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Dear Barbie Arm on the Corner of Fifth and Market,

Dear Barbie Arm on the Corner of Fifth and Market,

– Fiction by Kelle Schillaci Clarke –

Winner of the 2022 Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parents

Barbie arm isolated on black

This isn’t about you. It isn’t about the Barbie you once belonged to, or the kid that Barbie might still belong to. It isn’t about my own kid’s Barbies, their tiny hands and feet chewed into sausage by the dog, or the windows to my kid’s school, propped widely open despite the cold, or the angry music screaming through my earbuds as I stomp off anxiety while the kids inside learn math and reading and how to not touch one another, how to scrub their red hands raw, how to adapt. This isn’t about those kids. It’s about my kid. But you’re easier to talk to.

If it weren’t for germs I’d pick you up and make you into art, align you in the gutter beside a smashed mask and fast food wrappers, bend you into impossible anatomical angles, snap closeups, make artsy references to dead women everywhere. Because there are so many. You’re just an arm. A small, broken part of a much bigger problem.

But this isn’t about trash or the patriarchy or how many re-microwaved cups of coffee and calls to my mother, four states away, it takes to get me through the day. It’s not about the way your elbow joints are frozen in place, limiting your mobility even on a good, attached day, or how, when Ariel gave away her voice, she gave away everything. It’s not even about the bedtime conversation we had last night when my daughter said, “Charlie has a real gun at home that he’s going to show me,” because the good news is that she told me about that gun.

This isn’t about guns at all, or the positions she leaves Barbies in on the staircase: the tippy-toed girl-doll pinned beneath anatomically-incorrect Ken, his face so close to hers he’s probably whispering something gruesome in her ear. It’s not about poor little Skipper, hung upside down from the dream house chandelier by a shoestring she’d pulled out of my Doc Martens, boots I once trekked through Europe in, through ancient ruins, bus terminals and dinner halls. Roof-top parties, street protests, silent art museum wings. This isn’t about my shoes, their laces, or even poor Skipper, who is only plastic, felt, and synthetic hair. I’m curious how you ended up here, how we all do.

I don’t mean “meaning of life” crap, which we addressed when she was five and declared from beneath a public bathroom stall, “there must be more to life than this!” or even that sliding doors concept of parallel lives: one in which I took the train and never married him, never had her, never taught her how to slurp raw oysters from their shells while searching open water for mermaids, orcas and the Loch Ness Monster—could she even swim this far? Because in our version, the Monster is always a girl.

What I’m asking is, who left you here? And why does my heart ache over your abandonment? Exactly what kind of trigger are you? You’re even shaped like one, minus the gun. A comma without a sentence. You make me think there’s something I’m missing, something I’m longing for so deeply, that I’ve forgotten it completely. What am I missing? There’s something I’m missing.

But it isn’t you.

About the Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship

Pen Parentis is a 501C3 literary nonprofit that helps writers stay on creative track afte

The Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parents annually honors a talented writer who is the parent of at least one child under 10 years old. This year’s fellow receives $1000 to further their writing career, a year of mentorship, and read their winning story at the Pen Parentis Literary Salon in New York City on Tuesday, November 9, 2021. To watch the playback of this and other Pen Parentis Literary Salons, visit and subscribe.

This year, submissions called for a new, never-published fiction story – any genre, on any subject – of up to 550 words. Word count changes each year because the main goal of this Fellowship is to motivate writers to continue to create new high-quality creative work at the very busiest time of the parenting journey.

Pen Parentis is a 501C3 literary nonprofit that helps writers stay on creative track after starting a family. Subscribers enjoy Accountability Meetups, Salons and other perks. Find out more!

About the Author – Kelle Schillaci Clarke

Kelle Schillaci Clarke is a writer, journalist, and editor. Her fiction and creative nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Penn Review, LEON Literary Review, CHEAP POP, Los Angeles Review,Superstition Review, Barren Magazine, Bending Genres, Gone Lawn, Flash Frog, Lumiere Review, Tiny Molecules, Cabinet of Heed, Orange Blossom Review, Cease, Cows, Emerge Literary Journal, Reckon Review, Cotton Xenomorph, and other journals. Her short stories have been nominated for Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fiction awards, and she was recently awarded the Pen Parentis Fellowship for 2021-2022. Her words and work can be found on Twitter @kelle224 and on her website at

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