Surrogates & Mannequins by Benoit Lelièvre
It’s one scene that came back to Manning, on the far edge of the universe. One memory. That memory. The last day he spent with Jodie. Everyone was there, in the bi-centennial family house, for Thanksgiving. There were sleeping bags all over the floor, people in every room and the house was vibrating with the energy of children, running all over the house. It should have been a happy moment.
She woke up early on Friday, much earlier than everybody else. Jodie, she was one year younger than him back then, but she was already a woman. When Aunt Rachel left them for a new life in California, the little girl became something else. She grew up, her hair became longer and darker and that something in her eyes changed. The glow of childhood became something else, something Manning had never seen before. Plus, she had boobs already. He was thirteen years old and had no hair to show for himself. Jodie was younger than him, but her soul had traveled already.
“Come with me.” she whispered.
She took him by the hand and helped him up. The feel of her touch ignited an invisible force field that enslaved him to her will. That morning, Manning would have followed her to another continent, to another life. They tiptoed along the second floor corridor, up to the attic. Manning carefully pulled the pin from the latch that kept the attic stairs glued to the trap and lowered it, wishing with all his being that it wouldn’t squeak or crack. It didn’t.
The walked up in silence. Jodie sat in front of him and cleared her long, dark hair from her face. A ray of light coming from air duct hit her forehead. It shines. She was perfection incarnate, at that moment.
“Have you ever done it?” she asked.
He knew what she meant, but he was too terrified to answer. She grabbed the lapel of his t-shirt and kissed him on the mouth. A jolt of electricity went through Manning’s body and he became immediately hard. She plunged an expert hand down his pajama pants. Another explosion. New and exquisite sensation traveled through Manning’s body at the speed of light.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked, smiling.
Manning would have loved to answer. Anything. Do anything you want with me. I am and I will be yours, forever. Please. Jodie was chuckling and nibble his neck as she went to work on his…on him. He was not Manning anymore, his body had become a gateway for a mysterious energy he didn’t even know existed before.
How long did it last? He doesn’t know. To him, it was hours, days and even then it was too short. That moment was more than he could describe.
It was life itself.
Manning would have wished to tell her. Tell her anything really. Anything that would have kept her close, with him, but his wishes died in his throat when the bald head of Uncle Richard peaked out of the attic’s trap.
He pronounced her name, centaurian and fearsome, the way adults are before children hit the age of reason and disillusion. He grabbed her by her hair and dragged her out the attic the way cavemen dragged their wives in comic books. They put their coats on and disappeared through the front door under a shower of “Richard, what are you doing?” and “Calm down Richard, please. Calm down.” It was the last time Manning saw his cousin. On their way home, the car hit a patch of black ice and slid off the road and into a telephone pole.
Death was instant, the doctors said, but the bodies were cooked. It was a closed casket funeral for them both. They only had each other and together they went to the other side. Sad, untimely, but very poetic, said the eulogist. Manning didn’t know him.
Nobody talked about that day again. Not his parents, not his Aunt Rachel, who came back from California for the occasion. She wasn’t angry at Manning like Uncle Richard was.
“I know you loved your cousin very much, but you have to be strong. You have to honor her memory by living. You have to live to make sure she survives in your heart. If you decide to live, she will stay with you forever.”
She was always so kind. Manning doubted the other adults told her about what really happened, but he knew that she knew. Jodie told her. She must have.
Life resumed its course after that day but Jodie, she never left.
She became a part of Manning. She became what every woman had to live up to. Perfection. They could never be her. Just like her. That mysterious, sexy and innocent at the same time. That perfect brew he tasted only once. When he married Gillian at twenty-four, Manning did it because it was convenient. She was a good woman and she understood. All that mattered to her was that he was there, with her, giving her the life she always wanted. Wherever his mind would be, she didn’t care.
She called him a daydreamer, with a sad smile.
He never told her about Jodie, because he figured out she didn’t need to know. All she asked of him was to sometimes wrap her arms around his shoulders and hold on, while he was somewhere else, with his cousin. Manning liked to imagine it was her, holding him like that.
