What kind of scientist works by candlelight? The man in the candy-colored coat never comes to me in the daytime; that is when light floods the castle and I may eat or sleep or read or do whatever I please, so long as I do not leave my room. Sometimes a pretty girl comes to visit me; I do not know her, but she acts as if she knows me, and I can do with the company. Daylight would seem the natural time for any kind of delicate work.
But no. The man only works on me illuminated by candles and stars, imprecise and impractical though his work may be, and so I have come to dread the setting of the sun. That is when the improvements are made.
“Hush now”, he whispers as he sews the metal arms into my skin. “You would not want her to think you were weak, would you?” I try to be good and not to make a fuss, but I hate it, I hate it, and he is forced- forced, he says- to use leather restraints to hold me in place. I try to focus on the walls, on the ceiling, or on his candy colored coat (white originally, but there is so much blood splashed across it that it looks like peppermint stripes).
It doesn’t even hurt. It stings, but no worse than an insect bite. That is what is so insidious about it; he says I am being made better, but it feels as if I am being eaten away, mouthful by mouthful.
“You’re growing ever more handsome, aren’t you?” he asks. “Elizabeth, tell him how much you love him now.”
“I love you,” says the girl as she stands behind him. “I will only love you more.”
I want to respond, but I do not know what to say. I do not even know where to begin. If I begin to talk, I will start to plead, and I do not want to do that.
When he is done, he lets the girl stay by my side until I can fall asleep. She used to cry when she did so, but now she steadies us both by singing a lullaby. I do not know the words she sings- German, I think, or Yiddish- but the melody is soothing.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers when it’s done. “If we hadn’t met, if I hadn’t tried to run away with you…” I want to comfort her, but the truth is, I have no memory of the events she describes. I wish I did, but the earliest memory I have is of the castle and the operating table, and my earliest recollection of her is as a woman crying while she looks down upon me.
And so my life passes- fear and calm, the man’s tools and the woman’s lullabies. Perhaps I could become used to it, learn to accept my role, if given enough time. I do not want to, but I do not know of any other choice. The fear hurts, but it is mine, and without it I do not even know what will remain of me.
These possibilities are what I think of when she sings to me so softly. Someday this will all become routine, for her as well as for me.
She asks nothing of me- no memories, no declarations. Nevertheless, I wish I knew what had once been between us, and that I possessed the power to soothe her as she does for me.
“I loved you?” I ask, and she nods. “I love you,” I say, more certain this time, and she almost smiles. As far as I can discern in my own mind, it is the truth.
I fall asleep in her arms, safe until the evening comes and brings further improvements.
When I open my eyes again, I am on the table, strapped into place. The man has come, as he always does, with his terrible biting tools. I want to plead with him, but I do not know what I could possibly say to save myself from his improvements. I cannot apologize for what I cannot remember, I cannot beg for mercy from a man who thrives on my fear, and I cannot repent of loving his wife- if that indeed is the crime I committed to find myself the subject of his work.
I twitch helplessly, though I know from experience it will not save me. This time, however, I find that I have more flexibility than usual. My eyes dart to my leather restraints, to the doctor’s tools, and to the woman leaning against the wall, watching me intensely.
And in that instant, I realize what has happened- someone has damaged the restraints. I look her in the eye, and nothing needs to be said.
I bring my new arms up sharply, and the man’s candy-colored coat does nothing to protect him from the whirring and slicing blades. This is not how it was supposed to go, I can tell. I was meant to be his own weapon, and if I do not finish what I have started right now, I will have lost my chance forever. When I look at him, I see the man whose tools have been devouring me like so many tiny mouths, and my blades clash over and over and over again. He never even manages to scream before his vocal chords are nothing more than a stain.
Now I am candy-colored, and as I take the chance to unfold and extend my limbs, I know that I must look like some kind of mechanical arachnid. I turn to the girl who set me free, and make halting, unsteady steps towards her.
The girl looks at me, unafraid. I touch her with my pincers, as gently as I can, and she kisses the blood from the blades.
She strokes my matted black hair, and her voice is as musical as the lullaby she used to sing.
“Oh, my love…”