by Helen Jun
Issue: Audeamus (Winter 2011)

The gentle, gurgling stream lands into the fountain, glistening like crystals as it catches the sunlight. It laughs and disappears, fleeting into the current like a sprite.

I reach for it it, but two firm hands pull me back.

“Don’t touch it.”

I look up and see Robert, with his hands over the spout.

“What is it?”

“It’s water. If you touch, you’ll…you’ll disassociate.”

I frown. “I don’t understand.”

He pats me on the shoulder comfortingly, to reduce the brunt of the shock. “You touch, and you’ll cease to exist.” He pauses and adds, “It’s called dying.”

I make a mental note to stay in Robert’s omniscient shadow, until I can navigate this strange world with its sudden turns and chambers.

But despite the dead ends that startle me now and then, I’ve fallen in love with this maze that continues to surprise me. Take glass, for instance, the mirror that whispers, “Beautiful.” Porcelain skin, blue eyes, cheeks perpetually stained with crimson; I have them all. Robert likes to say that I, created by scientists and surgeons, am the infallible nature of man perfected.

I live for the parties, the ceremonies held in my honor; a part of me purrs when they exclaim at my beauty. But when they fawn over me, my heart twists and distorts what I perceive, as if I see through cracked glass.

Someone knocks on my door; it must be the new instructor. “Come in.”

A young woman appears behind the door. Her hair is mousy brown, and the suit she wears is too large for her, with shoulder pads that give her the figure of a puffin.

As she appraises me, she says, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you, Sydney. Most people call me Miss Higgins, but please, call me Sharon.”

“Hi, Sharon.” There’s a large pimple growing on her forehead.

“Today, we’ll start with Ethics—”

“Ethics?” The unfamiliar word catches my attention.

“Yes. Right versus wrong, good versus evil. Morals. When you do something moral, it feels right, and when you don’t something’s off.

Emotions are like colors—blue, red, pink— but this is different. “I don’t understand.”

“Yes, yes of course. It’s all right— you’re not exactly human, are you?”

“No,” I say defiantly. “I’m not.”

As much as I don’t want them to, her words nag at me like an irksome fly. “Excuse me, I want to see Robert.”

She nods, and I head to the door.

“Congratulations,” they say to Robert, nodding over at me. “She’s perfect.”

Robert glances at me and smiles. “Thank you.”

Having heard the same compliment several times, I simply nod at them.

The ballroom is draped in golden linen, and mirrors replace walls as they surround us from all sides. Women glance at their reflection as they converse with each other.

All the faces around me are almost identical, tweaked and scraped and carved to look like mine. The only way I can differentiate the women from each other is to note the slight mistakes their surgeons made: perhaps a nose off-center, lips too full-blown, or chin chiseled a little too narrowly.

I see Sharon in her blazer, pushed to the edge of the social mass. She stands alone, her shoulders hunched and back bent as the other women ignore her.

She straightens up when she sees me approaching and spits out, “It’s repulsive.”

I survey the scene. “It is.”

Sharon jerks her head to look at me. “You’re the fuel of this all. They want to be like you.”

I look her directly in the eyes. “It’s not my fault that they want to be like me. But,” I add, “I don’t belong here, in this world, any more than you belong here, in this room.”

She smiles gratefully, and I smile back. But trailing behind Robert as he shakes the hands of everyone in the ballroom like I have at all the parties I’ve attended, there is the cracked glass again, and their immaculate faces twist into those of demons as they crow over my beauty.

I’ve waken to a vacuum.

There is a sense of restlessness, of dissatisfaction, sitting in this room. I can’t move my head or my limbs, which feel like lead weights, and a memory flashes.

I recognize my birthplace.

Behind the screen, I hear them say, “Another mistake— we have to put her under.”

My heart sinks. “Please,” I beg, “Leave me alone.”

Surprised to hear me speak, a green eye looks into mine and softens. Robert says, “Sorry Sydney, this is the last time. When you wake up, you’ll be perfect.”

Dread turns over my stomach. “Okay.”

Once more they slice me open, and I succumb to the puppeteers as they pull at my tendons.

When I wake once more, I notice they’ve moved the bed to the window. It’s raining, and the shower envelopes the hills, gently embracing the stars that twinkle behind the mist.

After a long moment, I notice a figure, with her umbrella lowered.

Eyes closed and face tilted to the sky, Sharon is quiet as the raindrops glide down her cheeks. Her hunched back is relaxed— graceful even— and the rain shines like stars in her hair, lit by the whispering moon. She doesn’t dance, or do anything pretentious. She merely lets the rain fall.

It’s so beautiful that my heart aches. I trace a raindrop as it slides down the window, following the myriad drops that trickle like tears. The glass is firm and cold against my finger.

The walls are lined with awards and trophies that bear my name, but are given to others greater than I. I lean back on my pillow, wincing as my limbs protest; and the sensation triggers countless disparate, hazy memories in this same surgery wing.

I close my eyes, and wonder how old I really am.

As I step outside, a raindrop taps my arm. I look up, and I’m greeted by hundreds of crystals in an indigo background. Splash by splash, my skin makes contact with water. Forbidden elements coalesce, and harmony, rather than a dissonant chord, sounds in my heart.

I feel the rain soak into my body. It’s softer than silk, more elusive than air, and more beautiful than any manmade creation.

And as my head fades into the particles of rain, I’m happy.