A REAL DOLL

To Betty, his latest “girl”, his name was James; just James.  She never tried to call him Jim or Jimmy.  Neither did she have even the remotest idea where he lived.  She met him at a party she had been talked into attending (out of sheer boredom and loneliness) by a co-worker.  Unlike he, she had been raised in one of the better suburbs of Minneapolis instead of in the inner-city.  Since she had a better than average apartment, she suspected he must be ashamed of where he lived.  His job was another taboo subject and, likewise, remained a secret.  It seemed as though when he wasn’t with her he ceased to exist.

Betty was a technical writer for a small trade magazine, scribbling meaningless words about machinery of whose true purpose she had no inkling.  Like all minor writers, she had the dream of a great novel lurking inside her.  She had once delved into black magic and Wicca in college.  It had been almost an obsession with her for a period.  Perhaps she would write about that.  Or, maybe, perhaps she would write about James after she had fathomed his secrets.  But, for now, she couldn’t stand back far enough to observe him clearly, nor did she want to.

But the people that James knew.  On their first date he had taken her to hear a folk group who sang songs in more languages than Betty could understand or even recognize.  They were performing at a small dimly lit neighborhood bar.  Occasionally Paula, the bartender, would join in.  in the intervals she would tell betty something of the history and meaning of the songs, while her skillful hands deftly mixed, stirred, shook, and served drinks.

A week later James took her to visit a commune–or at least it was more like a commune than anything else she had experienced.  There were six young people and an older man, Peter.  They were trying to eke out an existence in a nineteenth century style log cabin in a nineteenth century manner.  They were currently building another cabin to house their growing community, as to say there were only seven of them is misleading.  Those were the permanent adults.  There were also those who came for a day, a night, a week, or a month.  Then there were the children.  They seemed to be running and crawling everywhere.  When Betty inquired as to whose they were she was told that they were simply “ours”. as if their parents were of no consequence.

Still later, there was Sophie, a terrifying painter whose eyes seemed to shine constantly.  She taught evenings and all her pupils painted strange landscapes, which, when stared at for long, began to vibrate in your mind, swirl, change, and become mystical symbols and hex signs.  When Betty sat in on one of her lectures, she found herself bewildered and unnerved by Sophie’s ideologies.  She spoke not of art, but of spiritualism, witchcraft, and mysticism.  Something Betty had left behind long ago.

Betty enjoyed meeting them all, even Sophie.  She felt safe, warm, and immune within James’ apparent calmness.  These people, these places had not existed as a whole in her world growing up.  When James had told her, belatedly, that Mark, one of the members of the folk group that she had particularly liked, had been convicted and served time in prison for murdering his pregnant girlfriend she had been shocked, stunned, and lost trying to understand.

She’d learned, she thought, how good James was for one night when he really had to calm her down.  James had told her of a political meeting that he thought she might get a kick out of.  When they got there the speaker turned out to be a candidate running for the United States Senate.  He looked like a large, red-faced, peevish schoolboy.  He addressed the assembly in vague generalities and second-hand anecdotes that seemed to make little sense to Betty at the time.  A few of the audience seemed to ask most of the questions.  Later these same people gathered in someone’s living room, where Betty and James had managed to accompany them.  It was there that she finally came to realize what they were.  Some were young and shouted at her when she dared to disagree; some were older–their eyes glancing slyly, suspiciously at her.  They examined her as if she were a misguided child.  Didn’t she believe in her own race?  In tradition?  In helping to restore America to its former greatness?  Just what was she doing to help her country?  At first Betty argued back pugnaciously.  Eventually, mute with anger and fury, she strode out.

James, of course, followed her.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I thought it would be interesting to meet them.  You know, see what they’re all about.”

Betty nodded tight-lipped.  She didn’t care whether he realized she didn’t blame him or not.  All the way home no words were exchanged between them.  When they reached her apartment, Betty still felt coiled tightly inside her head, with her rage at the belligerent group wound into an iron fist in her stomach.

Slamming her front door shut, she threw her coat on the living room sofa and tightly asked if James would like some coffee.  Heaven knew she needed some!  James quietly sat down and waited.  A few moments later he heard a crash in the kitchen.

“Fucking shit!” Betty screamed.

Going into the small kitchenette, he saw her with her burned hand in her mouth and a broken cup lying on the floor.  Betty kicked the china fragments against the wall, grinding the pieces even smaller with the toes of her shoes.

“Why must there be people like that?” she sobbed.

 James put his hand on her shoulder.  He began stroking her back, her hair, massaging her gently.  “Don’t get yourself into such a state,” he said quietly.  “I don’t want you like that.”

Betty nestled more snugly against him.  It felt so good for him to hold her close.  He stroked the small of her back, her buttocks, the front of her thighs.  His hand slid slowly upward, lifting her skirt.  He kissed her passionately and possessively.  James slowly and gently unfastened her blouse buttons, rubbing her bare stomach, and drawing her to him.

He felt her flinch.  Trying hard not to stiffen, Betty drew a shaky breath and then relaxed, or rather made herself relax.  She let James lead her into the dark bedroom.  Though the dark virtually blinded him for a few moments, he hardly needed to touch the furnishings to find his way to the bed.  The warmth of her flesh seemed to flow through him from the feel of her hand in his.  Her scent was overwhelming.  Once to the bed, he pushed her gently down on it and knelt beside her.  The next moment she reached clumsily for him.

James caressed her soft electric hair, to soothe her, slow her down.  He wriggled out of his clothes and left them on the floor, then he found her again in the dark.  He rubbed her narrow shoulders once more, ran his hands down her slim body, over her firm buttocks, which tensed as his hands slid down her thighs and back up under her skirt.

