The paper girl came into being on the day that Judy Lancaster, age five, drew her on a paper napkin at McDonald’s on a cold November evening. She had no name. She had no distinct features, other than two arms, two legs, a very large head, two long strands of hair, and a smile.
The paper girl appeared everywhere Judy went. To restaurants, theme parks, play dates, or simply in the quiet of Judy’s bedroom. Everywhere Judy went, the paper girl would be created and carted around with her creator.
There were times that the paper girl couldn’t see very well because Judy forgot an eye or she became too frisky with the crayon and her hair would cover her eyes. But paper girl didn’t mind. She liked seeing the world of Judy as simple or grand as Judy’s imagination would permit. Judy would do a quick sketch, hold up paper girl, and tell her all about the magical land she was visiting. Some days it would be a fantastic forest with giant trees, colorful flowers, and green green grass. Other days, the villainess Weather would hunt her down as raindrops pelted into paper girl and washed her away. She never liked Weather very much.
Mostly, paper girl loved how, as Judy would draw, she would speak to paper girl, as if they were the best of friends. Judy always drew paper girl’s head first so she had opportunities to see Judy as she worked. Some days, she would laugh and draw. Other days, she would be focused. Paper girl knew when Judy was focused because she would furrow her brows and stick her tongue out the side of her mouth. It was in those moments that paper girl had all the time in the world to study her maker.
She loved her. She loved that Judy took the time out of her day, several times a week, to create her. She loved that Judy told her stories and occasionally drew special magical lands for her to spend time in. But mostly she loved the way Judy talked to her, as if she were the most important thing in the world.
One day, Judy did the most amazing thing. She gave paper girl a name. Peggy. Paper girl could not believe her great fortune! Judy had drawn a picture of herself and paper girl in the same picture and as she finished coloring in the picture, she carefully printed her name above her own image and “Peggy” above paper girl’s. She held the drawing up, smiling big, and said, “Peggy. You are my best friend.”
Peggy (no longer paper girl) had such great love for Judy in that moment. She had given her a name! Her own name! Normally, Judy would give her pictures to Mrs. Lancaster, who would smile and say, “That’s lovely, Judy. Do you think she (for Peggy had no name yet) would like a spot on the fridge?”
Judy would giggle and say, “Yes, mama!”
So the old picture of Peggy would come down and the new one would go up. As Judy matured, Peggy’s features became more defined. She felt more coordinated, prettier, and more proportioned. No longer did her legs feel thin and weak, or her hair quite so heavy atop her head.
Peggy enjoyed the fridge because she could watch the family at dinner time. Mrs. Lancaster would prepare dinner. Mr. Lancaster would come in, grab a taste of whatever was in the pot, and scoot away before Mrs. Lancaster could push him away. Peggy knew she wasn’t mad, though. Mrs. Lancaster always smiled and she shooed him off. Peggy thought Mr. Lancaster did it on purpose because it made his wife smile.
Judy’s little brother, Joey, would sometimes come into the kitchen and do mean things to her like draw over her eyes in black pencil so she couldn’t see, or tear the paper and cut off her legs. Peggy didn’t like Joey very much. He always wanted to make Judy angry or sad. Some days, he would even snatch Peggy from the fridge and crumple her up. That made Peggy afraid until, the next time, Judy would draw her once again.
The times between drawings seemed like an eternity to Peggy. She had no body. No mouth. No ears. All she had was time. Time to think. Time to dream. Time to wonder. Time to worry. Some days Peggy worried that Judy would draw another friend and Peggy would only exist as a memory.
Right around the time that Peggy would start to grow fearful, she’d feel the familiar caress of crayon and feel so much better. Judy still loved her. As the years went by, crayon was replaced by pencil crayon, pastels, or simply a Bic pen. Peggy blossomed from a simple stick figure to a young girl and, eventually, a teen. She and Judy grew up together.
