Molly flips the channel, trying not to grit her teeth between each station because the new digital setup pauses too long between each of her fast-fingered clicks. She can name that movie in a half a second or maybe a second or two, if it’s not one of her favorites, like all that stuff on Spike TV, and with the normal cable she could move through her stations quickly, checking the temperature on Oprah and seeing if the forensics show was really new or just a rehash of that psycho-killer couple from Canada or the Green River killer because who cares about that old crap, haven’t there been any good murders since the 1980s anyway? But with this new digital it’s like the clicker talks first to a satellite and the whole time it takes a radio wave or whatever to travel from her clicker to space and back leaves her looking at a blue screen, waiting, when she could be three channels down, especially in the Mexican range.
It could be worse, Molly thinks at one of the blue screen pauses, the stupid satellite or is it some microwaves or a glass tube in the ground, it could leave me on the news channel, then I’d be stuck staring at that poor girl in shorts waving a flag for her hurricane rescue while her daddy, fatter and uglier, was kept to the left of the screen except when he’s doing something like waving a sign that says ‘help us.’ Molly notices the rest of the time the camera fellow centers in on that poor teenager. At last the camera went to other sad people, dying of thirst just hours after the hurricane broke the levees, their skin not shiny like a healthy person but matte, absorbing the light, not even enough energy left in their bodies to produce oil to cover the skin. Does that cameraman have orders or is it a natural male instinct, to focus on the pretty girls even if they are just standing there, waiting?
Molly slows her clicking when she gets to the home shopping channels. Not those high-energy, fix-up-your-neighbor's-house-with-cheap-paint-and-tacky-furnishings shows but the nice slow pace of the QVC or the Home Shopping Network. Molly used to wonder why the things she bought never quite shone as brightly once she got them out of the UPS box. She thought she had misremembered things as being brighter or bigger than they really were, but one time when the people in the studio got a little mixed up and instead of pointing at the wax-over porcelain doll the camera was pointing at the lights in the ceiling, Molly counted the lights and remembered something someone had told her once, that you had to light the shit out of television sets.
In all these years since I Love Lucy, they must have invented better cameras or film or whatever it was that ran in those big rigs with the man attached like just another accessory. Probably they had “improved” things just like they had improved her cable to the point where she took three times as long to swing through the dial, even after she’d figured out how, with the help of a man in Bhopal or somewhere, to eliminate the channels she didn’t need like the fly fishing and all of the Mexican stations except the one that played those soap operas, full of strong-faced women who never took no for an answer until they got near a bed. Molly practiced the proud head and angry arms of those ladies, but never used them in public.
Molly pushes the little previous and next keys. She has to keep one light shining and her readers on, to find those little left and right arrow symbols among fifty-odd other buttons. She feels like a race car idling at a stop light, because the QVC is selling knives and the Home Shopping Channel has those pointless little statues, children doing grown up things in costumes from Germany or somewhere, the real ones were valuable and started with an H not Hummer but something else, but the things on the screen right now are overpriced at $29.95. The camera zooms in and she sees cheap mold lines along the little heads and legs of the creepy cherubs. She is anxious to fill in the dead time without missing her doll.
If the 21-inch, wax-over porcelain doll she wants is sold first in the lineup, she might not be able to phone in time to get one unless she is right there watching. Her favorite artist, Dolly DuPre, had a prize-winner this year at the Doll Show, which QVC had not covered, and no one Molly knew had attended all the way back in DC, but she’d found a picture of it on the Internet when her son-in-law had visited, and she wanted that prizewinning Miss Cheyenne to complete her collection. The TV channels would sell them at a discount, besides she didn’t want her son-in-law telling her not to buy things which is what would happen if she asked him for help with the Internet. As if to say, “don’t count on me to support you, old lady.” Molly wasn’t even retired yet.
Dolly DuPre’s dolls were one of a kind. Molly had learned all about Dolly’s sojourn to France to refine her painting, and her years in a dusty Central Valley town just like Molly’s, raising girls who must be beauties to judge by Ms. DuPre’s dolls, all of whom had the same face more or less, but you didn’t mind because it sure was a beautiful face, strong like the Mexican soap opera ladies, but...well, a little better behaved, you could tell. And the costumes which Molly’s husband had always complained about her buying along with the dolls instead of using her own perfectly good sewing machine, those costumes sparkled on the TV set and were nearly as shiny when she got the brown UPS box and the plastic wrap off. Molly looks at the rows of dolls. Their crinolines fill up the empty spaces along the shelves. It makes her feel better every time she looks at them.
In her impatience Molly hits the wrong channel--that weird show with old drug-humor people, Saturday Night show or something, now chattering away with a big America in their name but what they talked about wasn’t very American, especially now with a war on and nature gone mad down south. She wondered why the television evangelists didn’t blame the hurricane on stiff-necked crackers the way they blamed AIDS on the gay people. Molly thinks about asking her preacher this Sunday, hell Bakersfield is so full of Angelinos now some in the congregation might appreciate someone who believed in the right to bear arms and get an abortion. She could at least shut up that annoying Nancy, holier-than-thou since the third grade, and now so solicitous it makes Molly want to scream. Scream and never stop.
Flipping back, Molly sees that the plastic-faced television hostess is already mid-pitch for a Dolly DuPre, but thank God not the award-winning Miss Cheyenne. Long limbs under her costume, olive skin and black hair, and a perfect face and neck. She wasn’t quite sure how a gal in a saloon-hall costume from the movies had gotten a name like Cheyenne, not with those sharp European cheekbones, but it was such a relief to look at something pretty and shiny. Molly turns the sound down--she has been to the fair and recognizes the relentless hypnotizing sound in the selling lady’s voice--and just soaks up all that shiny satin and smooth porcelain skin.
Molly cradles the clicker in her lap and speed-dials the phone as soon as Miss Cheyenne’s item number and price flashes on the screen. She wants to feel excited, but all the hurricane nonsense and more bombs from around the world and her husband gone and her son-in-law dating someone else already, it stills her clicking fingers, darkens the room, and the very best part of buying a doll, next to standing her up on the shelf with her sisters, the joyful, bright buying, is ruined.
Molly sets the clicker down next to the shiny metal picture frame, her daughter’s bright eyes sparkling underneath the flat green of her Army cap. Molly does not see the television. She hears only the scratchy voice of the fellow in uniform. He came and told her that the war had taken her daughter. Miss Cheyenne stiffly twirls on the stand in front of the television camera. Molly does not see. She stares down the hallway at the doorknob. It glints in the afternoon gloom, waiting. Waiting, like Molly.