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In an ideal world the gossip of the idle would be of no consequence. But I have seen the consequences in the real world and they can be very grave indeed.

– Cormac McCarthy, All The Pretty Horses


Mannequin Memories


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I was reading Rachel Kushner’s The Flame Throwers yesterday when I came across this passage:

“Gazing at department store mannequins as if they possessed something essential and human that she lacked. Mannequins were carefully positioned to look natural, looking off in this direction or that but never at us. This was part of the Sears Mannequin Standard. My mother had worked for a short time as an assistant window dresser at the Sears in downtown Reno. She was given a booklet with a list of instructions, the most important being the no-eye-contact rule. If the mannequins made eye contact with the shoppers they would disrupt the dream, the shopper’s projection. A mannequin’s job was to sell us to ourselves in a more perfect version for $19.99.”

I was suddenly taken back to my own childhood and the Sears in Security Square Mall in Woodlawn, Maryland. My family shopped there fairly frequently. I had little interest in the merchandise but was fascinated by the layout and the internal geography of such a huge place. The “landscape” would change from department to department. As an only child until age 11, it was just me and one or both parents. They would frequently give me a long leash and I would usually wander off do one of two things—either use the clothing racks like a secret tunnel system as I disappeared inside them or, the more favorite of the two diversions, pretend I was a mannequin. In the clothing section, they would either have mannequin families or a few children mannequins grouped together. While my parents were shopping or waiting in the checkout line, I would try to make myself part of the mannequin display. I might step up on the white platform, stand next to my new best friend, place a hand gently on their shoulder, and stare off into the same distance as if we were sharing what might become a lifelong memory. A true moment. But I wan’t interested in the moment or what we might be staring at. What I was interested in was whether I could so accurately mimic a mannequin-esque pose and remain so still that the other shoppers would be fooled. I would breathe as slowly as possible and try not to blink and then a couple might pass by and a woman would say something like “That mannequin looks so real!” And her boyfriend would say “That’s because it is real!” And then my composure would fail and I’d smile or laugh. And so would they as they walked on through this materialistic wonderland. Even if no one noticed me, I enjoyed becoming part of the landscape. Hiding in plain sight.

Later, as a parent myself, I would try to distract my own toddler while my wife shopped and would ask him questions about the mannequins: Where did they come from? What did he think their names were? Usually, this would take a dark, humorous turn, especially in Ann Taylor Loft where the mannequins always seemed to be purposefully missing an appendage. We would run around like we were in a horror movie: “Ahh! They cut off that one’s foot! Don’t go over there, it’s where they chop off the heads!!!” Or we might try and figure out which employee was responsible for the beheadings. The child loved it. The wife would just sigh and shake her head.

Mannequins. Never forget they have stories of their own. And they are excellent listeners.



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I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.

– Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond

Measure Twice, Cut Once


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I had become an altar boy because I was hoping to be molested. Didn’t work. I stopped wearing underwear because it made me feel like a porn star ready at a moment’s notice. The moment never came. I tried to join an incel group. Just made me want to shoot my new brothers. Octopuses are incredibly intelligent and my uncle owns a diving company. Thought maybe there was a chance at an interspecies romance. The octopus I met just thought it was fun to unhook my oxygen tank. I suppose in a way, all these instances had fucked me. Just not in the way I’d imagined. Life is like that sometimes, right? Gives you lemons, you make lemonade, slip in a roofie, accidentally imbibe the dosed drink, and wake up not remembering how you fucked yourself. #redefiningFML!

Maybe I was going about this all wrong. Entirely. So I cut my penis off one day. Cutting board on the table, me on my tip toes, upper thighs pressed up against edge, butcher’s blade swung down hard and decisively, cauterized with a culinary blow torch immediately after. My take on crème brulee. The intoxicating smell of burnt pubes wafting about. This might not have been my smartest decision. Nor was it my worst. (Don’t ask.)

I got a little obsessed. Started cutting off other body parts. A finger. A couple toes. We live in a society with too many things. Tried cutting out a rib. You know, kind of experience the same thing Adam did. Wasn’t going to try and make a female out of it. I don’t have a God complex or anything like that. It’s fucking hard to try and cut through a rib. I passed out. The hospital staff were no longer buying my “work accident” explanations.

Couple months later, I met a woman named Sally on line. She seems wonderful. Generous. Kind. Beautiful. We’re supposed to meet in person this Friday for coffee. I’m just not sure how to explain to her the parts of me that are missing.

Kids Say the Darnedest Things


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Afternoons, just past lunch when her 5 yr olds slowed slightly from digestion-inspired fatigue, were when Ms. Newsome turned to the trusted circle rug. Her band of little humans would gather round sitting “Indian style” and awaiting the days letter. Today’s letter was K.

