Manny looked away from Jo and over toward the runners who had congregated across the street. They moved about effortless, laughing between bagel bites, sipping coffee, standing, looking around, checking the time, bending into the most elongated poses, posturing, preparing for The Wilderness. And the others, relaxed or maybe tired, sitting, taking in more than a sip or two of coffee, drinking the entire cup then buying another, in less of a hurry, sharing the salt and pepper if anyone asked, napkins too, talking philosophically, nodding and tipping their heads to and fro.
“Jo, do you ever tire standing here?”
“Depends on the day, the crowds. Days go faster when we’ve got crowds.”
“I’m talking purpose. Our purpose — leading our Followers to come inside to sell one more Dusty Rose top.”
“You mean pink.”
Fine. Pink. Was Jo color blind? She watched the crowds form, then disperse over at Hatties. “Don’t you wonder what goes on in The Wilderness? Notice how they come back all relaxed….don’t you wonder –”
“Manny, I don’t know where you’re going with this, but I like my job. Took decades of core work to stand rigid twenty-three-seven posing in front of the Looking-Glass. I like showing our Followers the way. You trying to get us fired?”
“I’m thinking big, Jo. Life-changing big.”
“We’re manikins, Manny. How many options do you think we have?”
Manny cringed at hearing the word, manikin, forbidden-speak the last she remembered. Manny took a long sigh, remembering her past — the one encoded into her micro chip — as a young girl growing up as a Mennonite, ultra conservative in her view, forbidden to run, her packaged plan destined to make moon pies, until Rumspringa, where running for her life became a way of life, a departure, a failed Olympic bid at 10000 meters, breaking the hearts of all left behind, and she fought back a tear, taking great care not to stain her plastic skin.
“What if we could work from the other side?” Manny attempted to point toward Hatties, but her arms wouldn’t budge. Batteries drain during the night without the flourescents.
“You mean beyond the Looking-Glass?”
“Yes, beyond the Looking-Glass.”
“I don’t want to end up in Accessories –”
Nobody wanted Accessories. Accessories was code for spare parts. Just a head here, and arm there, an earring, a necklace, a lopsided wig, maybe an ankle extending provocatively with a bracelet and painted toes.
“Don’t you want to see where our Followers go? To see The Wilderness for ourselves? To feel the pavement under your feet?” To experience The Recharge while sipping coffee –”
“Can I bring my knife?” Jo asked.
Jo did her best to nod toward her left hip, high on the hip just above the fishnet, and Manny strained to see the hip in her peripheral vision. Sure enough, Jo sported a military grade plastic prop knife.
“What kind of knife is that?” Manny asked.
“Swiss Army. Only the best.”
“That’s what I’m told.”
Manny strained to see, and it looked to read Made In China, but she didn’t have the heart to tell Jo, so instead she said “I don’t get your outfit at all. Is it for hunting, dating or running? ”
“Maybe it’s a three in one. Something for all occasions.”
“And, why do you have a knife?”
“I don’t know. To help you escape?”
“No, Jo, US. You and I. Both of us. Together.”
“But we took an oath.”
“That was a long time ago. The Suits probably lost the paperwork”.
“An oath is an oath. All manikins take the oath –”
“Stop using that ‘m’ word Jo. And, I know about the oath. What if we broke the oath. We could be free. It’s that easy.” It wasn’t, but she liked how it sounded.
“You mean, free-free?”
“Yes, Jo, free-free.”
Silence. Manny felt a breeze. The store fans turned on, and she could almost feel hair on her bald head blowing into her eyes, her loose fitted shirt moving left and right with each powerful carefree stride.
“Jo, if we do this, you know — go out there…” Manny said, pointing as best she could, ” we’re gonna need more than your prop knife to escape.” Manny considered how much of her plan she could share with Jo, or how many of the details she could yap on the fly, still much of it evolving, details vivid real-time, then fading just as fast. Jo seemed different, distant, or maybe is was just an attitude that went with her new military attire. For runners. Or date night. In fishnets.
She needed someone from the inside they could trust. Definitely not the Suits. They’re too greedy, and wouldn’t even let them form a union. Forced labor Manny called it during the last Union meeting, working 23 hours a day on a solar chip that barely makes it to 20. “Maybe someone from Design?”
“You think they’re trustworthy?”
“What do you think about Woody?” Manny asked.
“Don’t like him.”
“I thought you got along?”
“He breaks us up into parts, arms, legs, heads every time the seasons change — then forgets how to put us back together. You heard he put women’s legs on Teddy over in Men’s?”
“That was a mistake. He fixed Teddy as soon as he discovered the error.” Jo’s biceps, larger than yesterday, popped out of her top.
“No, he fixed Teddy after a little girl screamed at Teddy wearing pinstripe business pants and stilettos.”
“I heard about that.” Manny chuckled. “But he did give Teddy his legs back.” Maybe Woody did it again. An accident of course, changing out Jo’s parts during the Spring Fashions. “You’re right, I don’t trust Woody either. All the more reason for us to get out of here.”
Jo was silent, and Manny let her take it all in. Manny had been thinking about getting out for some time. The Followers moved in packs, pairs, some solo, to The Wilderness, then back. She had to see The Wilderness, firsthand.
“I dunno, Manny. I’m not sure I’m ready to leave. I like being the leaders of fashion.”
“We can lead our crowds from the outside” Manny said, watching the bagel eaters and coffee drinkers with envy of their basic black spandex tights and not much modern.
“You think they’d follow us — if we go outside?”
“I know so, Jo.” Manny sounded confident. Why not? From this side of the Looking-Glass, their daytime Followers stared, then raced inside to get fitted, and return back out — wearing an identical outfit. Why wouldn’t the early morning runners do the same? If only they could be reached from the other side of the Looking-Glass?
Manny struggled with pushing air and words out of the pinhole in her lips. Jo could be a few circuits short of ambition, and a fog rolled into Manny’s glass eyes and what time was it? How long would it take for Housecleaning to turn back on the lights? She had a sense her low battery solar chip was flashing red. She lowered her eyes as best she could onto her prop watch. 5PM it said, and that was no help because it always showed 5PM. She turned her eyes toward her prop smartphone, and why did everything she owned have to be a plastic prop? She saw a ray of light out beyond the Looking-Glass, or maybe she imagined it. Soon the runners would finish their drinks, stuff bagel pieces into their pockets, check their watches, tapping them, and run north into The Wilderness like it was a calling. She was too weak to study their rituals, and allowed her eyes to go dark, her batteries barely a trickle, waiting for The Recharge, she would explain her escape plan to Jo, after a little chat with Woody …
Episode 3: Coming soon…
Fiction, Manny and Jo, Manikins, New York City
Author: Jane Wadsworth. All rights reserved, 2017.
May be copied or duplicated with author’s permission.