Liam Lomtick turned the key and unlocked the front door of his second floor apartment somewhere in downtown Buffalo, NY. He shook off the cold, stamped his boots on the mat and stepped inside. He threw his keys on the kitchen table, startling his cat Chuck and awakening his Uncle Rover who had been sleeping on the old couch in the next room.
Uncle Rover sat up and a multitude of empty beer cans rattled across the floor.
“What the hell you doing home so early?” Uncle Rover asked in his typical raspy, drunken voice.
Liam withdrew a piece of paper from his coat pocket, unfolded it and showed it to his uncle.
“I need my glasses for this,” he said, reaching his hand out blindly.
Liam handed the old man his glasses.
Uncle Rover looked the paper over going “hmm” and “a ha” as he read the termination notice:
Due to your inappropriate behavior, station management has no alternative but to immediately terminate your contract and cancel your show – “Lunchtime With Liam” is no more. Goodbye, and have a nice day.
“What’s this about inappropriate behavior?” Uncle Rover wanted to know, glaring at him. “What did you do?”
Liam looked at him nervously.
“Did you steal something?”
“Then what was it?”
Liam moved across the room to the window that looked down on the frosted, industrial city.
“They think I was harassing someone.”
“Well, were you?” the old man wanted to know.
“I don’t think I was but apparently they do. She reported me I suppose.”
“Who was she?”
Liam stared out the window dejectedly.
“She was nobody. She was an … intern.”
“Did you do something unethical to her?” Uncle Rover asked.
Liam turned to face his uncle, the old man’s speckled, bald head glistened from the heat of the room.
“I just wanted her to go out with me. I just wanted some god damn companionship! Is that so terrible?”
“So … what happened?”
“She just kept rejecting me, but I didn’t let up. It aggravated her. Then one day I found her alone in the breakroom and she was standing at the counter and her back was to me and I … I pressed myself against her.”
“Jesus, boy,” Uncle Rover sighed. What did she do?”
Liam started pacing around the room like a madman.
“She was pissed! She shoved me away and started screaming at me to leave her alone. She started to leave and I begged her to stay there so I could explain and apologize. She had tears running down her face. She wanted me to explain it.”
“Did you? Could you?”
“I told her I liked her a lot and that I just wanted her to give me a chance to show her I was a decent guy and all … and that, you know, I just wanted to smell her hair and feel her sexy body.”
Uncle Rover sighed again and shook his head in disbelief.
“And that’s when she stormed out and went to my boss, apparently.”
“Well, looks like you fucked yourself good this time boy,” Uncle Rover groaned. “You had a good thing going there. You could have been a big cooking TV star.”
Liam stopped pacing and slumped down in a beat up chair.
“So Uncle, what becomes of a man who fucks up the seemingly good thing he has?”
Uncle Rover scratched at his white-bearded face and looked down at the floor.
“Well,” he started to say, “maybe that good thing was only an oasis in your mind. Perhaps you should consult the mannequins.”
Uncle Rover withdrew a key from his pocket and handed it to Liam and oddly raised one white eyebrow causing his big forehead to wrinkle.
“Maybe they can help you,” he said, and he made a clicking sound with his mouth.
Liam went to the special room, around the corner from the living room and down to the end of a narrow hall. The door was painted red and he unlocked it. He stepped inside the room, moved a switch that illuminated a dim green bulb, and then lit the big candle that sat on the old table next to the old record player.
Liam turned the record player on and set the needle down on an old piece of vinyl; weird songs from long ago came quietly weeping out, brooding organ music and classical harps and angel voices chirping an odd woodsy dreamland sound yet dark.
Liam sat on a wooden chair padded with an ornate pillow in front of something very similar to a stage. There was the sudden smell of funeral incense and a red curtain slowly slid to one side. Liam cautiously looked up at them staring down at him. He looked at the candle flame and remembered what his Uncle had always said: “They don’t like fire, keep the fire away from them.”
“Hello mannequins,” Liam said.
There were three of them, and their eyes suddenly popped open.
“Hello Liam,” they said in unison. “Do you have a problem?”
“Yes, I believe I do?”
The one with a bald head and a cracked cheek looked at him with a puzzled expression.
“Is it a problem, or is it not a problem?” the mannequin asked. “We solve problems here. We don’t just engage in idle chit chat.”
“OK, yes, I have a problem … I lost my TV show today.”
“OK, not lost it … they terminated my contract. OK, they fired me.”
“Why would they do something like that?” asked the one with the lopsided blonde wig and missing left arm. “Was your cooking not good enough for them? Was it your personality? Was it your clothes? Was it your … demons coming out, again?”
Liam bowed his head and said nothing.
“Was it!?” the mannequin with the lopsided blonde wig and missing left arm demanded.
“Yes,” Liam said. “I am a strong man, but I became weak.”
