“Pygmalion had seen these women spend / Their days in wickedness, and horrified / At all the countless vices nature gives / To womankind lived celibate and long / Lacked the companionship of married love. / Meanwhile he carved his snow-white ivory / With marvellous triumphant artistry / And gave it perfect shape, more beautiful / Than ever woman born.” 

          – Ovid, Metamorphoses


He often tells her the tale of her making. He whispers it against the ears he sews to her head. He hums it while he smooths skin across bones, draws thread through flesh, cradles organs before setting them in place. 

She lays still, as if in sleep. Sometimes, he holds open her eyelids to look at the beautiful eyes he selected for her: pale green like soft petals of lamb’s ear, the centers ringed in gold. They are immaculate. It is hard to imagine that they could look any lovelier in life. The skin of her cheeks is nearly translucent, and he imagines how beautiful it would look flushed. Like a blot of blood veining across snow, awarding her the delicate beauty of the pitiable women who suffer from consumption without the horridness of the illness. 

She is beautiful but unfinished. He has sewn delicate arms to a lithe torso, placed two lovely breasts upon her chest, but they hang to either side of the cut down her center, flesh folded out slightly to make room for the organs he has yet to procure. There is another incision down the center of her sternum, parting her ribcage to make room for his work. 

He has built her as he has found the right pieces, and he cannot use too many from any one body. Human bodies are flawed, the ones he has salvaged from particularly so. He must give his woman her best chance. 

Today, he has brought her the only organs she still needs: a liver, gallbladder, and large intestine. After today, she will be complete. The very idea of it spreads his lips and warms his chest. He trembles in anticipation. The organs come from a woman named Ann. He had not gotten her surname. She had come to him with an arm brutalized by the machinery at the cotton factory where she found employment, the flesh shredded so that it hung in pulpy strips over splintered bone. He had done what he could to saw away the damaged limb, but not even halfway through the surgery, her spirit had left her. Once the body had gone limp and her screams had stopped, he had no trouble wheeling her away to a place he could salvage what he needed. She had not been a pretty woman, so he had taken nothing from the outside. But her organs would work well enough. Her plainess was not her fault; he would not punish her for it. Life had not been kind to her. Ann had come to him from Bethnal Green, likely from a tenement smelling of human refuse and stuffed to the brim with unfortunate bodies. Her bones were stark under rubbery skin, and he suspected from her complaints of thirst that she had inhaled the vapors of cholera. Her death was a mercy, when her life had been such as it was. 

Now, she would be reborn. Her liver, gallbladder, and large intestine would be protected in a beautiful body that he would not let be marred by the cruelties of the world. 

As he reaches into the cavity of his woman’s open torso to make space for the new organs, he tells her the story again. It was her eyes he chose first. They were so lovely. The woman they had once belonged to had been a lady of the night, and she had come for the removal of a leg rotted with gangrene. She had survived the surgery, but not the recovery. He had glanced towards her face during the surgery too many times, trying to catch a glimpse of her sea-glass eyes, blurred through tears, hidden behind squeezed skin. When he found her corpse in the recovery room of the hospital, he had pushed back the lids and looked at them. They were still perfect, perhaps even more so in their stillness. No more fear, no more sorrow. The most beautiful he had ever seen. He had become overwhelmed with sadness that they would go to waste, never to be looked upon again, shut up in some pauper’s grave. He wept at the thought.   

No one noticed when he rolled her body away to one of the empty operating theaters. He was careful in the removal, so as not to damage the eyes, coaxing them from tissue and stubborn tethers with tender fingers and swift scissors. Until he could find a face he wished to see them in, he preserved them well in formaldehyde, imported all the way from Berlin. 

Now, he is careful not to upset his woman with the details of his practice. He weaves love through the words. He calls her his pearl, because she is rare and lovely and will be as perfect a woman as a pearl is a sphere. 


She is very clamorous inside. Not only with sounds, half-formed words melting before meaning can be reached, but with images, with feeling. There are pictures against the skin of her eyelids––shadowed and fuzzy, slipping like water through fingers. Sometimes, she catches them long enough to see: the sway of purple flowers in a green field, the catch of a man’s yellow hair in the wind, the dark and damp air of a factory work room, the slam of her head into the wall and the shouting of a man as he rears his hand to hit her again, the soft smile of a brown eyed girl, the cold, hard limbs of a baby that had just been crying yesterday. 

