FADE IN: EXT. A QUAINT CAFÉ — DAY
Cut to interior. She's playing the part of an ambivalent lawyer, or a concerned P.I., or a troubled entrepreneur. A hat is cocked down over one eye hiding her stoic face. A cheery waiter brings her a cup of joe.
Cut to medium close-up. We see that the troubled character has been awake for quite some time. Perhaps she has not slept in days. She appears pensive, withdrawn into her own thoughts.
Cut to a close-up of her hand. We watch her pick up the pastry and dunk it into the coffee for a moment.
The camera zooms in, following the pastry up to her worried mouth.
The Mannequin becomes aware that the young couple at the other table is watching her press the mushy end of the scone against her painted-on lips. The Mannequin dabs her mouth with a napkin.
Do I look pensive? she wonders, trying to return to her world of pretend. She gazes at her reflection in the window. Her features do not move. Yearning is not knit between her brows, fear does not make it into her small, dark eyes. All she sees is synthetic skin: peeling, fissured, cracked. Every now and then, she can feel tiny flakes of fiberglass slowly falling from her frame and beginning to collect in her hollow feet.
She glances toward the counter and sees Bertie and Alfred playfully whispering to each other. Alfred wraps an arm around his wife, the cinnamon freckles on his cheeks dance when he laughs. The couple was banished from the silver screen way back when the wrinkles first began to appear. They've been running this bakery for decades now. Until yesterday, their bakery-sanctuary was the farthest from home the Mannequin had ever ventured by herself. She was brought to life on the studio lot, and when she wasn't traveling with the cast and the crew and the cameras between locations, there was never really a reason to wander off alone. That is until... the dreadful scene of her new life re-plays in her mind as she watches people from the sidewalk look at the window, admiring or smoothing themselves in their own reflections.
The Mannequin finds herself on a noisy city street. She looks around as if she's in the midst of a foreign bazaar. The sidewalk is congested with a bustling crowd, but here she goes. She chooses a direction and begins to move with her head held high. However, it's not long until she's jostled by a bag, then a shoulder, cut in front of, then hurried forward. The unchoreographed chaos begins to take its toll. She slows, feeling like all the cheer she's ever felt is being stamped out. Like muddy boots on a birthday cake.
Suddenly, an advancement of baby carriages blocks the path in front of her. She steps down into the gutter holding her fascinator hat to her head, but a tandem bicycle rushes by forcing her back into foot traffic. She spots a gap between buildings and leaps into the alleyway.
A moment of stillness. She straightens her dress and re-pins her hat, takes a few steps forward and realizes that the alley is a dead end. She sinks down on the concrete stairs next to a dumpster. The world out here has no place for her. Fury-filled fiberglass flakes begin to irritate the back of her eyes.
She looks up to the rooftops and pretends to look down on herself from there. She imagines the end of a scene.
FADE TO BLACK.
A moment later, a metal door bangs open behind her. A burly man descends the stairs toting a bin bag. She sees pasty food and drink remains drip from a hole in the plastic. The man steps around her, drops the bag into the dumpster, then gives her an irritated look while tapping a knuckle against the No Loitering sign.
The Mannequin keeps close to the edge of the buildings as she shuffles to nowhere. Wait, could it be? It's her. There, on the backrest of a bus stop bench. It's an advertisement for the final movie in which she'll appear. She sits down in front of her image and decides to stay right there. Forever.
There's no escape from the noise even if she covers her ears; the city's commotion pervades every crevice. She looks at the ground and listens to the people around her. All of them sound busy and important. She hears the cars, buses, and taxis go by—horns honking—everyone eager to get to places where they belong. She tries to imagine herself in a scene, but she can't picture what part she'd be playing or why she'd be here at this bus stop with her stupid dress, her silly hat, her cracking elbows, and her peeling knees.
After some time, she recognizes one of the voices passing by. She looks up.
Her creator, director, producer, (long-time friend?).
"Mr. Sidleman?" she says.
Sidleman turns, one hand on his hip, the other holding a phone to his ear. "Yeah, we called it a wrap. The film's officially in post-production," he says to whomever is on the line. Not noticing the Mannequin, he continues forward.
"Mr. Sidleman?" she says, louder. She sees his face fall when he recognizes her.
"I'll call you back," he says into the phone.
"Hi." The Mannequin doesn't know why she called out to him.
"Hi, sweetheart." There is a moment of nothing but street noise. Sidleman taps the toe of a shoe on the concrete. "You know, I'm sorry about that whole situation," he says. "I didn't like seeing you tossed out by security."
The Mannequin looks up at him with her unchanging expression. "I don't... the lot was my home." She tries again, "I just..." She doesn't have a script for this part.
"Honey," Sidleman says finally, "I kept you in productions as long as I could. Just look at how many parts you've played."
She looks down.
"Everything from set dressing to the love interest. You were the star of that horror trilogy! But now." Sidleman sighs. "You're worn out, doll."
"I wouldn't need much maintenance. I could even—"
"Hey, look at the film we just finished. You were a key piece of that loft. What a great way to go out before being retired. Your screen time will be—Oh, have you seen? You even made the poster."