Judy, now thirteen, would sketch Peggy and tell her all her secrets. Most of them were not a surprise to Peggy. She’d grown up with Judy. But Peggy loved that Judy shared with her. It meant a lot to her that she was Judy’s secret friend. Sometimes, Judy would draw a heart and her initials along with the initials of a boy she liked. Other times, when she was upset, her tears would fall onto Peggy and begin to wash her away. In those times, Peggy did not fear extinction, she simply wanted to make Judy’s tears go away.
Peggy wished and dreamed that one day she would be able to speak. Or blink. Or move. If only to show Judy how much she cared about her. But try as she might, she was a spectator in her own existence. If Judy placed her in her pocket, she could imagine what she was looking at, but mostly she only saw the inside of fabric.
As Judy grew up, Peggy’s world changed. No longer were there elaborate details and grand landscapes in which Peggy would hold center stage. Her existence became doodles once again. Judy didn’t speak to Peggy as she did when she was a child. She was seventeen now and much too grown up for such things. Peggy missed her confidences with Judy, but she was grateful for the times she’d peek out from a textbook, or as an aside in a diary entry.
Once, Joey, now a teenager, got hold of a sketch of Peggy and humiliated Peggy more than she could bear. He erased her clothes and exposed her private places. He drew male genitalia near her image and wrote coarse words. Peggy saw the look on his face. There was no love. No affection. Just cruel and selfish pleasure in defiling an image Judy had so carefully created.
Peggy felt ashamed. She wished she could move her arms to cover herself, but all she could do was bear the humiliation. It worsened when Joey crammed the picture into his pocket and showed all of his friends at school the next day. The boys laughed and pointed at Peggy’s private places, passing her around from hand to hand to hand. She was helpless and distraught.
Luckily, one of the teacher’s discovered the picture and Peggy’s existence was extinguished with a lighter. The flames burned hot and it was scary to disappear in such a distressing way, but Peggy welcome the momentary agony. Once the sketch was burnt, she fell back into nothingness once again.
The next time Judy drew her, she was angry. Not at Peggy. But at Joey. She’d long ago stopped putting Peggy on the refrigerator, but now she would lock her door, too. She mumbled, maybe a little to Peggy but mostly to herself about privacy and respect. Peggy wholeheartedly agreed. Judy folded her up, placed Peggy in her scrapbook, and there Peggy waited.
This time, she waited a very very long time. Judy didn’t sketch her on a napkin, or a receipt, or even the corner of her school notebook. Time began to move slowly and Peggy felt herself become faint. She could feel herself ebbing away. Was this dying? Was Judy forgetting her? Peggy didn’t know, but it made her sad.
Soon, Peggy didn’t remember days. Or weeks. Or months. She didn’t remember what Judy looked like, or her teen voice. She only remembered, vaguely at best, moments. Snapshots. Judy’s voice as a child. A knowing smile from Mr. Lancaster. Joey, thankfully, became hazy, too.
Then one day, much to Peggy’s amazement, her eyes came to be once again and she looked up at Judy. But this time, Judy wasn’t a teenager. She was a woman of thirty. She held up Peggy and then turned it around. There, before her, was a child version of Judy. The little girl laughed and tried to reach for the picture of Peggy to stuff it in her mouth, but Judy held it back.
“She is my favorite childhood friend, pumpkin, you can’t put her in your mouth.”
Peggy wanted to cry with joy. Judy turned the paper back around and looked at Peggy for a long while. Something in her gaze grew wistful, then she smiled. Her voice was quiet, she was only speaking to Peggy now. “Hello, Peggy. It has been a while.”
Peggy wished she could nod. Or speak. She would tell Judy how much she missed her and loved her. How proud of her she was that she created another wonderful being. Peggy even had a moment to meet Judy’s husband, Andrew. He was handsome. He seemed kind. He hugged Judy and told her she was an exceptional artist. Then he asked her why she never sketched more often.
