Tresses

          Doctor Cresus had called her Tess of the Tresses before he cut off her hair and pricked it strand by strand into Leonardo's rubber scalp. She couldn't complain he'd raped her locks, for she'd consented to the shearing, just as she'd consented to the plaster casts that had gifted her face to Margaretta and her feet and hands to Lizzie. These three years later, her hair again fell to her waist. Still, it was not the same hair, and Cresus called her Teresa now, his voice flat and devoid of wheedling. He had not married her after all. He rarely came to her room above the theater. He never stayed until dawn. Not that she could take particular offense at his early departure. Before dawn every day, whether he'd slept in his bed or hers or some other girl's, he descended to his workroom and wound Leonardo back to life.

          Leonardo, Angel of the Intellect, as the marquee and placards read. Lizzie and Ferdinand, Margaretta and Alphonse, all slumped inert in their closets until the stagehands came down an hour before curtain to twist the keys in their backs and dress them for their performances. "It isn't fair," Tess had said. "They never get to see the sun."  

          "And why should they see it?" Cresus asked, and snorted. "They aren't alive."

          "But Leonardo is?"

          "Of course."

          Leonardo saw the sun rise each morning, or as much sun as could fight through the sooty London clouds. She heard his tread on the stairs, down the hall, up the iron spiral that swayed under his weight. The few times she had followed him into the attic, she had seen the same thing: the Botticelli in Clockwork, a Philosopher's Brain in Brass, standing head back under the great peaked skylight. His gilded face had gleamed. His golden hair, her tresses, had broken the flimsy dam of his cap and tumbled to his waist, as her new but inferior hair tumbled to hers.

          Having saluted the dawn, Leonardo returned to the workroom where Cresus stuffed him with wisdom to regurgitate for the delectation of the evening's audience. Cresus was his only teacher. Tess "taught" Lizzie and Ferdinand, Margaretta and Alphonse. That was, she danced out their parts, and the technicians manipulated metal and crystal and ivory innards to make metal limbs imitate hers. By proxy, she pirouetted and waltzed for royalty.

          It had been plenty. It was no longer enough.

# # #

          Learned men in Berlin invited Cresus to address them. They wanted him to bring Leonardo along, but Cresus never took his Automaton Adonis from the theater. He would travel to speak at their university, and if they liked, they could travel back with him to see the ultimate product of his brilliance.

          There were never performances when Cresus wasn't there to take his bows. The theater stood dark. Lizzie and Ferdinand, Margaretta and Alphonse, all languished in their closets. Leonardo, on the other hand, had to be wound every day. The senior technician would come before sunrise to set him going, then return after tea to tuck him into his case. Tess might have done those things, but Cresus knew better than to insist. As it was, she left the theater when she heard Leonardo ascend to the attic and stayed away until she saw the technician leave at night. Alone, she didn't want to meet the automaton as he prowled the silent spaces behind the stage or perched in the lobby windows trying to peer through their pebbled glass.

          The night before Cresus would return, doubtless with learned gentlemen in tow, Tess lay awake. She was still awake when the Marvelous Operatic Cuckoos in the lobby hailed midnight with snatches of Tannhaeuser, and it was no nightmare that Leonardo's heavy tread sounded on the stairs out of season, then on the iron spiral, then in the attic over her head. Yet the technician had come after tea. He must have put Leonardo safely down.

          Over her head, Leonardo stamped again and again. The ceiling shook. Plaster cracked. Tess hurled herself out of bed and into her dressing gown. A watchman stood guard at the rear entrance to the theater. She'd fetch him to see to Leonardo.

          Except that when she ventured into the hall, she heard him call her, Tess, not Teresa. "Tess." Stamp. "Tess." Stamp. Back in her room, plaster fell with a soft thump onto the pillow where her head might have lain. She belted her gown with a fierce jerk, and she padded to the attic, not away from it.

          The silver glow was a miracle of clear sky and full moon. Back to her, under the skylight, Leonardo bathed in it. "I would dance with you if I could," he said. His voice was Cresus's, yet it was not. The minute click of gear wheels punctuated it. "I would dance with you, Tess."

          She stepped off the last rung of the iron spiral, but her hand still clung to its railing. Her own voice was harsh, dry as her mouth. "Why should you dance?"

          "Because I want to."

          "That's too cheap a trick for you."

          "But you dance. I've watched you. Margaretta has your face, but your own is more beautiful. Lizzie has your hands and your feet, but your own are more nimble. I would love you if I could, but the Doctor can't teach me how."

          She crossed the attic and stood behind him. His cap lay at her feet. His hair, her tresses, hung loose. "Why are you up here? Didn't Sam put you away?"

          "I asked him not to. I asked him to wind me again."

          "Well, he was mad to do it. You'd better make sure the Doctor doesn't find out."

          "You won't tell him."

          "Me? No, I don't want the trouble."

          Leonardo turned. "I think you won't be here when he returns, Tess."

          Every vein thrumming, she stepped back. His gilded brow was split from temple to temple, the whole top of his head slid askew, and dangling among the corkscrew locks that fell to his right shoulder was twisted wire, black and red.

          "You're hurt?"

          Many sliding plates, almost too seamless to see, made his lips stretch and their corners rise. "I cracked my skull myself. To take this out."

          What he held toward her was a jewelry box, crystal and gold, the size and shape of a man's brain for good reason. The wire umbilical still bound it to him. "Put it back," she begged.

          The moonlight imbedded stars in his eyes, for Cresus had mixed crushed sapphire and diamond into the pouring for his glass irises. "No. I think you will go. I think you should go tonight. And I want you to take me with you."

          "I can't! How could I hide you?"

          "You couldn't hide me whole. You could hide this, and this is all of me that counts. The Doctor will make another brain, and he will teach it, but it won't be the same."

          As her regrown hair had not been the same? "You won't have eyes, ears. You won't be able to talk or move."

          "But I won't be his. Take me with you."

          Tess twisted her head from him. Her body twisted with it, from shoulders to toes. Dust rendered her bare feet ghostly. In the shadows under the eaves, it had drifted year by year over piles of failed limbs and discarded faces. "Why would I? Why would I even go myself?"

          "So you won't be his. Because I would have loved you if I could."

          Some of the discarded faces were hers, all the imperfect Margarettas.

          "Take me." Leonardo extended his right hand again, gold silvered under the refracted moon.

          The jewelry-box brain hummed warm in her fingers and smelled of Nye's Best Porpoise-Jaw Oil.

          Leonardo extended his left hand and the shears it held. "Take me. And take all of me that's yours."

          Tess took the shears.

          She put them later in her portmanteau, along with the jewel-box brain and its neatly severed umbilical. And alongside them, between cushioning layers of petticoats, she laid a hank of golden hair tied with a pearl-gray bow, her tresses and his.









Anne M. Pillsworth lives in a former streetcar suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, where the shadow of H.P. Lovecraft still stretches long. Her story, "Geldman's Pharmacy," was published in Night Terrors #8 and given honorable mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Thirteenth Annual Collection. Other short stories have appeared in Bellowing Ark, Zahir, Arkham Tales, and Mindflights.


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