"Brian," by Meredy Amyx






     The package containing the Personal Life-Size Inflatable Latex Husband came on a Thursday morning when Frannie was home sick with lower-back pain and her husband Will was at work. Spacey with Vicodin, Frannie decided to try it out right away.

     Him. Try him out.
     He came tightly compressed in a convenient and discreet opaque vinyl pouch that he would never fit into again, together with a map-folded set of instructions and a credit-card-sized remote.

     Frannie unfolded him, as wrinkled and misshapen as an infant fresh from the experience of being born, but exuding that airless toxic rubber smell. He was an unwholesome shade of rosy peach.

     We must look very pink to the Asians, she thought.
     And he was nearly transparent.
     One of the selling points of the P.L.S.I.L.H. was the fact that the model was constructed in two separate air-tight sections fused at the waist. This meant that the upper and lower halves could be inflated independently. Frannie was interested in the upper half. She found her son Ronnie's old bicycle in the garage, unused since he'd got his license at least a dozen years ago. The pump was still attached.
     As the P.L.S.I.L.H. filled with air, the head began to show vague contours of a face. The manufacturer had wisely refrained from painting in features, better left to the imagination. It was a little disconcerting at first, the slight concavity of mouth, the slight convexity of nose, and two vacant depressions for eyes.
     I'll get used to that last one, though, thought Frannie. I've done it before.
     The ears, now. That was a stroke of brilliance. The ears were separately molded, comparatively well articulated and somewhat oversize, and attached with glue. Frannie felt comforted already.
    Frannie set the P.L.S.I.L.H. in the chair opposite her place at the kitchen table, uninflated abdomen and buttocks still compressed and boneless pink legs dangling in an undignified fashion like a pair of new pantyhose. The four AA batteries installed in the case incorporated at the waist joint provided a little ballast. The ad had said "anatomically correct," but she had not yet chosen to inspect him for completeness. Perhaps later she'd find a pair of Will's old shorts for him anyway, just for decency's sake.
     Why bother? said the Vicodin.
     Now she consulted the instructions, straining to make out the 6-point type. The remote consisted of an on/off button, a pair of up/down arrows for volume, and eight tiny numbered buttons. The list on the paper read like a telephone menu tree:
For a greeting, press 1.
For a complimentation, press 2.
For a felicitation, press 3.
For a harmonious listening, press 4.
For a sympathy, press 5.
For a query, press 6.
For a romance, press 7.
For a advice, press 8.
     I will never press 8, thought Frannie. If there's one thing I don't need any more of.
     She poured herself a cup of coffee and stared thoughtfully across the table at her new pink friend. With a here-goes-nothing sensation, she pressed 1.
    "Hello, darling," said the P.L.S.I.L.H. in a robotic monotone.
     He needs a name, thought Frannie. Definitely not Will, a misnomer if ever she heard one, her husband being more of a "won't" kind of guy. Will's mother had chosen his nickname, avoiding the alternative that would remind her of her debts. There, thought Frannie, is another of those mysteries of English that must just baffle foreigners, especially people like the ones who wrote the instructions she'd just been reading. Bill and sue, brad, clay, garret and gore, rob-—what must those things sound like to English learners, people whose names have meanings like purity, beautiful song, gift of the goddess, exalted ruler?
     Ah, well, who cares? said the Vicodin.
     She thought of her high school sweetheart, the one with the enchanting blue eyes and the manly cleft chin. It had been nearly forty years, but she could still feel the power of that charm. His name, whatever its origins, had the advantage of meaning nothing at all in present-day English; but it was still magical to her.
     "Hi, Brian," she said to her latex companion, and smiled. And pressed 2.
     "You looking lovely today, sweet thing," he intoned, without inflection.
     "Thank you," she returned, preening a little in spite of herself, and resolving to overlook any other deviant grammar. She pressed 6.
     "How you feeling today, dearest."
     Now, there was a question.
