I sell telescopes. I Laugh! Hear me? Hear me? Yeah, you can’t can you? I sell telescopes. Come one, come all, nerds, pervs, gift buying people. Shit who cares. I care. I’m not here, I’m there, no I’m over there, no I’m here again. Always here, but nobody knows, not even me. Why? They can’t hear me crying. I don’t cry, I rage, I rage, I rage, all night, all day! They can all die, who cares? I’ll see them when they get here.
He wasn’t sure how long he had been there. Day after day, night after night, never really knowing if he was asleep or awake. His mind, completely incapable of wrapping itself around the situation, rebuffed reality at every turn. The people, the place, everything was nothing because he was starting to believe nothing was really there, because he wasn’t really there.
After his initial wake-up, Roy was able to keep track of the days, but once the question arose in his mind, “three nights or four?”, the machine that was his consciousness began to break down. Everything was a catechism, right down to his own existence, including the passing wonder if he had ever truly been alive at all.
A short, portly British boy, less than ten years old but more than five stood next to his mother in front of the hobby shop display window.
“Is that the one?” the mother asked.
“Yes, I suppose,” he said.
“If you want a different one, we can shop around. You don’t sound too thrilled,” she said.
“No, no I don’t think so. That’s the one. It’s just that,” he said.
“What?” she asked.
“Him, he really doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself now does he?” the boy asked.
The mother looked closely at the mannequin in the display, at Roy. Another man who happened to be walking by at the time overheard the two talking. He was the type of man not prone to intervene in other people’s conversations even though he was in sales. He stepped back to the husband bench at the edge of the railing overlooking the ground floor, just far enough away to hear them without seeming like an obvious eavesdropper.
“I guess he doesn’t. But he is just a mannequin. I’m pretty sure they don’t have feelings. You know, because they’re plastic,” she said.
“But he isn’t. He has a face, he’s doing something. He’s probably lonely,” the boy said.
“Isn’t what? Plastic?” she asked.
“No mother, just a mannequin,” he answered.
At that very moment Roy’s left arm, attached to his foam and plastic body via a ball joint similar to that which may reside on an automobile, fell to his side. The arm that had been for untold time shading light from the viewfinder and for no apparent reason, including unseen changes in temperature or humidity, and apart from the speed of something that might slip due to time and gravity, moved seemingly on its own.
Much to his dismay, Roy felt relief, as if his muscles relaxed.
“Mum, did you see that? He moved!” the boy exclaimed.
“Of course he didn’t,” she said.
“Yes, yes he did, I saw it, I saw him move, look. Look at where his arm is now,” the boy said.
“I don’t think so, but it does, no. It’s just one of those things,” she explained.
The man who had been watching and listening stepped forward.
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:3,” the man said.
“Well yes I suppose that’s all well and good, but I’ll thank you to leave us be. And what would that even mean? Really, how dare you,” she scolded.
“This is why you should never talk to strangers, let’s go, on our way then,” she said.
The mother grabbed the boy by the arm and hurried him off. The man did not scoff at her through words or any meaningful adjective of facial expression. He only stepped forward to the window and stared into the eyes of the mannequin.
John Blake, owner and namesake of the hobby store was watching the short altercation from inside behind the sales counter. Annoyed at the notion that he may have lost a sale he stepped out to confront the man in the mall.
“Um, excuse me, you mind telling me what that was all about there bud?” he asked.
The man at the window did not sway his stare away from Roy, nor did he answer.
“Hey man, I’m talking to you,” John said.
“Empathy,” the man said.
“What?” John asked.
The man quickly turned and inserted himself into John’s private space, close enough that John had difficulty focusing on his face.
“How much for the mannequin?” the man asked.
John took two steps back. With stark raving blue eyes and a jaw that could cut paper the man imposed his will through chiseled features and relentless attitude on other men without effort or grace.
“I’d like to buy that mannequin,” he said.
“For what? I mean, it’s not for sale,” John said.
“Of course it is, everyone is for sale,” he said.
“Heh, you mean every thing is for sale, and I get that but…”
“I don’t respect men who say one thing but mean another, so that could never be me. How much?” the man asked.
“Why do you even want it? Who wants a mannequin?” John asked.
“What’s your name?” the man asked.
“John, John Blake. This is my store,” John said.
The man’s demeanor became abruptly personable as he offered his hand.
“John. My name is also John. I’m in sales John. In the right setting, this mannequin could be beneficial to my customer,” the man said.
“Oh hey, pleased to meet you,” John said submissively.
“So we have a deal then? I’ll pay your price and you’ll have him moved to the loading dock. I prefer he be kept in one piece,” the man said.
“What? Um, no, no. Look, it’s not even mine man. The mall, the mall has a room downstairs that’s full of these things. I could put you in touch with,” John said.
“Sporting goods John,” the man interrupted.
“What’s that now?” John asked.
