It’s Monday after school and I’m like, at least it’s not Friday. The windshield wipers are on too fast for drizzling so they make this nails-on-chalkboard eek eek sound. She’s driving and even though I don’t know anyone in this town and I don’t care either I’m embarrassed of her and her old clunking Jeep with the wood panels on the sides. Mostly embarrassed of the naked pile of mannequins in the backseat that every person at every stoplight has to point to and stare at, and why wouldn’t they, I mean the plastic arms and legs jutting up in the air et cetera. There are always different mannequins in the backseat of this car. We live in an apartment full of them. I share my small wood-paneled bedroom with her ratty-headed mannequins, some with missing limbs, broken fingertips. Later tonight, when she’s good and festive, she will blast the classic rock station and slink around them and tell me life’s a party. I will not join her. Oh hell no. I will lock myself in the bathroom when she does that and study harder. I’m doing every extra credit project available. I’m teaching myself Italian. This is life now.
Sometimes I come home and find the mannequins rearranged and dressed in my clothes. A hat here, a boot there. My best and only dress. I’m not sure what this means. She doesn’t take responsibility – responsibility’s not really her thing. Dad used to describe her as a schitzy loser, said it was his job to keep me from her, but all of a sudden last fall he started changing his tune. “Schitzy loser” became “free-spirit.” “Hoarder” became “artist.” And then a week’s visit became twenty-seven’s. She collects government checks and browses eBay for cheap replacement heads and plastic waterfalls of wiggy hair while sipping her sippycup all day and I go to school. I learn about genetics in biology, sex education: horrors. Then she picks me up and I sit in the Jeep doing my homework as she drives from shopping center to shopping center, parking out back and climbing into the dumpsters to “treasure hunt.” I pretend I don’t know her, vanish into my textbook, remember calmly to carry the 1. Look at her sweats, all tie-dyed pink, and you know she smells nothing like my dad’s new girlfriend, that is to say, nothing like fake cucumbers and fake rain.
It’s Monday and she drives too fast in the darkening afternoon. No one knows how to drive in the wetness here in this always-sunny state. Everyone drives dangerous on the slick roads. We’re behind a thrift store next to a crate filled with soggy records. A Beatle’s face is bleeding. She puts on her hazards and jumps out. The top half of her disappears into a dumpster. She returns smelling like wet dog with a packaged rag doll she’s trying to give me saying collectible and mint but I shake my head. I don’t like wasting words. I want to save all my words in case dad gets back from Italy. Stack them up like ammunition. Though how he will ever find me when I live with a free-spirit with no telephone, I don’t know. I stare out the window at the town that is hardly ever rained on. It rains less here, statistically, than most other cities in America. It’s not a desert town, but a town skirted between the oak-hairy mountains and dirty-blue ocean. The smell of here is confused; a beach, a tree. And they said I would be so happy visiting. No snowshoes. Big room all to myself. Friends galore. She asks me if I talk at school and I shake my head. She’s always talking about how good it is to talk. She gets mad and throws the rag doll out the window.
Sometimes she leaves the apartment and I’m alone with the mannequins and I don’t move a muscle because I think they just might come alive if I’m still enough. They’ll start blinking, tell me who they are, where they need to be going. Because it doesn’t seem right, right? Them just stacked, naked, propped against a piano or laying uncomfortably across the floor. I mean, heaps. Closetfuls. This isn’t where they want to be either. We are all displaced here and maybe, if I listen hard enough and don’t move and like become one of them we can all figure out where we’re going. My favorite mannequin, the one with the eyes like mine, has a neck tattoo that says “Made in Italy” and it must be a sign.
It’s Monday and it’s raining and she’s driving and the world is full of signs. Signs with pictures, signs with words of warning. Don’t enter here, Don’t park here. She heeds no warnings and I’m not going to waste words on telling her. The sky’s darkening and opening up like a mouth, the storm making flashes and gargling sounds. My homework, done and checked and double-checked, is in my lap. One more, she says, here behind the sporting goods depot. This dumpster’s like special because it’s where she found Esmerelda and Bethany that one time. Her mannequins have names and ever-changing stories. Really they are just piles of women-shaped plastic. She often consults me about their names – do you like it? Does it fit her? And I say nothing, yawn. Read a sentence, ignore. We’re in back of the sporting goods store now, ugly crates like wood cages, gargantuan garbage cans, big-as-beast trucks. I’m hungry. She vrooms forward through a puddle and there’s this snick-snick sick sound and a bump-bump and she skids to a stop and looks at me. I shrug. What was that? she asks, like I’d know. The snick-snick bump-bump?
We get out in the rain and look. The puddle overwhelms my Mary Janes, icy. I shiver. I think it must be a body. I imagine my own father under the wheels for a second in satisfaction. I think it must be a mannequin, that sharpness, that thing beneath us. But her tires have been severed by silver teeth. Severe tire damage. For going where the sign said, don’t. She’s weeping, yelling at the rain. She has no phone. We’re soaking, her puke-pink sweats clinging to her body, her deflated shape revealed by the rain. I think about saying something. Sometimes I say things when I’m alone, or you know, with the mannequins. But it’s too loud, the pattering of the rain against the dumpster, the pattering of the rain against the ankle-deep puddle. Instead I take the mannequins out of the back seat and let them tumble down into the water. Three of them. Naked, scratched, one of them bald, another armless. Push them facedown. Put my Mary Jane on their heads and gently apply pressure and drown them there. And I watch her watching me, her mouth open and saying no, no, no, just the way I wish mine could.