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Woom: MAN(NEQUIN)


SHYLA EMERGED FROM the bathroom a short time later doused in a thick miasma of sweet perfume. Her inner thighs glistened as if she’d rinsed herself off in the tub, and Angel was glad for that. Her sweat, during the brief story of her rape, had turned a tad sour. He watched her ease onto the bed and lay back against the headboard.

Angel knew he’d gained her sympathy with the story of his rebirthing in the back of a van. She wouldn’t have told him what those boys had done to her if he hadn’t. But if he wanted her to go along peacefully with what he planned, he’d have to make her really feel sorry for him. He’d have to tell her the one story he’d never told anyone, at least not all of it.

He’d have to tell her about Andy.

He’d have to tell her about the mannequin.

‘I’m ready when you are,’ she said, getting comfortable.

He hoped she was comfortable, for what he had to say. Because what happened that night had meant he’d never been able to be comfortable again in his life. All that would change today, though.

‘This story is the darkest one of all,’ Angel said.

‘Goodie. Will there be a sex toy accompaniment?’

‘Not for this one.’

‘Oh, poo,’ Shyla said with a pout.

‘No poo in this one either, I’m afraid.’

She laughed.

Angel joined her, glad for some levity between what she’d told him and the last story he had to tell. After this, they would get down to business.

He was ready.

He hoped Shyla was ready, too.

‘This story is about a girl—’

 

WHO LOVED SOMETHING so much she was willing to do whatever it took to get it.

Bethany Chastain lived in a small bungalow on the East Side with her mother and their tabby cat Sniffles. Her mom was a kind of peculiar, artsy type—I’d heard some people call her a cat lady, but since the family only had one cat it didn’t seem fair. Bethany was seventeen years old when she came to the Lonely Motel with her prom date, and because of her embarrassment over her mother’s odd behavior, he was her first. Before then she’d always worried they would have to come over to her house at some point, and her mother would mortify her by acting the way she always did and scaring them away.

Everybody in the neighborhood knew Cora Chastain. The woman’s conduct didn’t just bother her daughter; Bethany saw that others were put-off by it as well, even disgusted. Cora Chastain didn’t seem to get it, though. She had no idea how to interact with people. She was socially oblivious. See, Bethany’s mom had been diagnosed in her teens with histrionic personality disorder, and because of it she was constantly seeking attention, especially from men. Delivery boys had it the hardest, scurrying back to their Volkswagen Rabbits when Bethany’s mother answered the door in a frilly teddy, and they caught sight of her jailbait daughter peeking around the corner from the kitchen. It got so bad, restaurants refused to take her order. Turnaround for mail carriers in their area was the highest in the city.

See, Cora Chastain didn’t just flirt. ‘Sexual harassment’ was a better term. The few times Bethany did have boys over when she was younger, at a birthday party or to study with a group of friends, before she was old enough to realize not everyone’s parents acted like her mother did, her mother competed with her for the boys’ approval. She’d ruffle their hair, or pinch their cheeks and wink at them, and she’d always be wearing something low-cut, something tight. During one birthday party, she came up from her workshop all covered in splotches of wet clay like dried semen, sticking to the flimsy fabric of her tube top and hardened around her jutting nipples. And she was always, ‘Such a mess,’ even when she’d spent half an hour dolling herself up in front of the bathroom mirror.

Bethany grew up with weird ideas about sex because of this. Her mother had all but dry-hump a horrified Jehovah’s Witness at the door (they’d avoided their house like the Plagues of Egypt passing over the homes of righteous Hebrews after that incident, the word spreading through their ranks down at the Kingdom Hall), and she’d heard her mother having sex with countless strange men who Cora would refer to as Bethany’s ‘uncles.’ By her mother’s count, Bethany had more uncles than picnics had ants.

