Polly is as small as your fingernail, but shiny and clean, not like your ragged half moons, the ones you use to dig in the sandbox as though you are trying to escape, drag across your thighs to leave pale tracks, skin turned dust as if to confirm how easily you can be reduced to nothing.
Polly wears a red headband around her blonde curls, and you try one on in the bathroom mirror, balancing on the sink to see yourself as if for the first time, gangly gap tooth girl playing dress up behind the toothpaste spray. When you lean forward to magnify your desperation, smell old food and sharp sting of Listerine.
Polly keeps a dog and a cat at her country cottage, a basket of kittens and a koi pond at her parade village. She looks after animals in her veterinary hospital. They smile even though you know this isn’t possible. Dogs like yours jump the metal fence to run away, choke themselves hoarse trying to escape the chain. Your haunchy cat slinks the yard like a premonition.
You find disemboweled mice on the porch—blue and yellow gut sacks, heads held on by strings. You feel that way sometimes, like you would drift away if not for the tether of your spine. Severed hands and feet—tiny as your plastic Polly Pocket, a dollhouse that fits in you palm—try to scurry off the cement.
The cat loves Mommy best, brings her baby bunnies, wild-eyed and frozen. Mommy pries them from the cat’s jaws, walks into the field across the street—dead with weed and dust, broken bottles and cigarette butts—to set them free.
Polly hosts sleepovers in her pastel living room, volleyball parties on her private beach. Polly has a secret garden, a magic jungle.
No one comes to your sleepovers because last week a bar fight left a man dead on Main Street. Because the house by the riverbed pulses meth smoke like rotten eggs. Because the rusted-out cars look like piles of bones. Because your parents fight so big and loud that you hide beneath your bed. Because you said out loud that your swollen eyes make your lashes look like spiders when you look to sky.
Make a fake beach in your sandbox, pretend to be stranded and cry please help. Struggle for air like drowning so good that sometimes you for real can’t breathe. Make a garden of dirt clods. Hang ribbon from the doorway, pretend to be Polly walking through jungle vines. Pretend so good you imagine them snakes like in your nightmares, all that thrash and gnash in the sheets trying to escape.
Polly’s houses are plastic compacts shaped like a star, like a flower, soapsuds, a seashell. Polly fits inside anything beautiful. Polly makes any place a home. She even fits in your hand-me-down pocket, the one sagging at the corner where you bury your hand, your head. Where you try to climb inside.
Your house is getting bigger, like the shouting is pushing out the walls. Or maybe it’s you getting smaller. Your clothes don’t fit right, your bed’s too wide. You must be imagining it, you think, even the thought too big for your skull, floating out and above your head. Your plastic bank, the empty girl you drop pennies into, is nearly your height now, and even the ballerina in your music box twirls large in front of your face.
Your feelings don’t fit, like how a feel slips out your mouth and you say stop or no, your heart struggling inside your small, aorta pumping at your throat.
Polly’s smile has worn off under your frantic fingers, but you draw one in red pen to match your own wavering line.
There are rattlesnakes in the yard, black widows in the eves, sex predators down the street. Your principal ran away with your classmate. He was nice, covered your small hand with his largeness.
Your neighbor spies from his second-story window, whispers through the knothole in the fence that he watches you undress. Your other neighbor never sleeps, mutters on the porch about ghosts, pops his head over the fence when you take out the garbage to say it’s the end of the world.
You crouch when you undress, try to hide from the man peering inside your pastel room. You hold plastic still.
You crouch smaller when you take out the garbage, bones splitting the bag, revealing the gnaw where someone sucked out the sweet marrow. Whiskey bottles bang your shins, leave them mottled purple and blue like Mommy’s arms, the place around her eye.
You crouch smallest to escape the neighbor’s arms reaching over the fence towards you, pleading, “Let me save you, girl.”
Daddy watches boxing on tv while you play Polly in her tiny jewel house. The sound of fist on flesh is familiar, and does anyone notice how you shrink? Now you fit in the suitcase Mommy is rolling to the front door, the bruise across her back, the box of Band-Aids she keeps beneath the sink.
Polly grows and grows or you shrink and shrink and now she is bigger than your nail, your finger, your whole clenched hand, tendons tight against the cage of your skin.
One man punches another, teeth down the throat. Blood spatters across the screen like stars, the twinkle lights in Polly’s enchanted garden.
You climb inside Polly’s house when Mommy closes the door. The tiny dog and cat meet you. The koi fish leap from the pond in greeting. You smell the sterile safe of plastic. You walk the path, sit quiet on the bench. Everywhere is green. There are no neighbors. You can’t even find Polly.
Inside the house, the bed is big enough for one. The couch too. There is no fighting on tv. There is no toothpaste on the bathroom mirror when you check your Polly hair, Polly smile.
Grab the lid, snap the compact closed. Now you are hidden, safe in this brittle plastic heart.
Sarah Fawn Montgomery is the author of Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir (The Ohio State University Press, 2018) and three poetry chapbooks. Her work has been listed as notable several times in Best American Essays, and her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in various magazines including Bellingham Review, Brevity, Cincinnati Review, DIAGRAM, Electric Literature, LitHub, The Poetry Foundation, The Rumpus, Southeast Review, Split Lip Magazine, and others. She is an Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @SF_Montgomery