No Dummy by S.P. Hannaway
—You prick! You useless prick!
Monty gives himself hell. There’s no one else to do it.
—Where is it? he spits and splutters. —You’ve lost it, haven’t you? You can do bugger all without it.
His body isn’t there. It’s not attached, under him. He’s looked. He’s strained his eyes to popping point. Some things are difficult to explain.
—Is it under all the shite? Is it buried?
He can’t tell about before. He must’ve nodded off; he probably dribbled. Was his body there before he dozed? Thing about landfill is it’s lovely. Up to a point. But there’s only so much looking a pair of eyes can do. Then it’s more or less the same. The x-ray of a shattered leg or a splintered tabletop, the mouldy old mattress or the sea of squidgy nappies: what’s the difference really? All of it’s rejected, shunted out of sight, forgotten.
Gone. Every time Monty wakes it’s gone. It’s been too long since he could say —Oh, hello body, long time no see! Maybe whatever connected him was loose, it frayed, and the two jigsaw pieces of him broke apart. Maybe his stupid-arse body decided it had enough and set off in search of a different life, a better lie. It’s out there somewhere, has to be. On another landfill: a classier joint, or somewhere nearby, under a dozer.
Some days he wonders if his brain’s gone. A housefly is squatting in his ear. It busies itself in a minor key. There’s the constant crunching of metal and glass, the stink of curdled milk wrecking his nose. And the sky’s a sluice of squabbling birds. It does his bloody head in.
The top of his skull is cracked, open, likely clipped by a heavy blade. And it’s madness inside: an oddly perfect, made-up world. He can hear the buzz of people. There’s a funfair, flashing neon, pulsing, a wildly thumping bass.
At dusk, the light drains and Monty’s spirit slumps. He loses his grip. He plunges into a bottomless panic, needs to shout, make his own noise. But his poxy jaw doesn’t want to work, doesn’t want to play. It’s slack: on the brink of strike. It’s had enough of his jabbering. He’ll have to force it, point his brain at it; wrench his tongue.
—This is it, Monty!
Words can be chiselled into stone.
—The straw that broke.
His voice cracks, his words garbled, trapped, a little squeaky. Fine for landfill.
—Hey! I’m still here.
A tear trudges down his doughy face.
—Help! Fucking … please! Make it stop! Open up the earth. Kick me in.
A mirage. Out of nowhere, the frog-girl appears — a curious combination — in an emerald green skin-hugging two-piece and mountainous platform wedges. Frogs aren’t known for their height.
—Yoo hoo! Hold on!
She leaps in front of him, hunkers down, gives him a quick once-over with her beady eyes.
—Babes, I’m Ernestine. I won’t shake your hand. What’s your little name?
Monty tries to speak but he’s interrupted. Frog-girl rattles on.
—That’s so cute. We’re the perfect match you know: my outfit, your eyes. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve had my eye on you. Are you hiding?
Monty’s kingdom is under a plywood sheet. He’s proud of it. The wood droops down wonkily; split in two. But it keeps the sun off and saves his eyes from ravenous beaks.
Frog-girl totters back, kicking cans; primps her pink candyfloss hair.
—Babes, I’m gonna rescue you. It’s fantastic, right?
The fly bobs in Monty’s ear, not mad keen on moving. Monty’s gobsmacked. But the frog-girl’s super excited. She witters on about saving his neck: delivering him from a wasteland. He doesn’t want to wither away, does he? Shrivel up like a plastic bag? And it’s super cool because the tube runs straight to the city.
—Don’t you just hate changing tubes?
Monty can’t decide. Rescue? Another chance?
—Ernestine. Ern? I can’t. I have to find the rest of me, my body. I remember once looking down, seeing it. I remember hope.
His startled eyes fill up.
—But baby, this is it! How many chances are you gonna get? You’ll be like the prodigal, you know, in the Bible, coming home with nothing, less than.
—Will I fit in?
Frog-girl doesn’t seem to hear him.
—And don’t worry, babes, I’ve got transport.
His eyes widen as she magics a little cart on wheels from behind her towering shoes.
—Come on. I have a goldfish. He’s all ears. You can sit next to him on the shelf.
