– Deirdre McClay

Steve carried Lily from the bedroom to the living room, lowering her into the best chair for the TV. It was his mum’s chair, but this was a special occasion. He fixed at her skirt where it had ridden up, made her all nice and comfortable, and went out to the kitchen table. This afternoon he needed a bit of peace to compose his lines. These words could change his life, and Lily’s, forever. He’d often thought about trying the personals in search of love, but he’d never been sure until now. After years of reading snippets of other peoples’ longings, he restrained himself to asking for a woman in twenty words.

Male, late thirties with good income and healthy lifestyle, medium build, seeks female partner 20-30 years, for fun and/or relationship.

Steve re-read it, trying the wording for size; ‘late thirties’ was a white lie, ‘good income and healthy lifestyle’ was worse, but what the hell, he worried more about whether ‘and/or’ and ‘20-30’ might keep him within the €50 word limit. But, should he put his name down as Steve or Stephen? Stephen could be a mammy’s boy, or a loaded professional. Steve could be a lads night out stud bunny, or a sad, middle-aged freak. He stopped that thought. Positive thinking was the key. After all, he’d paid an expert €100 for that advice, and stood for an hour in a queue outside the Regal Hotel – it rained a lot and he’d no umbrella. It wasn’t supposed to rain, he checked the weather forecast online. Then the expert made a presentation and Steve took it home ring-bound. There were ten steps and he followed every one successfully, though he got funny looks at the local shop when he was implementing step five. Now he was going to put it all into action to get what he desired.


Julia lifted a small padded package from the carpet at her front door. She knew before she prised open the jiffy bag that it was her circle lenses. They looked amazing on the video clip girl. Julia set the little package aside and watched the clip one last time all the way through. Then she carried the laptop and lenses upstairs.

In her bedroom, Julia laid out all the materials on the dressing table. She would need to take this step by step, but she could manage by balancing her laptop and freezing the clip after each stage. Most of the makeup she’d used before, though she bought some new bright pink colours. The video clip girl had fab brushes, but she could manage okay with her own more mangy versions.

So, first was the heavy foundation and concealer to create that look of flawless skin. Julia reckoned the video clip girl had perfect skin already, but she certainly didn’t. After much application of concealer to dark circles, she stippled on foundation and puffed on powder to create the plastic look. Next was the nose contouring and accentuating that the video clip girl made look easy, but Julia suspected from the start that it would be a bastard of a thing to get right. Yet again the video clip girl had some basic advantages, this time in the fine nose stakes. Julia would need a lot of dark shadow on the side of her nose to recede it. In fact, it seemed to Julia that she might require an almost entire nose rescission. Somehow, when she finished, it looked more like bruising, despite all her efforts at the advised feathering. But, she continued in hopes that the completed look would be better. Loath as she was to skip on, she ditched all the accentuation advice.

Now Julia applied the eye shadow. This was her favourite part, and she could use her new, deep pink shades. She highlighted the brow bone as shown. Then she applied the pink above the crease with intensity, making sure to create a hard edge, outlining in blue for that cartoon-like look described. There was some eye shadow fallout from the blue just like in the clip; that pleased Julia, for once during this damn process she looked like the video clip girl. She brushed away the fallout with her fan brush (thankfully she had one of these). Great, now for the really tricky bit – this was her favourite part of the clip, the wide eyed look. She marked her eye line with white eye liner, as instructed, and went for the false eyelashes. Drugstore eyelashes the video clip girl called them. The upper ones were very tricky, but the lower ones were even worse. She had to cut them in half which was bad enough, but sticking on such a small piece was hell. She was welling tears by the time she finished, and she could swear one eye was a bit wonky. But, hell, it’d have to do. She was almost there – a lot of blusher on the cheeks followed by bright pink lipstick with a hard edge and gloss. All she was missing now was the wig and circle lenses.

Julia put on the wig stocking, added the wig, and brushed to perfection. And now for the final magic; she opened the tiny cases and viewed the fabulous little lenses. This was an entirely new experience, real doll eyes. These little darlings would make her just right. She read the instructions eagerly, and fitted the little, floppy wonders to her eyes. They were awkward little bastards for all their sweetness, but she managed eventually. And there she was at last: Julia the Teen doll. For a fleeting moment, as she looked at her doll reflection. It did strike Julia that looking like Teen was much easier to achieve when the subject had some resemblance to her in the first place. She turned off her laptop and went to put on her luminous pink jumpsuit.


Steve switched off the telly, and turned to Lily. It freaked him a little to see her, or anyone for that matter, in his mother’s chair. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all. He lifted her again, struggling a little under the weight, and carried her back into the bedroom, tucking her into their bed. When he got her comfortable, he returned to look over the wording of his posting. He turned on his laptop and re-read it. Now he was sure it was too impersonal, and even more of a problem, too ordinary. It was then Steve resolved to take a risk. He would follow the conviction of step six. So, he changed the wording:

Male, late thirties with good income and healthy lifestyle (likes dolls), seeks female partner 20-30 years, for fun and/or relationship.

Then, he submitted the form through the website, making the credit card payment before he’d time to change his mind. After that he surfed for a few hours while awaiting replies. Facebook was disappointing, no bites yet on his request for advice about Lily’s two year service (her limbs had gone too floppy lately).

Dinner was a very late affair, not like him. Wednesday night was usually microwave lasagne, but tonight he treated himself to a fish and chips from Alfie’s where he worked. Jeepers, it was nearly nine o’clock by the time he’d finished and washed up. He headed straight upstairs for his shower and bath and nightly rubbings. It had occurred to him recently that a new woman might have something to say about his various lotions and potions and general bathroom time. Even his mum used to moan a bit. Luckily the house had two bathrooms, though the downstairs one had a shower and no bath. Anyway, those were things that could be sorted out later – anything was possible with positive thinking. He’d introduce his website woman to the ten steps, after he’d introduced her to Lily.

