He saw it in a marketplace of some city or other–one of a dozen, a hundred cities and villages they passed through in the course of a year. While his brother haggled with an old man for a set of yellowing manuscripts, he went on his own and bought it.
The doll fit easily into the palm of one hand, with large blue button eyes and a hand stitched smile. Its long hair had been tied back into a ponytail with a scrap of white ribbon. A young lady wrapped it in plain brown paper for him, and though she spoke politely, she never quite looked in his eyes, and kept as much distance between the two of them as possible.
He kept that doll tucked safely away, in the hollow of his left arm. They keep only one suitcase between them, and he’s not quite sure he wants his brother to know, just yet. When they returned to Central, he kept it in the small space between his pillow and the wall, still out of sight. At nights, when he knew his brother finally slept, he tried to write the letter that would accompany the doll to Rizenbul.
Once, he caught himself trying to write poetry–something about the warmth of summer and her smile as one. Embarrassed, he ripped the thing to shreds and crumbled it. When the noise woke his brother, he made up some halfhearted excuse about research and a dropped book.
Finally, one rainy afternoon, when his brother was holed up in the library, he got out paper and pen again, staring hard at the blank white expanse. The doll sat propped by a stack of books, and smiled blandly at him.
It reminded me of you, he thought, to star the letter. Or, Isn’t it cute, I thought you might like it.
Neither of those made it out of his pen. He looked at the doll, and then at the window, where the rain lashed in fierce patterns against the glass. Briefly, he hoped his brother had the sense to remain in the library, rather than try to wade his way back.
And there, in the misted folds of his memory, a single clear moment tumbled out: the three of them, he, she, and his brother, wrapped together in a single large blanket, in a fort of pillows. The weight of her head on his shoulder had been comfortable, in the warm familiar dark.
With purpose, he set pen to paper and began to write.
Three weeks later, Winry Rockbell set the doll on her shelf, next to the old one, from so many years ago. She stood back, hands on her hips, and considered its posture. After a moment of consideration, she tucked Al’s note into its lap, gently arranging its soft arms to hold the paper close.
“You can keep that, until he comes home,” she said. “If he’s going to tell me things like that, he can damn well do it in person.”
I wanted to say a lot of things.
But the most important thing is this:
I still remember you.