Cora’s tormented daughter slept in a small bedroom in their basement, and didn’t much like it down there. It was dank and smelled like mildew. It was opposite the furnace, which ticked and hummed loudly at night. Too hot in the winter, too cold in the summer. Her mother had her workshop down there, which was always a mess, and Bethany would often be woken up by the sound of power tools.

Her mother did multimedia art, incorporating clay, found objects, woodworking, painting, and collages. Some of it was brilliant. She’d had a few gallery showings, but once word got out how difficult it was to work with her, be they men—whom she glommed onto—or women—who’d just about be challenged to pistols at dawn, her work was relegated to her own small booth at a local farmer’s market. Even they refused to have her there, eventually.

Sometimes her mother’s collection of crafts and supplies got so out of hand they’d spill over into Bethany’s room, so for the longest time, she shared her bedroom with a store mannequin. The first few weeks, after her mother had stuffed him into a dark corner  of her room the year she turned nine, Bethany would come in after school or from the bathroom, forget he was there, and freak out all over again.

Even worse than that was that her mother hadn’t even bothered to dress him. His chiseled chest and the smooth Ken Doll lump between his legs, not quite anatomically correct, but enough to cause her to give it shy little glances, to make her think of men stepping out of the pool in tight bathing suits at the neighborhood Y, or the boys climbing rope in their red Adidas gym shorts. She considered putting clothes on him herself, but she knew her mother would accuse her of being ‘so puritanical,’ and make the whole situation a million times worse.

Over time, she got used to him, where even his nakedness didn’t embarrass her anymore. She went so far as to give him a name: with his smooth bald head, his vacant blue eyes, and muscular body, she thought he looked like an Andy.

Bethany would come home after school, and with her mother at work, or upstairs with another long-lost uncle, she’d tell Andy about her day. At first she thought of it like how some girls wrote in their journals, Dear Diary etcetera etcetera, treating it like a living entity who actually listened to their stories. Harmless enough, she thought. Like talking to Sniffles the cat.

Over time, Andy became her friend. He didn’t judge, like her girlfriends did. He didn’t offer half-baked solutions and platitudes, like a boy might. He simply listened. He was her sounding board. Andy stood in stoic opposition to ideas she knew were silly, that she’d only spoken aloud to get them out of her head (ideas like killing her mother with poison, or leaving the back door open ‘accidentally’ so Sniffles would wander off and stop getting his dandruff all over the couch cushions). Andy’s crooked smile offered approval and sympathy as required.

Bethany had her first period at the early age of eleven. Her mother had paraded her proudly around the house, cheering for her when they went to buy maxi-pads—’My little girl’s a woman now!’ she told a bemused clerk behind the pharmacy counter, shaking Bethany’s fist like she’d won a gold medal for high diving—and promptly driving her to her own gynecologist to get a prescription for The Pill. ‘I won’t have my baby having babies,’ she told the startled doctor, who looked a bit like Mr. Weatherbee from the Archie comics, while her daughter sat red-faced, her eyes rolling back in her head in complete and utter embarrassment.

Around that time Bethany decided she’d better practice kissing boys if she was going to start going to dances and dating like the other girls in school. Andy’s crooked smile seemed to express he was more than happy to oblige.

She locked her bedroom door, and turned on the radio to the classic rock station she enjoyed. While John Cougar sang a little ditty about two American kids named Jack and Diane, Bethany approached her mannequin friend with a shy smile, knowing that if her mother caught her it would be absolutely mortifying. Cora Chastain would probably brag to the pizza delivery kid about her daughter’s ‘sexual awakening’ and/or ‘exploration.’

Andy was a foot taller, so Bethany had to stand up on her tiptoes. His blue eyes peered over her head as she planted a kiss on his smooth plastic lips, the way she’d kiss Sniffles when the cat didn’t have too much dry skin in his fur.

It didn’t… feel quite right. It was cold, for one thing. And dry. She didn’t know what sort of reaction she was expecting, but it wasn’t exactly electrifying.

