I am a liar.
I don’t always know that I’m doing it. Sometimes I tell the delivery man that I moved here from the city, even though it isn’t true. But I think it might be true. It could be. I talk about Paris like I’ve been there, and claim to have seen the Parthenon. I tell stories of things that happened to me when I was a child and that is the most dishonest thing of all. I was never a child.
I am a lie.
I was made in the chop-shop, drawn together from bits of bone and string. The Builder made me with spare and borrowed parts, and in that regard, I’m hardly remarkable. So many girls were made just like that, fifty or a hundred. A thousand. A million girls, walking around with sunny smiles and tiny diodes burning behind their eyes. A million girls with moving parts, but I was the special one.
Unsuitable for mass production.
My face is calm and rarely flushed, and my heart is not a heart, but a complex assemblage of tubes and valves. When I breathe, the air makes a sound in my chest like a furnace. My eyes were real ones, taken from a dead girl. Likewise, my borrowed brain. My blood is warm and wet, but it is someone else’s blood.
In the mornings the Builder says, How lovely you are.
My hair is sleek, dark, slippery like ink. If I cut myself, I heal. If I break the skin, it closes. Sometimes I bruise.
I say, if I am lovely, it is because of you.
He says, I will always fix you, protect you. I keep you safe, don’t I? I always keep you safe.
A million dazzle-eyed girls, wandering the world with their diode lights, dying as their parts run down, but he kept me because I please him. He tends me like a plant. An orchid, watered in minute increments and fed by dropper. He says he loves me. He says that nothing will hurt me.
It’s kind of him, but meaningless. Hurt is a complicated idea. When I press my finger to the burner on the stove, it doesn’t feel like anything. I think I remember that things used to hurt, but when I tell myself this, I might be lying.
I think I don’t feel pain. I think he says these things for himself, rather than for me.
At night, the timbre changes. You are monstrous, he says, smelling like liquor and desperation. Where is my wife, my family? I should have a wife. A real girl, with real thoughts, real desires. Instead, you? Broken you? Why don’t you cry, monster? Why don’t you laugh?
I clasp my hands and say, If I am monstrous, it is because of you.
I was a fool, he says. Fool to love you. Fool to think a thing like you could love. Monster. Ice. Heartless. Broken.
Yes, I say, you are a fool. I am screws, wires, blood, bone. Heartless. You made me out of borrowed parts and expect me to love? I don’t have a soul.
He sobs into his hands, and there is no soothing him. Such a man is rarely comforted by facts.
Soul? he says. You can’t comprehend it. You can’t imagine the complex workings of a soul. You aren’t real.
I touch my own forearms and they are solid. I touch my hands, throat, face. I do not know the minimum ratio of flesh to device necessary to be real.
Once, I saw a man begging in the street with a cardboard sign and silver pistons for legs. The sign declared that his own legs had been lost in the New War, and though nearly half his body was built from metal, no one on earth would say he wasn’t real.
I am, I say, feeling my lips as I speak. I am real.
The Builder only laughs, burying his face in his hands, smelling like drink and tears. I gave you my heart, he says. I gave you the deepest devotion of my soul.
You didn’t. You gave me a complicated knot of tubes to move my blood around. You gave me a dead girl’s eyes and someone else’s mind, but I would remember if you had given me a soul.
He has never tried to hurt me. Never cut or bruised me, even though it’s possible. He has always treated me with care, and when he lunges, I’m not expecting it. When he reaches for my throat, his eyes are dark, bleary, bloodshot. I hit him in the face.
A real girl wouldn’t murder.
Or maybe she would.
Maybe only a real girl could find the anger necessary to be a killer. The diode army would just smile placidly until their eyes went dark.
But no, a real girl wouldn’t need to murder. She would have been born with a heart.
I lower him gently to the floor. Even at the end, I don’t want to hurt him, but he’s left me with very few options. His ribs give easily beneath the pressure of my fingers, and some of my bones are not bones, but titanium.
How much of your body has to be the real thing?
His heart stutters once in my hand and then goes still.
How much of it has to be yours?
Photo by FX in the City