Shape for Her
The bell tinkled. The door swung wide, sweeping into my den the moist vapours of humanity and the sounds of night and neon. The girls and boys next door were singing to the street, flashing breast, prick and artificial enhancements; dazzling chiaro to my otherworldly oscura. There are no lights to guide you to my door. They know where I am, the wanting ones of bone and static shape. I cannot be beyond your wildest dreams, I am precisely your wildest dreams made flesh. I am become, until that too fades away, spent. I hold on to what I have, what I am, always waiting to be filled, always slipping away.
The door swung wide, the door swung closed; a petite woman slipped herself quietly into my space and flinched at the sound of my bell. I gave her a moment to examine the space and compose herself, but not long enough to take fright. There is little to see in my room: a counter, a few bookshelves, a comfortable couch, some old-fashioned photo albums, a dusty computer screen and a framed Certificate of Accord and Safety. I store a few antiques on the shelves near the front to give the illusion of a second-hand store, but we all know that it’s a facade.
The woman gazed at my ugly Grecian urn, scarabs behind glass and a Palissy replica filled with snake skins. Her hands fluttered like frightened birds, alighting on her breast bone at small intervals. Her eyes flickered toward me in small gasps, her smile an uneasy wrinkle. I moved softly from behind the counter, caught her just as she moved towards the exit – it had been a long, dwindling time between engagements. I pulled myself together to speak to her; a tired, cobbled together thing given form and will by fading cobwebs of desire. I did not know how long I had been dormant, but I knew I had to sell myself soon before I forgot how to be hungry, lost all volition and entirely ran out of the scraps of “self” I had been hoarding.
“What face would you like?” My voice was soft and honey, an affectation from an old flame. I made sure I had hands before I slowly ran my fingers over the surface of my blank ceramic mask. My fingertips touched my lips before slowly reaching for the side of her face.
The woman recoiled, her face flushing. “No, it’s not like that, I was just…”
Beneath my mask and cowl my approximation of a lip curled. “Of course, you were just… curious. You wanted to see if it was possible.”
She smiled with relief as I lied for her. I wrapped my fingers slowly, warmly around her wrist; my fingers now long and polished in recollection of my last client’s wanting.
“But let’s be honest, you want to try… you want to …hire.”
She shook her head, but her eyes betrayed her as they swallowed the room. Dark, round pupils of yearning and desire, my words a kiss on an innocent ear. She pursed her lips, pupils contracted to small points.
“No… it’s not… I wouldn’t.”
“A former lover? A deceased wife, husband? A movie star? An indecent desire? I can give you anything.”
She struggled limply. My hold was light enough to break, but her wrists stayed within my bonds. She started to speak, throat gulping for sound, hollow words expiring prematurely. She pulled her wrists out of my hands, hands covering her face, physically challenging the turmoil that had brought her to me. I did not look away as she stuttered. I waited coldly for her hands to return to mine. She held my hands tightly as her breathing became more ragged, asphyxiated by memory. She whimpered and sat down swiftly, a controlled fall to the ground, landing with a bump on the scratched linoleum. I followed her down, sat with her in a mess of skirts and shame.
“What do you want?”
“… I…” Her head bowed, tongue so clumsy I could almost taste it. Her mind was layered and vibrant underneath the emulsion of fear. I felt my own sluggish pulse quicken.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“If you don’t know your need, you should go next door. You can try a range of men, women, toys, VR, find out what your taste is. It’s safer, easier, that way.” As I spoke I moved her from our uncomfortable place on the ground to the couch, giving her space in the choreography to blow her nose and clear her head.
“I don’t want a prostitute.”
“What do you think I am?”
“You’re more than that… you’re a shifter… you see into people’s minds. You see their desires.”
“It defines me, but you have to know what you want.” I brushed my fingertips lightly against her forehead and watched the whorls of my fingertips shift under her influence.
“Can’t you just read deeply, know what’s there?”
“Why?” She pulled herself up and away. In the friction of movement my fingers adhered to her blouse for a moment, drawing on her anger. Just a taste, a taste of her clarity, her heat in that motion. Her layers intrigued me, so jarring, so tempting, a dangerous woman with beautiful fractures. She paced the floor, holding herself hunched with crossed arms. She turned and spoke low, in a voice gravelled by fatigue.
“Why can’t you just show me what I want?”
I wanted to remove the mask, kiss her, soft lip to lip, suck away the broken pieces and leave her whole. My cool self was amused and wary of my surface desire. The new-formed flicker of desire was not mine – I was tuning in early, compelled and in violation of accord and safety regulations. I held myself to the couch. Her desire was too fragile to act upon; it would slip and fall away in moments. If we fell into ambiguity, the sway of the moment could take us to a place of uncontrolled shifting where the mind can be unkind and dangerously self-fulfilling.
