Mannequins

Taylor was twenty two when she got the job, a little before her husband signed up for the Army, and she'd been an "extreme seller" ever since, but for the past couple of months she hit a bump. Her first year she was enthused: sales, action, commissions, meeting people, working in the men's department, putting her alertness to use. She met a lot of people, lots of cute guys. She got praised for her work and results which reflected on her paycheck. The second year, her husband went to fight in Afghanistan. She worked extra hours and couldn’t finish college, crazy from work and a few love affairs only the mannequins knew. It is through mating games that we are called by name. Time passed, she began looking for other jobs but got none. Drained after work, her applications were half-assed, or she skipped interviews, then just settled for what she had, this lifestyle she had created for herself in the store, the promises and patterns that she had adjusted to and accepted. When she got promoted to the women's department, she only ended up making about the same amount of money. Turned out the title was a disguise. She believed some of the veterans had plotted to get her out of the men’s department on the account of her being a minority. Hispanics against the black girl. Her third year, her husband came back. Her order was troubled. On principle, she decided to stop the affairs. And around the same time it began to dawn on her that her job was ridiculous; the unrealistic amount of clothes that she had to sell to maintain a decent paycheck, the ass kissing and endless social interactions, an endless ditch. Fifteen an hour counting commissions… when you factor in bills, gas, food, emergencies it's a miracle you hold up. Worrying about sales goals and opening credit card accounts, feeling accomplished after meeting the workplace standards, constantly interacting with people, employees. She’s got nothing when she gets home to her stable, but bland married life, her work place having become this cocoon, too comfortable for her to break through. She had become a department store brat, hoping, waiting for the next customer, like Sandra and all the other losers, ten, twenty, some thirty year-veterans who called this store home. The thought of applying to higher end retail stores intimidated her, the customers and the expectations being greater, more difficult. She became resigned to the not so bad circumstances of her life. 401K. Insurance. Vacation. She and her husband still young, he, making about the same as a custodian at a nearby hospital. Things could be worse. Things could have been worse.

 

After handling the mess in the ladies’ fitting room, she clocked out and went home under bright clouds that muffled a burst of shadowless light, making things seeing easy and natural. She lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the east end of Sunset drive not far from US-1, near a grocery store, Sunset Mall, and a line of bars that she never went to. She turned on the TV. Nothing interesting was on so she debated going for a walk. Instead, she picked up a broom and started sweeping the living room. The cat came by and wanted to be petted. Eddy was a big black cat that purred really hard at her touch. There was something very sensual about him. She was glad Maurice wasn't home yet. She could think. After sweeping, while she went to pick up a Sprite after turning on the computer for an episode of The Office, Eddy had jumped and sat on the laptop keyboard.

"Get off, come on," she said, but the cat stood there purring. "Come on get off," she drawled, tired. "Eddypuss..."

She went to the mirror to look at herself. She examined her face first, squinting her eyes, looking at which angle flattered her best, and felt a light coat of oil on her face. She caught her hips from the bottom of the mirror; over the years her body had gotten fuller, and though she still looked young, it bothered her. Her plump arms and round shoulders, the slight excess of skin on her stomach and thighs that she played with sometimes seemed so ugly and loud, a pack of flesh and weight that was yielding to gravity. The image in the mirror scared her. She was almost thirty. In her early twenties she’d wear a bandanna as a tank-top sometimes when she went out. Goodbye this. Goodbye that. Goodbye short-shorts. Goodbye sexy. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye… She cried then took the Sprite can, poured it in the sink and threw the can in the trash then picked up the Cosmopolitan on the coffee table. There was a thin girl on the cover wearing a yellow shirt tied above her pierced belly button. 25 CRAZY SEX MOVES. HOW TO DROP SIZES BEFORE THAT PARTY. LOOK LIKE A CELEBRITY. She threw that in the trash too. As she heard the doorknob turning, she wondered how much he was still attracted to her.

"Hey baby," he said vaguely. He was in his white uniform and he smelled like a hospital. He looked tired. Where his hair was thinning bothered her.

"Hey baby," she said with fake sweetness to change the general tone.

"You didn't do the dishes," he said looking at the sink.