The pictures are stolen. She knows this like she knows she cannot move. When the pictures come, sometimes she feels them in her pieces. A jolt in her pinky finger, a thrum in her left leg, an acute pain in her lungs. Her pieces remember.  

Sometimes, he opens her eyes, pulls her eyelids up and presses them down. It is so bright, terribly bright, and she always wants it to end. But she longs for it, too. She thinks, if he would just hold her eyes open a little longer, she would adjust. Sometimes, they do, a bit. Out of the swarming light, she sees him staring down at her: dark hair combed neatly back, a carefully trimmed beard, and deep blue eyes. His face is made of strong bones and reliable angles. Sometimes, she hears his voice. He calls her his pearl as he tells her how he saved the dark tresses of her hair from the head of a dead woman. All your lovely hair, he says, as pure as the night sky, making your face shine like stars, would have lost all its beauty and turned to dust. But now it never will. He runs his fingers through it. She feels the tug of it, although she can not see because he is not holding open her eyes. The pads of his fingers brush the underside of her neck. They linger, pressing so softly, as if he worries she will bruise. 

His other hand is inside her, under the left side of her broken ribcage. She does not feel pain, only pressure. The new thing joins with her other pieces with a rippling throb. When he withdraws his hand, she hears him shake it off, feels some liquid waste spray across her skin. 

The new thing—she can’t tell exactly what it is—is causing a screaming in her head. It says: ahhhhhhhh nnnnnnnhhhh. She feels its pain, its fear, as she usually does. She thinks it is trying to tell her something, but she doesn’t understand. 


She is complete. Her organs stacked neatly upon each other, a perfect imitation of the diagrams he has spread around the work table, her ribs shut over them in an embrace. As seamless as clockwork, each part perfectly crafted and perfectly attuned with the other. Running a delicate finger along the shape of her intestines, the liver, the twin lungs, he admires his work, thinking it is almost a shame he will have to cover it up. And yet, he cannot leave her this way. He selects a curved surgical needle from his kit and threads it. Carefully, he folds her flesh back over her innards and begins to reverse the cut he had made so long ago.  

He washes her after he completes her, since her skin has been stained with her blood. He lifts her into his arms as if she were made of porcelain. He has not held the full weight of her body with each of its perfect parts before, and his breath catches as the skin of her side presses against his chest. His fingers do not dare press too hard against the curve of her ribs or the back of her thigh. He is reverent as he bathes her, laid in his tub in water scented with his finest bath salts. She is so lovely, her wet hair like ink over her pale, glistening shoulder. He cannot leave her. He lays her on his green velvet couch and falls asleep by her side. 

When he wakes, he touches the soft, clean locks, loose and dry, parting over her body and falling to the floor. When he returns home from work, he brings her gifts to delight in. Lilies to press against her skin, a necklace of amber stones that shine like the tears of the sun, and pearls for her ears. He dresses her in a robe of white silk to preserve her modesty. 

“You look lovely in fine things,” he tells her, “but no less so naked.” He arranges her hand with all its perfectly selected fingers upon her breast. “My pearl,” he whispers. “My darling.” 

He thinks of her at work. The way that the amber stones cast sunset shadows across her skin. The unfairness that she cannot open her eyes on her own when all these fools who swagger around with their surgical saws and wave disembodied arms for laughs can. The unfairness that she cannot speak to him when all his patients can scream so awfully. 

She has not moved from where he left her at home, arranged on his velvet couch in her gems and silks. He sets down his briefcase and hangs up his coat. He prepares a simple meal for himself. He considers moving her to the dining room, setting the table for two. But he does not think he could bear her limp form, head lolling back, arms dangling at her sides, the knowledge that whatever food he gave her would go cold. 

The glass is smashed at his feet before he realizes he has grabbed it and thrown it. 

He looks down at it, breathing hard for a minute. How strange that he could have done such a thing. It seems so brutish, so crass. And yet, there is a part of him that feels he could smash a thousand more. Smash the whole house to rubble. He imagines taking the glass shards to his skin, or perhaps to his woman’s. Watching her blood bead along an expertly drawn line. 

Instead, he cleans up the mess and washes his hands. He returns to his drawing room and kneels beside the couch. He folds his hands together as he has not in a long time. 