Betty raised herself so that James could take off her skirt and finish taking off her blouse and bra.  When he touched her hips, still clad in thin blue nylon, she moaned under her breath.

As soon as he moved to ease her panties down, she pulled them off and kicked them away.  James put his hand under her chin to raise her head.  Before he could do so, Betty climbed over him and lowered herself unto his erection, taking him deep inside her.

James couldn’t tell if her cry expressed pain or pleasure; perhaps both.  She pressed herself fiercely against him as her body grasped him moistly, sucking him deep.  Despite the urgency, each crescendo of sensation seemed longer and slower and more lingering.  Betty’s arms had begun to tremble with supporting herself above him, and he rolled her over.  James raised her knees almost leisurely and slipped back into her, thick, heavy, knobbed, unyielding, yet smooth.  The growing ripples of her pleasure were waves lapping at the inside of her body.  They finally overcame her.  All of her soul seemed to gasp uncontrollably.  As she lay back, James whispered to her, “Now you know what women are for.”  he kissed her forehead and a moment later, when she opened her eyes, he was gone.

 

Betty soon learned that everyone of their lovemaking sessions were to follow virtually the same scenario.  As soon as they were through, James would slip from the bed and silently leave her, as if he were late for some important meeting.  Once or twice after particularly passionate bouts of sex, she had asked, no begged him to stay.  James had just looked at her quizzically, shook his head and, saying nothing, left.

One disagreeably moist, gray morning, James informed her that he wished to take her someplace that he thought she would enjoy.  On a little traveled side street, he introduced her to a wizened antique book dealer.  The dusty shop was also his home where he lived somewhere among what seemed like an endless maze of bookcases.  As they strolled through the book aisles, he told Betty and James that for some of the books he’d had to search for years.  There were books of every size, shape, and subject it seemed.  Unfortunately, he told them, he spent so much time searching, acquiring, and filing away he’d had little time to read any of the volumes.  But someday . . .

That evening, as James walked her home, she told him how sad she felt it was.  “Just imagine, James,” she said, “all that knowledge he’s stored away.  It lies there on those shelves and there’s no one to use it.  Nobody even knows it’s there probably.  Such a pathetic old man.”

James suddenly stopped in his tracks and stared at her briefly.  Betty tried not to let herself feel uneasy in his gaze.  She needed James too badly to risk offending him.  She needed someone to help fight the despair and ostensibly ever encroaching despondency she felt over the recent death of her mother.  Actually it had been more than six years now since she had passed away, but it seemed like every day Betty found her mother invading her thoughts more and more.  All the time Betty was a child, she had never felt especially close to her mother.  In fact, Betty had often found herself completely alienated from and by her.  With all that it was strange that when she learned that her mother had died unexpectedly from a massive stroke, Betty cried almost steadily for close to a week, making a total fool of herself, she thought, at the funeral.

The sky steamed slowly, white thick, and low above the rooftops.  It pressed down the quiet oppressively until their footsteps sounded like the insistence of relentless hollow clocks ticking off the seconds remaining to the world.  The very air seemed to hold down the flat thin lines of the streets.  A few moments later found them walking along a metal fence.  Before them stood a pair of open gates.  Between the iron bars, Betty could see the grass growing, headstones shining dead white in the fading light.  All at once she realized that this was where her mother lay buried.

The evening had darkened before she found the grave.  The darkness was thicker beneath the trees.  The smooth marble gleamed among the stains of the branches’ shadows.  She had to kneel on the grave before she could read the stone.

As she began to weep, James lifted her to her feet, holding her tightly and forcing her lips open, kissing her deeply.  One of his hands clasped her bottom hard.  He was still kissing her hard when she felt his other hand at work between their bodies.  “Oh, no, James,” she gasped.  “Somebody might see!”

“There’s nobody else going to be here now.  Besides it’s dark.”

She dug her nails into his shoulders, confused as to why he chose this place and time for sex.  However, when he began to strip away her clothes and caress her, she protested only silently.

As he entered her, her back thumped against a tree.  Sections of her mind seemed to part, to watch each other.  She saw herself proving she was finally free of her childhood morals, to herself and James.  It always hurt and angered her that he treated her like a child a lot of the time.  It seemed somehow as though this was a story she was writing, an almost symbolic story of love and hatred, of predator and victim, with everyone and everything mixed and tangled.  A story with no meaning, no beginning and no end.

She could see James’ face, calm, uninvolved with her as person.  She wanted him to feel something for her this time, to give himself to her.  Couldn’t he feel her giving herself?  She strained her body down on his.  She wrapped her thighs around his hips, squeezing.  The tree bark was rubbing her buttocks raw through her skirt.  But when they both exploded into limpness, she could tell that, while James was beside her, emotionally he had once again left her alone in her detumescence.

Betty found herself thinking inadvertently of her father and how he had loomed angrily over her.  “How could you even consider such a thing?” he’d demanded.  “Oh, well, if you must live the life of a slut,” he’d greeted the casual mentioning of her maybe moving away from home after the death of her mother.  They’d had one hell of a row.  She fled its viciousness.  She had realized immediately that it could be her final excuse to escape him–him and his infernal possessiveness, his cold glum moralizing, his constant attempts to mold her into a replacement for her dead mother.  She saw, even now, her father standing far back from the window of his bedroom where he thought she couldn’t see him, mouth slack, eyes brightly blind with tears in the knowledge that now he had lost not only his wife but also his only daughter, the one person he had left to love.  Awash in her flood of memories, she held on to the hope, the belief that James would come around.

