The pictures are the hardest part to explain. I don't care, but I know it bothers my kids. I don't know what to do about that.
The worst part is that it seems creepy. Perverted. I get that. It's not. But I'll never convince anyone different.
Roxie died when the kids were grown. I loved that woman with my whole damn heart for forty years. Every inch of it. When she died...it was an ugliness. I don't want to talk about it.
The first mannequin was a whim. I saw her sticking out of the dumpster like a lawn dart. I got her home and cleaned her off, and then I didn't know what the hell to do, so I kept going. I bought her a wig and put some of Roxie's old clothes on her. That bothered me, though, so we went shopping.
That's the thing, see? That's the fucking problem. I remember that trip to the store and the snickering clerks, and I dressed her in the changing room with tears in my eyes. I bought her clothes that I thought were tastefully understated. No lingerie. Nothing like that. There is nothing sexual about it.
The clerks bothered me, but I didn't care too much then, and I dont give a shit when I take one of the girls shopping now. My wife is dead. There's not a lot I care about. But I did...and do...care about my kids. And it hurts me that they think their old man is insane. Although maybe I am.
So, Claire was the first. I changed her outfit every day. I brushed her wig and got her looking pretty. Then, I'd put her in the chair by the window. And things got better. I swear they did, and I know it don't make a lot of sense, but I'm too old to care 'why'. I liked brushing the wig. I liked seeing her sitting in the sun, the soft rays snaking through her auburn hair. It was company. And hell, I knew it was weird, but it helped. The kids, Jesus. They sat me down one day. Dad, we're worried. Dad, it's perverse. Dad, it's not right. And I smiled and reminded them that I had been very understanding of their quirks their whole lives. They think it's about sex. It's not. It's about loneliness.
Jamie was next. She was a dark-skinned black woman. Beautiful. She cried out for different clothes. She had a different personality. I'm not crazy. I know they're not real. She didn't say anything. But Jamie would have looked foolish wearing clothes that belonged to someone else.
Next was Melissa, a slim asian. Then Mandy, Jenny, Marcia. That was it for a while. Mandy, Jenny, and Marcia were all white women. Most mannequins are white. I'm not a racist.
The kids didn't like having them at the house when they visited. The grandkids loved them. Kid's do that. I mean, what are they but giant dolls? The first family portrait was the first big wedge. Dad, you are NOT putting your 'friends' in our family portrait. Hours, we argued. Me saying they were family to me. Knowing they weren't. Not understanding how to explain it. Just knowing if they weren't good enough to be in the picture, then the picture didn't need me either.
My son actually suggested I buy a three thousand dollar sex doll. He said he'd buy it for me, which is stupid because I got money. I told him again. It ain't about sex. He slammed the door on the way out. So hard it knocked some of his mother's porcelain off the mantle. I called him and told him he'd scared my girls just to piss him off.
Then the girls and I sat on the porch and had a drink. I had a drink, they sat there. They didn't do shit except look nice and pretty - like a field of wildflowers. Splashes of color all around me. The neighbors gawk, but I don't care what they think.
We're a big family now. There are twenty girls in all. Dressing them and fussing with them takes up a good bit of my day. When we all get to setting down, it's usually about time to start thinking about dinner. It kills time; I see that. I talk to them. I'll admit that. But it's like how you talk to yourself when you're whittling. I kiss them all goodnight. That's a little strange, granted, but I've sure kissed weirder things.