her mind wander recklessly about was not helping with Marley’s depression. Better to go to bed early than to sit here entertaining such gloomy thoughts, she reasoned.

Marley turned off the living room lamp and headed for the bathroom. Flicking on the light, she took a moment to admire the improvements she’d made to the bath before brushing her teeth and washing her face. Back in the bedroom, she stripped down to her skin and crawled into bed, hoping for sleep to come soon so she could find some relief and escape from the dreariness of her waking life.

The phone began to ring.

Marley lay still at first, refusing to answer the phone. Whoever was calling was not someone she wanted to talk to, for it was either Jane calling to gloat over her seamy motel fumblings with Lard Ass, or the tenacious heavy breather whose frequent phone calls were, by now, just another mundane aspect of Marley’s day-to-day life, like clipping her toenails or taking a morning dump. But the ringing continued—whoever it was, they were persistent and intent on ruining her night. Marley cursed before rolling over to pick it up.

“Hello?” she said, answering with all the enthusiasm of a wet dishrag.

There was no response…

‘Oh, it’s you again,” said Marley.

The breathing began: Slow, deep and steady.

“You are so pathetic. What would your mother think?”

The breathing abruptly stopped, but Marley wasn’t done with him yet…

“Or your sister?”

The breathing commenced…

“Do you have a sister?”

The breathing quickened…

“So you do have a sister. What do you suppose she would think of you?”

The breathing was now going full throttle. It seemed the caller didn’t care at all what his sister might think. In fact, it seemed anything he imagined his sister might think only stimulated him more. Marley felt she was on to something…

“So, tell me, what does your sister look like?”

A deep groan rumbled through the receiver and Marley could hear in the background the unmistakable sound of flesh pounding flesh.

Marley had to bite her lip not to laugh. “I’ll bet she’s pretty, your sister.”

The caller’s moans and groans were building, soon to reach a crescendo with just a tad more encouragement.

“And I bet she’s got really big tits, too.”

That did it. A long, sustained groan accompanied by a final, hard slap of flesh signaled the caller’s denouement. This time, it was the caller who hung up first. Marley laughed at the twisted perversity of what she’d just been a party to, but a dawning realization brought her laughter to a screeching halt:

“Oh, fuck!”

Who else had her phone number but her family? And who sexually harassed her as a child and tried to force himself on her when she was a teenager?


Marley’s mind did a fast rewind, all the way back to when she was nine, back to the night her brother Mitch went beyond posing her Barbie dolls and exposing himself in the window, the night he crossed the line…

~ ~

It happened on a night their parents were out, an unusual happenstance, as their parents had few friends and rarely socialized. Mitch, Marley’s oldest brother, seized the opportunity:

Conscripting Phillip’s help, Mitch led Marley into their parents’ bedroom. There, he stripped off his clothes, revealing a red, angry erection, large, even for an adolescent. The next thing Marley knew, Mitch pushed her onto the bed and ordered Phillip to hold her down. The younger Phillip did as he was told, pinning Marley’s shoulders to the mattress while Mitch yanked off her pants and spread her legs.

Marley squirmed and protested: “Let me go!”

Mitch yelled at her, “Hold still!” then tried to push his penis into his little sister’s vagina.

Marley continued to resist and tried to break free of Phillip’s grasp—

“Hold her still, Phillip!”

—but she was no match for her two older, much larger brothers.

Mitch kept pushing, harder and harder, cursing at Marley, frustrated that he could not penetrate her.

Marley screamed: “You’re hurting me!”

Mitch paused momentarily to reposition himself and prepared to thrust again…but suddenly stopped, not in deference to Marley’s screams but because of a sound in the living room: the opening of the front door.

Their parents had returned home.

Both boys made a hasty retreat to their shared bedroom, leaving Marley alone, half-naked, and crying. Grabbing her pants off the floor, she ran to her bedroom where she hid throughout the remainder of the night.

The next morning, while her mother was in the bathroom, Marley entered and closed the door. As her mother sat on the toilet peeing, Marley told her what Mitch and Phillip had done to her the night before. She waited for her mother to react, to express the same hurt and anger Marley herself felt, to reach out and take her hand and tell her she would protect her and never let such a violation happen, ever again.

