Night was the worst for five-year-old Brittany, and while she shivered in bed and dreamt of monsters in her closet and bad men lurking in the shadows, she hugged Shanda as tightly as she could.
Shanda had begun her life as an ordinary mop. She'd never dreamt that she'd be anything more; she'd never even heard of mop dolls.
As Brittany's fifth birthday had approached, however, her mother had bought the dingy, unexciting mop at the grocery store. Every night for two weeks straight, the mother had put Brittany to bed, then had pulled the mop out of the closet to turn it into a beautiful baby doll.
The top of the mop had been tied into a ball to serve as a head, and an old pillowcase glued over the head had given Brittany's mom a canvas on which to draw two blue eyes, a smiling mouth, and a dainty nose.
For the doll's body, Brittany's mother tied off two sections to be arms, then slipped a baby dress over the body.
A handful of fake hair purchased at a craft store had completed the doll, and in two short weeks, the dingy mop was transformed into a soft, huggable, and utterly unique homemade doll.
During the time that Brittany's mother had worked on the creation of the doll, the doll had spent her days hidden away in a box in the top of a closet so that Brittany could not reach her and discover what she would receive for her birthday.
When the doll was finished, her home changed to a shoebox. The box was rather cramped, and the doll's hair had tangled rather hopelessly while she'd waited, shut off from the world.
Brittany's mother had wrapped the shoebox in pink wrapping paper, and had placed a distinctive blue bow on top of the box, but the doll had never seen the beauty until after she was pulled from the box.
Brittany had squealed with delight when she'd opened the box to find the doll waiting for her. At her age, Brittany couldn't have known how much time her mother had devoted to the doll's creation, nor could she have appreciated how unique her doll truly was. All she had known was that she'd received a new toy- a doll with red hair and blue eyes, just like she had!
Brittany had named the doll Shanda, honoring her latest best friend at school with the name.
In terms of friendship, Brittany was rather fickle, as most five-year-olds are, and while her relationship with the person Shanda barley lasted longer than a week, her bond with Shanda the doll was unbreakable.
Brittany took Shanda everywhere with her. She dragged the doll into her sandbox, and Shanda's once pristine yellow dress with pink flowers became a dirty gray dress with blotches.
At lunch, Brittany fed forkfuls of spaghetti to Shanda before popping the food into her own mouth. Where once a bow-like pink mouth smiled demurely, stains of spaghetti sauce colored the bottom half of Shanda's face.
In the weeks after her birthday, Brittany received other gifts by mail from distant relatives, but no matter how shiny or pretty or new each toy was, Brittany clung to Shanda.
Soon, the individual mop strings that made up Shanda's body began to fray at their tips. Her face became so dirty as to be unrecognizable, and the glue that held her hair to the top of her head began to loosen ever so slightly.
The day Shanda's hair finally fell off her head, Brittany shrieked so desperately, her mother and father both rushed into her room, frightened that the young girl had gotten hurt.
Of course, as soon as Brittany's mother saw the real cause of her distress, she promised that "Doctor Mommy" would fix the doll right up.
That afternoon, Shanda was separated from Brittany for the first time since her birthday. As her mother removed her dress and cut the threads that held her face on her head, Shanda feared she might have met her death.
In a matter of minutes, the once cheerful doll had become a pile of pieces. The mop was still held into segments by rubber bands, but that was about the only aspect of Shanda that held together.
Her face was run through a washing machine, but when it was washed, the spaghetti stains remained on her chin, and the ink for her eyes had been slightly blurred by the bleach.
Brittany's mother's work was certainly cut out for her. She began with a lighter, burning the end of each strand of the mop slightly, so that it sealed and would not fray any more.
Next, she redressed the doll in the newly cleaned baby dress, and called Brittany into the kitchen to remind her daughter that Shanda was a very special doll, and that it wasn't good for her to get her dirty and feed her messy foods.
Next, Brittany's mom dug through her closet until she found the same old pillowcase she'd originally cut up to make Shanda's face. Some quick work with her scissors produced another circle to make Shanda a new face, and after a bit of artistic work with her pens, Shanda smiled and her eyes sparkled once more.
Finally, the hair was reattached with a hot glue gun. Brittany's mother used more glue than she had before, ensuring that this time, the wig would remain attached where it was supposed to be.
After a long night of harrowing work, Brittany's mother returned the doll to her grinning daughter. Brittany was so happy to see her doll again, she cradled Shanda gently in her arms and promised, "I'll take good care of you, I promise. I won't let anything bad happen to you ever again."
The promises of five-year-olds have never really been meaningful, and perhaps Shanda was cursed to suffer the same pains again, but the doll had no reason to fear. So long as Brittany's mother was around with a washing machine and a hot glue gun, Shanda could always be certain that she would someday be repaired.
Her happy life with Brittany resumed, and she spent long days singing, playing, and dancing.