Before Lynn came into my life, I only knew how to love people from a distance, only in my mind, and it was torture to bring myself to demonstrate verbal or physical affection.
My mother was convinced that I did not love her. Even the time when I gave her a bouquet of white lilies and an amber necklace I’d bought by saving my lunch money for a whole year and told her that she was the best mom in the world, she just thanked me dryly and didn’t speak with me the rest of the night. That was all because I once again withdrew when she tried to kiss me on the cheek and made a face when she stroked my head. Something about my mother’s caresses felt unbearable to me, too intimate. I wanted to like them and wished that I could respond sincerely, but I could not even muster a convincing act. I wanted to learn how to touch, but I didn’t know how to do it in a way that did not seem painful and unnatural.
It was the same with all of the women I liked, even with the one before Lynn—Greta. Back then when I was all alone, I would think about her a lot. It was so easy for me to imagine our relationship: my life would not change much, except I would have someone with whom to make dinner, my favorite macaroni with cheddar cheese and pecans, and discuss the latest episodes of “Game of Thrones.” And at night, I would kiss not the pillow but Greta. Of course, when I met with Greta in real life, these simple fantasies became impossible. Everything I said I had to consider five times over, as I was afraid of saying something inappropriate, not to mention touching her—I never knew what was allowed, what was not, what she would like, what not. The last time we met, we sat at a brightly lit table in the middle of a crowded cafe, and, unintentionally, I asked her too loudly in front of the waiter if I could hold her hand, after which she got scared and immediately asked the waiter for the bill.
After that, I gave up and decided that my only experience of love would be lonely dreams. I started to look in the other direction as soon as I saw a pretty girl, and had decided that I would spend the rest of my life dining alone. But then—then I noticed and found Lynn.
She arrived in a long cardboard box, lying down. She looked just like the kind of girl that I like best: long, dark red hair, green eyes, a bit chubbier than the models in magazines. Lynn also had an ideal personality: calm and reserved.
On the first day, I just sat her on the sofa and observed with insecurity her curvy limbs and face full of superhuman love. The next day, I started to talk to her. I shared my opinion about the last episode of “Game of Thrones.” On the third day, I touched her hair, and after a few days also her skin. It was soft and smooth, almost too much, but not one hair out of place. With each day my courage grew and I started to kiss her belly, caress her feet, touch Lynn in all of the ways that I had dreamed of touching a woman. Her body, despite being cool and hard, always responded to my touches with complete surrender. If I held Lynn’s hand for a long time, it would warm up a bit. At first this scared me and left me uncomfortable, but soon I started to like it.
I couldn’t take her outside, so my home became our mutual world. Together we prepared macaroni with cheddar cheese and pecans, curled up on the sofa, and watched “Game of Thrones” or listened to Tchaikovsky, who was our favorite composer.
When I wanted Lynn to touch me or cuddle up in my lap or kiss me, I always had to fold and arrange her arms and legs myself, since, although she cooperated, she did not show initiative. She used only words to express what she wanted, but Lynn’s wishes were always the same as mine, and her voice was so quiet that I heard it only in my mind.
I am not crazy. I knew that I was the one giving Lynn her words and opinions, I knew that she gave in to my touches because she could not protest. But I liked to fantasize about what Lynn could think and feel, pretending that she wanted to touch me as much as I wanted to touch her. I held Lynn in my grasp, she was real and touchable, yet half-imagined, but all the same it felt like the truest love that I had ever experienced.
Until the moment I met Mary. A real woman in flesh, blood, and mind, who started working at our company as the office assistant, and who eventually I would see every workday. Her hair was not red, nor were her eyes green, but the fact that she tended to smile shyly and clumsily walked into the corners of furniture moved me. From time to time she would come up to my computer monitor, where I was tapping out new programs, and give me some client update or ask what kind of tea I wanted to order for the office. It was difficult for me to answer Mary without hesitating and, after returning home from work, I still could not stop thinking about her beautiful voice, her eyes, which looked straight at me, rather than empty space. Once I lay down in bed, arranged Lynn’s arms on my naked chest and imagined how soft and warm Mary’s hands would be. Lynn could only get such warm hands in a microwave oven. I held Lynn close to my chest and tried to imagine that it was Mary, but Lynn was offended and stiffened even more, and became even colder, and I had to get up and seat her in a chair on the other side of the room.
But the next day I saw Mary again. She smiled and again banged her hip on the corner of my desk. This made me thirst for her touch, to have her next to me, more than ever before, and after work I returned to Lynn. I was angry with Lynn, because I could not imagine Mary in her place, because she lacked warmth, because she was so annoyingly quiet and still and agreed with everything I said and wanted with indifference. Even so, I continued to touch her, I used her with malicious pleasure, knowing full well that she could not resist. Once I thought I detected some expression in Lynn’s eyes—disapproval, perhaps, that someone else now lived in my thoughts.