Feet back on the floor, she looked up into Andy’s blank stare, mirroring her disappointment. Her gaze fell on his smooth pubis. She remembered her mother rubbing her crotch on the leg of another ‘uncle’ at the dinner table one night, the way Sniffles sometimes humped pillows when he was In Heat. She couldn’t reach to mimic the action, not without getting up on a chair and risking tipping Andy over, sending the both of them sprawling to the floor, so she crouched down and hugged Andy around the knees. He was heavier than she’d imagined, and he almost fell over backwards, but she managed to keep him upright, her nose pressed against his crotch, and with a strained grunt she threw him down on her bed.

Andy’s arms didn’t bend at the elbow or wrist, just at the shoulders—that was one problem she noticed right away. They were posed in what she thought of as a slightly effeminate way, one hand up with the elbow cocked at his waist, not clenched or flat but half-open, as if her were holding a purse. The other only slightly bent, the hand just sort of… limp.

She pushed him over to one side of the bed, his head on the pillow, and laid down beside him. Even side by side it felt awkward. She couldn’t pretend they were husband and wife with Andy staring at the ceiling. She pushed his left arm down and climbed on top of him, sitting on his stomach at first, then sliding down to the lump at his crotch. She placed one hand on his chest, and the other so that his right hand almost seemed to hold her by the arm. Bethany looked deep into those vacant blue eyes, lowered her face to him, and pressed her lips against his.

On the radio the traffic report gave way to Foreigner’s ‘I Want to Know What Love Is,’ the ultimate slow dance song. Reaching out with her left hand, she slipped it behind Andy’s head. She stuck out her tongue, the way they did in the movies, opening and closing her moistened lips like a fish in a tank.

When she began grinding against Andy’s bump, a steady, rhythmic warmth arose from her vagina and spread throughout her whole body, seemingly pulsating along with the music. Her kisses grew frantic as she slipped a hand behind his head, rubbing herself harder and faster against his pelvis, the poly-cotton blend of her panties moving contretemps to her thrusts, doubling the sensation. She grasped his smooth buttocks. She stroked his bald head. She darted her tongue in and out, pushing it against his slightly parted lips.

With the music turned up so high, she allowed herself a small moan, and that was when it finally happened. After what seemed like minutes of shuddering, panting, and squeaking moans, Bethany rolled off of Andy and lay her hot, sweaty head against the pillow.

Although she didn’t know it then, Bethany had experienced her first orgasm, with a dummy.

The next day when Bethany came home from school, she dropped her books on the dresser and carried Andy over to her bed. The following day, she did it—whatever it was—two times, and fell asleep with Andy at her side.

She carried on like that for months before her mother took Andy away from her, and it wasn’t what you might think. She hadn’t caught her daughter doing what she called her ‘dance’ with Andy. What happened was that Bethany came home one day to find Andy disassembled, his parts nailed or glued to a sheet of old, rotting plywood. Cora had strung up barbed wire through his jumbled parts, and glued photographs from magazines in the spaces between, candid shots of Jared Leto, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and others. Painted above this jumbled mess she would undoubtedly call ‘art’ was the strange word PHALLUCIDE in dripping blood red letters.

Cora herself stood in front of it, covered in plaster and paint, blasting Andy’s crotch smoother with the belt sander. When she saw her daughter standing with her mouth agape at the foot of the stairs, she flipped up her safety goggles.

‘Tada!’ she said. ‘Well, what do you think, hon?’

Bethany bolted to her room so her mother wouldn’t see her cry.

‘Is it really that bad?’ Cora shouted after her.

Weeping into Andy’s pillow, Bethany imagined she could still smell the sharp cologne of his pungent plastic skin. Long after her mother went to bed, she crept out of her room and stood in front of her beloved. She ran her fingers over the jagged edges where her mother had torn her heart to pieces.

Their strange love was over.

One night she came home from school to find the whole thing gone. Her mother told her the piece sold to a gallery owner in Bridgeport. Just as she had feared, Bethany would never see him again.

