Assembled

John arrived early and found a stool at the bar, still trying to wrap his head around the fact that he was on a date. Well, not yet, she still hadn’t showed, but he’d done his part. He was out there because, what was the alternative? Home? Dinner for one? The Discovery Channel?

He’d even gone with a button down for the occasion, khakis, after a quick shower, one that hadn’t managed to completely wash out the reek of polyvinyl chloride—like that of a new shower liner or Halloween mask–the smell of loneliness. But least now he could tell himself that he’d made the effort.

John fingered the acrylic eyeball in his pocket. After bringing it home from work one day, he’d forgotten to return it, he’d grown used to the storm blue iris, about the size of a golf ball. His lucky eyeball.

Work. He still hadn’t come up with a way to handle the dreaded question. The one that always came up after the usual topics of weather and hobbies or school had been exhausted.

So, what do you do?

He did what he did. Worked in silicone—plastics—creating things. Perhaps if he stuck to the technical jargon, he could skirt around what it was he actually assembled at the plant. A second drink relaxed his nerves.

She arrived right at six. John stood, relieved yet anxious that he couldn’t scrap his plan and hide. The fact that she was pretty made matters worse. With an easy smile and confident strides, her limbs were of compatible proportions and her chestnut hair was shorn and fashionable in a low-maintenance kind of way.

Easy there, John said to himself. Leave work at work.

He took her hand. Smooth skin, warm ivory—WI-12 shade tones. Nice fingers, firm to the touch but not manly. Great contour with decent nails that looked to have been freshly glossed.

He bought her drink and admired her posture. Even smile, nice teeth, only a few blemishes that a quick buff at his workstation could clear. Her lips were on the thin side of the chart, but her Spanish hazel eye color was extraordinary.

She tossed her head back when she spoke. They waded into small talk. Traffic, construction near the college. It wasn’t long before she eased into her commute to work that John began to squirm. She was a nurse, lived alone, and had recently travelled to New Zealand. John nodded obediently, inquiring about her travels while regarding her jaw line, the slight build and curves of her shoulders.

They took a table near the window. John hoped that Addy was having a good enough time. At least she hadn’t run off with some excuse of an emergency. As he followed her to the table, he took in the sweep of her back, her petite waistline and the fluid motion of her hips. And then it happened.

He saw her naked torso on an assembly line, with the others, headless and hanging, ready for sealant treatment. John set his drink down and tried to appear casual.

“I’m sorry, I need to…use the restroom.”

Addy cocked her head, raised her brow. “Okay.”

He’d spent the day inspecting poseable PVC skeletons, checking that the steel joints moved fluidly. Some resistance was needed—to seem lifelike. But nothing that would stick or hitch. From there he’d trimmed peelings from newly molded layers of silicone flesh, shades ranging from sand to warm sand, mocha, caramel, and so on to match the specs from the tall list of invoices. It was work, nothing more. It paid well and there was plenty of it to keep him busy.

A long glance in the mirror. He was handsome enough. Still fit and trim and without any baggage. But the job. Assembling sex dolls, not exactly meet-the-parents fodder. Day after day, the molds, the heads, assembling bodies only to come home to be alone. It was wearing him down.

Most of the guys at the plant joked about it. Some had even taken to the dolls, bought their own at a discount. A few more even kept the defective ones and joked about their kinky trysts with paraplegic models. But it wasn’t John’s thing. And so here he was, alone. Or was he?

She’s a human being, John.

Eventually, John pulled it together. Addy was out there. An attractive, seemingly nice, real live human. How she was single he couldn’t say. A nurse, who liked to help people. And she had real flesh and working parts, not to mention a brain. And here he was hiding, talking to himself.

John was relieved to find that she was still at the table, checking her phone, probably texting her friends about her disastrous dinner date. He ran a hand through his hair; summoned the grit to try and save the evening.

“Sorry about that,” he said, sliding in.

“No,” she said, pocketing her phone with a laugh. “My friends are being freaks.” She nodded to his glass with a shy smile. “I ordered you another drink.”

“Oh, thanks.”

John took a long look at the pretty girl across from him. Some college kids cheered on a game over near the bar. Addy wasn’t into sports. A relief to John, as he really wasn’t either. She mentioned the beach and he smiled. He told her about his parents place on the coast. About surfing and fishing, bolstered by her leaning interest. She liked camping. He looked out the window and shook his head with a smile.

“What?”

“No, it’s just…earlier, you asked what I do for a living.”

She pointed across the table, squinting. “Plastics, right?”

John wiped a small puddle of condensation from the table. “Yeah, plastics.”

So there, in the restaurant, on the very first date, he did it. John took a breath and started talking. About work. In a way he’d never done before. He went on about makes and models, colors and hair, feeling his voice rising as he spoke of foot proportions and hands, he even touched on such intricacies as pubic hair. Her eyes widened with marvel when he divulged prices—how much a custom-made doll could set one back—and by the time he was done he sat back and fully expected her to walk right out the door. Run.

So when Addy stood he closed his eyes.

“If you will excuse me, I have to use the bathroom.”

John nodded. “Yeah, sure.” He was a first class idiot.

But she returned. And when she did John saw that she was pale, a shade known at the plant as “Night Moon”

“Okay,” she said settling in. Her breaths were shallow, but from the way she set her bag down he thought she might be sticking around. She peeked across the table. “My turn.”

“Turn?”

“Yes,” she said with a small laugh. “If we’re coming clean about work.”

Now it was John who was leaning in, suddenly forgetting all about the conveyers and smells and Benzene inhalation. Only looking into the suddenly devilish eyes mere inches from his own. She bit her lip.

“I like to spend time in the morgue.”

“The morgue?”

“Yeah, like, hang out with the bodies. Cadavers. The dead. You know? “

John couldn’t hold the urge to smile. “Well, isn’t that part of the job?”

Her head shook. “Nope. And I go in there all the time. On my breaks, too. Sometimes I even talk to the stiffs.”

She sat back, took a greedy swallow of her tonic. “Okay, go ahead,” she said, glancing back to the door. “You know you want to bolt.”

John wiped his face. His smile widening. It was a goofy smile, belonging to a guy who’d found a freedom he’d only dreamed about. He reached in his pocket and fished out old blue, as he called it. Set the eyeball on the table.

Addy’s own eyes lit wide with fascination. A waiter appeared but neither of them noticed. Addy took the eyeball between her thumb and forefinger, then shot John a squint.

“Sometimes I eat lunch in there.”

John and Addy’s second date was at the plant. It was with the utmost care that he helped her with the safety mask before the tour. John’s coworkers watched with wonder as the two lovebirds bobbed along. It was a head-shaking, strange kind of romance they saw blooming before their eyes. But none of the guys had ever seen their quiet friend so happy.

By the third date, John was looking at engagement rings. He met Addy at the hospital and they snuck down to the morgue in the predawn hours, where they only narrowly escaped getting caught in a frigid moment of passion by a night orderly.

A few months later, Addy’s friends admired her ring at the bridal shower. No one was surprised about the whirlwind engagement after seeing the two of them together. Several bridesmaids asked Addy where she’d had her nails done. So exquisite, they said, making no secret of their envy when Addy gushed about how her John got the polish at a discount and he loved to paint both her nails and her toes as they watched The Discovery Channel. Right after a shower, dinner, and a nightly massage.

 

 

–Pete Fanning/2016

 

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