Tim’s boyfriend is going away for the weekend. Company retreat. Four years at LiveWell, and Tim’s boyfriend still can’t explain what they sell. The face cream, sure, plus the dietary supplements. They’re selling a journey, a whole lifestyle.
What kind? Tim says.
I just work in distribution, says the boyfriend.
At night, the refrigerator makes threatening noises.
It’s too quiet here, Tim says. A friend might come stay.
What? says the boyfriend. Bad cell service out in the boonies.
There’s a Labor Day deal on substitutes: the best friend model, the spouse, the boyfriend. Tim’s substitute smells like pine, freshly sanitized. At dinner, the substitute orders a sixty-dollar bottle of wine. When Tim clutches his wallet, the substitute breaks character to reassure Tim that this was built into the rental fee, this is something Tim’s already paid for.
Enjoy yourself, the substitute says, pouring Tim a glass.
Tim can’t taste the price hike.
Polite conversation for a romantic evening:
The substitute asks Tim what brand of toothpaste. Did he have a typical American college experience. How long have he and the mister been together.
Tim says, This is hotter for me when we don’t talk about him.
The substitute says, Now you ask me a question.
His dream vacation is Auto-Response 31: Beach with Margarita. In his spare time, he Auto-Response 112: Yodel s.
The substitute hasn’t smoked weed before. Due to federal regulations, even the highest-operating substitute models aren’t programmed for anything illegal, but sure. Teach him.
If sex is precise but conventional, your substitute’s intimacy switch—located in the small of his back—may be set to Vanilla. Blame the previous user’s lack of imagination.
He’s an anatomy textbook come to life. He’s soft pink plastic.
Is there anything else you’d like to try? asks the substitute. Consider me your holiday from same-old.
Is this not good for you? Tim says.
It’s good, it feels good, the substitute says. That was not a comment on the quality. Here. Let me show you how much I like it.
In the blue glow of Tim’s bedroom, the substitute looks almost like the boyfriend. Dead-eyed, gasping for air he doesn’t need. Then sleeping.
The boyfriend calls to check in. His new mantra: Sell, sell, sell! He’s just walked on hot coals.
Tim says, Did that help you figure out whatever it is you’re selling?
Tuesday morning. The substitute is due back to the Plez-U Rental warehouse by 7 AM, and Tim’s late. He forgets to turn the substitute off before zipping him into the Plez-U garment bag and tossing him into the backseat. When Tim flies over the speed bump, the substitute bonks his head.
I’m still Auto-Response Unavailable, the substitute says. A boy in a bag. Still ________________.
Scott Fenton is a graduate of the MFA program at Indiana University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Fanzine, Day One, and elsewhere.
Photo by Christine Majul