This story is by E.C. Sullivan and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The last time I remember feeling happy was when I won a prestigious twelve-ounce bottle of apple pie scented lotion and an honorable same-day-use coupon for a free funnel cake at the food court. I was the lucky one hundredth customer at a rundown mall Bath and Body Works store. That was three months ago.
Before and after, you could set my daily life routine by a clock. I begrudgingly wake up to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” ringtone. I run a hot bath until the rusty pipes gurgle-spit cold water, and then I pamper myself with shoplifted Bath and Body Works samples. I especially enjoy the Noir collection and the pomegranate extract mask—real quality stuff.
With large rollers in my hair and crimson red lips, I light my morning cigarette, pour a steaming latte into my “You Are a Fucking Magical Unicorn” mug, and prepare myself for the imminent doom that awaits me—teaching cellular structure and functions to 7th graders.
“Pencils out for a pop quiz,” I cheekily commanded my sleepy biology class.
After a short chorus of moans and with the dopes preoccupied, I eagerly escaped to the safety of my desk. I took a long sip of cleverly disguised bourbon, logged into my dating profile, and browsed my potential soul mates.
Handlebar-mustached Frank, loves cats, made evident by his “Real Men Love Cats” tank top and his armful of kitties. An upfront expectation setter, Frank makes it clear that women who do not like peanut butter should not contact him.
I am allergic to bad mustaches.
Next up is Wesley—also an honest guy. He displays a recent county mugshot as his profile picture of choice, captioned “I’ll explain later.” He notifies future lovers that he is “on the shorter side but has 6′4″ energy.” He also warns that he will never love another woman more than his mom.
I don’t do moms.
“Hey Barb, sorry to interrupt,” said Coach Camden, shyly peeking through the doorway.
I slammed my laptop shut and shot my glare upward. “Yes?”
“Detention duty next Friday, you and me! Principal Sanders asked me to give you a heads up.”
“Ugh. Of course. That is just great,” I said with a heavy sigh.
“Alrighty, it’s a date,” he replied with a Labrador Retriever smile and two thumbs up before happily whistle-walking his way down the hall.
It was then that a tidal wave of despair washed over me.
How did I get here? I am a 37-year-old prodigy scientist trapped teaching science to babies. I haven’t had a memorable date in years. My best prospects are a cat man and an ex-con. My social calendar includes detention with a gym teacher who says “alrighty” and wears khakis. The kind of khakis one buys at an Old Navy two-for-twenty-dollars-sale with a loyalty membership card.
I don’t do men who track membership reward points.
I took another sorrowful sip of bourbon and sunk low in my chair. With a stinging gulp, my genius wheels began to crank and, with each churn, picked up speed, rolling full steam until my prodigy idea light switched on.
Eureka! I will create my own man. A masterpiece!
I immediately drafted my plans.
He will be dark-haired and green-eyed, with chiseled, bulging muscles and the build of a Viking. He will rock a movie-star chin and profile; a luxury-car-salesman smile, not too hairy, of course, and not too baby-faced—an effortless, ruggedly handsome look. And tattoos, several, because after all, he is a bad, very bad boy.
I spent the week gathering medical supplies, collecting perfect parts and manly pieces from the morgue. Pro tip—always have the number of a mortician in your little black book for one-night stands and scientific emergencies.
I installed an electric rod on the rooftop and worked through long nights, balancing formulae and inventing concoctions worthy of a Nobel Prize.
A pinch of sensitivity.
Two dashes of toxic masculinity.
A liter of loyalty.
On the day of the big event, I waited for the last straggling student to leave and double-locked the middle school science room doors.
I changed into my lucky little black dress, adjusted my laboratory goggles, and went to work meticulously assembling my hottie of a soulmate. On an electric bed, I stitched together his glorious limbs with the utmost craftsmanship, carefully secured his essential organs, and brushed his wavy locks with my fingertips.
I labored quickly against a well-timed violent storm until I ran an adrenaline fever from my wicked, unstable madness. As the wind picked up strength, I hooked up my stud to an IV filled with life serum and stood safely back, falling into a fit of mad scientist guttural laughs.
The storm screamed, the building shook, and a bolt of lightning crackled and struck, emitting a charge so strong that it knocked me to the ground. The room fell silent.
“Ughhhhhhhhhh, ouchies,” groaned the injured man.
“It’s alive!” I roared with sadistic glee.
I threw myself at his bedside. He is glorious!
I grabbed his large, firm hand. “Oscar, my love, I am here.”
He looked up at me with big, adoring eyes, just as I had long dreamed of. I leaned in close for our steamy first kiss.
“Mama?” he asked.
“No, I’m Barb,” I replied with a smile.
“Mama Barb,” he said proudly. And he sucked his thumb ferociously.
What I thought was merely a minor hiccup in the beginning, a slight oversight—creating a man with all the looks but no intellect—grew into a major issue. Oscar cried whenever I left the room. He needed a night light at bedtime, and he worried about the monsters in his closet.
I patiently attempted to tutor my love through his sensitivity challenges.
“Man up, Oscar!” I instructed him.
“Oh, keep it up… I’ll give you something to cry about!” I warned.
My soulmate was happiest when I was home, barefoot and cooking for him in the kitchen. He demanded I cut the crusts off his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spat up his vegetables, and threw temper tantrums for candy at the grocery store.
Of course, I tried all the cutting-edge behavioral therapy techniques and guided him through awareness and accountability exercises.
“I swear to God, Oscar, you are annoyingly toxic!” I shouted.
“Sticks and stones, Mama Barb,” he replied in a baby voice.
When it became evident that Barney, the big purple dinosaur, was his new favorite TV show, I finally conceded. My creation was a total scientific failure and turnoff.
“Mama Barb! I love you. You love me. We are happy family!” Oscar proudly sang.
For a moment, I thought seriously about taking my loyal dummy to the local Chuckie Cheese and leaving him there with a pocket full of tokens. He’d love it. Maybe a nice family would take pity on him.
I took a long pull at my cigar and watched through the smoke ring as he rocked happily back and forth to commercial jingles. Oscar kissed the nose of his favorite stuffed bear. He was irritatingly sweet.
No. He is my scientific responsibility. I can’t leave him to suffer.
So, I did the next best thing. I took him to a Buy-A-Date auction gala, where eligible bachelors are sold off to “lucky” ladies for charity.
“Oscar, go out onto the stage and show the ladies the new dance you learned. If you do a good job, you’ll win a prize!” I coaxed.
Oscar wasn’t even four steps into his Hokey Pokey dance when hysteria broke out. His dashing good looks broke all records. The women swooned and fought.
“Five thousand dollars!” one big-haired woman screamed.
“Six thousand dollars!” another shouted.
“Ten thousand dollars!” yelled a large-busted debutante, as she threw her lacey purple bra onto the stage.
Ultimately, Oscar left with a nice lady who promised to bake him extra-large chocolate chip cookies.
“Here. Don’t forget his binkie and stuffie,” I reminded, shoving a diaper bag into her arms.
The following Friday, on detention duty, I logged in to my online dating profile.
Peter is looking for love and for a passionate Pokémon Go partner. He only dates “hot blondes who agree that Batman is better than Superman.” He is temporarily living with his grandma in a retirement community.
I deleted my profile.
“Hey Barb, you showed,” said Coach Camden with an admiring smile. “And you smell amazing. Is that Noir collection from Bath and Body Works?”
I had never noticed before what great shape Camden was in—his shoulders broad and his arms beefed up from dodgeball lessons.
“Well, yes, yes, it is,” I sultrily replied. “Is that a tattoo?”