Mannequin

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"Now, Lynnie, the thing about fashion is..." her dad would say as they walked down the street toward Elite Threads, his favorite clothing store.

Lynne loved these excursions to Elite Threads, where nothing cost under five hundred dollars, not even the socks. To Lynne, that was a fortune. Five hundred dollars could buy a lot of Barbies. And clothes. Barbies without clothes were pointless, even if they made her dad blush whenever he encountered one abandoned on the floor somewhere.

It wasn't the clothing that made Lynne excited about these shopping trips. It wasn't even the precious time spent with him, or that he'd hold her hand and make her feel special.

It was the mannequin in the window. He looked like Mom's Ken doll, the one who was never allowed out of his display case to play with any of Lynne's Barbies. This mannequin's hair wasn't brown plastic waves like Ken's. It looked real. It was longish, too. Sometimes. Sometimes it was short. And it always changed colors. Sometimes it was red, sometimes copper, sometimes black. No matter how hard she tried, she could never guess what color it would be until they got there and she saw it for herself.

"Let's go see what Ken's up to today," Lynne's dad would say to her, putting his hand on the back of her head. It was supposed to be a gesture of affection, but the real love came from the way Lynne's dad called the mannequin Ken.

The first thing Lynne's dad did every time they got to the store was try on whatever Ken was wearing. While he did that, Lynne would sit at Ken's feet and dream about what the mannequin would be like if he was real. His shoulders were broad and square, unlike her dad's, so that meant he was an athlete. Lynne's dad was always saying that the people who weren't naturally athletic, like himself, were doomed to struggle more than the men with those great talents. That's why, he'd say, he needed to dress right. Clothes make the man, he'd say. They make up for what God didn't give a guy, even more than the hours spent getting sweaty at Fit Riverview, eight great locations to serve you.

Lynne didn't care about any of that. All she cared about was Ken. How he had the right body, the one her dad couldn't have, no matter how hard he tried. She spent hours sitting at Ken's feet and dreaming: he'd hold her as she learned to swim. He'd take the stupid plastic guitar away from Ian and make sure Lynne got a turn at Rock Band. He'd make sure they went places and did things. Like picnics. And amusement parks. He'd do all those things that dads were supposed to do, only Lynne's dad was too busy earning a living to turn off the computer and actually do them.

Ken wouldn't use a computer. He'd know how to build a campfire, and how to do laundry without turning everything pink or leaving it in the washer so long, it started to smell bad. All his tools on his workbench in the garage would be organized and easy to find. He'd be kind and patient, and for him, Lynne would care about her grades more. She'd try to make her teachers proud because he'd be proud of her first, and praise encourages effort -- or so Ken would say as he grinned down at her, his white teeth shining so bright, he'd laugh when Lynne put on sunglasses to look at him.

But mostly, Ken would pay attention to her. Well, more attention than visits to Elite Threads, where she sat under Ken's feet and daydreamed about someone who wasn't even real. It wasn't like Lynne's dad talked much to her while they were in the shop. Just on the way there and back home again, and even then, he mostly talked about clothes while she stared out the window and pretended to listen.

Lynne's dad came out of the dressing room, dressed like Ken in plaid shorts and a banana yellow shirt that would have clung if Lynne's dad was built like the athlete he wanted to be. Instead, it hung in the hollow space between his shoulders. And draped over his belly.

He didn't look rich. Or successful.

He was sort of embarrassing.

"What do you think, Lynnie?" He held his arms out. It was Lynne's cue to tell him he looked great, but he didn't. His knees were knobby, his legs were like sticks. They didn't swell like Ken's did at the calves. The hair was sparse, not thick. It didn't lay smooth.

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