It isn't as though they don't understand. I know they do. It's that they can't handle any new thoughts in their heads. They are all tiny. Sparrow waisted waifs. Lips gripped in frosty shades of don't care and never did. One of them, the leader, leans into my face. Her nametag (Cyndeigh) threatens to topple her with a tenuous stilleto fulcrum, bringing her to the floor.
"We sell clothes," she says to me. "That's it."
I rub my hands against my forehead for the fortieth time. "I'll pay you two hundred."
Cyndiegh pinches her face. She tries to arch her perfectly painted brows. Her real ones—ghostly browned-out apparitions—twitch below. "This is highly unregular," she tells me.
I get him in the car eventually, after a fair battle with geometry. He spends the twenty minutes home with his feet sticking out the back driver's side window. I can't stand to have his head anywhere but by my side. They let me keep a pair of old underpants on him–perhaps out of modesty, perhaps out of pity. When I get home, I unload him carefully and stand him up in my small driveway. He looks even stronger in the dusk-light. Wait here, I tell him. I have to take care of my cat.
I open the door and scoop up Archie before he can bolt out between my legs. He looks startled as I pick him up, his bug-eyes pleading against the unfairness of the world. He has assumed my hands will be shopping bag loaded. Not so, little cat, for this is a new woman stroking you between the ears.
With Archie safely stashed in the laundry, I return to the bottom step, to find that fine dark figure waiting. I stand and admire the shadows of his shoulders. Brown razorblade muscles. A few cars go past, and I let them wonder at the logistics of this curbside arrangement. My $200 man, my love bargain. I take him upstairs, cook us a small meal, and we fall asleep. He will put up with the couch, just this first night.
The next day is the weekend. Saturday morning is shopping. We drive to the FiveWays. He wants to stay in the car, and I have to agree that this is for the best, as Archie has slept on his head and his cornrows are slightly scratched. No matter: I will repaint them tonight. I will buy acrylic paint and a tiny brush. Through the aisles of the 7Eleven, my limbs unfold with a new, relaxed grace. I bask for some minutes by the gentle cool hum of the cheese cabinet. Above me, in a small television set, a happy girl in a yellow tracksuit top beams her pixelated face. She knows her man waits for her, back in the carpark, counting the minutes until she returns.
When we're back home, I suddenly want to redecorate. He sits on my couch, wearing brand new boxer shorts from the back of my drawer (an unbearable rayon fragment of another time in my life) and all of a sudden I want to please him. I want to fill those hard, beautiful black eyes with tenderness and I want you-ness. I want him to smile. And so I roll up my sleeves and kick up dust. I drag my furniture around, all of it around, mercilessly, like a fairground ride, rearranging and re-imagining. He stays on the couch. Somehow, he's fallen as I've moved the chair beneath him, those awful boxer shorts hitched up high against his hard smooth lump of pelvis. His sideways eyes still bore into me: that unforgiving, petrol-dense gaze.
I sneeze, over and over, with the dust. I lie on the floor. I talk to him. I say, What else is there?
He just looks at me.
Devotion, I say, idolisation. This is all I have. Can't you see that?
We lie there in silence, waiting, Saturday night ebbing our edges.
I shoot awake. Archie's soft shape tucks and purrs in the crook of my elbow. I'm lying on floorboards, cold with dried sweat. It's still night, or early morning—the walls dark, scarred by street-light. When I turn my head, though, I can see the empty couch clearly. He's gone. My mannequin man.
He's left an impression on the fabric, a gentle negative of his body. I go over and sit there, where Archie follows, jumping up against me to lick my tears, when they begin to fall.