Near the End of Their Lives, Barbie and Ken Question Their Existence by Jo Withers

They had driven to the beach again. They’d left the bubblegum pink convertible at home and were sitting in the petal pink hatchback at the lookout gazing over the crystal waters. They sat for a while, occasionally sipping from the plastic coke cans which were permanently wedged into the cup holders between them.

“Why do we always end up here?” Barbie asked as Ken sat smiling beside her. “Whatever we talk about doing in the afternoon, we always end up here instead.”

“Perfect spot for a picnic,” Ken winked, as he did on every beach trip. He hit a button under his seat and the boot opened, a perfectly prepared plastic picnic popped out.

“I’m not hungry,” Barbie shook her head. In fifty years of beach picnics, she couldn’t remember eating a single thing.

* * *

That evening, Barbie reclined on the sofa in her gold lamé ball gown watching Botched. She wished she had something more practical to wear or somewhere more interesting to go. Ken sat cross-legged on the chaise lounge in his vintage velour tracksuit reading Proust. Beauty, the Afghan hound, lay at his feet, nudging his leg gently in the hope of being petted.

“Why do we always get Afghan hounds?” Barbie commented as the T.V. doctor discussed a particularly disproportionate body part. “I don’t like long-haired dogs; I’ve always wanted a Staffordshire bull terrier.”

Beauty padded across the floor towards her, nuzzled her ribboned ears against her hand. Barbie pulled her hand away, signaled the dog to lie down.

“I’ve never liked this house either. I don’t want a pool on the roof or an entirely open front so all the neighbors can see into every room, and I hate having to go down a slide every time I want to get into the kitchen. All I’ve ever really wanted is a little cottage in the country, a thatched roof and a rose garden. I’ve worked hard all my life, I’ve been a doctor, a ballerina, a rock star and a paratrooper… is a little comfort really too much to ask?”

That night, Barbie lay against the scallop-edged, silk pillows in her four-poster bed, struggling to sleep. Ken lay peacefully snoozing beside her in his paisley pajamas and sleep mask. Barbie looked at the bedside cabinet, the row of family photographs – Ken leaping to catch the beach ball, Skipper riding her bike, Ken relaxing by the pool, Skipper riding her pony. She shook Ken awake. He sat up in bed, pushed the sleep mask up in surprise.

“Do you remember my mother?” Barbie asked fitfully. “Try as I might, I can’t remember the slightest thing about her. I don’t remember yours either. Isn’t that strange?”

“I love you,” Ken said, as he did every night before falling asleep. He rolled over and pulled his sleep mask down again.

“I don’t remember anyone,” Barbie said to herself in the dark. “There’s only Skipper and you. I wonder whether I look like my mother or father? I wonder how they met and how old they were when they had me? I wonder… if they loved me?”

* * *

The next morning, Barbie woke up late in an empty bed – Ken would be flipping blueberry pancakes in the kitchen as he did every morning. Barbie decided not to go downstairs. Instead, she dressed in her diamanté jumpsuit and walked to the west wing of the town house, to the room she rarely visited. Hours later, Ken found her sitting on the floor in the pastel pink room with her head in her hands. Around the walls rabbits and ducklings danced playfully, a cot sat near the window and a raspberry pink rocking chair occupied the corner.

Ken placed a hand on Barbie’s shoulder, “Your pancakes are going cold.”

“Did we plan to have a baby once? Why did we stop trying? How did we just forget about it when it was all that ever mattered?” Barbie tried to push out real tears. She swallowed hard and placed her hand over the empty pit of her perfect size two stomach. She reached for his arm.

“What happened to the future we planned? Sometimes, I feel like my whole life, I’ve been picked up and positioned without ever having any choice in the matter,” she said.

He stared knowingly at her and for a moment she thought he was going to say something profound. Finally, he stroked her cheek then stammered quietly, “I love you… your pancakes are going cold.”

He never offers me any comfort, she thought. It was like there was a pull-cord at the back of his neck and he could only summon a dozen inane responses.

* * *

That afternoon, Barbie gripped the steering wheel tightly as she drove towards the beach. She had decided to take the pink convertible today. As they approached the turn for the lookout, she steered the car into a sharp right instead and drove straight down onto the sand.

Ken gasped as Barbie kept driving, ploughing through the biscuit-crumb beach into the twinkling blue ocean. Ken’s fixed blue eyes seemed to grow wider, and his moulded lips parted into an almost ‘O.’ He swiveled his head sideways, looked at her in a way he hadn’t in years.

He took her paddle-shaped hand in his, kissing it softly as the convertible careened into the wisp-white waves.

“Perfect spot for a picnic,” he said as they began to sink below the gleaming water, the currents engulfing their beautifully bronzed bodies as salmon pink crabs scuttled merrily on the sand.


Jo Withers writes short stories from her home in South Australia. Recent fiction appears in Flash Frog, Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, and the charity collection FUEL, edited by Tania Hershman to raise money for fuel poverty in the United Kingdom.

3 thoughts on “Near the End of Their Lives, Barbie and Ken Question Their Existence by Jo Withers

  1. Pingback: Short Story Sunday – Coffee and Paneer

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