The mannequin with the lopsided blonde wig and missing left arm moved forward and slapped Liam’s face with its right hand.
“You told yourself that you were never going to do THAT again.”
“I know that!” Liam yelled. “I … just … couldn’t … help … myself.”
The redheaded mannequin with big, black eyelashes and a missing ear stepped forward and spoke to him sympathetically.
“We all have moments of weakness Liam. You should not be so hard on yourself. Perhaps this was your subconscious way of getting yourself out of a situation you were growing tired of. ”
“But, I loved that job,” Liam groaned.
“Did you?” the mannequins asked in unison. “Think about it … and could you please blow out the candle now.”
The next morning Liam shuffled into the kitchen to make himself a toasted bagel slathered with blueberry cream cheese and drink some orange juice. Uncle Rover was already sitting at the table in his white T-shirt eating scrambled eggs and munching on pieces of half-burnt toast.
“Morning,” Uncle Rover said to him.
“Morning,” Liam said, as he looked down into the toaster to see how many crumbs were in there. “Do you EVER clean this thing out!?” Liam snapped at his uncle.
“What the hell are you yapping at me for!?” Uncle Rover snapped back.
“The crumbs in the toaster. They accumulate at the bottom and on the sides and over time this accumulation of crumbs can ignite and burn this entire place down!”
Liam picked up the toaster and angrily shook it upside down right over his uncle’s head.
“And you have to clean it out sometimes just like this!” he yelled.
And then Liam threw the toaster right out the kitchen window.
“What the hell is wrong with you boy!? Uncle Rover yelped as he jumped up, shaking the toaster crumbs off of himself like a dog shakes off water. “I’m about ready to sock you one good, right in the face.”
Uncle Rover curled his fists and took a fighting stance.
Liam carefully poked his head out the broken window and looked down at the toaster. It had landed in a blanket of freshly fallen snow and sunbeams were now reflecting off the toaster and back up at him like a magic rainbow. He pulled his head inside.
“I’m sorry Uncle. I lost my head there.”
“You sure as hell did.”
“I suppose we’ll have to get a new toaster,” Liam said, as he went to sit down at the table.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Hey Uncle, did you notice it snowed again last night.”
“Yes, I noticed that.”
“You know, I think I’ll take a drive out to the country today,” Liam said, half smiling.
“That sounds like a good idea. I think you need that.” Uncle Rover agreed. “Say, why don’t you take the mannequins with you, they need to get out once in a while. I’m sure they would love a nice car ride in the country.”
“I don’t think so Uncle. I don’t think they like me too much … Except for the redheaded one.”
Liam looked over at the waxy nakedness sitting in the passenger seat as he drove out of the city.
“I suppose we could have put some clothes on you,” Liam jokingly said to the redheaded mannequin with big, black eyelashes and a missing ear.
No response. It just stared out the window, motionless.
“They call you … Quachelina, right? I understand you have Indian blood in you … oh, sorry, Native American.”
Again, no response, and so Liam just focused on the winding, snowy road ahead of him and drove on. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it, cranking down the window a bit to let the smoke out. He stuffed an old Radiohead CD into the dash.
“Sorry, I’m a bit behind in the times. But if you ask me, music today is just awful. What kind of music do you like?”
Liam kept driving for what seemed like forever until he came to an isolated place out of the city where he could pull off near a seemingly endless field of snow running out toward the edge of a forest frosted with white. Except for a few old abandoned barns the place was quite void of anything. The wind lightly howled outside the car and little flurries of ice crystals leapt up into the air and slid across the windshield like frozen ballerinas on ice.
He shut off the car’s engine. Except for the wind, there was an eerie silence.
He looked over at Quachelina, still awkwardly staring out the window, and wondered what it would be like if he put his hand on her leg. He looked around to make sure there were no people around. There was nobody. Not way out there. He pulled the glove on his right hand off with his teeth and reached out to her. He put his hand on her left leg, right above the knee and held it there for a moment or two. She was cold. The skin was not real. She remained motionless, empty … afraid?
After a few minutes, Liam grew frustrated at her lack of response.
“Typical,” he said out loud. “You women are all the same,” and Liam quickly withdrew his hand from her waxy thigh. “All right then, I’m going for a walk. I guess you can stay here in the car. I wouldn’t want you to get anymore cold than you already are!”
Liam put his glove back on and got out of the car. He angrily slammed the door. The sun was halfway shining, but it was still cold. He stepped over a smashed stone fence and walked into the wide field and toward the trees in the distance. The world all around him was a world of white frozen in time. The stillness and quiet worked on his brain.
Liam was used to the fast pace and being busy entertaining folks with his luscious cooking skills and being out there in front of the camera with his white apron and his big Chef Boyardee hat and swapping witty banter with special guests and snapping crisp, fresh garden green beans like little necks.
