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In Her Arms of Dresden Pale

Damien Walters Grintalis lives in Maryland with her husband, two former shelter cats, and two rescued pit bulls. She is a member of the HWA and SFWA, and is an Assistant Editor of the Hugo Award-winning magazine, Electric Velocipede, www.electricvelocipede.com. Her novels are represented by Mark McVeigh of The McVeigh Agency. You can visit her blog, dwgrintalis.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter @dwgrintalis.

She was broken when he met her, shattered into a thousand tiny shapes, all with jagged edges. He gathered up her pieces and carried them home.
He spread them out on his dining room table, an eye here, a fingertip there, and smiled. The damage was not irreparable.
A glassblower by trade, he worked in his shop during the day, creating fragile sculptures in vibrant shades. Even in these difficult financial times, people still craved beauty. He returned to his apartment each night and bent over the table, sorting out the fragments. After several months, he was ready to begin the painstaking process of putting her back together.
A drop of glue, a melding of shape to shape, a wipe of a soft cloth. Repeat. His back ached and his need for coffee during the day increased, but he didn't mind.
He fashioned a heart from crimson glass, breathing hope and warmth into the red; before he glued her last piece into place, he put the heart inside. When finished, he took a step back, his hands shaking.
High cheekbones, full lips, dark hair and eyes. Slender limbs the color of moonlight. The faint bloom of roses on her lips. And her scent, an intoxicating blend of lily and diamond and snowmelt.
He knelt by her side and pressed his lips against her porcelain smile. When the glue dried, she sat up, blinking in the bright light. Faint seams crisscrossed her skin. He took her hands in his and kissed her again.
She moved around the apartment, her steps small and careful, trailing her fingertips along the furniture and walks. She touched the corner of the bookshelf, cried out, and lifted her hand, revealing a hole in her palm.
He rushed to her side and fixed the wound. "Better?"
She nodded. "Thank you," she said, her voice a song of sorrow dusted with spun sugar.
He padded the furniture with cotton wool and draped thick rugs on the floor. He dressed her in flowing lengths of silk and brought her bouquets of flowers and cups of warm tea. A seam or two disappeared every day, leaving neither scar nor gap behind.
While he worked, she liked to stand at the window and watch the streets outside. Upon his return home, she would ask, "Can I go outside yet?"
"Not yet, my love," he'd whisper into her hair. "You are not strong enough yet. The world is full of sharp edges. I'm afraid you wouldn't be able to walk ten steps without breaking."
But in a small, secret part of his heart, he hoped she'd never be strong enough. Here, he could protect her. Here, she belonged only to him.
When he went to work, he locked the door behind him. For her safety, of course. He held her close at night, but with gentle arms. The glue was strong; his passion stronger.
As the weeks passed, her smile faded. One night he woke to find the bed empty. She was standing in her usual place by the window, sobbing softly into her palms.
"What's wrong?"
"Some days I feel like I can't breathe," she said, without turning around. "And I dream of falling out the window, of bruises and scrapes and cuts."
He forced a small laugh. "But you're safe here. None of that will happen."
"I dream that I hurt, that I glue myself back together when I'm broken."
"You're cold, come back to bed." He kissed her forehead. "I love you."
She pressed her cool palm against his cheek and offered a smile. "I know," she said.
He pretended it was the same smile he'd always seen. He pretended not to notice that her seams were gone.
On a rainy Friday in May, long after the sun had set, he finished his latest project, an intricate birdcage of rainbow hues with a tiny hinged door. It was, without a doubt, one of his finest creations, but it filled him with regret. He reached into his pocket for his keys and his brow creased. Had he locked the door before he left?
He raced up the staircase, into the apartment. The window was open, the curtains blowing in the night breeze, but of his love, there was no sign. He crossed the room, his heart thumping chaos in his chest.
She was not on the ground below. She was not in the bedroom or the bathroom. He checked the closets, holding tight to the illusion of a game, but on the kitchen table, he found a scrap of paper with delicate handwriting.
I'm sorry to leave without saying goodbye, but I know you would try and stop me, and I'm afraid I would listen. You put me back together and for that, I will forever be grateful, but you can't make me whole. Only I can do that, and the longer I stay, the less of me I become. Please think of me fondly as I will of you.
He crushed the paper to his chest, choked back a sob, and ran outside. There on the sidewalk, a scattering of china shards. He staggered forward and found more. And more. A trail of broken leading away from his apartment, leading away from him.
Finally, he came upon a footprint on the damp pavement, then another, and beyond the glow of a streetlamp, he caught a glimpse of movement, a pale limb and flowing hair.
And then she was gone.
All the breath rushed out of his lungs. "I'm sorry," he whispered into the shadows. "I'm so sorry."
He thought of following her to beg her forgiveness and ask her to come back. To tell her of truths he'd learned too late. Instead, he gathered up the pieces of his own brittle heart and sent his words out into the wind, hoping they would find her safe.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Author Comments

One morning, after a frustrating hour with my current novel in progress, I decided to jump start the word machine in my head with a short story. I started looking around for inspiration, came across the cover of Shock Totem Issue 4, and after staring at Mikio Murakamiís evocative artwork for a few minutes, the first two sentences of this story emerged. The rest came out in a jumble of images. In truth, the story does not resemble the artwork, but I learned long ago not to fight the stories that want to be told.

- Damien Walters Grintalis
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