brown

I studied him more closely, toying once more with the clone idea. He had the perfect features and hair, the even white teeth. I pictured an army of them out there, working but having no real home or families…”

 

by gary moshimer

 

 

The wife and I needed some excitement in our lives, so we decided to run up the credit cards buying shit from QVC. We had a bigger house now—plus we’d never had children–and lots of space to fill, including the fridge and freezer. We ordered all sorts of food and collections of famous cooking utensils, and then a roomful of exercise equipment to work it off. Then to clean up: shampoos and conditioners and tropical body washes, anti-aging serums, moisturizers, make-ups; then the shoes and clothing, and the 70’s greatest hits to dance to and beginner guitars and keyboards to soothe our pitiful dreams of talent. Everything you could think of was out there. Now all we had to do was sit back and wait for stuff to arrive. Ah, modern life was so easy. But still I didn’t think it would make us happy.

Four mornings later, at eleven sharp, we heard the truck rumble up. Off went the engine, up rolled the back door. We peeked from the curtain at the young man with the dolly. We took in the brown shirt, shorts and socks. Anne placed her hand on my back. I could tell she was excited, and not just about the deliveries. Her palm was sweaty. There was a different booty she anticipated, one resembling twin loaves of rye bread.

He loaded the boxes, and I went out and opened the door to our cleaned-out two-car garage. I had polished it well for the first arrivals. I was that bored. I showed him where to unload. These were some serious boxes, but he had no trouble. Anne appeared in the driveway; she had changed into a summer dress. She followed the guy and studied his movements. He patted the boxes and faced us. “There’s more,” he said. He had a dark complexion and his name tag said: TANNER. I had to smile about that: a real cloned company man. But there was something missing–the cheerful demeanor. He seemed sad, his brown eyes droopy, worried. I had heard that this was a stressful job. And when he went back to the truck he would glance at us over his shoulder, as if concerned about our approval.

A corner of the garage was full when he was finished, and a bead of sweat ran off his nose. Anne gave him a tissue and a drink of water. He bowed to her—it was very odd—and then trotted to the truck and roared off. “Weird,” I said, and tugged at one of the taller boxes. It had to be some of the exercise equipment. The diagrams told of the tools that would be needed. Anne saw my face and said, “Or we could just leave it in the box.”

*

At eleven we were dressed up and waiting. We had shared no words or plans about this; we just did it. I couldn’t be sure of what was on Anne’s mind, maybe a mix of light and darkness. We were testing some new telepathy thing, I guess. We had used the new pans to make omelets, and we had one for him. We had also used the juice squeezer and new glasses. The new plates and silverware gleamed and the crisp tablecloth showed scenes of spring which matched the tulips and new buds outside our windows. A fragrant breeze moved the curtains I’d hung the night before. We waited. Soon we heard the truck’s brakes at the end of our long driveway, and we linked fingers beneath the table. Strangely, the fingers trembled.

This time we unpacked the perishables as he carried them in, filling the long freezer in the garage in no time. Anne joked with Tanner, saying we had enough food for him to move in. He gave an automatic chuckle but kept moving quickly, in and out, emptying the truck into our garage. Everything in the truck was ours. When he was done he just stood and stared into the empty back, moving slowly from foot to foot. Anne placed a hand on his shoulder and he flinched. “It’s time to eat,” she said. “You’re done.”

“I’m never done.” He gazed down the driveway. A truck passed on the road and his jaw clenched.

“Come.” Anne led him into the dining room, despite his protests, and sat him down. He was flushed, a deeper brown. He kept looking at his watch. Anne slid it off and put it into his front pocket and patted it there. His Adam’s apple bobbed, as if expecting danger. He suddenly grabbed the crystal glass of orange juice and finished it in four gulps. “There you go,” Anne said, and I nodded my approval. When Anne served the omelet and the toast and the fresh grapefruit, he gobbled it down as though he hadn’t eaten in days. I studied him more closely, toying once more with the clone idea. He had the perfect features and hair, the even white teeth. I pictured an army of them out there, working but having no real home or families. But he was not a perfect machine; his hands trembled a bit, and the sweat soaked his back and brow, even though it was not hot. It was all nerves. He kept glancing towards the window.