For a time, Judy did sketch more often. Once again, Peggy had center stage in the kitchen and she would be able to watch Judy and her family. First it was just pumpkin, who later turned out to be Mary. Then along came Ruth. Finally, a few years later, they were joined by Christopher. Each day, from her place on the refrigerator, Peggy would lovingly watch the (now) Simpson family live their lives. Some days, the girls would come by and greet her. Other days, they would draw their own friends and Peggy would smile at them. They would smile back. It was wonderful to be loved.
Years passed, eventually Peggy was replaced by the children’s artwork and Peggy was placed in a drawer. For a time, she’d catch a glimpse of a family member, but as the drawer became more full, papers or pens or grocery receipts would end up obstructing Peggy’s vision. Soon, all she could do was wait and wonder. Eventually, Peggy was packed away in a box with other artwork and keepsakes.
And time slowed once again. The near-end. Peggy heard the whispers of the other sketches in the drawer with her. They were afraid. They worried the girls had forgotten about them. They were fearful of forgetting themselves. Peggy understood. She tried to reassure them, but the ending was a part of the beginning. It happened and there was nothing they could do about it.
After a time, even the other pictures did not speak. There were no words. Only memories that grew gray each passing day. Hope faded. Time slowed. And eternity set in again, dark and lonely. Peggy grew weaker. Her memories dimmed. She waited for the end.
One day, she was pulled from the box by a lady of about 40 years. The lady gasped in surprise when she looked at Peggy.
“Oh my gosh!” she cried. “David, come here! Look at this.”
Exhausted and tired, her eyes dim from crinkles, Peggy looked up at the man’s handsome face as he gazed down at her questioningly.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“My mom drew this years ago. I had totally forgotten about it.” The lady’s eyes crinkled at the edges as she smiled. “I think this would make her happy. I’m going to take it to her.”
“Great idea, Ru. She’ll like that.” The man squeezed Ruth’s shoulder and kissed her on top of the head.
Peggy was cleaned up and placed inside a very expensive frame. It felt strange to have glass press her in, but she was so crinkly, it was hard to keep upright anyway. Soon after, she heard the wrapping paper and tape. She was a present.
Peggy hoped Judy would be glad to see her. She wondered how she was. Had she changed much? Would she remember Peggy? Peggy was so excited, she tripped over her thoughts as they came rushing back.
Finally, the wrapping came off and Peggy at long last had a chance to see Judy again. Judy was in a hospital bed and her hair was white and her face crinkled like Peggy’s. She had a long plastic tube that came out of her arm that attached to a bag on a silver pole. She looked tired and weak, like Peggy. But when she saw Peggy her eyes widened and she smiled.
“Oh, Peggy,” Judy whispered, her voice barely above a caress. “Please, Ruth, bring her here. Let me see.”
Ruth placed Peggy on the table in front of Judy. Judy stared at Peggy for a long time. Then she smiled tiredly and said, “I’ve missed you.” Ruth and Judy spent some time together, but Ruth had to leave to take care of her own children.
Peggy and Judy spent all of their time together. Judy caught Peggy up on her life and, once again, told Peggy all of her secrets, fears, and dreams. Some days, Judy was too tired or too sick to spend time with Peggy. Peggy didn’t mind. She would watch over Judy and that was enough.
One day, Judy did not wake up. They placed a sheet over her head and took her away. Peggy was afraid that one of the people at the hospital would throw her away, but Ruth rescued her.
Ruth cried, but she took Peggy with her to the pretty park with cement crosses. She brought Peggy into a special room with a wooden bed and a lid and people wore dark colors. They cried sad tears over Judy. Peggy recognized some faces, though they had aged quite a bit.
When the ceremony was over and people had finished saying nice things about Judy, Ruth placed Peggy with Judy inside the wooden bed with the lid and gently placed Judy’s hand over Peggy’s frame. The lid closed, but Peggy wasn’t afraid. She was with Judy now. Forever. Peggy was tired. This time, she was ready. She knew it was okay to go away. Judy hadn’t forgotten her at all. She had just gone to sleep.
Peggy took a final moment to remember that special day in McDonald’s so many years ago, and then she ceased to be.