The Indicator x The Student: “The Perfect Man”

Managing Arts & Living Editor Mackenzie Dunson ’25 originally published this unnerving story about a deadly serious commitment to perfection in the Spring 2023 issue of The Indicator.

The Indicator x The Student: “The Perfect Man”
Stepping into the mind of the villain, Mackenzie Dunson ’25 warns of the dangers of utter devotion in “The Perfect Man.” Art courtesy of Leoni Wright ’26.

A row of homes. Perfect homes, like they were pasted from the pages of a catalog. Sprawling white picket fences ran over the hills, connecting the houses in a puzzle, endlessly together. Bright green grass seemed to glow under the setting sun. I basked in its radiance, my body glowing behind the windshield of my car.

Perfect, He whispered to me, everything looks perfect. I felt His radiance, my cheeks curled up, crinkling at the corner of my eyes. My car pulled to a stop at the curb in front of the house. I neglected to pull into the driveway, a car already filling its slot. I briefly glanced over it, before my eyes shot back, its crimson red imprinting into my skull. My hand tightened over the steering wheel, it was wrong. The red among the pretty cream shades of the home were like blood, staining the image. The ticking of my watch gnawed at me. I steeled myself, gathering my bearings before stepping out of my car.

I stopped for a moment to look at the perfectly edged lawn. The shined leather of my loafers complemented the sight nicely. I took a deep inhale, as my head tilted towards the sky, as I felt His hands on my shoulder and breath on my ear, perfect, He said, I know that you can make it perfect. He uttered my name. I shuddered, embodying the praise, receiving it in my mind, my soul. His words pushed me towards the door. I kept my eyes forward, past the bright crimson that haunted me. I glanced at the sign stamped in the middle of the lawn as I passed it, my bright grin reflected back at me, gleaming white teeth along with my white skin. I looked like Him.

Perfect, He continued to whisper, everything would be p—

The Man loves us all.

I love the Man.

I see Him in the mirror.

I see Him over my shoulder, whispering in my ear. I see Him in my smile. Staring back at me when I look down at my graduation photo.

I didn’t see Him in this foreigner’s eyes. My own smile dropped from my face, as this new man presented his hand to me, in a flourish that couldn’t be anything more than insincere. I reached out to grab the offender’s hand. His hand was rough, his callouses burning my skin. As my gaze trailed up his arm, I followed the thick cotton of his shirt, I could see his crooked teeth, his straggle tooth that poked out from his lips, the specks of gray that littered his hair, and the deep bags set into his eyes.

The Man would never look like him. He would carefully manage every aspect of his appearance. Meticulously combing his hair, dying the gray streaks that would show up, so that everything would be in pristine condition. The Man wore braces all the way through high school, suffering the judgment of his peers, so that my teeth would be in the perfect rows that they are now. The Man did what needed to be done, suffering through scorn and mockery, so that I could be perfect, so that everything would be perfect.

No matter how much this foreigner worked, he would never amount to the perfection that the Man has. I knew just from looking at him, he would never compare. He tarnished the atmosphere of the kitchen. He was like a blot of ink, splattered across the tiles, the countertop, the stainless steel refrigerator, flagrantly spreading the more you try to wipe it clean.

I hated mess.

More than anything the man hated mess.

“It’s nice to meet you,” the offender’s voice cut through my mental shroud, “My name is Isaac.” His wedding ring glinted under the fluorescent lights in a violent show of domesticity.

The Man shakes Isaac’s hand. Grinning back in response.

“It’s a pleasure,” His voice spirals from my throat. He releases Isaac’s hand, shifting back his shoulders. A ray of sun streamed in through the glass doors leading to the porch, radiating off of the back of his head. He continued, “I’m glad that you’ve found your way here.”

Isaac responded with equal enthusiasm, “Yes, I have had my eye on this house for a while. It’s a miracle we have enough for the down payment.”

Yes, a miracle indeed. He turned and started his way through the house, allowing Isaac to follow. The Man struck up conversation as Isaac inspected the rooms.

“What made you come all the way here to this neighborhood,” He asked, his back turned to them, as He continued walking slowly.

“Oh,” Isaac continued, “my wife wasn’t able to join me today, but we were looking for somewhere bigger, also closer to the schools in the area.” My movements slowed to a pause as His grin slid off of my face.