“Sporting goods John, in case you were wondering. I do business with some of the largest sporting good chains in the country, including those that are right here in this mall. You see, it has to have the look. They already have mannequins John, but they’re milquetoast. Plastic, generic versions of men, like so many men. The weapons I sell do not kill John, any more than the reading glasses in your breast pocket kill. But if you broke them, if you took the lens out and sliced my artery you will have killed me, and you wouldn’t be plastic. With him, I could sell reading glasses, with him I could sell intent and that’s really what it’s all about now isn’t it John?” the man said.
John stood bewildered and intimidated, stuck to his knees in uncomfortable silence.
“I guess, but like I said, maybe they have more like it,” John said.
“Like him? No, they do not,” the man said.
“Say, um, what did you mean before when I first walked out, empathy? And I don’t know how we got away from it, but I gotta wonder why you chased that woman and her kid away,” John said.
“There is power in empathy, John. It has a power all its own. It’s about seeing through other people’s eyes, hearing what they hear, feeling what they feel. I only told them what the scriptures say about it, nothing more. As it happens, the boy has it, the mother does not. There’s nothing I could do about that,” the man said.
Again, John was perplexed at the man’s answer. He was beginning to think the man was not quite all there and just wanted him to leave.
“Look I’m not sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China, but your little speech probably lost me a sale. And if you are in sales maybe you should have some empathy for me. I guess what I’m saying mister is I don’t need you to make a habit of it. You know what I mean?” John said.
“A man does not have to be a God in order to recognize a God’s existence,” the man said.
He nearly smiled as he touched his index finger off his brow, turned and walked away.
“Freak,” John said quietly.
He took the man’s place at the window, staring into the eyes of the mannequin, Roy’s eyes. It took him a few seconds to notice the mannequin’s head had been turned slightly and both arms were now at his side.
“What the? Who moved you?” he said to himself.
John went back inside to inspect the window display. He put the mannequin’s extremities back where they were, turned the head back, cinched down its red hat and stood back.
John, it’s me, it’s me!
Roy swung his arms back down to his side.
“What the?” John asked.
John moved the arms back into position only to watch it happen again.
“Well shit, no wonder they freaked out. Huh,” he said.
John left the display in route to his office in the back of the store.
Wait! Wait! For God’s sake help me!
“Yes hello Betty. Look, I got this mannequin in the window here, probably been here since I opened up, yeah, yeah, for sure, well it seems like it’s wearing out or something. Well I set it up and a second later it just kind of falls back to where it was. Yeah the arms, and the head too. I was hoping you had something in storage, you know, trade this one out. Oh he will? Great, I’ll get it ready. Yeah, yeah, I want my shirt back anyways,” he laughed. “Hey as long as I got you on the phone, what the hell happened to Roy. Roy, the security guard. I could of used him here just a few minutes ago. No not kids, some guy, a real psycho. Yeah, I’ll keep my eye out, yup, thanks a bunch,” John hung up the phone.
At the end of the business day John removed Roy from the display window, took off his clothes and left his bare plastic body leaning up against the sales counter. He changed out his own shirt for the faded tee just to annoy the mannequin.
“How do you like that? Always looked better on me anyways. Maintenance is coming to trade you out for a newer model. Sure are takin’ their damn sweet time about though,” John said.
Roy felt energy from every word directed towards him. The feeling of strength and control welled-up inside his composite body like a plant growing exponentially.
Keep talking man, please.
A few minutes after the closing announcement cleared out the last of the shoppers a man dressed in a gray jumpsuit with a matching hat pulled low stopped in front of the store and tapped on the window. He pushed a large cart, the sort that might be used in a post office for mail or packages, metal framed with sidewalls of dingy canvas.
“Well it’s about effin’ time, I got things to do!” John chastised.
John unlocked the door and looked inside the cart.
“What the hell is this? You guys were supposed to send me up a new one, not just parts. Parts won’t do me any good, this one is worn the hell out. You get it?” John said.
“I’m sorry sir, I’ll have to look at the work order again,” the man mumbled.
“You do that. Well, you can take this one back with you anyways. Here, gimme a hand, it’s heavy. I’ll get the legs,” John said.
“It’ll just take a second,” the man said.
He removed a pair of glasses from his pocket and looked closely at the forms on the clipboard he held in his hands.
“Look. That shit doesn’t matter right now. You screwed up. People like you always screw up. It’s expected. Now I told you already I have things to do, so grab this damn thing so we can toss it in the cart, and you can get the hell out of here,” John said.
Again John reached down and grabbed the legs of the mannequin and once again the maintenance man was messing with his glasses. John stood up even more enraged than before, just in time to hear something snap.
The man swiped the lens from a broken pair of readers across John’s neck, severing his Carotid artery and instantly soaking his faded tee with a torrent of blood. He shoved John into the cart, removed his hat, exposed his now familiar face and glared at John through piercing blue eyes.
“One and one-half inches John, deep enough to release the power of empathy. Not yours, his. It works both ways,” he said.
John was unconscious within seconds and died moments later, never to be seen again.
That night, back in the window Roy wept. His tears stained the price tag on the telescope. It was the last one in stock, a display model on closeout, priced to… move.