But of course, he didn’t.  as the months went by, he seemed to run out of people to introduce her to.  James grew tired of the ones she had already met.  It was as though he had wished her to acquire their acquaintance only to see what her reaction to them would be; as if he were testing her out.

James introduced her to places now.  Strange out of the way museums on ill-traveled back streets and alleyways, old churches, warehouses made into theaters, and poorly cared-for graveyards became their haunts.  James said they had history, but Betty mainly found them depressing.

St. John’s in the Park proved to be the last one she would visit.  They climbed a steep hill close to the river.  Huge, dark blemishes uncurled sluggishly into patterns over the sky.  The church stood over halfway up the slope, deep amid surrounding trees.

Betty walked around it silently.  James had told her on the way that it was the first church in this part of the country.  An attack by the Mandan, later to become the Mandan-Sioux, had caused it to be almost completely burned down.  About fifty years ago, the local historical society had raised government and private funds to have it restored.

Quiet hung over it like some evil omen.  The foliage around it was as dark as the clouds and moved just as noiselessly.  Above her everything shifted darkly, ponderously.  In the hush, dim vague shadows crawled over the church, merging.  Betty hurried back to the front of the building, rushed back to where James was waiting.  “Shall we go in?” he asked.

It was even quieter inside than out.  The little light that evaded the swirling congested clouds shone through the stained-glass windows to cast multi-colored specters dancing amid the darkness obscured pews and aisles.  Though appearing small from outside, the church was spacious.  Their footsteps clattered softly in the expanse of the nave, echoing rattlingly between the walls.  The rainbow-hues ghosts seemed to prance even more fervently in unstable dark shapes, swaying before and beyond the windows, plucking at the Saint’s faces.  Betty walked slowly, disliking to stray too far ahead of James.  But while she stayed close to him she could feel that he was excited, eager.  She wondered if he had a surprise planned for her.  She turned often to gaze at him, but his face remained calm.  Still she felt excitement in the air, excitement and, at the same time, a strange sense of foreboding.

The void rang with their echoes.  Betty stood in the aisle, gazing at the arch over the altar.  A pointed arch, it was veined with cracks, but still unshaken.  On either side of the altar stood a slim window.  Amber-like, each glass held a Saint.  She leaned over the altar-rail to peer at them.  She suddenly felt James’s hands at her waist.  Then, unexpectedly, one was pushing gently, but firmly, at the small of her back while the other was lifting her skirt.

At once she knew why he had brought her here, she knew why he had seemed so excited and she felt the disappointment.  She was disillusioned, not only with him, but with herself.  “Not here!” she cried.

His hands stopped, resting where they were.  Betty glanced back at his face.  For the first time, she thought she saw a glint of rejected acceptance of her.  Betty realized that he wanted to make love to her here.  James had shown a hint of needing her as a person and she recoiled from it–from perhaps the way to bring deeper meaning to their relationship.

“Oh, James.”  She couldn’t help sounding sad and bewildered.  Part of her was pleading: anywhere but here.  But, she thought. That was how her father would moralize.  His moralizing endlessly had turned her against religion long ago.  If James needed her here then that was natural, that was life and she would try not to deny him that.  There would be no reason for anyone else to come here on a day like this.  She turned her eyes away from him, letting her body go loose.  She closed her eyes and gripped the rail.

She felt him baring her buttocks.  The cool air of the church touched them as he parted her cheeks.  Her sphincter twitched nervously.  Why di don’t he turn her around?  What was he–?

He stretched her buttocks wide and at once was huge and burning within her.  That had never been done to her before.  Her shocked cry and explosion of emotions, fled, echoing, around the church like a trapped bird.

Betty kept thinking it was all right.  She felt she had reached her goal at last.  She just knew that, after this, he would have to realize how much she cared, how much she needed him.

It was another experience for her.  She might write about it sometime, write about how it felt, how she felt.  She wanted to let herself go, to let James know how she felt, but she suppressed herself.  The church mustn’t hear.  God, would he need this every time now?  She felt him thumping inside her, the sounds of her body were strident amid the quiet of the sanctuary.  Shadows seemed to thrash towards her from the altar.  The church frowned darkly, hugely.  She was sure someone stood at the window on the left of the altar watching them.  With a wordless cry, Betty thrust her hands behind her, throwing James out of her.  Her buttocks slammed shut.

She ran down the dark length of the church, sobbing dryly.  When she heard James pursuing her she only ran faster.  She didn’t know what to say to him or do.  She only knew that what they had been doing, what she had been doing, was wrong.  She stumbled out of the building, her sense of direction bewilderingly confused.  The darkness swooped enormously out toward her.  The trees, whipped by the rising wind, creaked and waved as if to grab and hold her.  Shadows splashed over the grass, thick and slow.  Was that the path?  Or that one?  Betty, in her panic, heard the church door crash shut behind her as she ran between the grasping trees.

The wind roared around her, open-throated.  The heavy darkness tossed overhead, thickening even further.  She lost the path, found it and then, just as quickly, lost it again.  Dim pillars surrounded her with exits beyond exits, leading deeper into the howling blackness.  It began to rain and the tangled archways of the trees rocked even more violently above her fleeing figure.  Through the loud thrashing she knew someone was following her.  In her terror, she was no longer sure if it was James.  It, indeed, was no longer James from whom she was flying, it was herself.

