She came in a box, delivered to their front door on the Twelfth of November. They didn’t even have to sign for her.
They took her out piece by piece, little screws that came in little bags, a handy set of screwdrivers to set them in place, gears and little objects that ticked. They took out the instructions and built her the same way, piece by piece. They sprawled out on the wooden living room floor and tinkered, their afternoon project.
When they were done, the Clockwork Girl dinged and sat up. She turned her glass head from woman to man, mother to father, and knew she was their daughter.
The Clockwork Girl, whom her parents called Anna, and nearly no one else did, did not play with the other children in preschool. She sat in the corner and whirred in whispers by herself, playing with delicate glass fingers with a doll with Victorian curls and a ruffled dress. She played by herself until one day a little boy with black mussed hair and bright blue eyes came and sat across from her on the carpet.
“Hi,” he said. She dinged at him, tilting her face slightly to match his.
“I’m Pietro,” he said. “Can I play, too?”
She held out her doll to him with a click and a whoosh and they played together.
The Clockwork Girl and Pietro sat on a log overlooking a stream together, several months after their first meeting. Their parents stood far enough off that their children would not hear their cheerful chatter, her parents always keeping half an eye on her to make sure she did not shatter.
“I love you,” he told her firmly. “An’ I don’t care about your gears and your screws. They make you special.”
And he kissed her glass cheek, and her gears whirred a little faster.
The Clockwork Girl did not like her trips to the “doctor”, as her parents referred to him. Every year he took her body off her head and replaced it with a new one, a slightly taller one.
“You always look shinier,” Pietro commented one afternoon thirteen years after her parents acquired her. “They must buff up your new body real good.”
The Clockwork Girl nodded slightly from where she was doing her homework on the floor. Pietro never brought it up again. She didn’t like the subject.
The Clockwork Girl went through high school without incident. Math was her best subject, ahead of, only slightly, art. She did not play sports (for fear that her glass head would break), but Pietro played tennis, and she watched all his games diligently. The Clockwork Girl got into an art school a state over, and Pietro got into the law school in their hometown. It was the first time they had been this far from each other since they met.
The Clockwork Girl made new friends at college, girls that did not party much (the Clockwork Girl knew only how to ballroom dance) and girls that did. Girls that were kind, and girls it turned out were not. She stumbled through friendship as many do: as best they can. She learned how to adjust the wig on her head so it looked prettiest, and how to properly apply nail polish to her gleaming fingernails. She learned how to cram knowledge in short periods of time, how to write papers effectively, and how to make her paintings just right.
When she was near the end of her third year, Pietro came to visit the Clockwork Girl. She had stopped going in for her “doctor’s” appointments, and was at a fixed height. Pietro was taller than her. They went to see a movie and then had dinner, and then walked along the river. At the end of the evening, Pietro turned to the Clockwork Girl.
“I still love you, you know, sweetheart,” he told her.
The Clockwork Girl’s gears skipped slightly. She stood on the very tips of her toes and pressed a clumsy kiss to Pietro’s lips with her own cool ones. He smiled against them.
The Clockwork Girl looked beautiful in her wedding dress. White suited her, and the veil was as delicate as she was.
The Clockwork Girl was a painter. She would sit at the window of their tiny apartment and paint landscapes made of interlocking gears, so tiny one could hardly discern them, looking at the painting and knowing only that something was different, something was Not Quite Right, but Not Bad Either. She painted buildings so tall they brushed the clouds, the blue startling against the metallic skyscrapers.
Her paintings sold for quite a lot of money, and soon the Clockwork Girl was quite famous. She and Pietro moved to a small house in the countryside, as the vibrations of the city upset her.
When their children were nine and eight, the Clockwork Girl and Pietro sat them down in their living room, which was flooded with sunlight that streamed through the Clockwork Girl, some of it coming out rainbows at the opposite end of the wall.
“You know your mama is different,” Pietro began, and the boys on the sofa nodded in unison.
“Well, Mama is different in a way that means she can’t have babies. So we adopted you two. You know what that means, don’t you?”
The children nodded.
“Now, that doesn’t mean that Mama and I love you any less. We love you more than we can put into words.” The Clockwork Girl nodded her fragile head.
“We know,” the boys chorused.
“Can we go now?” The eldest asked and Pietro smiled.
The children scampered off the couch, but not so fast that the Clockwork Girl couldn’t give them a careful pat on the head each, glass hands steady, as they left the room.
When Pietro had to start using a wheelchair, the Clockwork Girl sat in the corner of the room and watched, softly ticking, as he wheeled around the house busily, doing the dishes on the new lower countertops that their sons had installed for them just days before. At the end of his work, he wheeled up to the Clockwork Girl and gently kissed her on the forehead, his hand brushing her cheek, fingers gently touching the gray wig that sat atop her head.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he said. “I’ll be around for a long time yet.”
The Clockwork Girl whirred at him, slightly mournfully.
The Clockwork Girl sat on Pietro’s bedside, her sons with their wife and husband in the kitchen. He creaked his eyes open and a smile lifted onto his face.
“Hello, sweetheart,” he said to her, and she dinged once at him. He raised a trembling hand and put it on her cheek.
“You’ve always been so beautiful, darling,” he told her. “I’ve never cared about your gears and screws, you know. You’ve always been just you to me.”
The Clockwork Girl nodded once.
“I know you know.” Pietro’s eyes closed, and his hand fell from her face.
The Clockwork Girl did not leave the bed. Not when her sons came in and found them both motionless. Not when they cried. Not at all.
The Clockwork Girl knit in her rocker at the nursing home. One of the nurses used to be a mechanic, and therefore tightens her bolts and securely fastens her gears when they break. Kevin, the nurse, liked to say cheerfully “Ma’am, we’ll have you kicking around the place long after the rest of us are gone, the shape you’re in!”
She plays bingo with the other people in the building every Friday night. On Tuesdays her sons come visit her with her grandchildren, who stare in awe at their grandmother, old and scratched and made of glass. They poke her face, seeking to touch the clockwork that tick tick ticks its way through life.
She doesn’t paint anymore.
One late afternoon, the Clockwork Girl knit until slowly, she put the knitting in her lap. She folded her hands over her knitting, and relaxed into the rocking chair.
Slowly, her gears stopped whirring and ticking.