In no time it was eleven o’clock, and Steve exited the bathroom in a puff of stream. Lily was waiting patiently. He turned off the bedroom light and jumped into bed with her.


It seemed like months. The website contact was apologetic. Steve had paid good money, but there were no promises made in the online contract. Those were the site rules, he’d just have to be patient. His details had been fed into the system, members had to wait to be chosen by other members. The waiting time varied and his was not abnormal by any means, but no, he couldn’t have his money back, because of administrative charges.

Steve tried step four but it didn’t work well on the contact. In fact he had to stop calling so regularly, because the website contact was getting very agitated. It was a man, and Steve reckoned he’d been practicing step seven himself – his rebuke bore all the hallmarks. Despite his distress, Steve steeled himself to learn from this experience. But, damn it, why had he mentioned dolls in his blurb? He had almost lost faith when a reply came.

Hiya Steve, I’m Julia. I like dolls too. Would ya like to meet? I’ve been told we live about an hour apart, maybe that’s a sign!! Pick a café at lunchtime this weekend and I’ll meet ya.

Steve clicked into the message over and over in the following days. He tried to find meanings and clues about Julia in her word choice, but in the end he found nothing of note, apart from the doll reference. Yet, he also found himself avoiding Lily a bit, and that wound him up still more. He even put her under the bed for a while on Thursday evening. It was a long time since he’d done that, back to his mum’s day when she’d lived in her box a lot. He wanted to practice being without Lily for a while, to accustom himself. Then, on Friday night, he let her back into bed – couldn’t sleep without her in the end. But, from that first email, there was a little, nagging doubt about Julia. He tried to ignore it, bury it even, but it was there – ‘ya’. Hmm, odd really, but all the same the word irked him. The details matter, those little things in life, they really do. He practiced step eight.


Julia was late. It was two minutes past two now, and she still wasn’t there. They’d agreed two o’clock because it avoided the lunchtime rush, but damn it, Steve was hungry. The door had opened so many times since he’d arrived at half past one, and he couldn’t help but look up each and every time. Finally, at twenty past two, a youngish woman entered, walked to the middle of the café and looked all around the back row. Julia wore a pink silk flower in her hair, so he raised his hand in acknowledgement. She wasn’t half bad looking, maybe a little thick around the waist, and definitely wearing too much make up. She noticed him, and smiled generously; he liked that, it reminded him of his Mum before the pains. Julia sat down heavily and put her handbag right in the middle of the table, confident like. She asked him if had he been waiting long, and he lied. Then they moved quickly to ordering lunch. She ordered little, and ate even less; whereas, he was embarrassed by his appetite. There wasn’t much chat while Steve ate, and he worried afterwards that he’d given a bad impression, because he knew that first impressions count. After the food, it was all a bit awkward; she talked a lot and he didn’t. Neither of them mentioned dolls. Steve waited for her to open on it, but she never did. Maybe it wasn’t quite first date material.

This is what he learned from Julia.
Date one:
1: Twenty eight years old (so she says!!).
2: Lives alone – parents alive and well.
3: One younger brother – can’t stand him mostly.
4: Works in an off-licence – hates that.
5: Wants to train as a beautician – nails and stuff.

Steve noted it all down later in a file he set up. Now he had two files to keep up, one named Lily, the other Julia. That way he would remember important details. Despite the whole build up to the date, and even the rush of reaching step ten, he just knew that he’d blown it all.

Yo Steve, enjoyed lunch at Jerry’s. Do ya want to meet up again!!

Wow, maybe the first date hadn’t been such a total washout, go figure women. And Steve had always thought that they liked chat, his mum certainly had, but obviously this one preferred the quiet type. He was so ecstatic about a second date that he spent the best of the afternoon with Lily.

Date two:
1: Loves chocolate ice cream, lots of it.
2: Asks loads of odd questions about music and feelings.
3: Can’t afford a car because she’s saving for her beauty course.
4: Wears creepy contact lenses – baby blue with a dark circle round the edge (calls them doll’s eyes – a bit weird!!).

Hiya, big boy, do ya want to meet Saturday night and go clubin? I’ll wear the works and see how ya like it!!! Be my Ken come as Disco for me.

Steve had no idea what Julia meant, but it sounded lively. Neither had he any idea what to wear. But what bothered him even more was that they’d reached a third date and he still hadn’t got round to introducing the topic of Lily. Meanwhile, the lovely Lily lay beside him oblivious to his other woman; he needed to sort this out properly. So, he decided to invite Julia to his house for a pre-clubbing drink. Her Facebook relationship status was single, maybe Saturday night would change all that. He had high hopes for date three.


Boy did Steve get a shock when he opened the door on Saturday evening. With hindsight, he didn’t know what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this. Was that bruising on her nose, and what the hell was she wearing? He never did figure whether it was a long dress or a trouser suit, it was so covered in sequins, it was hard to see. But the heaving bust, really, that was what caught Steve’s eye despite all the glitter. Her boobs wobbled as she pushed past him into the hallway; Lily’s didn’t do that, even in his most heated moments. And the wig, well he was used to wigs, but pink? The woman didn’t look real. He decided then and there that it was all a big mistake. How to let her down gently, that would be the trick now? He didn’t want to be cruel; no, she certainly seemed a nice enough girl in many ways, downright ordinary as a matter of fact.