The trees moved apart ahead.  The widening gap seemed to lead to little more than more darkness, but it was a path.  Betty flew out from beneath the trees.  Foliage hissed wildly on both sides of her passage.  The darkness rushed around her, but her way was clear ahead.  She ran faster, as fast as she could, grasping for her very breath.  The pathway led to an edge full of nothing but blackened sky.  The way was wide and empty now, except for s lone sapling in the route of her escape.  A crack of lightning rolled thunderously among the clouds, illuminating the night.  She was running headlong toward the sapling which suddenly was not a sapling at all.  It was a dreadfully thin figure, nodding toward her, arms stretched wide.  She screamed and threw herself aside.  A root caught her feet and she fell.  She saw the rocks along the shore of the river rushing up to meet her far below.  By the time she reached the bottom, she was dead, her body lying bent and twisted.

James came slowly to the edge, looked briefly and calmly down at her, then quietly, but hurriedly, turned away, as if late for an extremely important appointment.

 

 

 

James must have noticed the store shortly after it opened.  It was about seven or eight months after Betty’s death.  He rode home the same way every weekday evening, of course, and never seen it before.  The neighborhood through which he traveled, always depressed him with its sameness.  The same cement condos everywhere overlooking the river, the same slow procession of derelict houses as the bus ground uphill, the same hostilities and obscenities scrawled on the dirty walls.  He had grown up in this side of town.  He often wondered if he would ever escape it.  The March rain on the windows of the bus made the view worse, more of the same.  The buildings were smeared dirty-looking blotches.  The signs on the stores were bedraggled slashes of dark crayon.  Huge, pale unsteady lumps of apartment towers flowed past.  The bus throbbed throatily at the red light.  As James glanced around he caught sight of the unfamiliar protrusion on a small shop.  The sign was faint through the steamy window and seemed to be written on fog.  The streaming letters said —  the bus shook itself and breasted the headlong rain.

The following day the muddy sky was saving up its rain.  LACHESIS’, James read before the bus whisked away.  The window apparently contained some kind of display.  Many of the structures in the shop’s proximity were boarded up.  The busier street, on which he rode, framed the side street of the shop with an anonymous dilapidated storefront and an abandoned, gap-toothed WO LWO  TH’S.  James craned backas the movement of the bus closed the side street.  What on earth, he wondered, was that in the window beneath the sign?

For the rest of March, he made sure he sat on the right side.  He opened the window to clear the glass, despite the protests of the other passengers.  If the bus failed to stop by the street, angry frustration welled up in him threatening to explode his silence.  It was almost as strong as his resentment of Betty.  It piqued him that the bitch had run from him like that.  What had she thought he wanted such a silly cow like her around for anyway?  Then to fall.  it was sheer luck that he had been able to escape implication.  It was his good fortune that they hadn’t found her remains for a few days.  No one had reported her missing or even shown much interest in an explanation of how her body got there.  They’d just assumed that it was a case of a lonely woman committing a solitary suicide.  The way James felt was that she deserved to die if she didn’t appreciate her purpose in life, stupid thing.  Of course, it seemed like fewer and fewer women today did.

The morning journeys to work began to frustrate him too, for then, of course, he was farther from the shop.  Even on those nights when the bus dawdled and daylight spread further into the evening, James couldn’t make out what was sitting in that window.

It looked something like a person, sitting pinkly in the display, appearing from a distance, to be wearing a woman’s black lingerie.  Around it vaguely, were books, posters, amorphous other objects.  Perhaps it was only a mannequin–of course, that was surely what it must be.  Why did it seem to have a white blossom in place of the head?

In May, finally, determined to know, he got off the bus.  It was only a couple stops before his.  Nevertheless, he’d had to argue himself off the bus.  It had been a long day, not really busy, that had dragged on and it was still a long walk home, even from his usual stop, his mind had reminded him.  He didn’t like the area.  He just wanted to get home and rest.  It was starting to rain.  It was absurd to give in to his curiosity.  The evening before he had determined to get off, but his arguments had carried him past the shop.  Now, despite the seemingly never-ending drizzle, he hustled himself to the rear door of the bus.

Beneath the bus stop’s sign, he felt strangely isolated, faintly ridiculous.  Among then paved paths between the houses, rectangles of grass lay juicily stranded, like life thrown away by the tides of time.  Children spied on him from porches and from behind fences.  A doll with a trampled, broken head lay akimbo at the foot of a stack of balconies rising like a cliff on the face of a high-rise.  Its mouth was burst open in an eternal scream.

James crossed the suddenly empty street.  On the far corner, within the anonymous shop, a Milk Bone lay on the bare boards, gathering dust.  He hurried further along up the street.  Lachesis’ sign beckoned him on, gesturing in the moist wind, swinging with a slow screech.  The pink figure sat waiting for him, its face lost in white convolutions like coral.

It wasn’t a mannequin.  The carton against which it rested said it was a Love-Mate.  its title on the box was clumsily stenciled, but its limbs and body were well shaped, even attractive, if that sort of thing turned you on.  Its head was wrapped in white tissue paper.

James shrugged wryly.  At least he knew now.  It wouldn’t bother him again.  Behind the display he could see what looked very much like somebody’s living room, patched with astrological posters.  Bare floor boards supported a counter of bare wood, piles of books about witchcraft and odd objects covered with cloths.  On one book cover a girl held a carved image of a man toward the idols living subject, who stumbled toward her glass-eyed.  There was something deeper in the dimness, James saw, between the books and Tarot cards and phallic ornaments.  It was a woman, sitting in an easy chair almost obscure beyond the counter.  Her large dark eyes seemed to stare straight ahead right through him.  Almost like a mannequin herself.  The beauty of her young, heart-shaped face shivered through him.