This is how I suffered, my imagination leaping from one woman to the other. Being at work and speaking with Mary, I sometimes longed to be with Lynn, because with her it was easy after all. I didn’t blush, get tongue-tied, or work myself into a frenzy about what she would think or do. As I increasingly felt Mary leaning out from behind her desk and staring at me, I missed Lynn’s empty, indifferent, uninquisitive eyes. Once, on a Friday, Mary invited me to have lunch with her, when she asked hopefully about my plans for the weekend, and from fear I blurted out that I would be relaxing at home with my girlfriend. Mary lowered her eyes, so did I, and we no longer spoke that day.
When I returned home again to mute, cold Lynn, I of course bitterly regretted what I had said. Lynn just sat there quietly grinning, and I squeezed my hands into fists to avoid grabbing her and throwing her against the wall. But I was incapable of harming a woman, even a plastic woman. That weekend I didn’t even touch Lynn.
Mary no longer invited me to lunch, and she bumped into my desk less often. When she distanced herself, my obsession with her only grew. Once I found the courage to invite her to have lunch with me, but she just smiled shyly and declined, saying that she had quite a bit for breakfast that morning. On other days, when I showed great interest and asked Mary about office paper and coffee supplies, Mary answered politely, but was always very businesslike.
Everything ended—or one could say, finally began—that night when we were celebrating our boss’s birthday at the office. The boss bought a few drinks for everyone and later several colleagues went to a bar, including me and Mary. I was generously soaking my stressed brain in beer and noticed that Mary was drinking more than I imagined her capable of. While others were heading home, I convinced Mary to stay for one more drink. She hesitated, so I immediately ordered two rum and cokes, so that it would be rude for her to leave. And then when we sat down at a corner table, just the two of us, my protective walls came down. I told Mary that actually my so-called girlfriend was not alive and partly imaginary and that I really liked Mary, but was frightened by how alive and real she was. Mary did not understand what I was talking about, but I was afraid to tell her the whole story. I ordered two more drinks and told her about how hard it was for me to hug my mother when I was a child, and about how I didn’t know what to say and where to put my hands when I was together with Greta and all the other women that I have ever liked. Mary nodded her head in understanding. We each had another drink, and with the last sip I found the courage to ask Mary, a little too loudly, if I could show her something at my place. I said it and hoped that Mary would understand completely once she saw it with her own eyes. My enthusiasm, the alcohol, Mary’s realization that she did not live far from me—something convinced her.
When we came into my apartment, Lynn was sitting in the bedroom—in the recliner, thank god, not on the bed. I imagined how embarrassing it would have been if she had been rolling around naked in my unmade bed, and I laughed nervously. But my laughter fizzled when I saw Mary’s serious face, which was looking first at the passionless Lynn and then at me. I waited for her to call me a pathetic lecherous man or something like that and rush out the door, but then Mary started to laugh. Loudly, uproariously, really laughing. And this laughter, although the most wonderful sound I have ever heard, scared me a bit, just like Mary’s experienced, caressing hands when she approached me, having lost her inhibition in her drunken state. But then I glanced one more time at Lynn and remembered that when I was with her, I tried to imagine I was with Mary. I was not successful, and yet I had touched Lynn in all the ways I wanted to touch a real woman. And now I was acting the opposite: I remembered all of my time spent with Lynn and touched Mary in the same ways that I had done with Lynn. I put my palms in all the same places, starting with her hair, moving to her upper arms, her belly, her legs. And Mary let me, she responded to my caresses similarly to how I imagined Lynn would respond: she ran her fingers through my hair, kissed my neck, brushed against my chest. At one point, I noticed that Lynn’s face was turned toward us. I wanted to throw a piece of clothing on her, but then I remembered that she is only a doll, of course, she couldn’t see a thing.
Still, when Lynn’s place in my life was replaced by Mary and we decided to live together, we did not get rid of the doll. Mary learned to live with her. Sometimes we prepare macaroni with cheddar cheese and pecans together and afterward watch “Game of Thrones.” Sometimes Mary argues with me and says that she would rather order a pizza and watch “Sex and the City,” and at these moments, I tend to think about the time I spent with Lynn, secretly putting her hand in mine and smiling about how compliant she was, even if artificial, cold, and helpless.
But when we have guests, we hide Lynn in the closet. They would not understand.
“Linna” © Alise Redviņa. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Laura Adlers. All rights reserved.