The Jackson 5

I was feeling pretty sick and out of it, so I went to bed early—took some cold medicine and conked myself out for eighteen hours.  It was a better alternative than the Marty and Monty Thera-flu (‘let’s hot-box the kitchen!’).  The next morning I woke up and congratulated myself—for once I’d done something that made me feel better the next morning.  I was so pleased I decided to go to class.  I found a book (not sure it was the right one) and headed downstairs.  The usual carnage awaited.  A set of beer bottles stood on the coffee table like bowling pins.  There was a smell—old beer, from last week, the month before, festering in orphan bottles.  Pizza Hut boxes strewn about the room at odd angles.  With so much clutter you couldn’t perceive a change—another stain, another dozen empty bottles.  So I didn’t notice her at first, on the couch, nested in tangles of clothing and blankets.  I was to the door when I saw her lying there.  She faced the wall so all I could see was the back of her blond head.  I tiptoed toward the couch, not wanting to wake her.  I got close and snuck a look at her profile.  She had a perfect nose and well-balanced lips and the thickest eye-lashes I’d ever seen.  But she had no ears and how was it possible that anyone could have such a complexion?  I sensed someone behind me and spun round.  An armless torso and head gazed through glass eyes from across the room.  I saw there were others, scattered in various reposes, some with arms, some with legs, some without.  They all wore clothes except for the one on the couch, which was stark naked and had after-market scribbling on the nipples and crotch. 

‘She looked weird without,’ Monty told me later, as if this explained everything.  It had been Marty’s idea, but as usual it took Monty to make it happen.  Mannequin stealing. 

There were five of them at first.  Marty and Monty dressed them in their own clothes, named them Michael, Jermaine, Marlon, Jackie, and Tito.  The Jackson Five.  Two more thefts brought Randy and Janet into the world.  An eighth, they named Jesse (after the politician).  A ninth, Mark (after the Indiana Pacers point guard).  Almost all male-named, never mind that Tito was the only male (anatomically speaking).  

While I accepted them soon enough, I wasn’t pleased when I first found the Jacksons in our front room. 

‘You know this is illegal, right?’  I didn’t like mothering my roommates but it always happened that way.

‘Chill, dude.’  If Monty were to run for President, this would be his platform.

‘What did you do, just walk in and take them?’

‘More or less.  We hit Penny’s and the Bon.’

‘And no one said anything?’

‘Not that I could tell.  We were running and it was hard to hear.’

‘Jesus, you’re gonna get us all arrested.’

‘Chill, dude.’

I chilled.  I watched as the Jackson Nine became an inseparable part of the family.  Marty and Monty dressed them before big events, talked to them in cooing baby-speak, served them helpings of dinner in multi-colored dog dishes around the dinning room table.  Marty preferred a maternal role, often donning an apron to cook warped cakes that would rot afterwards, untouched by plastic fingers.  Monty fancied himself a disciplinarian patriarch, posting mannequine-directed house rules on eight-by-ten sheets and raising his voice at Tito in particular. I became a kind of maid, cleaning up the rotting cupcakes and tearing the latest manifesto off the wall. 

And, perhaps counterintuintively, with the arrival of the Jacksons we never again had a shortage of party-goers.  We were The Next Big Thing on campus.  If our parties had been rowdy before, they were tenfold that now.  People, the actual flesh and blood kind, were drawn to the Jacksons.

It wasn’t lost on anyone that I, too, was a Jackson, and folks on campus began to call me Ten, as in Jackson Ten.  My affiliation with the mannequins did more for my social standing than anything else that happened during my six years at State, which made the maid-duty more palatable.

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