Manufactured

Manufactured

The second-place winner from the 2012 Quebec Writing Competition.

By Willow Verkerk Dec. 17, 2012

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso.

I know that it's the forgetting that helps and it's the nudity that helps with the forgetting, that and the way I lean over him when he wants to pull me close. It's the way I can pick up and react in just the way he wants, the way I can feign attraction, almost convince myself that I desire him. It is that instinctual feminine thing that I've wrought into a skill through careful observation and practice. Hours of watching men.

It comes from hours of watching men. I've spent so much time sitting here, listening to men talk about their jobs, their wives, their regrets and successes, about how much they want me. I've heard about how beautiful I am, how sexy, how smart, too smart to be here, and about how he wishes he could meet a woman like me (the way a woman is supposed to be) in the real world.  

I have to listen closely to his stories, even if they are manufactured ones. Excitedly. It's manufactured stories on both sides here. It doesn't matter if his stories are genuine or not, I just pretend that I believe him. It's his stories that say what's missing, whether he wants to forget or to remember, that and the way he speaks to me.

If what he likes about "me" doesn't correspond, why not try to become that thing, if only for a couple of hours?  The question is only whether I can do it.

Consistency is key, otherwise fictions blur into one another and I can't remember which version I told when he comes back (you can lose him that way). It's better not to change your identity too much-fracture. And I don't give out fake phone numbers of people I hate, the local pizza delivery place, or (by mistake) my old roommate. At least, not anymore.

When he asks what I do when I'm not here I tell him I'm a part-time teacher or nurse, day-care provider, secretary or perhaps if I am feeling more ambitious, a neurosurgeon. It goes against rules, but if I really like him, I tell him some small truths one by one, use them like bait to hold him to me. That guarded vulnerability will draw him in. Make him bite. Tenaciously.

Is he someone who might come back once in a while or regularly? How much convincing does it take to make him keep me? I insert them into categories and typologies and act accordingly. I take pity on the really pathetic ones and if they don't disgust me too much I build up their confidence. I keep a few names of psychologists on hand if I'm not feeling particularly therapeutic.

After I've got his loyalty, I'm more leisurely. I understand what he wants and can predict his visits. The regularity is comforting and I look forward to seeing him like I might a horny uncle who channels his lust through patronizing conversations. That horny uncle pays my rent.

Sometimes I want to shake him off, but I can't. He is so bound up in us. I think he knows already that it's not me, but the experience of reciprocal projection. Just in case he hasn't figured it out, I slip in small gestures and comments to contradict the trajectory of his desire. If that fails, I make inappropriate demands, take long extended breaks and introduce him to new girls (sexy). I try to meet other men during my breaks and if it's busy, tell him someone is waiting for me. I leave early, overcharge and do all those things I'm not supposed to. It's the condensed version of the just desserts for the trophy wife's husband who knew what he was getting into. He knows what he is getting into.

Yes, the money gets you, I mean the greed for it. It just does. It leads to dissatisfied satisfaction on both sides. He wants what I can't give and the more he wants and takes, the more megalomaniac I become in need of gifts, praise. I'm so far removed from his orbit now, the money barely accommodates me. I'm cruel and demanding, bored and beautiful. It is impossible for him to satisfy me. It's idolatry.

He told me this place was his church, his weekly ritual and donation. It wasn't a pick up line. He was raw, he said, from having no faith. Prickly. He needed something to lie down to and worship-he was just made like that. Said science had stolen God from him, so he replaced it with an equally good invention, one that he could see more often, "Woman."

Oh Woman! I don't feel guilty. Ever. Not ever.

He tries to make me feel guilty for taking his money. Says we are friends. That we talked about personal experiences: he told me about his kids, his dreams, his loves. He says that he cares about me, wants to take me out for dinner, and that he hasn't been able to talk to anyone like this, so freely for so long. No woman would listen to him like I did, he says. He thought I cared, really liked him, he says. I was having fun, he says. Fun, yes, fun, I laugh. Friends?

How do I explain it to them when they lose their way? It's not just that he took a wrong turn somewhere. He had to lie to himself to satisfy his continuation. Each step required a justification, but failed (miserably). When he realizes that the rules of the external world don't apply here he creates his own Minotaur's labyrinth and becomes lunch to himself. He's a self-encased, self-eating, desiring machine.

He is not looking to remember or forget, but to repeat. Correction, repetition is a kind of remembrance, but it's been too far removed from that original time. It's subconscious and automatic: reactive. I become that girl that he is searching for, watching his cues, his emotions. I track him down a wormhole and enter into the dialogue of his Tina, Stacy or Sara.

But I didn't finish explaining about the forgetting. It's the best part of being here for him and for me. Rapture. Like I said in the beginning, it's the nudity that helps with the forgetting, that and the way I lean over him when he wants to pull me close. It's the unabashed abandonment of his gaze to the movements of my body. It's what we don't say and how we don't care about it. It's the way I graze his ear with my lips, rest my cheek on his shoulder, drape my leg over his; the way I move my hips to the rhythm, our bodies so comfortable. Our bodies so comfortable. It's the way I'm his for that portion of time and how we lose every moment that we don't forget where we are, what we are doing and how I am so little of anything he wants me to be.