“Dear God,” he begins, “you made Eve from a rib of Adam. All it took to give her life was your breath. I have made my woman with much more than that. Look upon her and tell me she does not deserve to live. She is my greatest accomplishment, greater than anything I dreamed. She is made from the bodies of sinners, and yet she has given them pure shape. Breathe life into her lungs, and I will gladly do anything you ask of me for as long as I live.” 


She is sore and trembling. There is a line of fire burning down her torso, through skin flesh and bone, shooting pain through every inch of her body in violent ripples. There are rings of teeth around each of her joints, digging into her wrists and the base of her fingers, the tops of her thighs and shoulders, her neck, around her nose, her ears. And inside, it feels as though every bone has been cracked and the sharp edges pierce everything soft. She heaves up in a sudden coughing fit and the pain in her chest makes the coughs turn to half-choking cries. Her vision blurs with the force of it. 

But…she has opened her eyes. She is shaking, trembling, moving. Her eyes break open, and the light floods her vision, and they squeeze shut over pooled water. 

The sound of footsteps disrupts her cries, and her head pivots to see the shape of a man breaking through the pulsing light and shadows. As he comes closer, she sees that his dark hair is mussed, his mustache loose at the ends rather than twisted with wax. 

“My God,” he cries, falling to his knees beside her. Through her tears, she watches him reach trembling arms to embrace her. “You’re alive. My prayers were answered. Oh, God. Dear God.”

She cannot make any sound but the horrid mewling that breaks from her throat. She cannot move unless she wishes to make the fire and the teeth worse. She feels him pull away. 

“You are in pain,” he says, cupping her cheek with a large, steady hand. “Lucky thing I’m a doctor, then.” He smiles and leaves her.

When he returns, he has a glass bottle and a spoon. “Just laudanum,” he says. Then, he seems to realize something. “Do you understand?” He asks. “Laudanum? It’s an opium tincture,” he says slowly as if she is a child. 

It hurts too much to squirm, so she does not as he pushes the spoon clattering past her teeth and tips the liquid down her throat. She nearly chokes, but he holds her tight as she coughs, pressing a hand against her hair. Darkness presses in against her vision, like ink blots. A jolt of fear bursts in her chest until she feels her limbs weigh with numbness. She sighs, relieved from the pain, and welcomes the darkness when it finally covers the last of the light.

She is trembling but trying not to. She feels the press of cold metal through the back of her thin smock. When she turns her head to the left, she sees rising tiers of men––dark suits and pale faces, all their eyes on her. She feels her cheeks heat. Her legs and feet are bare, her hair unbound. When she turns her head to the right, he is standing over her. He is very tall, and his hair is very neat. He wears an apron that was once white but is painted bright red and dark, dried brown.

She squeezes her eyes shut and when they open, the men in the tiers are gone. Now, they are filled with women. The women are bleeding, missing pieces. One an arm, one a pinky finger, one her lips, one lungs from the gaping hole in her chest. There are so many. Too many to count. All their eyes are on her. 

She squeezes her eyes shut and when they open, the women are upon her. They descend, tearing at her with ragged fingers, and sink in their teeth. 

There isn’t any more pain when she wakes up, only a pleasant sort of numbness. She had dreamed something awful, but the clamor in her head is softer than usual, muddling her thoughts. 

“You’re awake,” his voice comes. “Good.”

She turns to see him sitting in a chair nearby. He picks up a plate from the armrest and stands, holding it out towards her. “You must be hungry.”

He is standing over her as he once did with a bloody apron. She feels a sickness in her stomach as she remembers. She wonders if it is her sickness or the sickness of her organs, the sickness of a dead woman. “Why did you do this?” She asks.

“So you will eat,” he says. “You must be hungry.”

“Why did you take their pieces?” She asks. “Why did you make me from them?”

He stares at her. “You…remember.” When she does not respond, he continues, his voice softened. “They died. They were dead when I took their pieces, it did not hurt them. I tried to save their lives, but there was nothing to be done. So I saved what I could.” He looks into her face, concern knitting his brows. “Do not worry, my pearl. Their lives were pitiful, sinful. You are their chance at redemption. You will save them all.” He puts the plate down on a small table by the couch. He kneels down and cups her cheek, rubbing his thumb over the bone. “You are perfect.” 

