Looking down upon the dangerous place where water meets rock. The image is in black and white, with a V cut through the center. Inside the V, it springs to life and color. The rocks to the right are vibrant; to the left, the water is a swirling mix of toxic aqua blue, green, and yellow.

(content warning: sexual assault and abuse)

760°C is the optimal level for melting. They may go higher if you are too resistant, though this may make your vessel too pliant after cooling. 

Once you are in a liquid state, they pour you into a mould where you coagulate and harden into your vessel.  

They spray you with sand-coloured paint and stamp the pink on your cheeks, the red on your lips, the peach on your fingernails. They stitch long black hair to your scalp, curl it, spray it. 

They inject you with earthly knowledge of mathematics and biology and celebrities and philosophy and mythology and history and the universe. You learn the rules to follow: Don’t be a slut, but don’t be a prude. Be strong, but not a bitch. Be maternal, but not a nag. 

A white lace dress shrouds your face, catches on your breasts, and then flutters around your knees as they drop you down, down, down from the sky.

He texts you back after two minutes, so you follow protocol and wait four. 

Record these numbers in your fieldnotes and report back. 

Generate a sense of intimacy with your human target by exchanging flirty banter: an inside joke about peaches, an expertly placed winky face emoji sent no more than every five messages, overexaggerated disbelief at the fact that you have the same taste in music.

After a rapport has been obtained, he sends you paragraphs about his childhood and his past girlfriends and his thoughts on the current political climate. You reply thoughtfully—a good method to convince your target that you are kind, which is a very desired trait in women, you’ve learned. 

You are already learning so much. Perhaps more than you should be.

His tales of summer camps and boarding schools suggest childhood neglect. Therefore, you must be loving and caring and sweet toward him. He says all his ex-girlfriends are crazy, so don’t be too high maintenance or question his judgement. If he explains something to you that you already know, do not point this out to him. Should he ask you about your opinions, do not say too much. (Incidentally, he doesn’t, you note.) 

Before he falls asleep, he texts you, let’s hang at art gallery tom 3pm.  

When you arrive at the art gallery, he is not there. If a target is late, you must wait at least thirty minutes before contacting him so that you do not seem needy. This is part of protocol. You are in control. 

You do not want to bother him, so you wait an hour before calling.  

His voice sputters from the phone, Hello? 

You say, I’m sorry—but—where are you? 

He says, Oh, shit, uhhh—um, something came up, can we reschedule? 

You say, It would have been nice if you could have told me that before I got here.

He says, Something came up, I forgot. 

You say, I’m sorry. Of course, I understand. 

He says, I’ll text you later. I’d really love to still see you.

Record this in your notes, make a chart.

When you see him two days later, he wears a dress shirt and jeans stained with greyish blue clay. He is older, lanky with flat dark hair, and you are not sure if you find him attractive or if it’s just how they trained you. When he shifts his body close to you, you feel inferior and powerful in your short lace dress. 

He calls you beautiful and you watch him watch you as you look down and blush the way they taught you to. 

You walk past paintings of voluptuous, soft, naked women that, as you progress through the gallery, shift from primitive spheres to sensual strokes to amorphous lines, bursts of colour.

The two of you walk through the gallery in silence. When a target is not contributing anything to the conversation, the responsibility falls on you to say something to capture his attention and remind him of your charm. 

You say, I don’t get contemporary art. I like art like this. 

You stare at a painting of a woman arching her white, hairless body toward a cloudless sky, eyes averted, arms passively extended toward the encroaching tendrils of a willow. 

You don’t know if you believe it or not, but you think it’s the kind of sentiment he would find endearing. 

You must watch yourself as if your target is always watching you. Perceive him perceiving you. Mean what he wants you to mean.

He says, Me too. Modern art is BS. Like, anyone could do that.   

He glows when he feels seen by you and you glow in return when you catch him watching you.

On your way out of the gallery, you see a painting of an angry young man standing naked on top of the head of Medusa. 

You ask him, What’s your type? 

He says, I love strong women. 

Before he goes, he hugs you so hard his fingers leave small whirlpools on your arms.

