by Jace Daniel (b. 1969)
Gary had two problems. The first problem was that he lived in a crappy apartment with nobody to talk to besides the faceless girls on the other end of the pay-per-minute phone calls. The second problem was that he hated his job as a garbage collector.
One Monday morning, while emptying a dumpster in the industrial part of the city, Gary found a woman’s head. A pretty woman, a redhead, with green eyes stuck wide open. Not telling a soul about what he found, Gary put the redhead in a bag and took it home.
Placing the redhead on the dining table, Gary ran down to the drugstore and bought some fragrant shampoo, a makeup kit, and a pair of cheap earrings. He returned home and washed the redhead’s hair, cleaned its face, covered its cheeks’ bruises with foundation, and carefully applied mascara, eye shadow, and bright red lipstick. Gary looked into her eyes and began to speak.
“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Gary said, hooking the earrings through her pierced ears. “The reddest hair, the greenest eyes, and ears that will always listen. You’re my dream come true.”
Gary lived this way for weeks, spending his long lonely days collecting trash, counting the minutes until he could rush home to his redhead. He told her stories, he told her jokes, he told her of his dreams. And she listened, her eyes fixed on him.
One day, while emptying a dumpster, Gary came across a newspaper. On the back was a simple advertisement, like many he had seen before:
NEED COMPANY? CALL: 1-800-666-FRND
“I no longer need company,” Gary mused. “Not with my redhead.”
Recognizing an opportunity to make some extra money, Gary placed an ad of his own in the newspaper:
NEED COMPANY? CALL FOR A FACE-TO-FACE APPOINTMENT: 1-800-666-RDHD
“If I can rent my redhead out for a couple hours a day, I could quit my job as a garbage collector,” Gary thought.
On the day the newspaper came out, Gary’s phone rang off the hook. He immediately began booking appointments for men to come to his apartment and spend some quiet time with the redhead. Men came in all shapes and sizes, all ages and colors. Some booked for five minutes, others booked for ten, still others booked for a full hour or more.
Within a week, Gary was rolling in the dough. With the demand for the redhead’s companionship so high, Gary was pulling in enough money to quit his dirty job as a garbage collector. He moved to a bigger apartment, and set up a special room for the redhead and her guests. Business grew, and through word of mouth, Gary’s redhead became one of the most popular companions in town.
One early weekday afternoon, a man showed up on Gary’s doorstep claiming that he’d heard about the redhead’s outstanding companionship.
“Does she accept walk-ins?” the man asked. “I was thinking that maybe I would –”
“Sure,” Gary interrupted, welcoming the man in. “What’s your name?”
“You can call me John.”
“Let me introduce you to her,” Gary said. “Right this way.”
John followed Gary to the bedroom at the end of the hall, where the redhead was waiting. John looked into her eyes, studying her face.
“Where’d you find her?” John asked.
“In a dumpster. Nobody wanted her. But after a little T.L.C., she’s as good as new.”
“She reminds me of somebody,” John said.
“Somebody I once knew,” John said. “Somebody who wouldn’t listen. Somebody who wouldn’t shut up.”
“Well, you won’t have that problem with this one. She’s the best listener money can buy. And she’ll never talk back or cut you off in the middle of a sentence.”
“Have you informed the authorities about finding her?” John asked, prying. “The police? I’m sure somebody’s concerned. Surely there must be a search for a missing woman –”
“I’ve told nobody,” Gary interrupted, speaking faster. “What would be the point, anyway? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And business has been incredible. There will always be a human demand for companionship. With the redhead, I have the securest job town! If things continue this way, I’ll be able to retire a lot earlier than I ever would have as a garbage collector.”
“How much time do I have?” John asked, looking into the redhead’s eyes.
Gary looked at his watch. “You can have two hours. Our next appointment’s just a quickie, but it isn’t until four o’clock.”
– – – – –
At four o’clock, with newspaper ad in hand, a lonely man named Frank knocked on Gary’s front door. The door opened.
“Is this where the redhead is?” Frank asked.
“Yes it is. Come in.”
“I’ve heard wonderful things about her,” Frank said, taking out his wallet as he walked down the hallway. “Great listener, not too talkative. And the price is right.”
“We aim to please.”
Stepping into the redhead’s room, Frank looked at the head on the table and stared into its eyes.
“Where’s the redhead?” Frank asked.
“She’s gone on vacation,” John said. “But this one’s just as quiet. His name is Gary.”
(Inspired by a dusty story idea from the 2004 bedside notebook of M)