CYNTHIA WAS MY SISTER'S MARIONETTE. She was a beaming bride. With tight, blond curls under a wiry white veil, Cynthia was fitted out in a satin gown. Her fixed, glass eyes stared squarely ahead, unblinking and immobile, yet were disturbingly realistic and crazily alive. She wore hard, white shoes and had a mouth that hinged open to reveal an astonishing number of teeny pearl teeth.

Cynthia terrified me. When she hung in Annie’s closet, she was little more than a mass of strings, fabric and plaster. But when she sauntered about the house (with Annie’s help), barely touching the ground, floating-dancing-twitching, simultaneously graceful and monstrous, she became a real person, haplessly bewitched and fettered with cords. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Cynthia hated me. She ran after me, her pointy shoes clattering across the wooden floors, then kicking out at me from beneath her wedding dress, her minuscule incisors flashing in her snapping jaws. I ran out of Annie’s room howling.

Despite my growing fear of Cynthia, I wanted to see her move about, to interact with Annie’s dolls and stuffed animals, to play with me. I wanted to see her dance around the room and see her spasmodic pliées. I wanted to be scared — though just a little. But it never stayed “just a little.” Every time Annie animated Cynthia, what began as gleeful entertainment invariably ended with Cynthia chasing after me, teeth gnashing and feet kicking. It ended with me crying. And I was too big to let Ma or Dad see me crying.

So after weeks of torment from the diminutive bride, I decided to get even. I couldn’t do anything to Cynthia — I was forbidden to touch her. But Annie had plenty of other dolls, and, unlike Cynthia, they weren’t off-limits to me. So I concocted a plan and carried it out when I knew Annie would be gone from the house.

When she returned home and entered her bedroom the house sounded with horrified shrieks.

“Maaaa!” wailed Annie, racing to the kitchen. “Come see what Danny’s done!”

From my hiding place behind my bed I could see Ma’s brow furrow as she surveyed Annie’s dolls. I knew by the purse of her lips that I was in trouble. Again.