What beauty.  He could hardly see her and yet, somehow, felt like he knew her intimately.  He shook his head, frowning.  He had no intention of being lured into the shop.  He’d had enough of feminine hard-headedness, that promised but never delivered.  He had had plenty of that type with Betty.  So why couldn’t he stop staring at this shade of a woman?  He was still trying to figure out what was so beautiful about someone he could barely see when something tapped him on the shoulder.

Only rain.  But when he turned a man was eyeing him from the steps of the house across the street, front door key in hand.  As he gazed at James his expression burned with hate and disgust.  James tried to stare him down, then strode nonchalantly back toward the main street.  He could feel the man’s eyes following him.  At the corner, James looked back.  The man was staring at the store now, an unshaven, dishabilled crusader in dirty jeans; his stance was a malicious, furious threat.

Two weeks later James returned to Lachesis’.

It was Spring, with birds singing and the sun shining.  It was pleasant to walk home now.  He might see a present for Marge, his new girlfriend from work, in the store.  However, neither of these was the real reason for getting off the bus there.  Lately he had been obsessed with trying to fathom what made the woman, whom he had barely seen through the faint light of the shop, so beautiful.  He found himself thinking of her all day and lying awake at night with her echoing in his mind.

It wasn’t just her large eyes, her small softly rounded heart-shaped face.  What then?  He never saw her body.  She wore a long dress and the faint light had made it hard to see.  Her full lips and her eyes seemed to smile at him, an encouraging smile, mysterious, promising.  Promising what, for heaven’s sake?  He had snorted at his eager fantasies.  But the next evening he went back, peering at her slight smile.

Often, he sensed himself being watched by someone standing just out of sight in the windows of the house across the street on his now frequent stops in front of the store window.  Once, when children stood in an alley to gaze at the shop, the man rushed out and chased them away.  With the children having fled, the man turned to stare intently at James.  “Let him try to chase me away,” James thought.  “Just let him try.”

He knew it was ridiculous, this fascination with Lachesis’.  what would come of it all?  He had no intention of ever entering the place, let alone ever buying anything there..

As he stood in front of the display window, traffic droned along on the nearby street, dust and fumes from the vehicles swirled in the air.

Perhaps he should just go in, buy Marge some present and be done with the place.  She’d been aloof from him at work today–her period no doubt or some other such nonsensical excuse.  Maybe if he just went in one time and bought some little thing, his fixation would end.  Among the plain wrapped books–”Joy Of The Body, Glory Of The Flesh”  and the like–and amid numerous unlabeled vials, James saw several packs of Tarot cards in the window.  They were the type of strange thing that a woman might like.  He didn’t: too inexplicable, unpredictable.  James liked to be in control.  He always enjoyed knowing what was going to happen next.  Take Betty.  He’d been aware that she was about to go over the edge, though he hadn’t thought she would do it literally.  But he’d still pushed on.

No! he decided.  He refused to buy Marge a present for being moody.  When she started acting friendlier again, maybe.   If she ever was.  He and Marge seemed to be drifting apart, slowly as if in a dream, with Marge making timid attempts to break it off.  She kept giving hints of impatience with him for his attitude about women.  In his mind, it was always so much work with women.  He could never figure out exactly what they wanted from him nor did he care.  It seemed like they just didn’t know their place, their place beneath their man, both figuratively and actually.  As he looked up, he saw the young woman gazing at him, smiling from deep within the shop.

“That was the woman’s appeal!” he gasped.  His mouth hung agape as he peered into the window.  She wasn’t like Marge or the others.  She didn’t encourage him only to make him struggle and suffer in the end.  She simply waited patiently, displaying her smile in the velvety dimness, an intimate smile if he wanted it to be.  She would be willing, anxious to please, peaceful and quiet and submissive.  She was there if he wanted her.  All that was in her smile, in her eyes, he thought.

Nonsense!  It was only his foolish fantasy.  For a brief moment, he wondered if she had fantasies and what they were.  She seemed to spent all her time sitting behind the counter.  What could she be thinking about all day long?  But, it occurred to James, it would be so wonderful to have a woman who would do exactly what he wanted, whenever he wanted.  Like the Love-Mate.  Oh, no!  he didn’t need that sort of thing.

Why not?

His answer to that seemed weaker every day.  It had now become part of his daily routine to get off the bus early and stand in front of Lachesis’, sometimes for over an hour.  Every time he looked in the window the woman sat there still and silent, smiling.  Every day when he looked at the window the Love-Mate, likewise sat there still and silent.  Its body was beautiful–the long slim arms and delicate hands, the smooth thighs mysteriously closed, the full round breasts that she was sure were clothed for decency, not for support.  The figure looked soft, not rubbery at all.  Even the pink flesh no longer seemed to look unnatural, simply new, virginal.  The woman behind the counter’s body could be no more beautiful beneath her long dress.  It was as if the woman had veiled herself in darkness, the better to display her body in the window.  No matter how much he resolved to enter he couldn’t.  it certainly wasn’t the florid, glaring man who held him back, but the fact that he couldn’t go in and ask about the Love-Mate or confront the woman in the shop.  Asking any woman would be hard enough.  Asking this woman with whom he had grown obsessed would be even more difficult.  She knew whose face was beneath that blossom of paper.  Somehow that would be the most disturbing of all to face.  And yet to have a body waiting for him when he came home, ready for whatever he’d worked up during the day . . .   He’d feel absurd, a fool.  He listened to his mind debating, astonished.  That he, of all people, should be trying to counter argument with feelings!  The woman’s face flickered softly in the darkness, smiling.

