Children's toys don't last long. A cycle or two is too much already. They refuse to eat. The joints connecting the threads to the altarpiece break easily. Toys today aren't what they used to be. They barely move and aren't smart enough to make you smile. But children are always still children. They become attached to their old toys and refuse to throw them away.
Despite my protests, Zel and Lub retain a deteriorating puppet family. The female doll cried all the time while she tried to move her legs with the pathetic gestures of an overused toy. The two smaller ones learned to crawl through the box-shaped, diminished-gravity compartments where they're kept. As sellers point out, toys tend to be fragile when they are removed from the altarpiece. Once they are broken, there's no turning back. They won't ever feel like playing the tricks the two little ones learned and Zel and Lub like so much.
The first one to break was the old male doll. It stunk for a week inside the box before Zel and Lub bothered to take him out. They had forgotten to feed him and the famished toy ended up eating the flesh that covered the strings of its sint in its hands and shoulders. Disgusting. The toy was defective. The female doll's screams were unbearable, so much so that I hung her over one of the holograms of the altarpiece to see if that would shut her up. But, in spite of everything, my efforts were useless. I hit her with the tip of my finger, and she yelled again ... and again ... and again. I thought I'd broken her. The box's diminished gravity always makes me go haywire. Still, I couldn't have snapped more than a bone or two. I don't know.
That little woman and her cries made me despair. Damn defective toys.
I thought of Shu, the kids' puppy, always hungry for meat, no matter how small the snack. The little woman would be fine for him. Then I would tell the children that an accident had occurred in the altarpiece. Shu misbehaved all the time in order to binge. He, of course, didn't have to think about the fact that those toys cost more than a simple warg pup, which had been raised by one of many packs that roam the forests of Pranni.
If Shu didn't pay for her sins, I'd tell the kids whatever came to mind: the altarpiece breaking, the toys disappearing, or the dolls falling prey to one of those epidemics to which they are so prone if they spend more than two cycles in the closed environment of the compartments. It happened often. After all, neither Zel nor Lub was so careful with their dolls. They mistreated them a lot. More than once, they had taken one of them out of the altarpiece just to test whether Pranni's gravity really would crush them like the sellers claimed. On at least two occasions, I had to pick up red pulp. The old man himself had died of hunger because they had forgotten him. Zel and Lub would have to settle for two fewer toys.
As the little woman's screams grew louder and louder, I called the warg. "Shu, Shu, Shu." Then the puppy came forward, brandishing his three heads as joyfully as a baby of any species. "Who wants his meal? Who is the cutest warg of all? Who is Shu?" I asked as he stroked the iron suckers between his legs. The puppy rolled himself into a playful ball as a warg does when it copulates or hears its owner's call.
For a moment, I thought about throwing the doll, strings and all, to erase all traces of suspicion. But the sint would be too upsetting to a puppy's stomach. I would have to hide the threads so that Zel and Lub would believe my version of the story. Damn defective toys. Children could still worship them over the hunts in the woods or the panoramic views of destinations in the New World, but I hated them.
The little woman just wouldn't stop screaming. I pushed her away to see if she would finally go silent and would let me think. It got worse. I heard the cracking of a broken object. Right away, red liquid oozed out through each of the holes in her wrist. Damn defective toys. I didn't think about it anymore and ripped the threads off. Actually, I had wanted to think about it a while longer. But at that time of the day—I had just run icco wheels—the pain in my scales was so deep that I was sure I couldn't touch my yhl if I wanted to.
First, I threw the old man's body at Shu—thanks to Amh, he's not too fussy about food. I immediately hid the strings of his sint between my scales. That thing shedding water from its eyes and getting it everywhere kept screaming and Shu demanded more food, so I fed him.
We mothers sometimes keep secrets. Zel and Lub will understand when they have to take care of the nest and litter themselves and, besides that, take care of the pets and the damn toys.
In the boxes of the altarpiece, the two smallest dolls still remained. Thanks to Amh, they held absolute silence. If not, Shu had already eaten twice and I would have had to invent a more credible lie. I cleaned all the trash away from the altarpiece's boxes and threw some sweets to them. The dolls devoured it all right away. Zel and Lub hadn't even given them that, although they had sworn on each Amh egg that if I bought them those toys, they would take care of them, feed them, and keep the altarpiece clean.
The two surviving dolls lifted their strings as if asking for more. I let them drop something, poor things, and then also some water in solid squares that the toys immediately began to melt with their body heat. Among my scales, Shu growled his hunger insistently, but those little dolls were not too annoying, so I closed the altarpiece and pushed Shu away. "You bad warg. Outside."
Zel and Lub cried their eyes out when I gave them the news. I swear by Amh I felt remorse between the scales every time I touched the strings and the red thing the doll had left stuck on the sint. Shu moaned his guilt and Zel and Lub believed my words, of course. "Bad warg, Shu. Outside." Then they went to the altarpiece to play for a while with the two dolls they had left. I heard Lub's snorts of joy and knew they had already forgotten the loss. I looked for a moment and saw the dolls hanging from their threads as always, and Zel said, "I'll be Mug, the conqueror. You'll be Henna, queen of Pranni."
The children, thanks to Amh, forget easily.
I caressed Shu with complicity. Good warg, sweetie.
It's not the first time something like this happened to the toys. But always, sooner or later, Zel and Lub end up convincing me to buy a new family of dolls, already assembled on their cords and sheltered within the diminished gravity of the altarpiece's boxes. Damn defective toys cost so much at the New World market and only arrive here after long days of travel from some horrendous planet of miniatures.
What can be done? That's how children are. They play, raise warg pups, and collect those damn defective dolls their mother then takes care of, forgets, and loses.
Elaine Vilar Madruga is a Cuban poet, fiction writer, andplaywright whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies around the globe. She has authored more than thirty books, most recently Los años del silencio (2019). Translated by Toshiya Kamei, Elaine’s short fiction and poetry have appeared in venues such as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Star*Line, and World Literature Today. Her story, "Deceit," appeared in Issue #72 of The Cafe Irreal.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in LiteraryTranslation from the University of Arkansas. His recent translations have appeared in Asymptote, Clarkesworld, and Samovar.