His house is at the bottom of a hill, behind a forest of pines, surrounded by a field of long grass and yellow wildflowers, not far from town. He leads you into his garage: large, with an equally large black car on one side and a studio on the other. There are pottery wheels, sharp wooden tools, a kiln. Clay sculptures—most of them of unknown women—rest on almost every surface.. 

He says he wants to sculpt you. He takes off your dress and places you on a stool and arranges your legs, arms, hair and begins to knead and chisel away at a small mound of clay.

A consequence of travelling through time and space is that your body may glitch and warp, flickering in and out of view for a brief second or two. 

When you disappear from his view, his eyes will search for you. 

Even when he cannot see you, remember he is always watching. Sit up straight, bat your eyelashes. Without him, you do not exist.

As the clay grows limbs and breasts and hair, you realize you do not know what you look like. 

When he finishes the sculpture, you ask him if he has a mirror. There is a small one lying on a table, and he holds it up to your face. You touch your black eyelashes, your flushed cheeks, your long hair, and the woman in the mirror does the same. 

As you gaze upon your reflection for the first time, you say, quietly, that you look strange. 

He says, That doesn’t sound like something you would say. You are so confident.  

Before you leave his garage, you take a photograph of yourself with your phone. 

You study the photo and think your face, your body seem wrong. You want to split yourself open and spill out of yourself. 

He catches you looking at the photograph and scoffs, God, you are vain. 

You say, It was a bad photo. I don’t like it anyway. 

He walks over to you and pulls you close and says, But you are so pretty. 

He kisses you, rough, wet. You are supposed to close your eyes, but they stay open, look away, search. 

You glitch and flicker.

When you aren’t engaging with your target, you slip into a nothingness suspended between sleeping and wakefulness. You cannot fall asleep. You can only think of him.

You enter his bedroom for the first time. Sunflower wallpaper, sculptures and art supplies scattered on a small desk, mattress on the floor. He turns on his stereo, and it hisses and warps with interference when you pass by. 

He entangles a fist in your long hair and yanks it back, yanks it back. He moves in you so roughly you think your vessel might break, collapse in on itself. If you could bruise and bleed, you would. You know when to make noise and how to configure your body and how to make him feel good. If you could feel pleasure, you wouldn’t; this part of yourself is unknowable. 

You stare at his wallpaper and count the sunflowers. 

He turns to you and says, You’re not like the other girls. You are special. You are kind. 

Your chest burns; something inside stirs, grows, no longer fits.  

Leave this out of your notes.

You text him and he doesn’t respond for eight hours. 

Write this down. Look for correlations, causations. He’s probably in a bad mood because there’s supposed to be scattered showers tomorrow at noon, and he hates the rain because it reminds him of the night his childhood dog ran away. 

You are supposed to wait sixteen hours before responding, but you reply in two minutes. 

He responds a day later. 

Write this down, too. He is probably just busy with work. He doesn’t have a job, but sculpting is certainly work, even if he doesn’t sell anything.

If a target stops responding, it is protocol that you should not be emotional. Attachment is a sign of defectiveness. You should always be in control. 

But you want to call him, you want to see him. 

You do not know why they want you to feel bad for wanting. You do not know if this is something you are allowed to wonder about.   

Don’t write this down. Eventually, he texts you, wyd?

You’ve counted all the sunflowers, so now you count the petals.

His hands knead, scratch, dig at your flesh. He says, I think you’re the one.

He slaps, punches your face. He says, What music should we play at our wedding? 

He wraps a belt around your throat and pulls. He says, I think you were made for me. 

You’ve counted all the petals, so now you count the seeds. 

You aren’t sure if you like it, if you want it, but you never tell him to stop. He never leaves a mark, anyway: you are flexible.

You’ve looked at the sunflowers so much that they no longer look like sunflowers, just a wall of melted yellow.

When you see him next, you ask him why he’s been ignoring you.

He turns away and covers his head with the blanket and groans. 

You ask him if you could spend more time together. 

He gets up from the bed and says, You’re not the dictator of this relationship. 

You say, Okay, I’m sorry. 

He says, Not everything is about you. You can really be brainless sometimes. 