It was the departure of Marge that decided him in the end.

One day at work, James had asked her over for dinner at his apartment.  There had been an argument over who should cook.  He’d assumed she would.  He’d planned an elaborate meal.  she agreed reluctantly to cook something simple.  “If you don’t mind,” she said.

No, no he didn’t mind; why couldn’t she have said something before he’d wasted his money on all that extra food, he didn’t understand.  Still a simple meal gave them more time to get to the movies.  “Oh, no, do we have to go out afterwards?” Marge asked.  “Let’s just stay in.”

He had to admit he enjoyed dinner.  He drank just enough wine to leave him feeling mellow.  He was glad after all that they were staying in.  when she’d washed up the dishes by herself, he switched on the light in the bedroom and waited for her.  “Not tonight,” she said.  “I thought we’d just sit and talk a while.”

“What do you mean, not tonight?”

“I can’t.  you know.  The time of the month,” she said irritably.  “What do you think I meant?”

That really made the evening that did.  On top of everything else.

She had the nerve to sit there looking at him as though he should have remembered.

“What’s up with you, anyway?” he demanded.

“It’s just that this is all so much like you.”

“What the hell do you mean by that?”

“I’ll tell you what I mean!  I mean your attitude towards women.  That women are fine so long as they don’t have feelings.  They’re good to have around to cook your dinner.  And for screwing, of course.  When you feel like it.  But, by God, don’t let their feelings get in the way!”

It was as if he’d lifted a lid from a can and, now, couldn’t replace it.  Well, his lid was off too.  “I know where there’s a girl who’s a damn sight more willing to please me!” he shouted.

“God help her then!”

There was nothing to do except switch on the TV, and he could have watched that by himself.  Abruptly, partway through the program he was watching, she said, “I’m going.”  she didn’t wait for him to get up to see her to the door and he didn’t offer.

The next day, once more, found him dawdling outside Lachesis’.  he wondered if he should buy Marge an apologetic present–tarot cards, perhaps?  No, damned if he would!  This time he was set on paying for something assured, for pleasure he needed struggle for.  The white coralline ball went by his gaze.  Before he was ready to go in, James’ stride had taken him into the shop.

Dimness floated around him.  It felt as if he’d walked into someone’s front room by mistake.  The room seemed full of the woman, it didn’t seem like a store at all.  Though it was irrational, he knew, James almost fled.  He could see the counter now, which helped make the room a shop.  The woman’s smile formed from the darkness.  Very slowly her heart-shaped face began to glow, lighting the store.

Her smile waited fir him to speak.  James was unsure if he could really ask anyone, let alone this woman, about the figure in the window.  He suddenly thought that, gratefully, he needn’t commit himself yet.  “How much is the, the er . . .” he hemmed, waggling his fingers toward the window.

“What thing do you mean?”

Her voice was soft, low.  He had to strain to perceive it.  Straining, he heard how appealing it was: its musical lilt, its rich huskiness, welcome, ready to please, a mysterious sexual tension vibrating from it.  With great effort he could almost see her face more clearly now: likewise soft, yet hard, gently naïve, yet worldly and all knowing.  Perhaps more of that was in hi straining than in her voice or features.

“The thing in the window,” he said.  “The er . . .”  What was it called for God’s sake?  “The Love-Mate!” he remembered, almost shouting. With relief.

“How much will she be worth to you?”

He’d wanted her to tell him.  He didn’t want to obligate himself yet, to admit that he wanted to buy the thing.  But she smiled from the shadows, glowing, waiting.  “Well, I don’t know.”  Then he must guess.  Put a price tag on the losing of his pride.  “One hundred and twenty-five dollars?” he said, hoping that wouldn’t offend her, hoping she would name a price now; haggling with a woman made him nervous.

“One hundred twenty-five dollars for her?”  She seemed sad, but resigned.  Her figure rose through the dimness; she stood up from her easy chair behind the counter.  She was very tall.  “I must take your offer,” she said.  She appeared as though she were submitting to the inevitable and somehow her tone included James also.

As she moved towards the window, he realized with an unpleasant shock that she was crippled.  Beneath the long dress, she was hobbling unsteadily.  He could see nothing of her body except her face and delicate hands.

She lifted the pink figure gently from the display.  Then she pulled off the underwear and threw it into a corner of the room.  James understood that he had been right when he suspected that she had dressed the figure only to avoid prosecution.  Naked now, the Love-Mate glowed.

The woman straightened the figure’s arms at its side, then pulled the legs up until the knees rested under the armpits.  James saw the hairless genitals gape in shadow, and was momentarily excited.  The woman was opening the carton.  He must ask her to unwrap the head.  But he couldn’t; he was sure it was her face on the perfect body.  He could buy it only as long as the knowledge remained unspoken between them.  He fumbled in his wallet.  The genitals slid into the carton.  Outside, beyond the window, he saw the man frowning at him.

As he handed her the bills, the woman clasped his hand deliberately.  Her smile seemed a promise, but what did her clasp mean?  au revoir, an appeal to him, a gesture of friendship?  He saw her long body twist lopsidedly beneath her dress as she sat down in the easy chair.  Suddenly he felt paranoid, a stranger who had strayed into a home that had too strong a personality.  “Goodbye,” he said curtly, and was out amid the comforting gray of the sky, pavement, river.  The gaze of the man turned on him.

