It isn’t yet two o’clock and the mannequins at the thrift store are already in varied states of exposure.
Nora is the one who redresses them. She does this with a particular diligence and responsibility that doesn’t come to her often. The core strategy at the foundation of her work ethic is ‘look busy and run out the clock’, so she discovered their secret by accident in her pursuit of the endless, time consuming jobs the rest of the staff avoided.
Once you spend enough time with the mannequins you just get a feeling.
The thrift store housed a total of six mannequins, all powerless to fend off the yoga moms and college students who came to the store lately in frenzied hordes to pilfer them of their – one, two, and then four times – discounted clothing.
No one else cared to get to know them and she was happy to be the keeper of their secret. Before Nora felt responsible for them, they were often left to languish about all day in states of partial undress, stagnant tension, and neglect.
When considered carefully it all made total sense: How else can you get your thrills in a lifetime confined to the tedium of retail if not a relentless affinity for exhibitionism?
Simply being naked all the time just isn’t stimulating. She took it upon herself to see they’re taken care of and occasionally shoo away small children when they got a little too handsy.
She started with Cynthia, struck completely nude at her post where she loomed elegant and imposing above the display of tangled jewelry. Nora took her time considering the racks until she found a blouse that really said “Cynthia”.
Secretly, Nora liked Cynthia the best though she tried hard not to have an obvious favorite. She took pride in staying attuned to each of their individual needs and quirks.
“Thanks for doing this Nora, it’s like no one else wants to bother putting in the effort anymore. It really makes us look bad.”
Nora’s manager, Chantal, is one of those people who has no context outside of work. Her essential components could be reduced to the sound of keys jangling against a name tag on a lanyard, tidy homemade lunches in plastic Tupperware, and carefully timed thirty-minute breaks.
“I notice the effort you’ve put in during all of this uncertainty. We aren’t really supposed to be talking about stuff like this yet to the regular staff, but I have a management job lined up at the drugstore on Bay just in case. If things go bad here you should hand in an application.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Don’t worry too much though; we’ve hit our sales targets the last two days! Just focus on keeping up the good work and keep this just between us.”
The sudden influx of business was more of a death rattle than a case for optimism but Nora did her best to feign an enhanced sense of morale anyway and began searching for a t-shirt with minimal yellowing in the pits, until she’s interrupted by a sharp tap on her shoulder.
“Excuse me dear, I know you just finished but would it be okay if I took the blouse off that mannequin?”
“Go right ahead, it’s no bother at all,” Nora leaned in closer and brought her voice down to a whisper, “Just between you and me; she gets a really sick thrill out of it.”
The woman laughed nervously and scuttled away.
Newly unemployed, Nora found her mind wandered often to the thrift store mannequins and what would become of them.
She takes a detour on her way to her interview at the drugstore.
Beyond the darkened storefront the racks inside are bare, all her mannequins stripped and piled unceremoniously on the floor in a grotesque cluster of dissociated limbs and torsos.
A group of people lingering outside, unconvinced by the ‘Permanently Closed’ sign, pressed their faces up against the glass to peer inside.
“Fucking voyeurs.” Nora muttered.
Renee P. Miller writes fiction and poetry from Toronto. She can be found on twitter @synonymforrenee