Company: it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. But Monty feels — wanted. He’s never met a frog-girl before; so striking, so green. Let her save his sorry arse. When she grips him, her little hands are sticky, they seem to meld with his skin. —It’s good, he thinks, —She won’t let go. And when she lifts him it feels as if she’s plucking him from the earth, as if his roots shred, tear apart, as if his head loses hold of his body — how it must’ve felt that first time — and any solid thing, the earth, landfill, it falls away. The cart as he lands, it’s rickety, it gives a little. Frog-girl’s peeved because she has to stoop.
—Babes, you’re a tonne. I’m putting you on a diet.
The ride out is a bumpy hell but Monty’s upbeat; he’s facing forward. He couldn’t bear looking back at his plywood shelter, his hovel. He’s getting out. And there’s a lot to see: frog-girl’s sinewy legs, the see-saw of her wedges as she teeters through the junk; the twine knotted to his cart snapping tight, sagging. She drags him from the trash: a tattered pull-toy.
The birds come for him. Their unhinged cries fill the sky. Shadows engulf him: there’s a crashing of wings. They swoop and dive at Monty with their razor beaks. They try to tear his nose, rip an ear. He scrunches up his eyes to protect them. The fly protests.
High-pitched. Cross. Clearly, it doesn’t like a fuss. Monty figures it’s the last thing he’ll hear. His cart is yanked forward. It’s frog-girl to the rescue again. It’s as if he’s a prized possession. She launches herself at the frenzied gulls, swinging a rusty length of pipe. She catches one in the neck and it founders. Another gets it in the beak: it cracks. She screams freakily until they scarper.
—I want my body back.
Monty’s distraught: in the wrong place. He should go back. He feels exposed on the edge of town: a blob on the street by the lanes of screeching traffic. It’s deafening.
—Ern, he yells, —What am I going to do?
But frog-girl doesn’t heed him, doesn’t falter. She’s on a mission.
—What you need babes is distraction. You should lighten up. Enjoy life.
She waves her squidgy little hand through the fumes.
—Anyway, I haven’t shopped for days: need a pit stop.
Monty’s cart’s nearly booted out by the swinging door. Luckily, frog-girl remembers, whisks him through. It’s so shiny inside; a sleekly cluttered cave. The air reeks with scent. Shopping bags dangle in his face; bowl at him as he wheels along, clip his ears. He jams his eyes shut — it’s landfill, a fancy brand.
Frog-girl plonks him on the cafe table in a wasteland of cake crumbs. She watches him unblinkingly through her wet black-hole eyes, slurps her frothy milkshake. Monty has one too but his straw’s broken, bent wrong. It sways, temptingly, just above his lips.
—Don’t you love shopping babes?
Monty’s tongue-tied. He’s only ever window-shopped.
—You can get everything here, frog-girl blathers on, —tops; any bottom under the sun.
—A bottom half? Monty pipes up.
He remembers spotting headless dummies in a window. But would that work? Passers-by stop now, stare, linger. There are sniggers, whispers from a table behind. Frog-girl doesn’t seem to care, doesn’t clock it.
—Babes, you’re too pale. You need a new look.
She picks Urban Decay. And Monty figures why not, all the makeup counters look the same from the floor. The assistant seems strangely solemn, on her knees, as if she’s expected any moment at a funeral. She and frog-girl choose empire blue for the foundation. Frog-girl jumps gleefully.
—Heads will turn, babes. That is so you.
Monty feels re-formed, recreated. He pictures the perfect body for himself, a blue pinstripe with a buttonhole. He daydreams, drifts. The voices, sounds become muffled. He doesn’t hear about Embrace-Me pink lippy and green shadow to complement his eyes.
—Ooh, frog-girl coos. —You’re freaking mine.
—Let me go!
At last Montague got what he longed for: a trip to the funfair. It was wild, buzzing, full of circling people. He envied them. He wanted to be like them: free. But Mr. Mannequin had tagged along. Like an automaton, he was set in his ways. Montague’s twin sister Miriam wasn’t allowed to come. They left her gazing after them — green-eyed, rosy-cheeked — waving through the glass.
Montague longed to break away: to be. He was almost sorry for Mr. Mannequin, the way he used to eye him and Miriam, afraid of losing them. He wanted to keep them perfect, out of harm’s reach. It was since Mama Mannequin disappeared. Mr. Mannequin struggled to show his love for her but couldn’t do it. A door-to-door salesman carted her off selling glamour guaranteed.