You say that you know, you know, you’re acting crazy. You’re sorry, you’re sorry. 

You put on your dress and head for the door.

He gets up and stands in front of the door and says, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m just sad you’re so mad at me. 

He grabs your wrists and looks in your eyes and it feels so good to be seen. 

You aren’t sure if you want him because this is how you were trained or because you love him. 

You cannot possibly record this in your notes.

Weeks later, as you lay next to him, you ask him if he’s seeing other girls. 

He says, Why do you care? 

You say, I just want to know.

He scoffs and mumbles, You really are kind of crazy, huh? 

You are angry and you are not sure if you’re allowed to be, so you cry. 

He tells you to stop being so pathetic. He says that just because a boy acts like a boy doesn’t mean you’re some kind of victim.

You say, I know, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. 

When he goes to shower, you pick up his phone. Fingerprint protected. But you would never. You are not like the others: you are not crazy. 

He wraps you in his arms, all wet and dewy, and says, I didn’t mean to yell. I just get angry sometimes because I like you so much. 

He whispers in your ear, I’ve always wanted four kids. I’d name them…

His breath is deep and even and the ridges of his spine ripple as he curls away from you. On the bedside table, his phone vibrates and lights up, bathing the yellow walls in blue. You slither out of bed and grasp his finger, place it on the backside of the phone. 

His camera roll is full of pictures: most of them selfies, some of them with friends, some of them with girls. The girls are stacked on top of each other in little squares like a collection, like the sculptures in his garage. 

There is a girl with vanilla blonde hair plastered all over his Instagram. Pictures of them go back 58 weeks: embracing, kissing, wearing matching sweaters.  

You want to hit her and make her bleed and put a belt around her throat and pull her hair. 

He stirs in his bed and you aren’t sure how it happens, but you blink and then he’s on top of you and he’s ripping the phone from your hands. 

The words spew out of him, hot and sticky. He asks you what’s wrong with you and why you can’t just be sweet like a normal girl. He tells you that you’re a bitch, you’re such a crazy bitch. 

You say that you’re sorry, you’re sorry. 

He tells you to get out of his house and that he wants nothing to do with you and that he never did.

He lets you go, but as you head for the door, he grabs your arm and pins you to the floor and rips the sleeve of your dress. 

You want the rage to flow out of you in tears. You cough and sputter and choke, trying to exorcise your anger like a demon. 

He twists your hair and jerks your head back, over and over and over. The stitches on your scalp loosen, your neck stretches out. 

He stops and flings you away and says, What are you? 

He stares at the black coils in his fist, at your plasticine head lolling in front of your breasts.

He covers his eyes and staggers into the wall and calls you a monster, he yells it over and over and over again. 

You cradle your head in your hands. You scratch the paint off your face, claw at your eyes.

When he looks up to face you, his body stiffens and his skin turns the colour of oxidized marble. You strike him and strike him and strike him and he crumples to the floor like dust. 

You run into the garage and grab the sculpture he made of you from the top shelf and smash it. You topple his shelves and his tables, leaving his collection in shards on the floor. You run out the back door and dawn follows you across the field, painting the long grass with pinks and reds. You sprint through the grass and wildflowers, kicking up pollen and tardy fireflies, and the hem of your dress gathers up mud and twigs as it peels off you like a chrysalis. The pines bend with the wind and clear a path for you into the forest. Orange sunlight seeps through the leaves and into a pond.

You peer down at your reflection and then splash it away with your feet. Your feet sink into mud, and moss and vegetation curl around your toes. The water, thick and warm, envelops you and guides you under. 

They beam you up, up, up from the water, arms raised, coated in slime, trembling and then shrieking and then laughing from the crooked mouth of your lolling head. 

Boils bubble and blister under your skin. As you whirl past stars and floating rocks, the rest of your vessel ruptures into chunks and then melts into a pool of black liquid, thick like tar. Parts of you bob to the surface and parts of you spiral and sink: a battered arm, a fingernail, a face you would not recognize and no longer feel the need to see. 

Sophia Savva

Sophia Savva is a writer who has lived in Toronto, Tokyo, and Halifax.

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

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