Isaac continued to speak, as his words echoed around my head, “We’ve both been working for quite some time to save up, and move into a better place. Somewhere for our kids to grow and become great people of the world themselves, y’know?” He laughed to himself before continuing, “so many people in this world would never give a guy like me a chance, based on where I came from, so I’m making a new path for them.”

He was planning on staying. He and this unnamed wife.

Spiraling, I thought of their children.

And their children’s children. And their children’s children’s children.

And their children’s children’s children’s childre—

Spreading like that ink blot. Spreading, spoiling, tarnishing—

“Are you okay there bud?” Isaac’s voice broke me out of my reverie. The Man’s grin stretched my face as I turned back to Isaac. I couldn’t read his face, but I could sense the apprehension of his gaze. Good, the Man whispered in my ear, very good.

“I’m fine,” I spoke through the grin. “Let’s go back to the kitchen to finish discussing.” He didn’t look convinced but followed anyway.

As I led the way, tension suspended my shoulders. The Man was waiting, watching. I continued the conversation, jargon subconsciously exiting my mouth, confident, while my mind was anything but. I saw Isaac’s face, more relaxed now. Less tense.

I thought of the other residents of this neighborhood, the smiles on their faces as they signed the lease, and I gave them their keys to move in. Each and every family, perfection, their beautiful glowing white faces. How they all counted on me. To keep this place clean, to keep it pure. This neighborhood, the community, was not one to be stained by the presence of this man and his wretched family. With their imperfections, impurities — it was wrong.

“It’s unfortunate that you won’t be able to stay,” my voice cut off Isaac mid-sentence. He seemed to jerk back in surprise.

He seemed lost for words.“Why?”

“Oh well,” I turned around for a moment, as the Man’s words flowed from my mouth. “You see, my job here is to not just sell houses, but to also oversee who is allowed in this neighborhood.”

Isaac spoke up again, stuttering out, “I don’t, I don’t understand.”

The Man’s mouth curled down into a frown. Mocking.

“You see, because I have to make sure everyone in this neighborhood gets along, and I don’t,” he paused for effect. “I just don’t think you’ll get along with everyone here.”

Isaac’s brows furrowed down. “You don’t just get to decide that,” Isaac said, his voice raising. “We got all the way here, it’s not — it’s not.” He floundered for words.

The Man’s face slowly shed his frown, as a smile grew. His cheeks didn’t just curl up, they tightened, like a string was pulling them into place, freezing his face in that uncanny grin. The temperature in the room seemed to drop several degrees.

“It is ultimately my decision,” He said, face stuck in that grin, cheeks unnaturally upturned. “You see, if I don’t think you’ll be a good fit, or possibly, do harm to the families that live here.” His voice trailed off. The insinuation was obvious.

If possible, the Man’s grin grew larger, as He continued. “No, we can’t have that. That was the purpose of this inspection after all.”

Isaac stepped towards me, one hand reaching to me, the other one gripping his own shirt in bargaining. “I’ve saved enough already, I have enough for the down payment,” he explained, eyes frantic. “After everything I’ve done, everything I’ve worked for to get here, all the roads that I’ve crossed to help my family, you can’t just force me to leave!”

“It’s not enough unfortunately,” I said, shaking my head, “in this neighborhood, it will never be enough.”

Show me.

Make it perfect.

The weight of salvation caused me to move, finally revealing what the Man had stashed behind my back. Like everything else in the kitchen: glittering, shining underneath the fluorescent lights. Surprisingly, Isaac stood his ground, though his pupils seemed to shake in fear.

“You can’t stay anymore,” I said, shaking my head to him mockingly, “but you can’t leave.” Horror finally dawned on Isaac’s face.

“He said that I can’t let you leave,” resolutely, I confirmed.

All for Him.

It has to be perfect, all for Him.

I was swift. His cries and pleas fell deaf to my ears. I could feel his warmth, the red. Splattered over the tiles in the kitchen, on the counters, on the floor. I could see the red now, growing into a vast garden of roses, roses to be seen, felt, enjoyed by Him. By the Man, by the other residents of this neighborhood.

I didn’t mind this mess. I don’t think He did either. The maintenance crew would come by to clean it tomorrow morning anyways.

Finished with my job, I moved back, wiping my hands off on my pants, spreading the rouge down the white slacks.

When I turned back to look at the glass doors behind me, His face grinned back at me.