“You must want it badly, picture it in sharp detail. It is not mine to give.”
I felt her desire twist and turn back on itself, flicking back and forth like a worm attacked by ants. She scratched the underside of her arm, turning her head away as she spoke. Her voice was so hushed I saw rather than heard her speak, lips in profile tracing the sounds for me.
“… I can’t… maybe I’m not wired that way… ”
I settled comfortably, provocatively, in the couch, curves and sass becoming firmer. I patted my hip, toyed with the fringe of my cowl. My voice dripped in faux sympathy that was not mine.
“Lonely?… scared? Sure you’re lonely, we all are. A little bit of stage fright is natural, and so is a fear of the alien.”
I chuckled, enjoying the new-forming jaw under my mask, glad the hidden security cameras could not see my premature shaping. “There’s a reason why it’s the boys and girls next door who have the bright lights. They are whole-some. A single shaper is never whole.”
I paused, tasting the air, tasting the frisson. I watched her pace, the rod of her spine, the small hairs rising on the back of her neck, the flickering movement of her eyes; so much bubbling under the surface, almost close enough to touch.
“There’s something more, isn’t there? It’s more than a little stage fright. What are you hiding?” I reached up and placed her hand on my mask. “What do you want to see?”
She pulled away, I grabbed her arm. “You came to me. What is it you’re running from?”
“I just want to know what I want. You didn’t have to make it… indecent.”
“You don’t want this intimate transfer to be, intimate?”
“I just want to see, to know what it is, what…”
“And how will you know if I get it right? I could just make something up.” Her clashing desires caused my spine to segment, to fuse, to become soft cord again; muscle ripples over muscles and then subside.
“I will know,” she whispered, gazing at me through my mask.
“And what if I find something terrible? What if the face you want is the face of a nightmare?”
“Then at least I won’t have fake hope again.”
My face took some of her sorrow, my fingers some of her shame. “Minds are foolish. The rules, they protect you. They protect us. You have to know what you want, clearly, powerfully.” My finger traced circles on her shoulder. I watched my fingernails become short and neat, my fingertips callous, and palm broaden; perhaps a guitarist’s hands. I have a sudden urge to play.
“You’ve been hurt badly, more than once, and it drives you crazy. You think, do I create this?”
The smell of her hair filled my empty spaces. Breathe in, breathe out. I could easily be what she wanted. I could be her monster. “Do you deserve the pain that finds you? You want happily ever after, so why? Is it something inside you? Your special poison?”
“Minds don’t work that way.”
“You’ll give me something to work with.”
“It will be more than that.”
Part of me wanted her to demand I dive in – I cannot resist a compelling desire. My cold self hummed at the prospect. The music of an unrestrained ride, a total becoming; the way my people enjoyed in the early days. Before regulation, before certification, as we moth-like murdered and were killed in delicious mindflow. I glanced at the hidden camera. There were interfering forces worse than death. I found a strand of her self-loathing, her misery at begging, twisted it and bent it back at her, grew teeth and spurs.
“You are not worthy of my shaping.” I grabbed her by the hair, taller than her now, and drew, from her squeals of pain, the structure and strength to pull her out of my den.
The city of lights was raucous, yellow, orange and green in the night. The air humid, like an embrace. “Go to the pretty boys and girls next door,” I snarled and then spoke velvet to her ear, too soft for any camera. “Find out what you want. Only then come back to me. ”
I left her to the squalor of the street, the bell shrill at my return. I could feel her sobs swell in her chest, taste them birthing, caught in her emotion. So much anger, so much shame. Her heels clicked as she walked away, too fast for me to hear if her sobs erupted or remained buried. I crooned to myself, holding the fragments of being she had given me during our brief encounter. She hates me. I am everything she wants and doesn’t want. If she is wise she will throw herself into the safe, accommodating arms of the men and women next door.
She will return to me, angry and determined to prove herself. She will have a face she wants and by the rules I will give it to her – I will rejoice in her structure, energy and form. The face will not hold, but she will not let go, I will not let go and we will drown in her mindflow. I will become many faces at once, I will become love and fear and terror, abuse and longing. I will be everything and it will not be my fault, there will be no sanction. Perhaps I will die, perhaps she will die… I do not know what would be worse. How can I? She hasn’t made up her mind.
Fascinated by storytelling in all forms Liz writes poetry, prose, comics and song. Her short stories and comics have been published in an array of publications including Daily Science Fiction, The Pedestal Magazine, Meanjin, and Sprawl.
Liz moved from Australia to America’s Pacific North West in 2009, but tries to stay connected to folks back home (this year she is a judge for the Aurealis Awards). Shape for Her was written shortly after Liz completed Clarion Writers workshop, a wonderful/crazy six week bootcamp for writers.