My first attempt at macabre fantasy (a la Tim Burton). I got some great feedback in this thread () and I agree I would have written it differently if I did subsequent drafts, but here's a record of the original story as I first wrote it...HTML:http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=38212
Geppetto (2274 words)
“I wish you wouldn’t play with my hand like that when you’re working” Aria said softly. Her long fingers stroked the back of my hand, the nails skimming softly against the grain of my coarse grey hairs.
“Sorry,” I replied, distracted. Her hand gave me a soft squeeze of reassurance as I laid it back down on the bench. Splaying her fingers, I buried the scalpel into her palm and moved the hilt lengthways to continue cutting to the base of her wrist.
“It’s not as if I mind,” she continued, as I pinned the loose flesh with two small clamps and examined her tendons, “I just know it distracts you.”
“And whose fault is that?” I asked, tickling the base of her thumb. Her fingers moved to playfully brush my hand away and within the oozing opening in her wrist her tendons gleamed and shifted in the lamplight. I cleared my throat again, the workshop was well-ventilated but my tight chest made the air feel heavy with decades of sawdust.
“It is simply a self-programmed pattern response,” she answered. “Just like a cockroach will continue to hunt without a head, the hand has learned some behavioural routines and is now autonomous.”
“So you are saying your little quirks and our petting sessions are what, nothing more than cockroach habits?” I chuckled, which turned into a chesty cough.
Aria’s voice changed up a half-octave, “oh, I’m sorry, was that offensive?” she said apologetically.
I laid the scalpel back on the bench and turned around, lowering my head to focus on her with the upper part of my bifocals. Aria was about six feet away on a dusty wooden stool I had made way back in my apprentice days. She sat primly as ever, her body placing her in her early fifties, skirt covering her knees and her right arm resting on her lap with an old towel held against the severed base of her forearm. Her long dark hair rested over her floral blouse and partially covered the side of her delicate face.
“Darling, no” I said. “Just not completely appropriate. People in love like to think they’re committed heart and soul. It shouldn’t be just automatic.”
“But my hand does it because I love you. My hand is a part of me, so it loves you.”
“You know it doesn’t work the same way with people.” I said, and turned back to my work. I moved three tendons out of the way before finding the knot at the top of the palmaris longus. I studied the block before choosing some dainty forceps to tackle the problem.
“Maybe it would work that way if people had a choice” she said softly. The tone of her voice remained flat and I knew without looking that her face was impassive.
The tendon had warped in some way, heat I suppose. I clamped it and pulled steadily, stretching to find where the distortion began, then snipped the tendon free. Its absence would not have a major effect - in fact I would be surprised if Aria even noticed.
I had to grant she had a point. “Twenty eight pieces” I mumbled as I worked.
“Twenty eight?” she asked from behind me. Her hearing was immaculate.
“Yes, it’s an old story. I am saying you are probably right.” That damn light. My eyes watered against the glare of the lamp as I tried to suppress a cough. My throat tightened and I couldn’t find the energy to breathe in. I felt my legs begin to buckle.
“Well, thank y...” she stopped in mid-sentence and I heard the grate of the stool as she stood to reach me. I hunched over the bench, my hand bracing the edge, still holding the clamp and the loose flap of tendon, while my other hand clawed at my glasses. I began coughing but I couldn’t draw in a breath. I felt an impact on the back of my head as I hit the floor, and Aria’s thin face above mine as the darkness closed in and I lost consciousness.
I woke in my own bed. Aria had obviously changed me out of my overalls and into a pair of worn pyjamas. As I levered my way off the bed my toes curled in anticipation of the jagged pain, but my arthritic knees were sympathetic today and I stood without much difficulty. I could smell the bacon and eggs frying before I got through to the kitchen - the eggs no doubt cooked to perfection for exactly two minutes and seventeen seconds. Aria was nothing if not reliable.
I first did not recognise the woman at the stove. Back hunched slightly, long grey hair over a shawl. Her shawl. Chiarina’s shawl.
“No,” I choked, tears beginning to cloud my vision. She turned.
It was Chiarina. At least for a moment. Her wizened face greeted me with a broad smile, the laugh lines etched in her loving features. But the proportions were wrong, only a surface resemblance. The best attempt Aria could make with her own body.
“Giuseppe,” she began. It was Chiarina’s voice - that much was perfect. A perfect fraud.
“NO!” I yelled. There was nothing to strike nearby except the wall. “Not my wife! Don’t you...” I staggered back into my room and slammed the door. I heard footsteps, then a muffled voice. Aria’s voice.
“I did not mean...”
“Just...change it” I interrupted. I slumped at the edge of the bed. Too weak.
“It was simply muscle control, and my skin is held by osmotic pressure. I just increased the salinity to...”
“Open the door.”
The door opened and Aria stood, her face returned to normal. She had at least taken off the shawl, although she still wore the black dress that looked dated on her. She walked to the bed and sat down beside me, taking my hand and stroking it lightly. She had both her hands, the right looking as good as new.
“You are not her” I said, the shock still wavering my voice.
“I can be.”
“Your face, maybe. The voice, the posture, maybe even the body, yes. But you will only look like her.”
“As I only look like Aria now. You believe I am empty inside now but you love me.”
“You are who you are.”
