A surreal tale of abandonment, hope lost, and an attempted return to a life that can no longer exist, as told from the point of view of Hestor and Nestor, the twin headless mannequins of Joplin, Mo.
Ah, I thought you might ask about that. The great “How.” How did I get here, how did I come to be right here, right now? My “how” boils down to one night in Joplin, Missouri. Do you know Joplin? Small town , close-cut lawns, lots of strip-malls? No? That’s alright, Joplin isn’t what my story is about.
I had ended up in Joplin after Dillard’s of Kansas City remodeled – out with the old, in the new, as they say. My partner Nestor and I wound up working for the Gap, who shipped us out to Joplin, and it was good work there. A younger set of customers, a smaller store, it was a good second job. Nestor and I, the two of us liked it there. Until it closed.
We were sold to a local bachelor, and ended up spending our days standing guard over a residential street, looking out the front window of his simple home. Salad days they were not, but we came to think of the street as our home, providing our owner with a semblance of companionship. Nestor and I would joke that we had gone from being salesmen to being the security guards of our own private “mall,” passing the days watching the “customers” — our neighbors’ children at play, the coming and goings of Jack’s Ice Cream truck, the young couple next door taking care of all their animals. But then our owner lost his lease on the house, and that’s when life delivered us a sucker-punch to the chest, knocking us off our fashionable pedestal once and for all.
Our owner left us behind when he was evicted. The landlords carried us out of the house without even dressing us. We were left propped up on the porch wearing only two shirts and a single hospital sock between us. Our heads… they were long gone by that point. We had survived that trauma with our spirits intact, only to see them smashed that first night out of the house.
The landlords left us out by the curb, laying atop one another like a pair of Burmese sex toys. We lay like that for hours, preparing ourselves for the inevitable mashing of the garbage truck. They say no mannequin meets a good end, and I now realize how much of a joke that statement is. We don’t have hearts that give out, lungs that fail… none of that. It’s always the trash compactor, the recycling plant… or we keep going, forced to remember the bad times as well as the good.
I’m sorry, where was I? The curb, yes. We were there for hours, Nestor and I. Then the next-door neighbors came home, with two strangers in their car, both carrying cameras and with accents from back East. The four of them spilled out of the car and started for their porch. The two with the cameras remained outside while the neighbors themselves went into the house.
One of them came over and started taking pictures of us. The way he shot us, it made us feel like we were about to be blindfolded and put before the firing squad, that these would be the last photos ever taken of us, ‘The Last Modeling Job of Hestor and Nestor’ if you would. He was looking right down my neck hole when, all of a sudden, he put his camera down and called out to the other stranger, saying, and I quote, “Dude, Rob – the fireworks!”
It was less the way he said it, and more the devious twinkle in his eye, as if he could already see the explosions, that instantly told Nestor and exactly what he meant . Apparently so did the one he called Rob. Before I knew it, I was being dragged by my feet towards the house. It was then that she entered the picture. I can still hear her words ringing inside me. It was just four words, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but at first I thought we were being saved when she said “What are you doing?!”
The photographer, I later heard him called Dan and bless his heart, he was only a kid and didn’t even think to lie. There are days when I wish he had, that we had just been blown up, because I should have recognized the woman’s voice. I should have realized who our “savior” was. She lived up the block and trouble had always seemed to follow her and the rotating troop of people she lived with. You wouldn’t think being saved by a woman in her fifties, unkempt as she was, from being blown to bits would be a bad thing… but it was.
Still holding me by my feet, Dan came right out and told her, “We bought some fireworks earlier, we’re going to explode the fuck out of them!”
That beast of a woman? She didn’t say anything, but she seemed to give the kid some kind of look because he caught himself somewhat, trying to appease her by telling her that the deed would be done “Safely, of course!”
I hadn’t any time to think how I could be blown up ‘safely’ before she erupted, “Well, those are mine! You can’t blow up Fred and Sally!”