Eventually she got over the initial trauma of losing Andy, but just seeing a department store mannequin brought it all flooding back again, and sometimes she would have to lock herself inside the change room just to hide her tears.

Beth was seventeen when she had her first date with a real boy. We were in a few of the same classes together, English and Psychology. Another one, too—I can’t recall. We both swam regularly, me on the team and Beth at the Y, and we hit it off pretty quickly. She was the first person I remember, outside of the kids at the foster home, who didn’t feel sorry for me because I was an orphan. I suppose because she’d never known her father she understood what it was like. The fact that she hated her mother probably didn’t hurt, either.

I had my own place by the time we met. If you remember from the last story, I’d lived with my foster family until I was sixteen, that’s when I moved out on my own for reasons I won’t get into now, but still continued at school. I worked evenings and weekends at a restaurant, starting as a dishwasher and moving my way up to line cook by the time I graduated. It gave me enough money to get out of the foster home, which had become a pretty poisonous environment, and move into a room with a kitchen and bathroom I shared with UB students and low-income singles.

Beth and I started seeing each other in the first semester of twelfth grade. I didn’t meet her mother until the night of the prom. When we weren’t going to the movies, or getting ice cream and doing other things normal kids did, we spent a lot of our time at my place. By the time prom came around, I was pretty sure I loved her. One of the things I respected about her was that she never pressured me for sex. Considering my background, I appreciated that. There were others who did—one of the reasons I had to leave the foster home. Still, we made out quite a bit, along with occasional dry humping, which in retrospect—after she told me the Andy Story—made a lot of sense.

On Prom Night, that all changed. Bethany wanted sex, and she’d made it pretty clear when she told me some of the other kids were going to be staying at the Lonely Motel, and that I should rent us a room.

See, I grew up terrified of sex. ‘Scared shitless’ is a better term. I knew what sex led to—STDs were the least of my worries. You know, I’d hear stories about condoms breaking, women not taking their pill, that sort of thing, and I’d think, Knowing my luck it’ll be that first time and I’ll be stuck with a kid the rest of my life. Won’t be able to give it up because of how fucked up that made me. Won’t be able to raise it because I had no parents for role models…

So I made a conscious decision to avoid sex, even when two of the girls at my foster home—the social worker would call them my foster sisters, though we never thought of each other as ‘family’ the way real families do—and a handful of girls at school were making concerted efforts to get me into bed with them. With Beth, I decided to make a go of it, since we loved each other. Or so I thought.

Being on the swim team, I knew all the techniques to make myself faster, to hold my breath longer. It helps to be tall and slim if you want to be a great swimmer. Sleek. So all the guys on the team, we had to get rid of all the hair on our arms, chests and legs, to move faster through the water. Some of the guys shaved because they couldn’t take the pain, but Charlie and I waxed. The football team would make fun of us, call us fags and ask where we bought our pantyhose, because ‘only women wax,’ but a lot of the girls seemed to like it. Charlie got laid constantly, which probably solidified his decision to get into the porn business after high school, since he broke his shoulder in senior year and had to quit the team.

I started shaving my head that year, too. I was balding prematurely, and the scar messed with my hairline anyway, so it just made sense.

All of this made me the perfect man for Beth Chastain, but I didn’t know it then.

So I drove out to the Lonely Motel in my little shitbox Toyota, and paid the desk clerk for a room for the night. He was an older gentleman wearing pressed slacks and a brown shirt with a wide ’70s collar, his gray comb-over slicked back with the same pungent hair tonic he used on his nicotine-stained mustache.

‘Lucky you,’ he said as he put my cash in the till. ‘Got yourself the last room in the house.’

He handed me the key to Room 6, which I stuffed into the pants pocket of my rented tux without much thought, having no idea of its significance until much later.