"I was sweeping," she answered with a mood shift. "Did you call Bank of America. They haven't removed the overdraft."

"They won't fix it, I'll call them again tomorrow."

"That's seventy dollars Maurice.”

"I'll do the dishes," he said.

 

"Baby, do you ever think about how we're almost thirty," she said to break the silence.

"I know right.”

She smiled.

"Do you think I'm still attractive?"

"Of course you are."

She heard the tap running too hard.

"Watch the water. I am getting fat ain't I?"

"It's just a little weight..."

"So I am fat," she said.

"Bitch you look fine," he said and dropped some dishes.

 

"I could start going to the gym?"

"Do what you need to."

"What's the matter with you?"

"Taylor go fuck yourself."

Dishes clanked and Maurice went to the bathroom, slamming the door.

"I hate it when you act like this Maurice."

"Always the same shit with you. Go on a diet, go to the gym, do jumping jacks, I don't give a shit, just leave me the fuck out of it.”

"Only a few months ‘til the lease is up Maurice."

"Yeah," he said after he flushed and left the bathroom, his furry building up.

"Yeah, good luck. Ain't nobody else puttin' up with that shit."

He grabbed her by the throat and slammed her on the wall.

"Let me go," she said as loudly as she could.

He did and headed towards the door.

"Maurice, relax," she yelled, "I'm sorry. I'm doing really bad at work. Please I'm sorry."

 He softened.  

"Come watch The Office with me baby, we're just having a hard day.'"

He agreed. Maybe he had to clean sick people’s shit today. She wished he could smile more and not look so... dead. He used to be handsome and took care of his appearance and now he just looked the same every day, angry, in a white uniform that smelled of death or if they went out, in plain jeans and a white t-shirt. She wanted a cigarette. That was the precious thing about those, only the mannequins knew it too. The clock in the kitchen said nine thirty-six. After the episode, she made him a hot bath and they talked and laughed in the bathroom. They went to sleep after the evening ended rather enjoyably.

The next day she drove to work fairly happy. She opened with Sandra and they talked during the slow morning and watched a few heads pass by their department before they got wired. The computer said ten seventeen. A slightly stocky man came by their register to purchase some clothes. For his girlfriend, she thought, as she noticed he had no ring on when he came nearer. Nice shirt. Nice tan. Sandra walked away to get busy herself, Taylor keeping her interest discreet. She looked at the tanned face under the grayish hair. He was handsome. His brown eyes smiled at her. He wore a Gucci belt over his black jeans and shined black shoes. She assumed it was fake, like all the gaudy Hispanics that came to the store to make fraudulent purchases. His pearl white teeth smiled at her when he caught her looking. The teeth said money. And now that she noticed it, the so did the grooming, the cologne. She looked at him and he kept his eyes straight at her.

"They have these ugly Polos downstairs with this huge American flag print," he said.

"Fourth of July next week."

He was purchasing a two-hundred- and fifty-dollar pink silk blouse, size small.

"Yeah but the shirt is still ugly," he continued playfully and propped his hands on the counter looking right at her. Their eyes met again, then he smiled. She guessed the titties, the hips, the ass were working.

"Do you have the wow card," she asked unable to find anything interesting to say. "I'll get you twenty percent on the purchase."

"I don't need another credit card mama, I've had up to here with those," he said as he gestured with his hands mimicking a blade to his neck.

She smiled. She heard him say something that sounded like "Linda," to himself.  Maybe his girlfriend. She could see his eyes moving around her body to her face as he purchased the clothes and after the transaction was over he took a small white card from his wallet and slipped it to her.

“You wouldn’t happen to be looking for a house?”

“What do you mean?”

“I sell houses.”

“267-fifty. My husband and I don’t own, no.”

“Let me give you my card, in case you’re looking.”

He handed her a card and payed in cash, from a metal money clip with more bills, smiling at the sounded of the register opening.

“See I like to pay cash. The math is already done from there.”

The back of her neck tickled.

“I might be looking,” she said taking the card and looking at it. “I'll give you a call."

She saw Sandra coming around above the card as the customer left.

“I’ll be waiting,” he said.

 

“He's cute," Sandra said.

"He’s alright," Taylor said still looking at the card.

