Mannequins

When I was little, I was both fascinated and scared of mannequins.

There was a small department store in the city that was like a magical place to me. At the entrance was an array of colourful wind-up toys in various animal forms behind pristine glass cases. My parents would get very annoyed when we try to pass by the toy display. My brother and I would wail and point to the wind-up toys, and our mother would frown and shush us impatiently before finally relenting. Our father would come over, ask us which ones we like, and purchase them. Now, thoroughly distracted (and extremely compliant) with our new toys, we would proceed to the upper levels of the store to check out clothing.

This was where the magic gave way to something more sinister. The mannequins in the clothing section were a source of trepidation for me: they were adult versions of dolls that closed their eyes when you lay them down. They were sleek, white, and slim; their hair whipped and coiffed in the style of the day; their eyes were like translucent marbles of blue, brown and gray staring nonchalantly into space. They looked otherworldly to me--beautiful and scary at the same time.

Those mannequins haunted my dreams -- I had nightmares of their lifeless eyes boring deep into my soul with inexplicable malevolence.

One Christmas, my father took us to see the Holiday on Ice show at the coliseum. I didn't know how he managed it, but we got ringside seats. He had me sit on his lap as he pointed to the lights and the skating figures. My eyes grew wide when the ice skaters came out in their full dazzling and feathery glory doing pirouettes, leaps, and jumps, effortlessly sliding across the ice in figure eights. The majesty of the show unfolding in front of me was too much for me to process. At curtain call, the performers approached the audience in the ringside to shake hands.

A lady in a towering feathered headdress and sparkling jeweled bodice approached my family and stuck out her hand. I stared at her: her skin was as white and smooth as the department store mannequins, and her eyes were like blue marbles ñ- wide and translucent. She was moving her arms, and she was speaking to us. How was that possible? She was a mannequin ñ how was she moving?

Her satin-gloved hand clutched mine, her grip hard and strong. She grinned at me, but her eyes terrified me. I pulled my hand from her unearthly grasp. I turned and buried my face on my father's shoulder.

Years later, it dawned on me that it was my first encounter with a Caucasian person.