Instead, Louise averted her eyes from Marley while she finished peeing. Still looking away, she yanked a length of toilet paper from the roll and wiped herself, redirecting her eyes to her crotch as she wiped to avoid eye contact with the trembling child who stood before her. Finally, she turned her eyes on Marley:

“Don’t you let them do that to you again! Ever! Do you hear me?”

With the flush of the toilet, Louise dismissed Marley. “Go on, now, get out,” she coldly said. And that was the end of it. Louise never spoke of the matter again—not to Marley, not to her father, Ralph, and, most deliberately, not to her brothers, Mitch and Phillip.

~ ~

The idea of her oldest brother still sexually harassing her all these years later sent Marley’s stomach lurching as the likely identity of her obscene caller came crashing down on her.

“Mitch!” screamed Marley, as she ran for the bathroom, eyes fixed on the toilet, desperate to reach it before the vomit surging up her esophagus reached her mouth and spewed out all over her brand new lavender rug and lilac shower curtain…

Too late.

Marley spent the rest of the night cleaning up the mess. The new rug was ruined, as was the shower curtain, both of them now candidates for the landfill. As she worked to rip up the carpet and strip off the shower curtain, she wondered what she could do to stop Mitch’s calls and weighed her options:

She could file a police report. But doing so would only prove fruitless. She had no proof it was Mitch and, without proof, the police would do nothing; just fill out an incident report, at most. And she knew from her experience on the phones that the Department traced harassing or obscene phone calls only in extreme instances, as in the case of death threats.

Another option, she could confront Mitch. But, she knew he’d only deny it and she’d be left looking like a fool and alienate her family all the more.

Her last option was to change her number and tell her parents not to give it to Mitch or his wife. But that would require she tell her parents why she didn’t want Mitch to have her number.

Marley recalled the time, a year ago, when Mitch was accused of indecent exposure…

Police had responded to Mitch’s home while his wife, Sarah, was at work, on a complaint from a neighbor woman who said she saw him standing naked, with an erection, in the opened doorway of his house, exposing himself to passing cars. The responding officer issued Mitch a citation and suggested he get psychiatric help. Mitch had to borrow money from their parents to pay the court fees and fine and, in so doing, had to tell Ralph and Louise what he’d been cited for. But he put on a show of indignity and railed on and on about the injustice of it all as he told them a cock-eyed story that it was all just a big, blundering mistake: Mitch claimed his youngest son, then just a toddler, had run out the front door just as Mitch was getting ready to take a shower. So naturally, his response was to panic and run out the door, unclothed, after the toddler, at the precise and most unfortunate time at which the neighbor woman drove by. Ralph and Louise believed him, as did all of Marley’s siblings.

Only Marley knew about Mitch’s childhood acts of sexual deviancy. His disturbing behavior, more often than not, targeted Marley. Mitch would often strip Marley’s Barbie and Ken dolls, pose them in coital positions, and leave them for young Marley to find. And there were those other times, when, more than once, Marley caught him naked and pressed against his bedroom window, exposing himself to anyone who happened to be passing by on the street…

Marley never told anyone. After the molestation incident, she’d learned never to tattle for fear she would be the one to get in trouble. So Mitch’s sordid childhood secrets became hers. And, now, as an adult, the secrecy they shared continued. Marley knew it was Mitch who was her perverted phone caller just as she knew, based on his childhood predilections, that he had, indeed, committed the act for which he’d been cited for a year ago, the crime of indecent exposure. His adolescent perversions were still very much a part of his sick and twisted adult psyche.

Marley rolled up the rug and shower curtain and hauled them outside where she heaved them into the property’s large dumpster bin, cursing her oldest brother as she did. There was nothing she could do about the obscene phone calls; she felt powerless and defeated. And nauseous.

Marley closed the lid of the dumpster bin, closed the lid of the lavender rug and lilac-adorned shower curtain, and on the brief bit of pride and happiness they’d brought her. She trudged back to her cottage—the once-cherished home that was now for her a place of dread and disgust—and paused at the door before opening it…

Inside, the phone was ringing.

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