From the large foam border running the north wall of her classroom she dislodged the foam letter K. It was a dimpled purple with proud battle scars where students had bent or bitten or tugged its sans serif ends over the past few years. It may have been her best investment thus far as a teacher. Every one quieted quickly in hopes they might get to hold the mystical letter or be the first to offer up a word whose beginning it graced.

Ms. Newsome held it with two hands above her head. “Class, today’s letter is the letter ____?”

“K!” they shouted in surprising unison as they filled in the space she’d left hanging in the air.

“That’s right. The letter K. Can anyone tell me a word that starts with K?”

“Kite!” little William Sheffeld blurted out.

“Remember to raise your hand and wait to be called upon.” Ms. Newsome walked the tightrope between encouragement and discipline like a big top performer.

“Katie, would you like to give us a K word?”

“Cut.” She spoke so softly the class was still waiting for her answer.

“Would you please say that louder so all your classmates can hear, Katie?”

“Cut.” If anything, the second attempt was actually softer but her classmates had quieted, a haphazarded show of support.

“That’s very close. It has the right ‘kuh’ sound but cut is spelled with a C.”

Katie had curled up inside herself like a potato bug.

“Anyone else have a K word? Yes, Douglas.”

“Korea. North Korea.”

Oh, how they never ceased amazing her. She was proud to be their teacher. Before she could affirm his answer, Douglas began to speak more.

“Do they have first-strike capabilities yet?”

“Douglas, I don’t think– ”

“What’s a ‘first strike’?”

Before Ms. Newsome could identify from whom that question originated, know-it-all Samuel Klein was answering:
“That means they can launch warheads able to fly over the whole ocean and hit American cities.” With perfect timing, tomboy Lisa Sands said: “KAHHBOOMMM!” She smacked her cupped palms together to great effect. Katie began to whimper.

“Now class, I need you to focus.”

“Kashmir begins with a K!” Was that shy Francis?

“Does Caliphate start with a K?”

“Douglas where did you learn– ”

“Khomeini starts with a K!”
“So does Kykes!”
“And K.I.A.!”

“CLASS!” Ms. Newsome screamed.

Their wide-eyed stares full of fear and disorientation like she’d set off a flash grenade. Silence but for Katie’s sniffles as she tried to halt her tears.

“Return to your desks. Place your heads down. And close your eyes.”

They scurried into order. Their desks in five rows. Each row with three students. They had all turned their heads to the right, away from Ms. Newsome as she switched off the lights. For the remaining 86 minutes of their school day, not a word was uttered. The only sound was the awkward squeak of the letter K being pressed back into its foam setting.



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The metal that pierced his heart was 5.6mm, more commonly referred to as a “22.” I pulled the trigger. We were 9.7 feet apart. The last thing he said was: “I’m going to rape your wife and daughter when I’m done with you.”


His brother had been sent to jail that morning on trumped-up charges. The judge had wanted to “make an example” (his words) upon sentencing. The prosecutor had pulled the kind of legal jujitsu not often achieved on the public dime.


Our whole relationship lasted 37.8 seconds from the time I heard the broken glass downstairs until he stopped breathing. A small blood stain remains in the grout between the kitchen tiles where he expired. No chemical known to man will remove it.


He had a son who is 4 years old and called his father by the name, Papsy. The mother is “no longer in the picture.” I believe the child now lives with his grandparents.


It was the first time I’ve shot someone. The first time I’ve killed someone. The state and the justice system called it “self defense.”


His brother is 17, but was tried as an adult. Basically, he took the fall for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not even an accomplice so much as the right look for the part.


My neighbor is a prosecutor. We have the same last name.

The Trafficker


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We all start out innocently. One or two strays—orphans, really—you let them into your life. Maybe you keep them for your own enjoyment. Hidden. Maybe you gift them to the right person. Rarely, because of their condition, you sell them. But it never ends there. You’re always on the hunt. You lower your standards. Start accepting the ones with permanent markings, viewing these minor imperfections as desirable as you run your fingers along their forlorn spines. Sometimes they’re not even your type. It’s a grey area, but what isn’t? A line you straddle between collector and middleman. You always want more. A deep sacral desire drawing you to new, used, hard, soft… whatever remains. You’ll spend your last dime for more and you won’t raise an eyebrow at the ones others discard. Lost in the system. Not really even on the radar. Their value long overlooked by the newest “goods and services.” You care for them. In your own way. It’s a bit lewd. Some might say unhealthy. But these books need you.