I didn’t know what she was talking about, but I could tell she meant Nestor and I. The kid? He didn’t put up much of fight after that.
“Oh, I didn’t realize. I saw them come out of this house.”
“Well, you can’t have them, they’re mine!”
“Sorry, I’ll bring them back.”
And he did, leaving me back by the side of the road. That… woman — and I use the term loosely — left, got one of the men from her house, and the two of them carted us off down the block, parading us like war trophies down the very streets we used to stand guard over, bringing us into their disgusting hovel of a home.
The rest of that day, and into the night… we… we never spoke about it much afterward. I think Nestor was able to block out most of the memories due to the shock his system took. Me? I swore I would never repeat a word of it to anyone. I wouldn’t wish what was done to us even onto her. “Inhumane?” I’m not even human and I know what the word means. I’m sure nothing like that has happened to you, and I hope that it never does, ever. I… I do have to ask, this store is up to fire code, right? Ever since that night, I… I can’t… I become very upset if I’m near any kind of open flame.
Thank you, yes, I’m fine now. We can continue.
It was sometime at night when the woman and her crew were finally done with us. Whether it was remorse or a sense of guilt, I don’t know, but by the end of it none of them could even look at us. It was if we had become Poe’s beating heart, driving them mad every time they glanced anywhere near us.
It was some time before dawn when they took us outside and brought us to not to our old home, but next door, to the house of the young couple, where the two strangers were staying. Maybe those cretins thought that the couple would be able to treat us right? Maybe they didn’t know where else to leave Nestor and I, I don’t know. But the night was still and it looked like all the fireworks had been set off. I passed out as soon as we were placed on the ground my body was so exhausted. I assume Nestor did the same.
The next morning was strange, but after the night before, it felt like the first few hours of a Black Friday sale. The two with the cameras, this team of Rob and Dan, slowly crept out of the house, both curious at our arrival and wary that we weren’t some kind of trap. They talked softly amongst themselves and began to take pictures of us from every angle. I felt like I was part of a crime scene, ugly and abused, like a piece of garbage. And yet, it reminded me a bit of the old days, back when being a mannequin meant people looked up to you as a beacon of fashion, as something to strive for. It would have felt good if I hadn’t been reeling from the night before.
That first day at the young couple’s house was a blur of movement and recovery… I can only remember pieces here and there. The ones called Rob and Dan kept parading us in and out of the house, hoisting us triumphantly, using us as props for their photographs. At one point Nestor was brought into the master bedroom and was left standing over the couple’s bed. He was supposed to shock the couple once they awoke, but in the end they were merely confused by the whole situation.
By the end of the morning, poor Nestor had been brought back outside and hoisted into the tree out front. Rob and Dan drove off shortly after that, where to, I can’t say, but I’ll tell you this, if it hadn’t been for those two photographers, I wouldn’t be here today. They saved us, somehow, by giving those… those… people somewhere to leave us.
We didn’t stay at that house long. Marley, the lady of the house, couldn’t stand the stench of burnt plastic that hung onto us for some time after that night of horrors. The cats scratched at our legs some, and we both ended up in that tree a couple more times, until once again, we were thrown out, and left to find our way in the world.
The next few years, I’ll be honest, they weren’t pretty. We spent sometime at a Salvation Army. It was there that Nestor and I were split up – he was sold off one Halloween while I was left behind in the housewares department. I was lonely at first, but not too long afterward a wholesaler came through town and picked me up and brought me into his fold. As you may be aware, it was him who brought me to you.
And that, sir, is my story, how I came to be here today, my fall from grace if you would. It’s humbled me, made me who I am today. I know I’m not as complete as I used to be, but what do you think? I may not be TV-pretty like the SuperModelquins, but I know that I can sell the hell out of the latest cargo-pants Old Navy has to offer. What do you say, do I get the job?
— Dan Meade
Photos: Dan Meade/Rob Bellinger