They didn’t want me to look human, so they didn’t give me eyes. They thought if they shaped me like a monster — a hulking ton of red Mars clay, mute and blind — that she wouldn’t love me.
They were wrong.
* * *
The first time I held her, she changed something inside me. They didn’t notice, couldn’t see through my craggy exterior, into a body that had suddenly become molten. Flowing. Alive in a way they would never have wanted.
She did it with her cries, with her tears soaking into my coarse hands. She made me what she needed me to be.
* * *
I couldn’t sing her lullabies, for they had not given me lips — let alone a voice. I lived with a pulsing ache, stronger than the heartbeat I didn’t have, a hollow pain where my eyes should have been. A rasping fire at my throat, every time I sought words.
She shouldn’t have been content with my silent rocking, no matter how tenderly I cradled her to my granite chest. She should have wailed for her mother, her father.
But she was silent as I was silent. Her tiny fingers couldn’t even close around one of mine, but she tried anyway. She breathed, and the slow rise and fall of her ribcage against mine lulled me. I felt like I could breathe for the first time.
I’m supposed to comfort you, I thought with all the strength of my mind, willing her to hear.
She cooed as if she understood.
* * *
Daily I sat her down before a viewscreen I knew only by touch. It seemed unspeakably wrong that she would learn the beauty of words not from the caretaker who loved her, but from a monotone stranger.
We learned — she, enfolded in my lap — tales of the stars, of the biodome that harbored us, the one her parents spent all their days maintaining. We learned of ancient earth and the new hope of terraformed worlds.
When her parents returned for their brief visits, she let them hug her. She spoke to them and them to her, and I suffered in my molten heart a great jealousy.
When they left, we returned to our tranquility, our comfortable ways. And for a time I could forget the countdown of my life.
* * *
Since her first coo, we had been linked. She traversed the landscape of my mind and changed it with her presence, with the mental footprints left behind. I constantly evolved to be what she needed: steady, warm, safe.
But I hid the truth until she grew too strong and hardheaded to keep back.
She wept. “Only two more years?”
I had been robbed of the comfort of tears.
She paged her parents. Her voice shattered our silence, thick with rage, pain, and the sharp edge of fear.
They told her it could not be helped. I was only ever made to see her into her thirteenth year when she could choose a life-path as her parents had before her.
They told her no magics could hold me longer.
She vowed to show them wrong.
* * *
She touched the walls of my mind, the halls of my heart. She made little changes — a nearly indestructible shell, an attempt at eyes and a mouth. They took their proper shapes but offered no functionality. None of it was enough.
She clung to me on the eve of her thirteenth birthday. Her tears soaked into me, but could not revive my dying clay.
“Please don’t go,” she whispered hoarsely.
I shuddered and held her tighter. I nearly stole her breath trying to press comfort and strength into her.
Dawn came. I felt a change not wrought by her thin fingers and lithe mind; a thirst suffused my bony exoskeleton. I strained, a fire in my throat as I fought to find words. A low moan, as of earth breaking, escaped me and her fingers closed around my hands.
I cracked. Crumbled, slipped between her fingers and returned to the silence of sleeping red clay.
* * *
I heard her first, voice a deeper timber acquired with age, but familiar as my own ruddy form. She shaped me with care, with the power of her life-giving body. She wanted the child growing within her to love me, so she gave me a voice. She wanted me to look human, so she gave me eyes.
I returned to life, knowing my years to be only thirteen once more, and peered into her eyes — her aqua-bright, shining eyes — for the very first time.
* * *
Originally published in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination (2015). Republished by author's permission.
© Alexis A. Hunter (2015)