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Round 1 finalist: “Manufactured Times” by Philip James Sterwerf
This is where we first made love. We made it the same way we made pink teddy bears in the factory; by obligation. I had to show up to work from Monday through Friday, eight in the morning until four-thirty in the evening. As all of us are, I was obligated to make money. So were you. You had second shift, from four in the evening until midnight. After my first three months of working there, the demand for pink teddy bears increased. The factory needed people in the third shift.
Pink teddy bears are only bought around Valentine’s Day. They are fish food for the desperate. They are the bare minimum. It is as if a doctor put a Band-Aid on a cancer patient to show the malignant soul that he cares.
When we started working together during the third shift, you told me about the old flame you fed a pink teddy bear to in college. You said you found it ironic that she thanked you for the gift, because now you know that these pink teddy bears are made by people who could care less about a couple’s young love.
You had many philosophies. You said everything manufactured by obligation should be burned to the ground. You never sent thank-you cards to the relatives who gave you cash for college graduation. You said you hated labels.
I asked you about love, marriage, family, and friendship. You had an answer:
“Friends are made, parents make babies, children slaves dig for diamonds to put on wedding rings. Everything is manufactured but love.”
We proved you wrong that night, but you refused to believe. You asked me out at work, called me on my days off, stopped by when I was sleeping in, and each time, I’ve told you that the feelings we had in ‘Parking Lot C’ are as manufactured as the pink teddy bears. Chemicals shot in and out of our bodies, creating cravings, imagining comfort, and designing dissatisfaction of a lack. I only wanted to make love in order to determine whether or not I could make something worthwhile in my life, other than a thousand pink teddy bears that old flames feast upon.
We made love again in the winter. The snow covered the car’s window, creating a white shelter from the world’s eyes. You said you needed me, and I needed you too. We needed warmth. You just misinterpreted our bodies’ demand. We supply our bodies with whatever product the assembly line sends our way. You felt like you had everything except a lover. You tried to make one out of me; the spare part you found in the factory you figured didn’t have a purpose. Your words were pink teddy bears. We made pink teddy bears in your Mustang. The only reason why you sulk is because you forgot the pink teddy bear you fell in love with was made out of the same stuffing you despised.
Philip James Sterwerf of Mount Healthy, Ohio is the winner of the Howard McCord Poetry Award of 2014, as well as BookMark Publishing’s 2nd Annual Short Fiction Contest. His work has been published online and in print. Recently, Philip graduated Cum Laude from Bowling Green State University with a BFA in Creative Writing and a minor in Pop Culture. He currently sits in his parent’s attic, attempting to write something worthwhile.