Jade

Barry Jackson knew nothing of the power of glass until he stared into a mannequin's eyes. Though their fine marble and their exquisite, exotic colors had always attracted his attention from a distance, it wasn’t until he’d stepped forward and truly examined their depths that he began to realize something more existed inside the blocks of clay. While a woman’s curves could exist on the mantle of their chest, or a man’s muscles on the face of their stomach, nothing could compare to a mannequin’s eyes.

   Jade green, he thought, resisting the urge to reach up and stroke the creation’s face. That’s the color of your eyes.
   Had he not worked in an art department that required their workers to know specific colors, he would never have guessed the word jade would have been involved in said mannequin’s name. Jade—the word alone summoned grand images in his mind. Riches, royalty, fame, power; all reminded him of the color, all spoke of the word.
   “Barry.”
   He stole a glance over his shoulder. His wife—a thirty-something by the name Delilah—stood with a hand on her hip, concerned yet wary eyes darting from her husband to the mannequin he had so closely examined.
   “What?” he asked.
   “What are you doing?”
   “Looking at her eyes,” he said, taking a few steps back.
   “Why? Is there something wrong with them?”
   “I didn’t know they made mannequins with glass eyes.”
   “Well, of course they do,” Delilah laughed. “How else do they keep people from stealing them?”
   Who would want to steal a mannequin?
   While he’d indulged in the occasional fetish, he’d never gone so far as to steal a block of clay.
   “Come on, let’s keep going.”
   “All right,” Barry said.
   Before they could get too far, he turned to look back at the mannequin, wondering when he would see her again.

   They returned home with four armloads of bags. While most of their contents consisted of shoes, makeup and sunglasses, he’d managed to sneak in a pair of loafers and a new bathrobe.
   “Aww, Barry!” Delilah crowed, pulling the bathrobe with its fresh fourteen-ninety-nine tag from one bag. “I already bought us his and hers!”
   In pink, he thought, making sure to conceal his smirk with a look of utter surprise. “Oh? You did? When?”
   “Valentine’s Day.”
   Maybe he wouldn’t have forgotten if she’d bought something see-through…
   “Sorry,” he frowned.
   “Don’t worry about it. At least now you’ll have an extra if something happens to your new one.”
   How his wife could call something three months old ‘new’ he didn’t know, but Barry nodded and decided not to argue.
   “I might go back up there tomorrow,” he said. “I wanted to look at the electronics.”
   “Didn’t you look while we were there?”
   “No. I was too busy carrying your shoes, remember?”
   “Oh, all right. Just shut up about the shoes.”
   And before his eyes, his wife began to unload them.
   One pair, two pairs, three pairs, four…

   The following day, a security guard caught him eyeing the mannequin he’d secretly come to know as Jade.
   “Excuse me,” the man said, taking a few steps forward. He made sure to keep his hand near his side, where a police-styled baton dangled from his belt. “Can I help you, sir?”
   “Uh… no,” Barry smiled. As always, one side of his lip curled too low, the other too high. It always seemed to happen when he got nervous. Then, to make up for his embarrassing—if somewhat odd—action, he turned, pointed at her eyes, and said, “I didn’t know they made them with glass eyes.”
   “Oh?” The security guard approached the mannequin, as if confirming what Barry had just stated. “Well, I’ll be damned—they are glass.”
   “I just thought that was weird.”
   “You afraid of mannequins, captain?” the guard grinned.
   “No. Why? Are you?”
   “I worked security in the clothing department for three years. Needless to say, I got used to them.”
   Barry glanced at the mannequin, tightened his hold on the bag that held a new rechargeable battery dock, then took a few steps back.
   “Sorry to bother you,” he said, reaching out to shake the man’s hand. “Have a nice day, mister…”
   “Jackson,” he smiled. “And no, not Michael.”