He was glad to escape the gazes, from the shop and from the man across the street.  He felt the figure shifting in the box.  Buses and cars carried friezes of faces beside him, staring.  It was all right, they couldn’t see onto the carton.  He draped his coat wider over the stenciled name.  as the Love-Mate thumped against its box, he felt ridiculous.  What on earth had persuaded him to buy this dummy?  In fact, he felt like he was the dummy.  Well, it was only one hundred and twenty-five bucks.  He wondered how one went about reselling such a thing.

The damn thing was heavy.  He dumped it on the front doorstep while he fumbled for his key.  Suddenly he remembered that he had yet to see the face.  All at once he was excited: to have that face waiting for him in the darkness of the box, mysterious, welcoming–perhaps it was money well spent after all.  He hurried into his front room to open the carton.  He halted; then he carried the carton into his bedroom and drew the curtains.

The pink genitals yawned from the box.  He found the sight unnerving, so still in its cardboard frame.  After a while, he grasped the upturned buttocks to pull out the doll.  They felt velvety as peaches, and shockingly warm; he couldn’t imagine what they were made of.  He pulled the doll out as far as its knees, then shook it onto the bed.  It landed on its splayed buttocks and rolled back.  He almost expected it to roll upright again.  The bandages enveloping the face stared at him.  He could imagine her appearance already.  He arranged the limbs, arms limp at the side, knees high and wide; they resisted him a little, but stayed placed.  Then he reached for the convoluted paper mask.  His fingers dug beneath the chin and tore it upward.  He recoiled, almost slipping off the bed.  The head was bald and faceless.

The doll lay ready for him.  The front of the head smooth, pink, slightly flattened.  The smooth vacancy lay turned up as if gazing at the ceiling.  James thrust himself off the bed and shoved the doll’s limbs roughly together.  Then he stuffed it rudely back into the carton and threw it into the spare bedroom.  As he hurried out of the room, he felt cheated, uneasy, vaguely angry, somewhat disgusted.

But why?  He mused a she cooked his supper.  Suppose it had had a face?  The face would have been stiff, lifeless, staring with fake eyes.  A mask of the woman’s face would have been dismaying.  His dreams were supposed to give the doll her features, the ones he most wanted; only his mind could provide that.  He hadn’t been cheated.  It was just that he doubted it would work.

There was only one way to find out.  By the time he’d eaten, the sun had shrunk beyond the roofs opposite.  He drew the squashed figure from its box.  He was sorry he’d been so brutal; the body was beautiful, it seemed a pity to spoil it.  He straightened the limbs and carried it into his bedroom.  The curtain filled the room with orange twilight.  Instead of a pink blank, the face was a vague orange glow.

As he undressed, his eyes were riveted on the motionless figure.  All right, Marge/Betty, I’m going to have you as you’ve never been had before.  But he didn’t believe a word of it.  Marge’s thighs were a little looser, a little flabby; Betty’s breasts had flattened a little when she lay back.  His penis dangled unconvinced.

The body glowed warmly, enticing.  It looked unnatural only in its perfection.  It was wrong for Betty or Marge, for their contradictions.  Suddenly he remembered the woman’s face in the dimness.  That face on this body would be faultless.  He stared, astonished at the coincidence: the figure’s right hand lay almost in the shape of the woman’s clasp on his in the shop.

As its radiance flickered with his look, the featureless head seemed to shift.  He imagined the heart-shaped face, her inviting smile, gradually gathering light to its outlines, gazing intimately at him.  Her smile formed from the orange glow.  The slow growth of his imagination made the prospect more arousing.  She lay waiting for him, arms and legs wide.

He could take as long as he wanted, move her any way he wanted.  He wouldn’t have to suffer any unsatisfactory position, as had happened with Marge; it annoyed him to have had to direct her.  He felt a woman should know when she was wrong.  Now he could have exactly what he wanted.

It was the next evening when he noticed that the shop was gone.  He thrust aside the closing doors of the bus.  There was little to see except a vacant building with no sign out front.  The man in the house across the street was standing on his porch staring at him and grinning.

He hurried home like a banshee before the wind.  He had no feelings about the disappearance of the woman in the shop.  He could hardly say he’d known her; only the image he kept in his mind.  But he was anxious to make love to her body–because it was her body, he’d wished it on her.

He’d left the front curtains drawn.  That was foolish, it told would be burglars that the house was empty.  He hurried inside: a bit late now, but never mind.  Sunlight fanned through a gap.  He glimpsed bright pink where the light fell on the chair facing the window.  He turned, frowning.

The faceless head met his eye, shining with a bright glow in the sunlight.  It was if the face had been lopped off cleanly, leaving the smooth chopped flesh.  “God!”  He flinched back; his fist thumped the window through the curtain.

He’d carried the figure downstairs this morning.  Of course, he’d been half asleep.  He’d arranged the body in the chair, knees parted, hands on knees, face upturned slightly.  Why, for God’s sake?  Because he’d thought that she would be welcoming when he returned.

She was.  He drew the curtains further closed and gazed at her, her long legs, her soft firm breasts.  Beautiful.  He knew he would never grow too used to her or too tired of her.  Yet he flinched from her.  “I’m sorry,” he said, seeking the smile in the orange glow.

He looked at her nakedness.  She sat waiting for him.  He tenderly picked her up and carried her back upstairs.  As she lay on the bed, excitement and compassion mingled in him; he wouldn’t let her be lost, he’d keep her with him, make sure she would never slip from his memory.