When I picked up Beth, her mother was so elated for her daughter she forgot about herself for the moment and didn’t try to hit on me. Beth had told me all of her horror stories—aside from the Andy Story, which she would tell me later that night—so we’d both been expecting her mom to throw herself on me in an attempt to steal me away. Instead she was polite, dressed modestly—for Cora Chastain, modest was a tight-fitting sweater that didn’t reveal too much cleavage—and she snapped photos as Beth came downstairs in her dress—she was gorgeous, by the way—a couple of me putting Beth’s corsage on her wrist, and several of the two of us out on the front lawn.

Beth brought her school backpack with her for the overnight stay. It felt like she’d packed a brick in there as I lugged it to my car, and I said so. She practically tore it off my shoulder, as if she was worried I’d go snooping inside of it, and tucked it into the backseat herself.

The drive to prom was pretty awkward. She kept stealing small glances at me, and I kept missing her eyes as she’d turn away. We laughed nervously about her mother’s surprisingly normal behavior, and speculated about what sort of shenanigans Charlie would get up to with his two dates. All the while the specter of what we’d planned to do once the dance let out hung over our heads.

If only we’d both been nervous about the same thing.

Once we got to school the atmosphere lightened a bit. We relaxed. Charlie was such a clown in his pink tux, with a date on each arm. Our laughter came easier. We drank the punch Charlie had spiked with a bottle of Fleischmann’s vodka his older brother bought. We danced.

We were up there dancing to ‘You Oughta Know’ when the inevitable slow dance hit. Somebody whose name I didn’t hear over the loud revelry between songs had requested ‘I Want to Know What Love Is.’ It could have been Beth herself, I suppose. I didn’t know the song’s significance, but I saw the way her eyes lit up when the song came on, so I pulled her close and we spun around and around, and when I raised her chin to look into her eyes, I saw that she’d been crying.

I kissed her right there on the dance floor. A couple of the guys wolf whistled, and Charlie applauded.

On the drive to the Lonely Motel, Beth said she had something to share. She didn’t want to tell me. It embarrassed her. But she ‘thought it was only fair,’ as she put it, and so she told me about her mannequin. Not the whole story—the finer details came later, when I visited her in prison. A CliffsNotes version, I guess you might say.

When she was finished we’d already pulled up out front of our room for the night. She was looking at me, clearly expecting a horrified reaction. ‘I’ll understand if you never want to see me again,’ she said. I loved her so much in that moment, her vulnerability, the fact that she’d felt comfortable enough to open up about something so obviously shameful—not to mention painful—to her. I kissed her.

‘I hope that was better than Andy,’ I said when our lips parted, hoping it wouldn’t offend or embarrass her further.

Beth giggled and nodded. ‘I love you, Johnny,’ she said to me.

 

‘JOHNNY? YOU’RE JOHNNY?’

‘I didn’t mean to reveal that yet,’ Angel said, although he’d told his story exactly as planned. ‘Now you know why this room is so important to me.’

‘Jenny and Johnny… that was you, too.’ Shyla had sat up abruptly at the sound of his real name, and now she was putting things together, playing catch-up.

‘The things that happened in this room,’ Angel said, ‘I’ll remember for the rest of this life.’

‘Wait a minute. You said ‘when I visited her in prison.’ What did Beth do, Angel? Or should I call you Johnny?’

‘You can call me Jonah for all it matters,’ he said. ‘In here I’m Angel, because I should have been dead. What Beth did to me is why we’re here, you and I. It’s the reason I began to connect the dots, like you’re doing now. There are things I need to… unburden myself of… and then, with any luck, I’ll be ready to begin again.’

Shyla tried to parse his words, but they seemed illusive, just out of her reach. She said, ‘Okay, then. Angel, Johnny—’ She shook her head in confusion. ‘—whatever your name is: finish your story.’

He did.

 

I LOVED BETH, and I thought she loved me. But the truth was she could never love anyone, because her love died the day her mother cut him to pieces and stuck them onto a slab of old plywood.