   On the third day, he left the house to ‘pick up dinner,’ as he wrote on a post-it. While he planned to pick up dinner—specifically a tub of chicken—he also planned to swing by the mall.
   Taking the long way around the parking lot, he entered the building from the side, as to not meet the previous day’s security guard. He figured that, if anything, he’d see another, but not the same one. Yesterday’s encounter had stretched his comfort zone more than he liked.
   She’s not too far away.
   He rounded the corner and came face-to-face with her almost immediately. Jade—the beauty with royal green eyes and striking, well-cut black hair—stared at him, one hand extended.
   Hadn’t that same hand been on her hip yesterday?
   Something, he thought, swallowing a lump in his throat.
   For reasons he couldn’t understand, he couldn’t finish the thought. So, instead of dwelling on it, he reached for the mannequin, setting a thumb on her colorless lips while the rest of his hand lay against her cheek.
   “I came here,” he said, “just to see you.”
   At that moment, Jade smiled.
   Barry found something he’d always been missing in his life.

   “Barry… Baaareeeey… Barry!”
   The third, sharper enunciation shocked him out of his thoughts. He sat in front of his computer, scanning the homepage of a young woman who just happened to make mannequins, one with glass eyes.
   “What?” he asked.
   “What are you doing?”
   “Clicked the wrong thing,” he grumbled.
   Carefully, as to not alert his computer-illiterate wife to something suspicious, he        clicked the menus button, then trailed the mouse down and closed a news window he had also opened. Since Delilah knew nothing about computers, she would assume he had closed the page and nothing more.
   “I still think they’re creepy,” she muttered, setting a hand on his shoulder. “Thanks for going and getting supper.”
   “Yeah,” he muttered. “No problem.”
   Delilah leaned down, kissed his cheek, and muttered something about getting off the computer to watch some TV. Quality and time were the only words that really stuck out.
   Quality time.
   After taking a moment to digest the words, he clicked the page he’d hidden from his wife and stared at a mannequin, one that looked just like Jade.

   Wax dolls filled his dreams. They lined the streets, melted on tanning chairs—complete with reflective tinfoil—and browsed the makeup aisle at the local convenience store. One particular mannequin—the slim, trim-haired beauty Barry had come to fancy—turned and winked at him, gesturing him forward with the tip of her finger.
   A nearby thermometer read one-hundred-and-twenty-degrees.
   Maybe that was why her lips were melting off her face.

   Panic thrummed his heart, playing chords in his lungs. His chest—the resonant cavity of a greater human instrument—heaved, expelling notes that ranged from low, desperate exhales to harsh, sharp inhales.
   The one and only thing that entered his mind at that point could only be found at the mall.
   As carefully as he could, he slid out of bed, dressed from the waist down, then snuck into the hall. There, he closed the door to the slightest crack and made his way down the corridor. He grabbed a hoodie, pulled it over his head, and grabbed his keys, not even bothering to swipe the wallet that lay on top of the microwave.
   For several long, almost painful minutes, he navigated the streetlamp-lit street, hardly able to believe that such hues of orange could actually exist. The road swarmed with shadows smaller than his thumbnail. Bugs, most likely mosquitoes, ranging in the hundreds to hundred-thousands, danced beneath the halos, waiting for their winged god to bestow upon them their final feast.
   Barry pulled into the parking lot closest to where Jade most likely stood, slid the crowbar out from under the seat, and held it close to his side. He didn’t bother to disengage the vehicle, nor did he plan to lock it. Let some ghetto kid pimp his ride—he sure as hell didn’t care.
   He stopped at the door, considered his situation, then realized he had nothing to worry about.
   Jade was waiting for him.
   Taking the chance he’d been waiting for the past few days, Barry closed his eyes and thrust the crowbar back over his shoulder.
   The display window shattered just as easily as he thought.
   Jade.
   Nothing else mattered, nothing more than the mannequin. An automaton, long since hidden in the evolved depths of human consciousness, opened. Gears shifted, cords rearranged, strings replaced—single, sole instinct now overrode unnatural though.
   In the end, instinct had—and always would—matter above all else.
   At the end of the long hall, a single, possibly schizophrenic light cradled her in faint yellow.
   She stood, waiting.
   No words could describe the way he felt.
   The ache, the need, the want—all coexisted, together, as one.
   Closing his eyes, he stepped forward.
   The mall darkened.
   Sirens sounded in the distance.
  And outside, roughly a mile-and-a-half away, Delilah Jackson woke to discover her husband was no longer asleep beside her.

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