When he went to bed that night she lay there still.  He lifted her; she lay warm in his arms.  After a moment he slid her between the sheets.  She seemed welcoming, too welcoming for him to put away; there was welcome apparent even on the smooth head, its perfect curve, its softness.  In the dark, he drew her clasping hand around his chest.  Her face nestled warmly against his shoulder, a large constant kiss as he slept.

Everyone he knew stood around his bed.  Marge and Betty were pointing, laughing.  As his penis thrust violently, desperately, the doll’s body party; a pink split widened up the belly, through the chest; it opened the head wide, cleaving a flat pink vertical mouth.  James fell into the chill plastic crack, and awoke.  A weight rested on his shoulder, against his cheek, smooth, slick, cold.  He started, and the blank head rolled limply on its pillow.  He calmed his breathing, then embraced her, angry with himself.  But it took a while for him to call forth the woman’s smile and sleep.

The bus was in an accident on the way to work the next morning.  A woman had tried to make a left-hand turn in front of the bus and hadn’t quite made it.  His boss called him on the carpet for being late.  All the women he saw seemed to be staring at him, as though he were some sort of oddity.

His dull anger grew.  When he reached home he had to let it out.  “I’ve had an awful day.  All because of women, damn bitches!  And you’re not much good, are you?  Don’t have any dinner waiting, do you?”

He’d said too much.  He’d filled the pink bulb of a head with misery; he could feel its misery; he could feel its pain swelling unbearably, because it had no outlet.  “All right, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said.  He was just depressing himself, that was his misery he felt.  He needed a vacation.  “Can’t even take you on a trip, can I?” he shouted.  “You’ll just have to sit here at home for a couple weeks.  It won’t do you any harm.”

He was being a swine.  He felt worse as he cooked and ate his supper.  Leaving her alone after a scene like that– when he found himself gobbling his food, he restrained himself.  Don’t be ridiculous.  She could wait.  Women were made to wait for, and on, men.  He’d nearly finished his meal.

She hadn’t moved, of course.  As he sat down her face was turned aside from him a little.  He leapt up and turned her head, but then she faced him only because she had no choice.  Her still head continued to reproach him.

Cowboys galloped tinily on a thirty-six-inch desert; the dim face nagging at the edge of his vision.  “Oh, for God’s sake!  Can’t I even watch television now?”  No need to shout; he lowered his voice.  “Look, I’ve said I’m sorry.  But I’ve got to have a vacation.”

He went over and shoved her head away.  She faced the wall, unprotesting.  Minute steers stampeded.  Her pink shoulder didn’t move.  “Can’t you see I’m sorry?” he screamed.  “God Almighty, are you trying to make me feel worse?  Can’t you say anything?”

He hurled himself forward and switched off the television.  “Satisfied now?” he yelled.  He was throwing the silence at her, challenging her to maintain her aloofness.  He waited already triumphant.  Then, in his silence, he heard what he had been saying.

God, had he had such a bad day that he was talking to a frigging doll?  That was all it was.  “That’s all you are!” he shouted.  It was only alive when his imagination made it alive.  But he knew that wasn’t true, for he could feel its presence now.

Couldn’t he stop talking to it, for cripe’s sake?  No, not while he was oppressed by so much stifling emotion–mute reproach, wounded rebuff, heavy as gas in the air.  Even the dim orange light seemed thicker.  He hurried from the room, slamming the door.

He was still grasping the doorknob when it occurred to him to wonder why he’d even bought the doll at all.  He had never found such things attractive.  He remembered the witch on the book in the window, the stumbling glassy-eyed man.  Had the woman learned something from the books to lure him into the shop?  In that case, what might she have meant the Love-Mate to be?

It didn’t matter.  He didn’t believe in that sort of thing.  The Love-Mate was just a doll.  He shoved the door open and went back inside.

She lay patiently on the floor, legs ajar.  She looked a little slighted.  Her genitals appeared to illuminate the room.  They formed an archway of glowing flesh, but how could they?  He touched the archway and it opened further, revealing a dark hall of shimmering carnality.  Somehow, he felt her yearning for him, beckoning to him.  His penis rose at once.

He entered the woman/Betty/Marge.  At once a sense of her/them spilled over him, overwhelming.  She/they were energies: warmth, compassion, devotion, practicality, sexuality; they flooded him.  She/they offered them, if he should want them.  Their flood was dazzling, yet calming.  It could never harm him.

Each of his movements, however tiny, intensified the flood.  His eyes were open, yet he was somewhere in a shimmering region beyond sight; his senses had merged.  Another movement and he felt his orgasm rushing closer, closer, until it overtook him.  His spasms seemed enormous, violent, prolonged: explosions of energy so intense that they were separated by gaps of blinded darkness.  Someone was gasping.  His heart throbbed more furiously than his penis now.

All of him went limp.  He was somewhere, content to return to himself in time.  He was aware that somehow the woman/Betty/Marge’s orgasm had begun.  It was more violent than his own had been.  It was a whirlpool of sensation engulfing him.

No more!  Too much!  But the intensity of her sensations sucked him in, more inexorably than anything he had ever experienced before.  Its orgasm assaulted all his senses; he had no choice to be aware of anything else.

He lay exhausted.  Gingerly he reached for his senses, for himself.  Nothing.  Vacancy.  Where was he?  Senses and feelings drifted like dreams uncontrollable.  What could he feel weighing him down?  What was wrong?

Eyes opened.  Stared.  A face stared back at him with extinguished eyes: his own eyes.

His cold body lay lifeless on him, pressing him down.  He couldn’t move the body from his/her breasts.  His/her body was frozen in place, a plastic doll waiting for someone to place it in any position they wanted.

 

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