We walked hand-in-hand to Room 6, me lugging Beth’s backpack on one shoulder the way kids used to, and Beth holding her heels. At the stoop I let go of her hand to get the keys from my pocket—for a second there I thought I’d lost them, that they’d slipped through a hole in the pants or fallen out while we were dancing, and the relief was profound when my fingers grasped the worn vermillion key fob.

I could almost hear the room sigh as I opened the door.

Some part of me thought it would be fun if I carried Beth over the threshold, like new husbands did for their brides on their honeymoon. So I dropped her bag at the door and hoisted her up, and very gently laid her down on the bed, the way she’d brought Andy to her bed countless times when she was a little girl.

Beth laid her head on the pillow, looking up at me with dazzlingly bright green eyes. I wanted her so badly right then that all of my fears, all of my worries, everything just disappeared, and I kissed her.

I should have been concerned when she rose up from the pillow and pushed me over onto my back, but by then I was so in the moment, every part of me wanting to be all over every part of her, like lead shavings on a magnet, that it really didn’t hit me. She straddled me, the way she’d done in my bedroom and on my sofa a dozen times or more, making my cock so hard my underwear would be sticky with pre-cum by the time she’d roll off me, exhausted, onto her back.

But now it was real. Now we were going to Do It.

I didn’t understand until much later it was all a part of her fantasy. That when we were making out, I was never Johnny—I wasn’t even Angel. With my smooth chest and my bald head, I was only ever the mannequin to her.

I was Andy.

In the next room, some kids were playing The Pixies at full volume. ‘Wave of Mutilation’ gave way to ‘Debaser,’ so they must have had the CD player on shuffle. In the silence between songs, Beth tore her lips from mine and whispered, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you,’ into my ear.

She hopped off me, and went to the door, where I’d left her bag. First she flicked off the overhead lights, and I flicked on the dim bedside lamp so she could see to heft her backpack to the bathroom. She blew me a kiss as she walked past the foot of the bed.

The Boy Scouts tell you, ‘Be Prepared.’ That’s the Scout’s Motto. Prepared in mind, prepared in body, and I was definitely prepared in that department. My hard-on throbbed so much I hoped I wasn’t staining the inside of my rented pants. Eagerly, I stripped down to my underwear, and tore the condom out of my wallet—I know you’re not supposed to keep them there, but that wasn’t common knowledge back then. A lot of guys I knew had condoms in their wallets so long they left rings in the leather.

The bathroom door opened and for a moment Beth stood silhouetted by its pale yellow light. She’d put on a see-through baby blue babydoll which clung to her curves. I’d never seen so much of her before, we’d always been fully clothed, aside from the few times we’d gone swimming at the Y together where she’d worn a one-piece swimsuit. A cloud of perfume hung around her as she moved lithely toward the bed, barely masking a sharper smell beneath it. As she climbed on top of me, the cool sensation of wet fabric on my skin came as a pleasant surprise as she slicked the underside of my shaft with her panties—I’d expected her to be warm. She rose again after two quick thrusts, and I thought she might slip out of her oddly cold underwear then, but instead she pushed her sopping wet pussy down over my nose and mouth.

Before I had a chance to consider holding my breath my lungs had filled with the unpleasantly sweet chemical smell she’d used to soak her panties. I tried to throw her off me, but she had my head locked between her strong swimmer’s thighs, and with every breath my muscles were getting more numb and harder to control.

‘I love you, my angel,’ she said, and the music faded away, and then I was out.

I’ve pieced together what happened next from the police report, and from what Bethany told me much later from prison. For a long time I couldn’t think about what happened to me that night without suffering a complete mental collapse. It was just too much to comprehend. That someone who seemed so nice and caring could have done what she did—it was impossible to believe. But it happened. I’ve had to look at the evidence of what she did to me every day since.

When I came to it was because of the sound, not the pain. In fact, there wasn’t much pain at all, just a sort of dull ache, I suppose because of the chloroform she’d used on me. Back when they used to use chloroform for anesthetics, you had to be careful. Too much and you could kill the patient. Too little, and they’d wake up mid-procedure.

