by Judith Cofer

The tiny brown girl in Toys. The dirty pink sneakers she wears. The boxed brown Barbie she holds. The angry woman rushing up center aisle screaming “No!” The frown she wears, forehead split, the hatchet-halves of fury. The clerk walking through the mirrored wall. The angry woman yelling “No!” The clerk, “Hey, you. Stop!”

The tiny brown girl grasping boxed doll, face frozen into mask of wild resolve, tearing at plastic bubble. Hispanic Barbie smiling and smiling within, stunning in hot pink, off-the-shoulder Mexican peasant blouse and frilly rickrack-trimmed black skirt, matching black and fuchsia shoes and purse. Little brown girl in dirty pink sneakers attacking impenetrable package, using fingers and nails, mouth and teeth. Now a wild thing. Tiny brown girl quivering, mouth shaping without sound syllables we all know.

Ma-ma, she mouths. We, standing near end of Toys. The woman-in-a-rage cutting through, screaming “No!” Clerk in executioner stance, arm-slicing air. Pointing.

“Hey. You. Stop!” Tiny brown girl letting Hispanic Barbie with accessories in her clear, plastic bubble, go. Little brown girl begins letting go. Letting go. Letting go. Mouth opening in anguish, in loss, a cry to stop time. We, bored bargain-hunters, late-in-the-season-shoppers, it stops time for us. Hispanic Barbie falling on the shiny tile floor. We at Toys stare. Girl going limp as if bones had dissolved, sinking into shame. Letting go.

Pool of shame at her feet. Hispanic Barbie, in impermeable plastic dome, middle of it all, safe from the storm, smiling and smiling, dressed to kill in hot pink off-the-shoulder top, frilly rickrack-trimmed black skirt, matching accessories. Clerk, pointing, arm a sword.

Woman wearing anger, body plunged through shattered windshield, cutting through silent crowd. Grabbing child. Pool of shame. Dirty, wet, broken doll. Doll-mouth now open, now closed in consonant and one round vowel, consonant and one round vowel: Ma-ma.

Sounds beginning and ending the world. Little brown girl screaming, again and again. We, near end of Toys. We look away: packaged choices in racks, long checkout lines, shiny black and white tiles. Hispanic Barbie safe in impermeable bubble. Puddle of shame. We, standing in Toys. Little brown girl carried away in terrible embrace.

Judith Ortiz Cofer is the author of Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer, a collection of essays, of a novel, The Line of the Sun, of Silent Dancing, a collection of essays and poetry, of two books of poetry, Terms of Survival and Reaching for the Mainland, and of The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry. Her work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, Glamour and other journals. Her work has been included in numerous textbooks and anthologies including: Best American Essays 1991, The Norton Book of Women’s Lives, The Norton Introduction to Literature, The Norton Introduction to Poetry, The Heath Anthology of American Literature, The Pushcart Prize, and the O. Henry Prize Stories.