"But, I didn't retire."
"Keep your chin up. Just remember everyone's eventually replaced. It's just the business."
The Mannequin starts to say something else, but Sidleman holds up a hand. "Sorry, doll. I'm getting another call here. I've got to take this." Sidleman puts the phone to his ear and carries on down the sidewalk.
When the sun is desperately clinging to the edge of the sky, the Mannequin finds the bus stop packed in a cluster of people. Several buses come and go. Finally, she finds it within herself to wrestle out of the crowd.
Street after street she crosses or follows, she sees notices it: a bar, a tavern, a liquor store, a pub.
FADE IN: EXT. CITY STREETS — EVENING
A mannequin zig-zags down the sidewalk, the contents of a bottle in her stomach, an invisible yoke on her shoulders.
She sings off-key, out of tune, out of sync with the flash of the pedestrian signals and the traffic lights.
She swings onto lamppost. It's Singin' in the Rain that's going through her head. That's where she is in this dream within a, within a... delusion.
She stops. No, alcohol could not have an effect on her even if poured by the gallon through her slightly parted lips.
The Mannequin turns and finds herself staring into a clothing store's display window. She gazes up at the mannequins there. Limbless. Headless. Still. Is that the only thing left for her? Is that her destiny? A permanent fade to black?
Itchy patches of fiberglass fall down the inside of her cheeks. The Mannequin gets tangled in her own feet as she stumbles around the back of the building. Do her legs already know her fate? Are they trying to break free of her, too? She sinks down in a corner, masked from view by the steam vents. Her unchanging expression bores into the grubby ground for a very long time.
The sun—gone for a while—is once more reaching up and over the wall of the horizon. The horns that were scarce become more frequent in their intermittent blasts. The Mannequin struggles to her feet. Maybe in the movement of the morning she can find a place. She goes onward, crossing streets and rounding corners once again. Suddenly, she recognizes the block. Her journey must have brought her in a circle because, yes, there up ahead: It's Bertie and Alfred's bakery shop. She'll go in. Maybe their beautiful food can offer her some comfort.
The busy streets seeming far away through the window, the Mannequin sits in the two-table bakery shop having not long ago wiped the soggy scone from her lips. She sees that the young couple must have left while she was lost in memory.
The Mannequin gazes up to the dozens of old, black-and-white photographs hanging on the bakery shop walls. The pictures gleam in their colorful frames. One image shows a young Bertie and Alfred in a duet number from that old Lawrence Welk Show. Another photo displays a director looking stern and holding a megaphone to his mouth. There's one of a steady-eyed cinematographer. A long shot—taken from the entrance of the studio—reveals the missing fourth wall of a living room with several actors inside.
The Mannequin stands, picks up her fascinator hat, and wanders to another wall. It holds more recent photos. The images are black-and-white out of style rather than necessity here. She finds herself in several of the images and lets the various parts she's played wash over her. She spots a picture of Alfred setting baked goods at a craft services table, then she searches for the beautiful food in other photos too.
Hope suddenly sparks in the Mannequin. She hurries to the counter calling out to Bertie and Alfred who have gone back into the kitchen. They appear in the doorway. Alfred pulls off a pair of oven mitts and Bertie is just behind him still brushing flour over a rolling pin.
Looking from one to the other, the Mannequin asks, "How would you feel about installing a display?"
"Ooh, a display? Tell me what you're thinking, dear," says Bertie.
The Mannequin—imagining there's a beaming look on her face—explains her idea and what it could do for the bakery.
"A new scene every week? I love it." Alfred nods.
"Our basement is just filled with props, maybe even a painted backdrop or two from our days in the theatre," says Bertie.
"We can use that stack of old wooden crates out back to make a stage," the Mannequin says.
"I'll bring in my toolbox tomorrow," says Alfred reaching out to shake her hand.
FADE IN: EXT. THE TWO-TABLE BAKERY SHOP — MORNING
The day is sunny and clear. Birds sing in the trees.
The camera slowly zooms in.
Just outside the bakery, we see the costumed Mannequin standing on a platform atop a painted yellow brick road.
The Mannequin's scarred, synthetic face is powdered with innocent-looking makeup and rosy cheeks. She wears a familiar blue-and-white gingham pinafore. A small stuffed terrier peeks out of her basket of baked goods.
In elegant chalk letters a sign next to her reads: Photos with Dorothy — $1.00, Muffins — $2.50. The Mannequin feels a tickle of elation in her stomach even as her inner fiberglass continues to flake apart.
After two little girls wave goodbye and scurry down the street with their mother, the Mannequin breaks character to turn and look at her reflection in the bakery window. Bertie and Alfred smile at her from inside. The Mannequin feels like she is smiling, too.
FADE TO BLACK
Emilee Prado is an emerging writer whose fiction has appeared in journals such as Anak Sastra and Origami. She was a winner of the 2015 FFRF Brian Bolton Essay Contest. Emilee received her master's in creative writing from the University of Edinburgh.