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A Kind of Love by Sebnem Sanders (Halloween in The Gutter 2019)

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Wanna know what "Love" is? Don't ask us. Everything is different down here in The Gutter. Like this tale, for example ....

A Kind of Love by Sebnem Sanders

Bernard visited the flea market every Sunday and looked for objects to add to his collections, or something interesting to start a new one. Seeing a display of old-fashioned mannequins at one of his favourite stalls, he stopped and studied them, imagining what he could do with them. He negotiated the price for four, and carried them to his station-wagon, one by one, taking great care. They were a treasure, rare samples from the 50's, made of wood.

Bernard installed the mannequins in the basement of his house, which he'd turned into a nostalgic bar, after his mother died. Not that he was a drinker, but he liked the idea of people socializing under the influence, telling each other their secrets, or meeting someone new. This was something he envied, yet his shyness prevented him from making friends. As soon as someone began to chat to him about something other than work, a hot flush would creep over his face. He'd begin to stutter, and lost for words, escape to find solace in the privacy of his home.

A hard-working mechanical engineer in a manufacturing firm, Bernard had attained the rank of manager, though he knew he couldn't move any higher due to his lack of social skills. When he inherited the family house, he had gutted the basement and reproduced the model of a bar he visited on the Internet. Wood panelling, decorated with bevelled mirrors behind the racks of bottles, and in front of it, a mahogany counter with matching stools. He bought a bottle of every alcoholic beverage existing in a bar's inventory, along with glasses and accessories.

Every Friday night, he prepared a cocktail recipe from a famous barman. He sat on a stool and watched his image reflected in one of the mirrors. Yet, he was still alone, in the midst of silence. The introduction of a LED TV screen fixed to the wall solved the problem. Bernard watched people from another world, and music videos providing sound. He listened to sensual women singing songs and wearing next to nothing.

The mannequins presented Bernard with the opportunity to create something more intimate.
Not so fond of their bare bodies, he decided clothes might give them a kind of reality and ordered sexy dresses to make them more enticing. He embraced his new friends with passion, yet felt a tinge of disappointment when they did not respond.

A few weeks later, he thought about giving them more personality. He spent his weekends searching for heads with the choice of eyes, wigs, and flexible body parts. The task of fitting them took all his spare time, and in the small hours of each morning, he stumbled to his bedroom.
Once he mastered one, Bernard moved onto the next. A month later he had created his beloved possessions. Natasha, the Slavic beauty with blue eyes and long, blonde hair. Anita, the Scandinavian, whose fizzy red hair framed green eyes. Carla, the Italian, with hazel eyes and cascading brown locks, sitting next to Manuela, the Spanish seductress whose dark gaze and short cropped black hair promised an exciting adventure.

Bernard sat at the head of the table, and with the grace of a butler, served wine and small portions of the exotic dish he'd prepared to his alluring companions. He raised his glass and said, "Bon appétit, mesdames." 

The girls looked real. Almost. He had arranged their postures, manicured hands or elbows resting on the table, their heads facing him, and hair swept in sync with their pose. Bernard took photos. Drank his wine, as well as theirs, and cleared the table after finishing his meal. The Friday night dinner parties kept him busy for a few weeks until they became boring, and he felt the need for more animation from his guests. 

Bernard changed their costumes, gave them whips, chains, and chokers.
He drank more wine and ate more food than he normally did. He could feel their hands on his body. Maybe something would happen now. 

***

Monica, the Office Manager, entered the house with two police officers. They searched downstairs and upstairs, and found neatly arranged rooms, but no sign of Bernard. Coming down to the hall, one of the officers saw the door leading to the basement. He pushed it open and descending the lit staircase, gawked when he witnessed the scene at Bernard's bar. Chained to the chair, at the head of the table, a leather bondage choker had been pulled tight around Bernard's neck. His swollen tongue sticking out, head hanging at an angle, decomposition had already disfigured his face.

Monica screamed and covered her mouth as the policeman shouted, "You're compromising the crime scene!"

She staggered to the bar and poured a finger of whiskey into a tumbler. Perched on a stool, she downed the drink, and scanned the fetish clothes, wigs, and accessories scattered around the room. She gulped and turned to the officers. "I don't understand. Bernard was a very nice man."

The Forensic Team found no fingerprints, other than Bernard's and Monica's on the glass and the whiskey bottle. They examined the photos on Bernard's mobile. The mannequins in the pictures had curiously disappeared, having left their clothes and wigs behind.

A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Sebnem E. Sanders now lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes. Her stories have appeared both in print and online, including crime outlets Yellow Mama Webzine and Punk Noir Magazine; literary magazines Spelk Fiction and the Carpe Arte Journal; and in the book collections: Paws & Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology.

Inspired by a Jack Vettriano painting, "A Kind of Love" first appeared in her 2017 story collection Ripples on the Pond. You can learn more about Sebnem by visiting her website where she often shares some of her work.