I woke up to a high-pitched whine. I was numb from the neck down, and it was raining on my face. Barely audible above the buzzing, The Pixies sang ‘Here Comes Your Man.’ Beth was crouched over me with a look of fixed concentration. I thought I must be hallucinating, because her arms and babydoll were the same color as the carpet in the dim light, and warm rain kept pattering against my cheeks and forehead even though we were inside.

I managed to raise my head just enough to see what was making all the noise.

Her mother’s belt sander spun, tearing the meat and flesh of my scrotum and flaccid penis to shreds under the whirring motor. A wet flap of skin splattered against my throat, and that’s when I became unhinged. I screamed.

Beth looked up at me not with sympathy but with genuine anger. I was supposed to be unconscious. I’d spoiled her half-baked plan to turn me into a mannequin, to make me smooth all over the way he was, her beloved—her Andy. She pressed down harder in response, the sandpaper obliterating the fatty tissue above my cock—

 

‘JESUS… JESUS CHRIST, Angel,’ Shyla said, her face as pale as the sheets. ‘I’m so sorry.’

Angel continued unabated. ‘If someone hadn’t chosen that exact moment to plug something in and blow the power,’ he said, ‘I probably would have died of blood loss. But someone did, and the room went dark, and everything was silent except for me, screaming at the top of my lungs.

‘Beth turned off the sander to shush me. ‘Be quiet, Andy, you’ll get me in trouble!’ she yelled into my face, but I wasn’t Andy and I wouldn’t be quiet, and when she tried to cover my mouth I bit her hand and screamed ten times louder.

‘A second later the door swung open and rebounded against the interior wall. The desk clerk shouted, ‘Jesus fuck!’ The light from the parking lot was just bright enough for him to see Beth’s handiwork.

‘I’d never been so glad to see someone in my life. He’d never been so sorry to see something in his. Or maybe he had, the day he found Mary Booker and her unborn baby in the bathtub. A baby boy the hospital named John.’

Shyla said nothing, stunned silent as Angel kept telling his story.

‘I blacked out again after that,’ he said. ‘When I woke the second time, I was in the hospital, my entire pelvis bandaged. The pain was gigantic, an Everest of pain. I just wanted to be unconscious again. I wished I’d let Beth finish the job. I wished I’d shut up and let her kill me.

‘A team of surgeons told me they could fix my urethra so I could urinate without a catheter, but I’d never be able to have sex without genital reconstruction, and I’d never be able to have children outside of in vitro. Not that I wanted children,’ Angel added. ‘I wouldn’t know how to raise one if I had.’

A tear rolled down Shyla’s cheek. She hitched in a shaky breath.

‘No one came to visit me,’ he said, ‘not even Chuck. I didn’t blame him. After what she did, how could he look at me? I’d been mutilated. She’d erased my manhood. I was sexless. Neutered. A mannequin man. That’s what the papers called me, when Beth told her story to the police, and I wasn’t even a man yet. The Mannequin Man. I was just glad they couldn’t name me because I was a minor. But everyone at school knew. They pitied me. I could see it in their eyes.’

‘What did you do? How could you go on after something like that?’

‘I did what I had to. I survived. Just like I did when my mother died in the tub.’ He traced the scar on his face with a finger, the scar made by his mother’s coat hook. ‘With one more scar to add to the collection.’

‘That was you, too,’ she said. ‘Mary’s boy.’

Angel bent for his backpack. He found the slip of old paper, torn out of the book of Lonely Motel stationary in December of 1980, and let it fall gently onto Shyla’s lap. She picked it up and read the words aloud, ”To my unborn child’… Oh God, Angel. I can’t. I can’t read this.’

‘Would you like to see what Bethany did to me?’

Shyla shook her head. ‘No, I don’t—I can’t…’

Angel stood, and began to unzip his pants.

Please,’ she said.

He stepped out of his pants and slid down the boxers.


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