One day they weren’t there, and the next they were.
They had been left on the sidewalk, blithely placed in front of a brick walled apartment, some charming shrubbery.
At first people had walked past them, but then something would catch their eye. A boy had bounded down the steps for his morning paper route, hand checking the cap on his head that was threatening to free itself, and his gait was abruptly cut short by an odd shadow, a reflex of his eyes that searched for movement, kinetic energy, life, yet found none. Slowly he had traced his steps back and stood before the listless figures and stared. He looked for a very long while, and then eventually turned away and continued at a sober pace, a mysterious emotion playing in his eyes.
But, where had he found the clothes? they wondered. The bright pink coat on the girl provoked sadness for some reason, as she stood captivated by the man, clutching her small, black purse. The boy at attention like a soldier. What kind of paints could produce such startling, sharp realism? And their expressions, people would whisper.
The reactions were undependable. Many would pass by on their way to someplace else, notice, and decide to nervously ignore them, too afraid to stare as if the figures possessed a sense of propriety and the rudeness would become a palpable, real thing. Children would always ask to stop and look, and would even reach out to touch them, drawn to the children clutched by the stern man, and mothers would scold before remembering they weren’t real. A few women would gaze silently at the still family and tentatively pose beside the man as someone took a picture, pretending to be a wife and mother. Neighborhood kids rushing down the street on their bicycles would gather at the manikins as if they were a new club meeting spot. Word spread and soon strangers came driving by just to catch a glimpse, to prove the rumors and stories they picked up while shopping for tunafish in isle 7, or while at church during meet and greet. Over black coffee in a friend’s parlor. A little girl stuck daisy chains on their heads, men would carefully study them, baffled and intrigued. They captivated everyone.
Then one morning the old man emerged from his room on the 8th floor, rode the elevator down to ground level and stepped outside. He was nearly ancient. His hair had gone completely white, his long beard snowy and soft. He wore an argyle seater vest over a white, button-down shirt, slacks, soft penny loafers and a wooden cane, which he did use. Something about him begged a sort of esoteric eccentricity, like he knew things. His neighbors always wondered what sort of hobbies kept him so occupied; no crackle and song emanated from the television during humid summer evenings. No morning papers, no parcels. Not even a dog.
He silently made his way to the manikins, back hunched over, and picked them up. Everyone kept perfectly still as he swayed first to the left, then to the right, and eventually steadied back on his heels. People in arm, he walked over to the double doors as a girl quickly opened them, and disappeared.
It took everyone a good while to reconcile the fact that the family was gone. No one ever figured out why he did what he did, what was the purpose in making them, because they never asked him.
And he never told.