The next morning, Liam shuffled into the kitchen to make himself a toasted bagel slathered with blueberry cream cheese along with a glass of orange juice. Uncle Grover was already sitting at the table in his white T-shirt sipping his coffee, eating scrambled eggs, and munching on pieces of half-burnt toast.
“Morning,” Uncle Grover sleepily grunted.
“Morning,” Liam said, and as he prepared to drop his bagel halves into the toaster, he paused, looked down into the openings and sighed with distress.
“Do you ever clean this thing out!?” Liam snapped at his uncle.
“What the hell are you yapping at me for!?” Uncle Grover 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 unplugged the toaster, picked it up and angrily shook it upside down over his uncle’s head. “And you have to clean it out sometimes just like this!” Liam yelled.
“What the hell is wrong with you boy!? Uncle Grover yelped as he jumped up, shaking the toaster crumbs off himself like a dog shakes off water. “I’m about ready to sock you one good, right in the face.” Uncle Grover curled his fists and took a fighting stance.
Liam ignored him, went to the living room window, yanked it open and tossed the toaster. He poked his head out the window and looked down at the toaster resting in a blanket of freshly fallen snow. Winter sunbeams reflected off the toaster and back up at him like a magic rainbow. He pulled his head inside and sighed. He turned to look at Uncle Grover. “I’m sorry. I lost my head there.”
“You sure as hell did,” Uncle Grover replied, feeling hurt.
“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. Sorry I was a bit lazy about all the crumbs.”
“It’s okay. Life is tough.”
“It sure as hell is.”
“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 to enjoy the white vastness of it all,” Liam said, half smiling.
“That sounds like a good idea. I think you need that.” Uncle Grover agreed. “That is, if you can find it.”
“Right. But despite urban spawl spreading and sucking up the goodness of the world, I will find it.”
“Say, why don’t you take the mannequins with you,” Uncle Grover suggested. “They need to get out occasionally. 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. She just stared out the window, motionless.
“They call you… Mystic, right? I understand you have Indian blood in you… Oh, sorry, Native American.”
Again, she made 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,” Liam confessed. “But if you ask me, music today is just awful. What kind of music do you like?”
Mystic did not react to his question.
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 white 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 Mystic, 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 colder 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 put up the hood on his coat and 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 whitewashed and frozen in time. The stillness and quiet worked on his brain.
Liam was used to the fast pace and being busy entertaining his audience with his envious 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 doing things like 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 Mystic’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 ever be real again? he thought to himself.
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. Except for the dead, perhaps…Or mannequins.”
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 toward the place he had parked.
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 wintry 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 Grover said to Mystic as she stood near the stove, cooking eggs while naked.
“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 Grover sipping orange juice and waiting for the eggs to finish cooking.
“Yes, a fine toaster indeed,” Uncle Grover nervously 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 Grover began. “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, went somewhere else for a fresh start.”
The mannequins all nodded in agreement.
Then Uncle Grover cleared his throat and looked around.
“So,” he began again. “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 Grover choked. “What the hell do you mean?”
“Come on,” they said in unison, and they led him to the special room beyond the red door.
“Please, sit down,” Mystic said to him once they were inside.
Uncle Grover 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 rhythmic tapping sounds of a gong.
Uncle Grover 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.
“What the hell is going on?” Uncle Grover demanded to know, his head nearly spinning off his neck.
Two of the mannequins emerged and bowed to him. Mystic 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 Grover said, squinting.
Mystic stepped forward and smiled down at him. She turned and quickly snatched the white cloth off from whatever was underneath.
“Oh my god!” Uncle Grover 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,” Mystic grinned. And she proudly looked over Liam, who now himself was a mannequin, who now himself would live in the special room beyond the red door forever.
Uncle Grover struggled to get up. He walked closer to the stage to get a glimpse of his lifeless yet life-like 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,” Mystic said to him.
Uncle Grover 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 Grover,” Mystic said. “It’s too late. Nothing can be done about it now.”
Uncle Grover panicked at her tone, and he tried to make for the door to get out.
“You can’t leave,” Mystic called out to him. “Now that you know, you can never leave.”
Uncle Grover 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, upright and standing still beside Liam, a crooked smile on his startled face.
In case you missed it, you can read the first part of this story HERE.