“What are you afraid of?” asked Anne. She led him in to the sofa. He sat awkwardly, knees together, arms still bent slightly in a carrying position.

“They always know where I am.” He looked down at his brown shoes. They had been shined, but you could see the heavy wear at the edges. Anne placed her hand on the back of his neck. He flinched again, but then loosened as she squeezed gently. His arms fell to his sides.

“Oh my,” Anne said. She was feeling something with her fingertips. “Is this…”

“Oh, my god! That’s awful!”

“It’s part of the job. I get paid well.” He shrugged, his broad shoulders defeated.

“It’s not right!” Anne was sexy when she was indignant and flushed, and I felt stirrings I hadn’t felt in a while. For some reason I was not even upset that she had a hand on his knee; it was all part of it, somehow. “Tanner, do you have family close by?”

“My parents died in an accident. I was their only child. I was adopted by the company…I can’t say any more. I get paid well.”

Anne rubbed his shoulders. He seemed to relax under her touch. She was good like that. “You need some stress relief. We have lots of stuff for that. You brought it. Like Santa!” He tensed at that word, and Anne said, “Oh my.” I figured it was something with his unhappy childhood. So we let him open stuff.

He assembled the rowing machine in just ten minutes, and then proceeded to row violently for twenty. He went into the bathroom and changed into some exercise clothes I had ordered. I was an extra-large of the flabby kind, but the stuff strained about his chest and thighs. Anne was mesmerized. He hung the heavy punching bag from a hook in the garage and went to town until he shed tears. We made him iced tea with fresh lemon and fruit and protein and veggie smoothies.

He opened the box with the soaps and shampoos and conditioners, and then the one with the towels which had an “M” for our last name. I gave him my oversized robe, my favorite one with the “B.” We sat on the sofa and listened to the water run. It ran for a very long time. “Do you think he’s okay?” I said.

“Do you want to check on him?” I saw the look in her eye. I knew she was waiting for my permission. She bit her lip.

“It’s okay. I understand. Can we make love later, then? I think it will be good.”

She squeezed my hand. A moment later I heard her tap on the bathroom door. The water stopped. The door opened and closed and I lay back and shut my eyes.  After a minute I heard the hair dryer and their voices beneath it. And in another minute Anne was standing over me, holding a hairbrush. I was still catching my breath. “I couldn’t do it. He seemed like a son,” she said. “Our lost son. We have to help him.” She sat next to me and I could smell the new shampoo, second-hand.

“What can we do?” For some reason I scanned the room, all the stuff sitting around like Christmas morning. I looked at the guitar standing in the corner. “You could sing him a song, like you used to do for me.”

“I can’t play, though.” She held up a hand, slowly working the fingers. She already had some arthritis.

“You don’t need that. Sing ‘Amazing Grace’ the way you used to. That will help him.”

“They made him a machine.”

He walked out and stood before us, back in uniform, his hair styled and shining. The watch was back on his wrist, and he looked from it to the open window. We heard a vehicle start up the driveway. “They have found me,” he said. “I’ve caused you trouble.” He dug the keys from his pocket.

“Wait,” I said, jumping up so fast I got dizzy. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but there was something I could offer, some kind of protection, and it excited me. Anne was holding my wrist and my blood raged against her palm. Her hand was hot, and I could feel her quickened breath on my arm and it was hot, too. I thought about my father’s rifle standing in our closet. I had no ammunition, but there it was, just waiting for something I should not do.

Tanner was halfway to his truck when I flew from the front door, the gun in one hand and Anne’s hand in my other. I was so excited, so out of breath, so in need of this. I lifted Anne as I had when we were young, swinging her through the truck door as the engine roared. “Go!” I shouted. “Go!” In the side mirror I could see the brown van with two or three heads bobbing around. Anne threw her arm around my neck, holding for dear life.

 

Originally published:
Issue Seventy-Eight
September 2018

 

(illustration: adam kluger)


Gary Moshimer has stories in Frigg, Wigleaf, Smokelong Quarterly, Pank, and many other places.  He works in a hospital in Pennsylvania saving lives.  More from Gary Moshimer can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

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