"What's that," Sandra says.

"He left a couple of business cards here, was just checking it out," she said realizing that this was the only business card.  Oswaldo Perez, Realtor, it said, with his business, personal number and both emails as well. She grabbed a pack of cigarettes from her purse. If you leave fast enough, no questions are asked.

"Going for a fifteen Sandy."

"K. See you in a bit."

Outside, she threw a small towel around her neck and lit a cigarette that tasted hot and nasty from the heat and moisture of the beginning of summer. Already eighty five degrees out. She threw the cigarette away and picked up her cell phone that showed eleven ten. She dialed the number on the card.

"Oswaldo Perez," the voice on the phone said.

"So about these houses," she said.

"Hey," he said. "I wasn't expecting you to call so soon."

There is a pause. Get to the point.

"I'm married you know," she said and he coughed.

"Yeah, I saw the ring.”

Another pause.

"I was thinking maybe we could be friends," he said. "Talk, maybe have coffee or lunch, get to know each other... You know, be nice to each other."

He seemed gentle.

"We don't have to be friends to be nice to each other," she said.

"You seemed like an interesting person," he answered.

"We'll keep in touch Oswaldo?”

"Sure we’ll do that," he said, and after an agreed upon pause, hung up.

Would she go through with this? It was eleven twenty two, and a long day was still ahead of her. She wondered if she gave in too easily. Give too much to people and they bite your hand, especially men. They don't even notice when they do it.

"Don't be givin' that boy too much," Her mother had said about Maurice. "Makin' ‘em lazy."

"He has trauma."

"But he man. Ain't no real man need all that love."

She did her hair just like her mother, unable to separate from that grip, from that sexy meanness she had a hard time emulating. Sometimes she could see her mother in the mirror, a difference in weight, height and lightness in the face. Why couldn’t she be as aggressive, as mean? Why was she so resigned? She went back to work. Two fifteen on her phone and Mouna now at the department, and judging from all the movement, a hectic day ahead.

"Look who is here," Sandra began. "The devil's bride herself. I'm not cleaning after her today."

Mouna and that half dead, puffy face of hers. She made a mask of niceness so she wouldn’t have to share anything, robotic in her manners. Her upper lip swelled a bit at the top and her frozen, indifferent black eyes looked at you but never saw you. Like walking death. Her pale skin and her black dyed and dry hair, her monotonous way of speaking, of walking. How she never really listened to you like the sound of your voice was enough.

A customer walked by the department with a stack of clothes, and Taylor and Sandra, after a moment of synchronized hesitation looked at each other.

"Get it," Sandra said.

"How are you today, is there anything I can help you look for?" Taylor said to the customer, following Sandra’s command with haste.

"I’m just looking sweetie," the customer answered.

"How are you doing today Ma’am?" Mouna then said to the lady.

"Fine thank you."

"I see you have clothes in your hands, let me get for you," Mouna continued in her accent.

"Sure, thanks."

The customer looked at Taylor hesitantly. Taylor lowered her eyes, and as she did, she also caught Mouna looking at her with delight. Taylor walked back to the register.

"She's already at it," Sandra said.

"I know, something else to look forward to," Taylor said twisting her lips as Mouna walked by and put the clothes on hold next to the register. The computer said 3 O'clock.

"Que cosa fea, (What an ugly thing)" Taylor said in the little Spanish that she knew loud enough for Mouna to hear. She could see her mother approving.

"What did you say," Mouna answered, startled, eyeing her, her stare not so blank anymore, slightly twitching.

"I said the shirts are ugly."

"You very rude, and you two are lazy," Mouna said and walked away.

"Ok," Sandra said rolling her eyes.

"We know what her problem is," Taylor said.

Sandra laughed.

"I'm going to Lisette if she doesn't clean up today." Taylor said. "I’d slap that bitch.”

"She'd eat your hand," Sandra said.

 

 

Darryl Wawa

Darryl Wawa is a Port-au-Prince born Haitian-American who studied Photography and Creative writing. He enjoys chocolate and good books. That said, maybe a movie is a good book. He loves to work with images and words and their pairing.

 

Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Sunday, October 28, 2018 - 10:40