The Man in Plastic - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

The Man in Plastic

You better believe I dressed up! I was about to make a statement. A girl has to dress for the big events in her life.   Who knows, they might even make a film about it one day. I waited for the bell to signal that the doors were closing and I slipped my patent leather spiked heels over the gap and stepped onto the train.  It was a perfect film noir entrance.  For a moment I regretted not buying the big brimmed hat that would have flopped, just so, over my eyes.  Instead I settled for the Jackie O. sunglasses that took up most of my face. I liked the idea of my bright red lipstick being all anyone could remember of me when it was all said and done.

I walked past the staring faces of fat commuters, dowdy moms and screaming children without even glancing in their direction. The old me might have stopped to make a joke or to encourage that pathetic woman.  I clutched my bag in one hand and the small velvet box in the other and I took my seat by the window.  “Good riddance to the old me.” I thought as I smoothed out my skirt and gently placed the box on my lap and covered it with my freshly manicured fingers. I will NOT return to the person I used to be.

I turned my head to the glass and pretended to look at the scenery, such as it was, from Baltimore to D.C.; chain link fences wrapped around ratty old buildings, disintegrating parking lots and littered fields.  I was really looking at the reflection of my long pale neck and face which seemed to float all alone in the glass like a ghost. I was so engrossed in the image of my ghostly self that I might not have noticed the lanky man who sat down across from me but he made it so I had no choice. What kind of person gets on a crowded train while talking loudly on a phone?  Only two kinds of men do that. The ones who think they’re better than other people and the ones who’re scared they don’t matter at all.  This guy was the second kind.  He just talked and talked about his big deals but I could see his fingers were torn up from stress bites and smoking. His shoes looked like they were just picked up at Salvation Army.  I was looking at him pretty closely I guess, which is a mistake with a guy like that because he automatically thinks the cell phone talking did the trick and you’re impressed or something. Not me, Buddy. I stroked the soft velvet box and wondered if I would ever be impressed by anything again.

He gave me a kind of lopsided smile and a look that says, “I can’t help myself, I’m just so important.”  Mark used to give me that look all the time.

I didn’t smile back or anything. I just stared right at him from the shadows of my glasses. He was handsome enough if you go for dents and angles but I can’t look at a man like that any more. Mark took that away from me when he left. He took that, and his music and all his other stuff and just walked out without a word.  Six years together and not so much as a how do you do.  The only thing he left behind was this box and the shiny load of bullshit inside it.

I found it in the closet three days after he left. It was just before I realized he wasn’t coming back, just before I lost the feeling in my legs for a spell.  I sat on the sofa for a long time with that box in my hand before I went through it. The question that occupied my thinking at the time wasn’t why he left but why he left the box. Mark was a deliberate man.  Everything he did was calculated and staged for maximum impact. I couldn’t imagine that he would forget a thing as notable as the letters she sent him while he was kissing my eyelids at night. And where and when did he get the gun? It was lovingly nestled in the bosom of those letters as if taunting me to take action. Was it his final experiment in the study of me? That’s all I was you know. He was a scientist who studied cancer in people. Not just the black kind that ate your cells but the blacker kind that ate at your sense of yourself. I was an interesting study because I was so completely uninteresting. He told me that.

“You have no edge whatsoever.” He said and at first I felt proud of being kind of pure for him.  I was like a blank canvas. He told me that like he wanted to paint a masterpiece or something, but as time went on he started saying it differently and it didn’t feel romantic anymore.  “You don’t even own a single CD,” he said. I’m pretty sure that realization disgusted him.  I know I felt a bit sick about it at the time.

I’ve heard it said that when men commit suicide they use a gun, but when women do, they choose a less violent path. Maybe they’re referring to women who actually want to die. I don’t. I want to stop feeling the quiet of the house wrap its fingers around my throat. I want to stop wondering what exciting thing he’s up to next while I sit in my room alone. I want to stop my mind replaying the cruel jokes he played against me and the pathetic way I laughed it off. That’s how this plan occurred to me.  If this box was his final fuck with my head, then my only redemption would be to show him that I could be as stunning as he was.