    For the next two hours, Frannie poured into Brian's articulated ears her pent-up tales of woe: the back pain, her job frustrations, the stresses of dealing with her aged mother, Ronnie's divorce problems, her ongoing war with the neighbor whose gardeners blew leaves onto her lawn once a week, the dog that barked at five-thirty every morning and woke her when her back was hurting enough that she couldn't get back to sleep.
     And Will. Most of all, Will.
     Brian listened as no one had ever listened to Frannie before. Each button press brought one of four randomized responses of the specified type, all delivered in a flat electronic voice. It didn't take Frannie long to start filtering out the flatness, and soon after that she found that she could hear the words apart from the tone, ascribing to them all the tenderness, attentiveness, and sincerity for which she'd been so starved. She drank coffee, floated on Vicodin, mopped her eyes with Kleenex, and pressed buttons 1 through 6. In no time she had memorized the position of each by touch.
    "I am sorry to hear that, peach blossom." "You doing great, beloved." "I hear you, special." "Please tell me more, adorable." "What good girl are you, sweet pea." "I understand, honey." "Please tell me more, adorable." "Please tell me more, adorable." "Please tell me more, adorable."
     Frannie had never been happier.
     At length, feeling very wired and dreamy at the same time, Frannie was reckless enough to press button 7.
     "Kiss me, rosebud," said Brian.
     Frannie watched herself in a dispassionate, out-of-body sort of way as she stood up, walked around the end of the table, and planted her lips on Brian's featureless rubber face. His molded mouth was firm and yet pleasingly pliant. Frannie felt a surge of warmth such as her body had nearly forgotten.
     Without looking, she pressed button 7 again.
     At another time, on another day, in another state of mind, Brian's next suggestion would have been ludicrous if not downright bizarre, baby. But getting all her sorrows off her chest had done wonders for Frannie's mood. And her back didn't even hurt any more.
     Why the hell not? said the Vicodin.
     Giggling, Frannie picked up Brian in one hand and the bicycle pump in the other. She went to her bedroom and closed the door. Locked it.
     Air. Soft, yielding, invisible air. We take it for granted, don't feel it, hardly notice it, rarely think about it. As long as we're not deprived of it, it's almost nothing to us. (That must be what I am to Will, thought Frannie. Like air.) But when it's trapped inside something, it's suddenly very solid. Firm. Even hard. Frannie floated on hard air, devoid of will.
     When her moment had passed and her brain was returning, Frannie suddenly thought of her mother. "Never do it without a rubber," she said to Brian's pleasantly empty face, pressing button 4. "I'm with you on that, pumpkin," droned Brian. He lay on his back, staring blindly at the ceiling, his anatomical correctness still fully inflated. Frannie pulled the sheet over him and laughed herself silly. She was feeling drowsy now.
     Try number 8, whispered the Vicodin.
    With a vague sense of misgiving, Frannie sat up on one elbow and aimed the remote at her latex lover's median divider. The only utterances of Brian's repertoire that she had not yet heard were the words of advice. She pressed the button.
    "Let past be bygone," said Brian.
     Fortune-cookie wisdom, thought Frannie. Forgive and forget? or ditch it all and walk away? Frannie's thoughts drifted to the suitcase in the hall closet, and she began mentally composing a note: "Dear Will, I have decided to go away with Brian. . . ."
     "Everything is not yet lost," said Brian.
     That's right, thought Frannie. Now that I've finally remembered what I need. Maybe I could talk to Will. Maybe I could get Will to take lessons from Brian.
     She giggled.
     Maybe I could even take a lesson myself.
     "Some things do not need to be done," said Brian.
     And some things do, thought Frannie. For instance. For instance. For instance what? It was getting very sleepy in her room.
     "Trust your intuition," said Brian.
     That's canned remark number four, thought Frannie, eyes drooping. Now I've heard everything Brian has to say. Guess I'm on my own from here.
     She threw her arm across Brian's life-size rubber chest and went to sleep.

Copyright © 2006 Meredy Amyx.
"Brian" was completed on June 30, 2006. This story appeared in the August 2006 issue of WritersTalk, the newsletter of the South Bay Writers Club. It won the 2006 WritersTalk Challenge prize, a scholarship to the East of Eden Writers Conference.