An awkward yet relatively stable Liam Lomtick turned the key and opened the front door of his unassuming third-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 Grover who had been napping on the old couch in the next room.
Uncle Grover sat up and a multitude of empty beer cans rattled across an old wooden floor. He was dressed in his usual boxer shorts and stained white tank top — his pale-yellow hair a wild and tangled mess, his beard misshapen and wayward.
“What the hell you are you doing home so early?” Uncle Grover asked in his typical raspy, drunken voice, trying to fix his puffy eyes upon his wristwatch.
Liam withdrew a piece of paper from his coat pocket, unfolded it and begrudgingly passed it to his uncle.
“I need my glasses for this,” he said, reaching his hand out blindly.
Liam snatched the glasses from the sofa side table and handed them to the old man. “Here you go.”
Uncle Grover unfolded the paper and looked it over saying “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 Grover wanted to know, glaring at him. “What did you do this time?”
Liam looked at him nervously.
“Did you curse, steal something, pull down your pants again?”
“Then what was it?”
Liam moved across the room to the window that looked down upon 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. Just some intern.”
“Did you do something unethical to her?” Uncle Grover asked.
Liam turned to face him; the old man’s worn face glistened from the heat of the room. “Why do you always have it so god damn hot in here!?”
The old man watched as Liam crossed the floor and went over to the thermostat on the wall to turn it down.
“You’re avoiding the question.”
Liam’s eyes dropped in embarrassment.
“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 I suppose. 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… Pressed myself against her.”
Uncle Grover sighed and slapped his palm against his large forehead. “Jesus, boy,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “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 walk away, 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?”
“At first, I played it off as an innocent accident, like I had tripped or something, but she didn’t buy it. So, I did the foolish thing and was honest with her. 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 Grover sighed again and rolled his eyes. “Good god’s gloryhole, Liam. You’ve got problems.”
“And that’s when she stormed out and went to station management, apparently.”
“Well, looks like you fucked yourself good this time boy,” Uncle Grover groaned. “You’re lucky you didn’t get arrested.”
“She agreed to not to get the cops involved as long as I was immediately fired.”
“You had a good thing going there. You could have been a big television cooking star. There could be some public backlash if word of this gets out. Which, it probably will.”
Liam slumped down in a beat-up chair across from his uncle and groaned.
“So, uncle, what becomes of a man who fucks up the seemingly good thing he has?”
Uncle Grover scratched at his face and looked down at the floor as he considered his nephew’s question.
“Well,” he started to say. “Maybe that good thing was only an oasis in your mind. Perhaps this will all come out the other end of the meat grinder in a far better way. You must be positive. Think of yourself as a fresh and delicious hand-crafted sausage ready for a new day.”
Liam looked at his uncle with grave concern. “That doesn’t help at all. It’s just weird.”
Uncle Grover slapped at the air with a big hand. “Oh hell, what do I know about life. Look at me. I’m all used up and pitiful. Perhaps you should consult the mannequins.”
Uncle Grover got up and went to the kitchen and snatched an old coffee can down from the top of the refrigerator. He dug around among the spare change, some foreign paper money, and a few nuts and bolts until he found the key.
He pulled it out, held it up and walked back into the living room. He cautiously handed the key to Liam, oddly raising 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. “But remember, with great power comes even greater responsibility.”
Liam went down the long, gloomy hall where the bedrooms were. The door to Uncle Grover’s room was slightly ajar and he peered in. It was incredibly messy and there was an odd smell. At the end of the hall was the special room. The door was painted blood red. He inserted the key into the lock slit and turned it. The door relented with a click. He stepped inside the room, flipped 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 back down at him. He looked at the candle flame and remembered what Uncle Grover 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 sharply asked. “We solve problems here. We don’t just engage in idle chit chat.”
“Okay, yes, I have a problem… I lost my TV show today.”
“Not lost it. They terminated my contract. In essence, 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, bent down, 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.
“But instead, you conceded to your carnal desires,” the one with a bald head and a cracked cheek said.
“Yes. What is your advice? What should I do now?”
The three mannequins looked at each other and nodded.
“Castration!” the one with the lopsided blonde wig and missing left arm suddenly exclaimed.
“What!? You can’t be serious,” Liam cried out.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit harsh, sister?” questioned the redheaded mannequin with big, black eyelashes and a missing ear.
“Indeed, it is,” said the one with a bald head and a cracked cheek. “I for one will not vote for such an inhumane measure. We should be counseling him on a solution, not passing judgment and handing down a life-altering punishment.”
Liam wildly nodded in agreement.
“You are both too soft,” the one with the lopsided blonde wig and missing left arm complained. “Fine. I will take castration off the table.”
The one with a bald head and a cracked cheek looked at Liam with a sense of gentleness. “Let us discuss it. Come back within a fortnight and we will advise you.”
The three mannequins turned and moved toward the back of the stage. The red curtain closed. Liam got up and lifted the needle from the record and turned off the player. He blew on the candle flame to kill it. Poof. He went to the door, turned off the light and went out.
PART ONE OF TWO
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