The man started texting and talking on his cell phone at the same time. Two phones, can you believe it?  The woman hadn’t paid any attention to those screaming kids and I’ll tell you it was getting on my nerves. The train was lurching and jerking and people were coming and going and those kids were right under their feet while mom was reading some fat paperback with a half-naked man on the cover. What’s wrong with women, I wondered but the answer came to me quickly: men.

Just then the lights of the train flickered off and on again and we suddenly stopped.  Those kids went airborne and squealing and mom looked up and yelled at them as if they’re the ones that stopped the train.  Then the lights went out all together, but the day was a bright one so it’s not like we were sitting in the dark.  That would have been great. I could have stood up and done it right there and then, but my intended traveling companion wasn’t on the train yet. He usually got on in Rockville.  I hadn’t decided if I was going to go to his lab and make it a private party or if I should wait for him on the train and let the world see me splatter this boring blank canvas with a bold splash of color.

The train was fully stopped and the conductor was saying something over the speakers, but I could hardly make a word out. It was something to do with electrical difficulties and apologies.  I closed my eyes behind my glasses and suddenly felt more tired then I ever have before.

“That can’t be good,” said Mr. Cellphone. I thought he was talking about the stalled train but he pointed his chin out the window and I saw the dead guy in the ditch.

He had been stuffed into a construction bag and rolled down the hill, but the bag didn’t hold together during the tumble and his legs broke free, stretched out and crossed at the ankle making it seem like he was perfectly comfortable being dead and wrapped from the waist up, in plastic. The gold and crimson leaves of autumn covered his lower half delicately, like the afghans my mother used to crotchet. There was a dog sniffing around him and there were three police officers standing there like it was just another day at the office. You could see the dead guy’s hand, all blue and curled up sticking out of the bottom of the bag.  The mom on the train looked up from her trashy novel and let out a scream that might have awakened the guy. “EEEEWWWWW,” shouted her kids as they pressed their greasy hands and faces against the window to get a look. Mr. Cellphone asked if I was OK. Can you believe that? This was his big chance, I guess, to be the hero to the weak woman who couldn’t take a little gore.  I was tempted to tell him I was only disappointed because this dead guy was stealing my thunder, but instead I just closed my eyes again.

He needed to talk to someone, so he got back on that damn cell phone and started up his loud talking about the dead guy like he’s just won the lottery.  I gripped the box and clenched my teeth. I really needed him to shut up.

The idea of death is romantic and exciting when it isn’t really happening. On the good days we see ourselves lying in sweet sheets while our loved ones gather around to hear us share our nuggets of wisdom. On the bad days we imaging blowing our heads off and finally enjoy a moment of stillness.  But what if it isn’t peaceful?  What if we don’t have any loved ones and we really haven’t learned anything at all. What if we’re just boring people who don’t even own a CD? What if we end up wrapped in plastic at the bottom of a ditch and the only living thing interested is a dog?

The train hissed and started up again and the man in plastic rolled away to the back of my mind.

When Mark got on the train, he saw me right away. I stood up and watched him take in my new look. Without looking away from his puddle brown eyes for an instant I walked, slowly, toward him and lifted the box.  His eyes gleamed with excitement and fear. He smiled an I-dare-you smile.

The man in plastic had made an impression.  The train grew quiet as the passengers contemplated what they had seen. Mr. Cellphone folded his hands in his lap and closed his eyes.  His breathing was slow and deep.  The stupid mom reached out for her kids and gave them each a little squeeze. The kids nuzzled into her for comfort.  Me? I handed the box to Mark, got off at the next stop, and headed straight for the music store.


(Feature photo by Larry Luxner)


About the author

Nancy Murray

Nancy Murray is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and the Publishing Arts at University of Baltimore. She is a playwright who as enjoyed full productions of her work at Fells Point Corner Theater, Silver Spring Stage and the Montgomery County One Act Festival where it was selected as The Best of Festival. Most recently she has been enjoying participating in the Submit 10 Series as both a playwright and as a performer. Contact the author.

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