He leans forward and kisses her, his hand slipping into her hair. She stiffens, feeling cold. When he pulls away, there is anger in his face. She presses her lips together, biting down against them. She realizes that he has caged her against the couch with his body and feels her breath quicken. 

“Is there something wrong?” He asks. 

She does not know how to respond. There is so much wrong. 

“It would be better if you did not remember,” he muses. “It would cause you less pain. But perhaps you just need time.” He gives her the plate. He smiles. “Eat.”

She looks at the food. She thinks that it will touch a tongue that is not hers by right. That it will pass through and nourish stolen organs. She thinks of her dream. Of the women and their teeth and her flesh. She shivers. 

Time passes. Eventually her hunger is unbearable, and she eats. He is glad. He tells her that he loves her. He kisses her again. She thinks of the cold-eyed men in tiers, watching. She thinks of the women. She notices things about her pieces. The tip of her right index finger is slightly indented, and when she presses against it, she feels a needle pressed against the flesh. She catches a picture of a small room filled with miles of fabric; she hears the sound of a man humming as he cuts the fabric into the right shapes for the dresses they make. Sometimes, when she presses the left side of her neck, she feels the phantom pressure of a violin, and the skin in that place longs for the vibration of music to wash through it. 

One day, he notices that one of her fingers has turned purplish. This concerns him deeply. He presses it, bites his lip, makes her return to the table he built her on and looks at it under a light. After a few hours, the purple recedes, and the finger stiffens. This concerns him more. She does not like it either, since it reminds her of how things were before. 

The next day, he returns home from work with a new finger. Hers is no longer stiff, but he does not care. He brings her back to the operating table, brushes back her hair and tells her it will hurt but that she will be fine. With one hand holding down her wrist, he cuts off the bad finger with something that looks like gardening shears. She screams and spasms with the pain of it. He brushes back her hair again.

“Shhh,” he says. “It will be over soon.”

But that feels like a lie. It feels like a very long time before he has stopped the bleeding, before he has sewn on the new finger. When it is over, he kisses her palm and promises that he won’t let her rot. She blinks. She realizes that her finger was trying to die. 

It is a while before anything more tries to rot. She does not know how long. Many days. Maybe months. She does not sleep for long. She thinks this is because she does nothing during the day. He says she is delicate. She is in recovery. So, at night she wanders. The doors and windows are locked, but she wanders through the house. It is not very large, but it seems very fine. She stands over him as he sleeps and imagines that it is him on the operating table. She touches the cut down her center, an arching Y branching under her collarbones and down to her navel. She imagines doing that to him. She thinks if she took out his organs, maybe the women in her dreams would eat them instead of her. 

Each day, he grows bitter. “I love you,” he tells her. “I made you. I convinced God to give you life. Is that not enough?”

She stays silent. 

The next thing that turns purple is one of her leg pieces: the left, from the ankle to knee. He curses when he sees it and leaves immediately, not waiting for the day to turn. The pain is worse than the finger when he replaces it. She hears him pray to God to stop the rotting. He promises to repent if God will tell him what he has done to deserve this. 

He brings her gifts, jewels and silks and flowers. She does not want them and tries to walk away. He grabs her wrist. “I made you,” he says. “You owe me your life.” 

She longs to sleep. 

One day, he returns home from work and tells her: “I have a new heart for you. I believe the one I procured may be too cold.” 

She raises her arms to cover her chest. “No.” 

He frowns. “Don’t you want to be happy?” 

“Don’t take my heart,” she says. 

Anger seeps into his face. “I gave you that heart,” he says through his teeth. “I can take it away. I can give you a new one. Every part of you I gave you. Every part.”

She screams. She just screams. She screams so loud that she thinks she will break herself. 

“Quiet!” He demands. “Be quiet!” 

He comes closer to her, she folds herself down, crouching, curling. She covers her ears. He crouches too, reaches to touch her. She tries to push him away, but he shoves something in her open mouth and liquid pours down her throat. She gasps, spluttering, but she knows the taste of laudanum well by now. 

As the darkness comes, she hears him say: “It will hurt, but you will not die. You were not born of woman, you have never tasted the fruit. You cannot die.” 

When she wakes, she is back where she was before. Cool metal against her back. She is not in pain, but there is a throbbing numbness in her chest. As it was before she lived. She lifts her opium-addled head to see fresh redness over the scar down her torso. In her state, she can barely find the effort to think of it and lays her head back down. Sleep takes her back to darkness. She drifts in and out. In her dreams and perhaps out of them, women stand around her, clawing at her skin and wailing in rage. She is afraid of them and she cannot blame them and she is them. 

Then, she is jolted awake by pain, all traces of laudanum’s numbness vanished. Her entire body is burning. Her chest feels as though it has been torn apart by dogs. It has, she thinks. He has taken her heart. Although it was never her heart. And neither is the new one. She pounds one of her fists against the table. A cry breaks through her throat. It sends another spasm through her chest and comes out hoarse. Her throat is raw from screaming. He took her heart. He cut through her skin and flesh, broke open her bones, and took her heart. But she did not die. 

She realizes then that this is forever. That she will live here forever, and he will cut out and replace every part of her if he thinks she will love him the way he loves her. She feels herself go very cold at that thought. Her pieces are not hers, but she does not want to lose them. She does not want him to steal any more. Her pieces want to die, and she wants to let them. But he promised that he would not. 

Eventually, he comes to see her. He brushes his fingers against the raw red scar tracing her sternum. “You’re healing well,” he says. She feels tears gather behind her eyes. She imagines grabbing him by his neatly pressed hair and slamming his head against the operating table until it breaks. She imagines stabbing his chest with her fingers and ripping. “You must be in pain,” he says, pulling the familiar glass bottle from his coat. Distantly, there is a part of her that does not want the numbness, but her pain is too great. She swallows with trembling lips. 

“Here,” he says once the pain has receded. He holds out a silk robe of pale blue. “You must be cold.” 

She pushes herself up and takes it, grateful for the cover. He steps back, reaching to put the laudanum on one of his shelves. As he turns away, she glances at the trays besides the table. Some of his tools are still there, uncleaned. A bone saw. Contraptions she cannot name. Scalpels with handles of mahogany and ivory. She reaches out and takes an ivory scalpel, slipping it up her sleeve. 

He comes back, wrapping an arm around her shoulders to help her walk. 

Upstairs, he lays her on the green couch. He brushes her hair from her face. She flinches. 

“It did not work,” he says. She does not look at him. He reaches to cup her cheeks, turning her towards him. There is cold fire in his gaze. Betrayal. “What must I do to obtain your affection? I have given you everything. I have given you life. A pure, sinless life that no living man has known since Eden. I have dressed you in fine silks and gems bought with my own money. I have fed you, provided for you. And you are nothing but ungrateful.” His fingers press hard against her skin, in a way that he would never have dared when he was building her. She feels her breath quicken. Desperately, she pushes his hand away. As he pulls back, hissing in surprise, she staggers up from the couch. 

His head whips towards her and he pushes to his feet. “I love you,” he says through bared teeth. “I love you, is that not enough?”

This is not forever, she thinks, if he does not make it forever. 

He rushes towards her, eyes on her face, so that he does not see the scalpel in her hands. It is his own force that impales him against it. She watches his face go slack with shock and pain. A choked gasp breaks his lips. He stumbles into her. One of his hands slams against her shoulder, grips her tight as he grits his teeth. She cannot push the scalpel in further, so she pulls it out. Blood bursts from the wound, spilling over her hands, onto her bare feet. It’s hot. He doubles over, gagging. 

She blinks and the brick walls have grown into the tiers of a theater. In them, there are women. The women are bleeding, missing pieces. One an arm, one a pinky finger, one her lips, one lungs from the gaping hole in her chest. There are so many. Too many to count. All their eyes are on her. 

She blinks and when her eyes open, the tiers are gone but the women are not. They are upon her. They grab at her arms, at her legs, at her hair, and suddenly she is shaking with anger and sorrow so huge it cannot possibly be called either thing. 

She blinks and he is on the floor. He is still. He cannot be dead. It isn’t fair. He cut her open. He took her heart. He sawed through her arm and stole her hair. He cut open her stomach to remove a tumor and let her bleed out in front of an audience. He stole her fingers. He stole her mouth. He stole her lungs. And he died in less than a minute. It isn’t fair. 

She blinks, and she descends, tearing with a hundred ragged fingers, and sinks in her many, many teeth.

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