“I am what you made me. I can be as much her as the Aria you made me to be now.”
I looked at her closely. Her eyes were less than perfect but without my glasses I could almost see the spark behind them. “I don’t think you are empty inside.”
“I don’t blame you,” she said, “you once said nobody really knows about other minds. Whether others are subjective like you. Or if they are like me.”
“That is if there is a difference," I said, "Turing had a point.” If there was no way to tell the difference between the two states, was it fair to insist there was a difference?
“You love me, but you need to stop trying to rationalise it. Go with your heart.”
“I do love you with all my heart.”
“And your head will follow.”
“And my head,” I continued. “And my hands, and my arms, and my shoulders,” I said, leaning into her. She giggled and kissed the nape of my neck, “and my back, and my chest, and …”
The doctor said the cancer spread to my lymph nodes. One lung almost collapsed and it was only after long and detailed explanation about my unique situation with Aria that I was allowed home. Aria performed flawlessly - she moved with ease into the routines directed by the hospital, and she operated the specialist medical equipment with all the skill of a senior doctor. It was difficult for me to talk with my weak lungs and the choking tubes, so Aria would sit at my bedside and talk as she bathed me or kept me company.
“I read about the story you told me” Aria said. She had finished setting the machine for the night and was sitting on a soft chair at the side of the bed.
“You were talking about the story of St James Intercisus in the fifth century.”
I nodded. My breathing rasped in the dark room, the valve on the oxygen pump giving a soft click each time as I exhaled.
“James was a Persian. He didn’t have the courage to confess his faith, but had a change of heart later in life.
“The King of Persia condemned him but he had lost his fear of death. He was hung from a beam and cut into 28 pieces, beginning with his fingers and ending with his head.”
I nodded again, hoping for her to continue but she just gave me a comforting smile and left the room, closing the door noiselessly as she left. “Yes, that is the story,” I whispered to the closed door, “but have you seen the meaning?”
All night I could hear noises and shifting in the workshop next to my bedroom. Aria was moving furniture and the metallic noises sounded like she was emptying my old trunks, sifting through the contents then repacking. I was too tired to care. The drugs and machinery made up somewhat for the lack of oxygen in my bloodstream but there was always a heavy feeling of constant, overwhelming fatigue.
It was light when she returned to the room. I was now eating and drinking through a tube so no tempting smells of bacon and eggs to greet me. Aria wore nothing but a long grey smock and her dark hair was tied in a neat bun, sharpening her already thin features. She walked to my bedside and expertly reattached my lines to the portable unit on the bedframe. Unlocking the wheels, she swivelled the bed and guided me headfirst through the bedroom door and around to the workshop.
The light was the first thing that struck me. Tall lamps focused on an empty spot in the middle of the workshop, which she had cleared and swept. She now wheeled me to the centre under the lights and locked the castors.
“I learned more than the nursing routines at the hospital,” Aria said, one hand resting lightly on my arm. “I studied your records. The cancer has spread but it is still in a well-defined area.”
Dear Aria, always earnest in her gestures of love.
“I studied the procedures the surgeons would follow. I studied the history of those procedures. I read all the papers published on this type of intervention.”
I am what Aria understands. I am broken.
“I know this better than any surgeon. My reflexes are better than any surgeon. And more, I care more than any surgeon.”
Aria wheeled a small trolley beside my head. A set of tools lay polished on a clean white towel. I heard her wheel two more trays at the top of the bed, no doubt with more equipment gleaned from my workchests. She pulled the sheet to my waist and for the first time I realised I had no shirt.
Chiarina didn’t understand it. She tortured herself because she could never have children, and blamed me for my obsession with work. She didn’t understand I did it for her. She called my workings futile, a charade, a mockery. She is no longer here, but I kept her memory in Aria.
“My love,” Aria said, leaning in so our lips almost touched. “I can do this, believe me. You would do the same for me. You have, again and again. Tell me I can do this.” Aria slowly removed the tubes from my mouth and I felt a rush of relief as she sent the first trail of morphine into my arm.
Aria can fix what is broken but have I taught her what it is of me that needs mending? Would she stop at the cancer or would she shape me as I know she wants to be shaped? Is there an Aria behind her eyes to ‘want’ anything? As long as I am alive she is bound to be what I want her to be, but without me she would be free to choose herself. Am I concerned she knows that?
St James Intercisus always had his faith, but he lacked the courage to admit it. But when he was condemned he welcomed those sent to complete the deed. He was cut into 28 pieces, and after each cut he offered his body once more, praying to God to “receive a branch of the tree.” I must trust the one I love. As the Saint had faith, so I have faith in Aria.
Aria reached and took a slim scalpel in one hand, a bone saw in the other. She stood above me, looking deep into my eyes with the one question. I knew if I did not reply she would remain in this position forever.
St James of Intercisus was urged to renounce his faith at the end to stop the torture. But he knew it was not torture, it was a celebration. He even welcomed his executioners.
Is this my executioner? I will not know unless I have faith that she loves me as I love her.
As the Saint was hung from the beam, the King's council gave him one last chance to renounce. Instead of speaking to the council, he spoke to those sent to complete the deed.
I turned to Aria and smiled with parched lips. My throat was dry but my voice clear.
“Begin your work.”
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