By Amie Souza Reilly
The temp agency said the job required clerical skills and light lifting. I expected files and charts, but instead I am led into a warehouse where a pile of naked paper dolls needs to be organized. They are life-sized, a palette of flesh in waiting, and each as flat as a record.
After the warehouse manager tells me he wants them put in order he pauses, looks down at me as I smooth my skirt. There’s a loose sandwich in his hand and I can tell he doesn’t know what to call me. He chooses to call me “Hey.”
“Cataloged,” he says, “You know. Like they do with books.”
One thread of shredded iceberg lands on my table as he turns away. His footsteps echo beneath the tinny jingling of his keys as he runs up the concrete stairs. I chew my pen cap first, then my cuticles.
The blue string tied around my finger is going to break soon. I pulled it from the hem of my mother’s hospital gown on her very last day, tied it around my finger so I could remember something she told me, though I can’t recall whether it was that a stamp placed upside down on an envelope means I love you or that it is illegal to drive barefoot. I’ve never been in love and I ride my motorcycle without shoes on, even in the rain.
It only takes a soft push to splay the pile of paper women across the floor. Each one looks up at the ceiling dotted with constellations made from bare bulbs suspended, and as their Colgate-white grins reflect the light my nipples harden. I guess it is fair to think that theirs are hard too, but what I mean is mine are erect and theirs will never be.
I slide them into rows using the tip of my big toe but see no way to sort them. They are simultaneously alike and different, like stars or bubbles or eyelashes.
Kneeling in close, I pull the gnawed pen from behind my ear and I give each one a name, write them into the arches of their paper feet. Some I call after feelings: Anticipation, Desire, Grief. Elation, Terror, Sadness. To others I give names of more tangible things: Rind, Smoke, Clove. Ripple, Lamppost, Saucer.
Mothers sometimes name their infants after dead relatives or dead dreams, after memories or movie stars. These names are often given before a baby is born, as if identities are given rather than formed. Or maybe a name turns the abstract into something real.
Once finished, I arrange them into piles. New order emerges from old chaos as I match Clove with Hunger, place Desire under Rind. Joy fits neatly between Curl and Knife. I place Grief on top of Terror, then cover them with Lace and Smoke. For hours I stack them, position them in piles of two and three and four, linking Anticipation with Wing and Pebble, making a family out of Palm, Glee, Sadness, and Saucer.
When I wipe my sweaty hands off on my skirt the thread lets go of my finger. Using the same pen, I scrawl my own name between the cracks of the callouses on my feet. My mother named me after a song about a man who wants to keep a girl all for his own. She even spelled my name the same way, with too many vowels where there should only be a Y.
Y is sometimes a vowel and other times it isn’t—it is a letter that is both and neither. I stand up before the ink dries and when I walk away, my footsteps stamp ghost signatures on the floor behind me.
Amie Souza Reilly is the Feminist Fridays writer for The Adroit Journal. Her work can be found in Pidgeonholes, SmokeLong Quarterly, Okay Donkey and at www.amiesouzareilly.com. Follow her on Twitter @Smidgeon227.