And he remembered how he had seemingly been so bubbly and concise and full of spice. Now, he just breathed out into cold emptiness. He sparked up another fag and looked back at the car, a ways away now, and he could see Quachelina’s shadowy frame still sitting there stone cold still. He coughed and then kept walking.
Liam tired at the edge of the forest and decided to lie down in the snow. He stretched his large frame out in the powder and then began moving his legs and arms to make a snow angel. He looked up at the sky and wondered about a lot of things.
What now? Where to? Will I ever find someone real? Will I myself ever be real again?
Liam could not grasp a solid answer and resigned to the fact that life is fluid and that he will go on regardless of what is left behind and how it was left behind.
He sat up and began talking to himself.
“Nothing is forever. Time stands still for no one. Just go.”
And he got up and brushed the snow from his body. He decided the forest could wait for another day and he started walking back across the field.
But then there was something coming toward him. He shielded his eyes from the halfway sun to try to see what it was. It was approaching fast.
“Oh my God,” he said aloud to no one. “It’s my car!”
And it was his car, and it was being driven ferociously by the redheaded mannequin with big, black eyelashes and a missing ear. She was gunning straight for him.
Liam started to run in the other direction, back toward the trees, but he was too slow, the car was getting closer, closer, closer.
And then Liam was hit. He felt the bones in his back snap and crack as he flew up and through the air. His life flashed before him all dreamy and crazy and hazy. He saw all the millions of people he knew. He saw all the things he did and all the places he went. And he thought that maybe it wasn’t all so bad after all as he spun like a lazy top over the whitewashed world, and then down he went with a thump, right into the snow angel shape he not so long ago had carved there, but now somewhat twisted, somewhat broken; the snow slowly turning crimson.
“That’s one fine looking toaster,” Uncle Rover said to Quachelina as she stood near the stove, naked, cooking eggs.
“Yes, it is a nice toaster,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at him.
The two other mannequins shook their heads in agreement as they sat at the table with Uncle Rover sipping orange juice and waiting for the eggs to finish cooking.
“Yes, a fine toaster indeed,” Uncle Rover said, and then he took a sip of orange juice himself. “Careful now dear, that stove is hot. I wouldn’t want you to get burned.”
She turned to him and smiled for his kindness.
“So,” Uncle Rover began cautiously, “You know we can’t tell anybody about what happened. I don’t need no police poking around here. And if they do, I’ll just act like he got fired and decided to leave town. You know, go somewhere else for a fresh start.”
The mannequins all nodded in agreement.
Then Uncle Rover cleared his throat and looked around.
“So,” he began. “I don’t want to be morbid, but I expect it’s my right to know being kin and all. You never did tell me what you did with the body.”
The three mannequins looked at each other and smiled.
“We decided to keep him with us … forever. Do you want to see?”
Uncle Rover choked. “What the hell ya mean?”
“Come on,” they said in unison, and they led him to the special room with the red door.
“Please, sit down,” Quachelina said to him.
Uncle Rover took a seat on the wooden chair with the ornate pillow and looked at the stage. The mannequins had disappeared behind the curtain and soon the room filled with the familiar scent of funeral incense and then there were floating clouds of white mist and gloomy orange and green lights and the gentle tapping sounds of a gong.
Uncle Rover jumped at the sound of a loud bang. Then the red curtain moved to the side and he struggled to see through the mist and lights cutting through it.
“What the hell is going on?” Uncle Rover demanded to know.
Two of the mannequins emerged and bowed to him. Quachelina followed, but she was wheeling something in front of her, like a wheelchair or something like it and something was in it, some form covered in a white cloth.
“What the hell is that?” Uncle Rover said, squinting.
Quachelina stepped forward and smiled down at him. She turned and quickly snatched the white cloth off from whatever was underneath.
“Oh my god!” Uncle Rover screamed. “What did you do to him!? Liam!”
One of the other mannequins banged on a golden gong three times.
“He’s one of us now,” Quachelina grinned. And she proudly looked over Liam, who now himself was a mannequin, who now himself would live in the special room with the red door forever.
Uncle Rover struggled to get up. He walked closer to the stage to get a glimpse of his lifeless yet lifelike nephew.
“Oh my God,” he said as his eyes went all over Liam. “It looks just like him. How can this be?”
“Don’t you know we are all just mannequins in a fake, plastic world,” Quachelina said to him.
Uncle Rover tugged on his face.
“I don’t like this. He should have a proper burial after all. We were wrong to cover this up.”
“I’m sorry Uncle Rover,” Quachelina said. “It’s too late. Nothing can be done about it now.”
Uncle Rover panicked at her tone and he tried to make for the door to get out.
“You can’t leave,” Quachelina called out to him. “You can never leave.”
Uncle Rover tugged on the doorknob as hard as he could but it would not open.
“Let me out of here!” he demanded.
But he never did get out. He never did leave the room and he stayed there with them for many, many, many years.