But being with his Jodie in thoughts wasn’t enough. It was her that obsessed Manning, but it was that moment also. That moment of perfect lucidity, this existential bliss that hit him like gamma rays for a few minutes. It became sweeter with the years, because it was a unique, feeling sight like a rare bird in a foreign country. But it became bitter also, because Jodie always vanished with the daily grind.
The traffic, the grocery store, the dentist appointments, it was all so ugly.
Manning first started going out at night, because the urge was too strong. Jodie called him, from wherever she was. She was in his dreams and in the face of every woman that ever shared as much as an office space with him. In the way they walked, in the way they tied their hair or that they stretched after a long day. When they did things unconsciously, little, perfect gestures, he would see her in them.
Then, it had to happen again. That moment. Life had to resume its course, even by little bursts if it needed to be.
He decided to call them Surrogates. There were so many horrible terms to describe what he was doing, but this one was acceptable. The first was a co-worker. She was twenty-three years old and just got hired in the accounting department G. She looked like her. She wasn’t her, but she was long, slender, with dark hair. Good enough. Her name was Cindy or Sylvia, Manning didn’t remember. He never really bothered to learn their names. It was easier this way.
She was ambitious, the little bitch. So she stayed at the office later. Manning waited for her one night, by her car. He came from behind .
“Hey,” he said.
She jumped, from the surprise, but turned back and looked at him. They barely exchanged more than mere salutations on a daily basis, so Manning understood. But here she was, silent and looking at him in the eyes, making everything possible over again.
He kissed her, sealing both of their fates.
“What are you doing? Get off me!”
“Get off? Yeah, get me off. What about me, Jodie? What about me? Haven’t I waited for you long enough? Be a good girl now and get ME off. Goddamit.”
Cindy or Sylvia didn’t like it, but it didn’t matter because she served her purpose. Manning had lived that moment again, a little. He recaptured a part of his youth and it felt to him like a breath of a November morning air. Cindy/Sylvia became a Mannequin on the back seat of Manning’s car. A used Surrogate became a Mannequin. A still life reproduction. He saw a dark poetry to this. It made it so much better, so easy. He disposed of her in a scrapyard, near his work, where he had heard through a co-worker that the night watchman had a thing for Mannequins.
He started prowling the night, looking for the best drugs he had ever known. In his youth, Manning had tried weed, haschich, pills, LSD and even coke, but nothing compared to Jodie. She was the ultimate thrill. He voice became louder and more demanding. She wanted to live again and be with him. She wanted to inhabit the Surrogates he found and breathe her last breaths over and over again Her will was Manning’s will. He stayed true to that morning where he promised himself to her.
He relinquished the idea of buying the newspaper and cut the cable from his household soon after he started this quest of his. Nobody had to know about his secret. He quickly gained a number of skills to deal with his new activity. The less he knew about the girls, the less he could tell the police by mistake. He never bothered to look up their names or to learn their habits. A quick, impulsive snatch would always work best. There would be no patterns to trace, nothing to understand. Manning only understood what he was doing and it was enough.
He did what? Ten? Maybe fifteen? To be a Surrogate, a girl had to have all the right qualities. Manning couldn’t put words on it, but she had to have “that”. The ensemble of qualities that Jodie had, that made her who she was. The real thing had been destroyed but his evil and greedy Uncle, but there were still a few knock offs worth using.
He’s not sure whether the last girl was a minor or not. Manning had for principle of never selecting a surrogate that was blatantly underage, but he couldn’t keep himself in check with her. Reality tuned itself out for that moment. When he came back to his senses in his car, not too sure what had happened, Manning knew she was the last girl to become a Mannequin.
Manning’s life didn’t flash before his eyes, as the stocking tightened around his neck and the oxygen left his bloodstream. Only that moment, because it was that one morning, that one moment where he really lived. He fell dead on the bedroom carpet, with for last sight, Gillian, staring back at him, cold and loveless.
He wasn’t angry or upset when he left this world. It would be all for the best. Gillian would be delivered from that sad wedding she never deserved. She served her purpose too, like all the other girls. She was a Mannequin, something that never really lived. Not like he lived anyway. Manning was glad she took care of business and delivered him of this material world. Something better was waiting for him.
He would be with her again.