Store policy is no returns, no exceptions. Here’s the exception: should you change your mind about a recently consummated purchase before you leave, suffer a pang of conscience over the cost, we’ll grant you a refund. We’re not complete hard cases. However, once you step outside and the door closes behind you, whatever you bought is yours, whether you want it any longer or not. We’re sorry to be so inflexible on this point, but you’ll find this to be true of any reputable adult novelty shop. Sex toys aren’t something that can just be swapped out. It’s a hygiene issue.
Often, as I’m locking up the shop for the night, I’ll spot discarded marital aids and other loneliness alleviators scattered across the parking lot or tossed into shrubbery, the items still in their boxes, abandoned by customers who had second thoughts. I never take the things. I round them up and pitch them into the dumpster by the fire exit. Here’s the exception: the week Tanya moved in with me. It was a big step, determining whether the previous six months were a fluke or the start of something serious. Soon after she brought her things over, I saw outside the store a bust of Ramona Moans—a replica head of a popular starlet made out of CyberSkin (Feels like the real thing, the ad copy boasts). The product retails for nearly two hundred dollars. I brought it to the apartment as a gag housewarming gift. I removed the head from the packaging, held it in front of the peephole, and knocked. At first, Tanya shrieked, which made the effort completely worthwhile. Afterward, she laughed until she was out of breath. She put Ramona on top of a crate of unpacked books, her eyes facing the couch. She tussled Ramona’s synthetic red hair, probed the articulate mouth and mobile tongue. The two bonded quickly.
My apartment has a strict pet policy: no dogs, no cats, no exceptions. And no exceptions means no exceptions. The landlord is a complete hard case. Despite my entreaties to him—I’ve been a model tenant, I insisted, always on time with rent, never throwing keggers—Tanya had to leave her cat Oscar with her parents. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but I had a lease. We agreed, Tanya and I, when it was time to renew we’d find a more accommodating residence, bring Oscar along. Still, she misses her cat. She used to converse with him, supplying both sides of the dialogue, but now Ramona satisfies that need for platonic companionship. She greets Ramona in the mornings, asks wardrobe advice of her, and solicits Ramona’s opinion to outvote me on what to watch on TV. Basketball? Nope, The Next Food Network Star. Two to one. Democracy.
I find this behavior funny until one day I don’t. The vetoes have spread. Tanya and Ramona overrule me on where to buy groceries, how to spend free time, and what stuff of mine needs to go into the closet to make room for her stuff (apparently, my varsity basketball trophies are chewing up critical square footage). An erosion of autonomy—I’ve broken up with girlfriends over the same before, ranting about needing space. An irritation builds over days, cross-pollinates with other, unrelated irritations: my worthless degree, my service sector job, my service sector wages. Zero callbacks on meticulously prepared applications. It’s not as though I want to work retail.
At the store, about a month into our cohabitation experiment, a customer tries to exchange a defective strap-on. The waist buckle is broken. He points to the silver clasp hanging free of the leather, which, he claims, was like that when he bought it. I nod and apologize, explain the return policy. “It’s not like I used it,” he says, but the notes of resignation are already occupying his voice. I believe every word of his story, but there’s nothing I can do. He understood the risks of the sale—or should have. There’s an enormous sign at the register, and cashiers caution all buyers, even offer to put batteries into devices and power them up to be sure they aren’t broken, though many pass. He’s got to live with the consequences. I ask if he wants me to get a manager, let a higher-up tell him no. Instead of declining, he whips the strap-on across the counter at me, the product glancing off my ribs, curses me out as he leaves.
I’m in a pissy mood when my shift ends, no one’s fault, just am. Tanya is at the apartment, still in her Walgreens uniform, watching TV with Ramona. Six months earlier we met at a mutual friend’s house party and enjoyed a swift escalation from casual meets to exclusive dating. It’s still a mystery how she ended up moving in, who suggested it, but it happened and it’s been great, except when it hasn’t. I join Tanya on the couch. During commercials, I switch the channel to ESPN. Tanya says, “Ramona and I were watching that.” The bust is on an end table, staring at the screen.
Before I know it I’m off the couch and have Ramona in my hands, palms against her temples, holding her face-to-face. Tanya has frozen in her seat. I want to hurl the head into the TV, but—and I’m not sure what stops me, whether it’s the time of night or if, intuitively, I know there are some things apologies don’t cover, some things you can’t take back—my anger wanes, my shoulder muscles loosen. I run my fingers through Ramona’s hair, give her a kiss. “Sorry,” I say to Ramona in a babyish voice, “but you mind if I check scores real quick?” Tanya’s posture eases up. She passes me the controller as I sit next to her. Screaming matches and punched walls, bruised fists and simmering resentments. Every one of my relationships has ended in knucklehead fights. Here’s the exception.
Nick Sansone holds an MFA from Emerson College. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Gargoyle, Weave, the Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere.