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art by Junior McLean

Shards

Leah Thomas is currently enrolled at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of the 2010 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop and a proud proponent of zombie equality, even if the zombie genre is a tired one. She wishes that writing blurbs felt less like trying to be witty and more like writing stories about the fantastical, and that steampunk rather than cyberpunk had become her generation's reality.
Now that they have come for me, banging on the trapdoor above us, there are many things I want to tell you, Son.
I want to tell you that I loved you, regardless of what I am. You should know that despite all you may learn in school, or from books, or from other children, I was capable of that. I may not have a heart, or a brain. But if I excelled at anything human, it was loving you.
I want to tell you to stop picking your nose--not because it is bad for you, but because it is unbecoming, and because your mother winces terribly whenever you do it. Her face has so many wrinkles already; it is not as polished and timeless as mine, or as young and carefree as yours. You should do all that's in your power to prevent any more unhappy lines from marring it.
That your face will earn its first creases today when they burst into our hideaway moments from now--this is a tragedy.
I want to tell you that you are far too serious for your age, and that you should be young for as long as possible. Yesterday when I tucked you into your cot you wanted to be an accountant when you grow up. Today, before they knocked at the trapdoor, you put your fork down and declared that you would study Packaging.
Consider, Son, being an astronaut, or a zookeeper, or perhaps even an alchemist like your mother. Such dreams will not always be impossible for you to achieve, especially once I am gone. Consider all that your mother accomplished when she recreated her dreams.
In this body, I have never dreamed, because I do not sleep. But I am made of dreams, of hopes, of the thoughts of that other man who I cannot quite be, despite the words engraved inside my hollow skull that beg me to be.
I want to tell you to dream in my absence.
I want to say all of this, Son, but your mother never gave me a voice. My mouth is sealed. All I can do is pull you away from the tableside as the trapdoor splinters and the first chips of wood fall into our laps. And push you behind me, so that you are protected by my un-humanity.
Before they dispose of me, I want to tell you that even though I will be broken, or baked until I deteriorate into dust or until this body hardens to immobility and I am nothing more than a thing to be gawked at in a thaumaturgical laboratory, my last thoughts will be of you. When I crumble, I will be smiling for you.
Now that they are dropping into our hideaway to take my husband away, and now that I am standing up so quickly from the table that I've knocked my plate over and the peas are bouncing, I want to cover your ears, my child.
But I cannot cover your ears if my hands are already covering your eyes, and I do not want you to see what the law enforcement and their mallets will do to the creature you know as your father. He is standing as still as the day I made him, and for the first time I wish that I forged him to be more than stoic and kind. I wish I had scrawled bloodied words inside his head, or filled his hollow skull with anger, not love. I should have made him into one of the monsters that most of his kind are: One of the contracted golems of the military. They are so very good at violence. They would have done more than protect the child in the room. They would have beaten those faces until there was nothing left but bone-shards behind those black masks.
I was stupid. I crafted the man of our house from white clay, pliable and friendly. I rested his unbaked face on my swollen belly and used my sculptors' hands to tilt his lips into the slight smile that your real father bore, and after I baked him, limb by limb, in the ceramic oven, I made his joints of putty so that he could hug you tight without hurting you. It should not have been a crime.
I did not want you to be deterred by what he is--the mockery of the man who planted you in me, the doll that was shaped like the husband I lost to the marrow-sucking sickness.
But now that those hammers are descending on his blasphemous face and my hands have shifted to cover your ears after all, you will see that he was never truly real, although we dreamed he could be.
After they rescued us from you all those years ago, Monster, I helped Mother pick the peas, one by one, from the cracks in the linoleum. I remember how they had fallen into perfect, straight lines, so unlike the jagged crevices that appeared in your face when the mallets struck it. Those were cracks in clay that spiderwebbed out from your cheek and split your skull and the words carved within it. You were still grinning when you crumpled to the floor and all but shattered. The officers gathered you up in black bags while your shaking maker held me close. They ascended with you hanging over their shoulders like rubbish, but not before one tipped his hat to Mother and handed her a subpoena.
One piece of you was trapped beneath my shoe. Before we picked up the peas, I lifted my foot. Mother uncovered my ears when she saw the broken words she had once scrawled on the clay.
It was my true father's name, in blood; you were only ever an impostor. Had you been a real person, you would have shielded yourself from the mallets, and shielded my mother from the court that sentenced her to imprisonment and me to an orphanage. If you had been real, I might have felt something close to happiness as I grew up.
I cannot understand why you protected me, Monster.
I live above that cellar now, next to the ovens where you were made. One day, I will rebuild you. I have studied countless hours--and since Mother's death, countless more--to that end. Now that I am a certified alchemist, I am capable. I will rebuild you, and I will mold your smile into precisely the shape it was on the day you pushed me away from the table.
And then I will hit you again, with my fists or another mallet, just to watch you collapse once more.
It is all I ever dream about.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

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