Montague wanted to lose everything; feel something. But Mr. Mannequin was hovering like a fly. Each ride they came to looked a bigger thrill. But at each Mr. Mannequin looked away, into nowhere, disapproving.
—Not safe, boy.
And then the pulsing neon DANGER dangled before them, lit up the No Limit pendulum. Montague’s green eyes overflowed with wonder.
Mr. Mannequin was silent. He looked confused by the din, the pathetic pleading.
—I have to. Dad?
Montague was a bit awkward: his legs, his joints didn’t always want to work. He was slender for the car, not a comfortable fit. The gruff assistant had to prop him up, lift him in. He yelled stuff at Montague about holding on, about danger, but Montague didn’t heed him, it was happening, it was now.
When the people were strapped in and his seat began to thrum, he felt charged, brought to life. The mammoth pendulum ground, it swayed. Montague was swung forward then sucked back through the night air. As the bass thumped, the seats swivelled out and up. Further, higher. They seemed to soar into nothingness. Each cluster of seats spun. Each carriage tumbled on itself. It was dizzying. And fantastic. The people screamed, asking for death, but Montague felt alive. The pendulum built at every scream, gained momentum, was flung further up until it was upside down, about to topple over. And Montague lost it: the sense of what, of where he was. His mannequin body wasn’t his any more, wasn’t familiar. When the ride tipped over, into freefall, Montague fell. He lost his innocent grip. He tumbled through the blinding light — plummeted stiffly — hit the hard ground.
Monty’s wheels shudder and squeak. They whizz along, working ten to the dozen. He’s dreaming of frog-girl’s pad by the river when his back end plonks down into a drain, the cart tips up, its front wheels whirring madly. In his head, he can see a lost wheel tumbling down through the dark, into the swill below. Frog-girl turns on him.
Her piercing eyes pin him down.
—You’re not getting away from me, she scolds.
Through the melee — dodging a van, skirting a bus — they make a beeline for the station. A bin lorry slams its brakes to narrowly avoid flattening frog-girl. An Alsatian’s up front; its paws scraping the dashboard. And it spots Monty. He can see its jaws slavering, the glass steaming. He can hear it cracking up. Its eyes pop: it’s found a football and everyone’s going to play — a brilliant blue ball, and on wheels.
At Skip Town tube the plane trees huddle. The leaves lose their grip; see-saw down into the yellow station glow. Frog-girl yanks Monty’s cord to keep him at her heel; drags his clunk-clunking cart down the crumbling steps. He has a close shave dodging through the ticket gates: nearly takes an eye out. But the escalator’s smoother, a sweet sloping dream. At last, in a bedraggled state, they reach the platform.
—Nearly there, frog-girl enthuses.
She wobbles on her wedges as a warm gust whooshes through the tunnel.
—Ern, I …
—Babes, it’s gonna be wicked! You’ll be in my glass cabinet — on display.
Monty’s head is in a spin. Inside, it’s topsy-turvy: swirling lights; screams; caged in.
—Ern, where’s this going?
Monty’s in pieces: his blue makeup tracked with tears.
—Get a grip! Train’s here.
She totters on board, grabs hold.
—Look, a seat! And luggage space for you.
—What? After everything I’ve done? frog-girl turns on him. —Does baby need a dummy?
—I think … I’m made for landfill.
Monty glances under the train at the layers of dirt, and hair, blasted newspaper, empty crumpled cans, frenzied mice. He hasn’t travelled far.
The cord drops from frog-girl’s clasping hand, lingers between them. She blinks a short sharp blink as the doors ease shut, ensnaring it. Monty hasn’t lost out, no. It isn’t over. Not yet. His fly’s stuck with him; he can feel the flurry of its legs, its fleeting dance. There are still glorious moments left to enjoy: a better lie to live.
—T-tss tssh tssh tssssh, the hydraulics hiss at him, invitingly. The carriage arcs into life. And Monty’s hooked up; he’s part of it. His mind. His body. Connected. The train speeds off taking Monty with it. He’s dragged along, swept away. On a No Limit ride: his wish. His cart hurtles towards the tunnel and a blissful dark. An adventure. Oh, the thrill.