By Betty Markham

The postman handed me a parcel; I signed the receipt form and thanked him. I didn’t recognise the sender’s name, Margaret Fitzpatrick or indeed the postal address, Howth. No I don’t know, and never knew, a Margaret Fitzpatrick. I searched my memory files, no must be a mistake.

It was a shoe-box shape. God, I hoped it wasn’t one of those advertisments for some super pair of magical shoes that cures your bunions, calluses and corns along with the rest. Send on money later, no need to pay now. No thanks, if it’s anything like that I’m sending the parcel straight back.

Curiosity was getting the better of me. I sat down on the stairs, carefully removed the brown paper, and, it was as I suspected, a shoe-box, an old shoe-box. I lifted the lid and removed a sheet of aero board, then a sponge which was cut the length and breadth of the box. Finally I took away some tissue paper. Then I saw a doll.

A doll for me! Who on earth would send me a doll. I lifted it out of the box, and stared.
She was an old doll, her porcelain face was slightly discoloured, the blonde hair a bit patchy in places. The clothes were very badly made, or put together with big tacking stitches across the hemline. A pretty face, the tiny teeth behind the slightly opening mouth.

Oh, Lord no, it couldn’t be…….

I grabbed the note at the bottom of the box, it read:

Dear Betty,
It was by chance I discovered your married name and address. And the same week, by coincidence, I found the doll you called ‘Linda’. She has lived in this shoe-box in the attic of my house for years.
We are no longer little girls, and I would like to return the doll to you. I hope you and your family are all in good health.
Kind Regards,
Margaret Fitzpatrick.

‘Belinda’ was the name I gave the doll, Margaret always insisted on calling her ‘Linda’. It’s sixty years since I laid my eyes on the pretty face. Yes, not like the modern dolls today, some are ugly I think.

I remember the Christmas she arrived from Santa. Like me, she had blue eyes, blonde hair and a blue dress made from identical material as my Christmas dress. My sister’s doll had brown eyes, black hair and her dress was red, identical to my sister’s.

We marvelled at how clever Santa was to bring dolls dressed and looking just like us.
Then sitting on the grass on a warm sunny day, making dolls’ clothes from the scraps of material my mother gave me. How I loved that doll. As my mother hung the washing on the clothesline, I can still hear her say, be careful with that big sewing needle, and mind you don’t drop it in the grass.

Another time in high infants on this occasion we were allowed to bring our dolls to school, I let my friend keep Belinda overnight, in exchange for a penny lollypop. When the lollypop was sucked through and gone I began to have nightmares about her safety. I woke my parents crying for her.

Then I became friends with a little girl named Margaret, who lived next door, and I swapped my doll for a few pieces of doll’s house furniture. But I had no doll’s house and quickly tired of them. I begged for my doll back, I cried for her.

Though only about seven or eight, I felt I had given away my own child. Her big brother, aged about ten, locked the gate to their house so I couldn’t beg for her anymore. I was afraid to tell my mother since the lollypop incident.

Then Margaret’s family moved away somewhere and eventually my heart-ache stopped, but I never completely forgot the doll and the childish mistake I made. I no longer have the childish feelings for this doll I once had. But I was very happy to see her again and on the day of her return, I giggled with delight, and surprise, that she had been sent back to me after such a long time, almost sixty years.

She now has a place of honour, on my dressing table where she sits on her throne – a doll’s wicker chair I found in a charity shop – and it’s a perfect size for her. I placed a tiny pink bow on her hair to hide a bald patch, otherwise she is the same doll. I sort of see the time lapse, and yet she is just as I remember her.