by Adam Lowe
They named her Singer because she was half woman, half Singer sewing machine. Where her slender waist should have widened to hips, it widened into a black metal frame on an oak desk, with a wheel at her rear and a treadle between her four legs. She wheeled herself around on casters, as though a workhouse invalid.
Gris had never called her Singer, but rather Marlène. He, a mad child with curly tangles of black hair, had been an orphan. Barely fourteen, he had inherited his sponsor’s lighthouse workshop and built Marlène. He was the colour of slates, gun-barrels and stormy skies. Then the Great War came to town, and he left with it.
So Marlène lived with a neutered hyena who had the eyes of a child, and watered Gris’ flowers. Endless nights would be spent playing the oboe, which Marlène felt was the only mechanism, beside a Singer sewing machine, that could illustrate her longing for the lover/creator who had faded into mustard gas and the gauzy veils of history.
Together with her pet, whom she tagged the Marquis, she travelled the countryside and the cities during the summer months, draping a skirt over her mechanical breech and wearing a sequinned Venziana mask to hide her face, which was at once beautiful and terrible in its eerie symmetry and otherworldly perfection. Every year they would make this journey, leaving the petunias to grow wild, and when they tired of the smells and sights or it grew too cold, they would return, following the gaze of the lighthouse on the tide. There she would continue her business as a tailor, stitching Christmas stockings and Easter costumes.
Men with curious desires would also visit her, late at night, and pay preposterous prices for her passion. Dressed in lace, wielding a lash, she would penetrate them with her needle, exploring the weft and fabric of their bodies. They would leave, her name stitched into their chests, or perfect French poetry carved along their thighs. And when they returned, they would pay twice as much as they had before, and she would double-stitch their hems and serif their verse.
Fairgrounds and carnivals were always a blessing for Marlène, who could feel safe within their bounds. It was sixteen years after Gris the Cornflower left that Marlène heard of his inevitable return, and it was at a carnival that the news was given. Though she and the hyena creature did not grow old, she knew that time had passed and that by now Gris must be dead. But death could not keep Marlène from her love. She kept countless daguerreotypes pinned like sepia butterflies to the workshop walls. She dreamed violent dreams of his presence. She remembered the taste of his flesh and his knives. How they had rolled amongst bedsheets and sluices of blood!
So the news was not unexpected. Such love would traverse the grave—she knew that.
From behind glass, the mechanical fortune-teller gave her announcement. Even though the machine usually demanded a coin to function, as Marlène rolled past it fed a pink card onto the ground beneath her wheels for free.
HE WILL RETURN
At that, Marlène was satisfied. She had already known the truth. The Marquis had known it too; she could tell from the peculiar way he pissed, always on the southern wall of a given building, opposite to where Gris’ northern bedroom would be. Southerly-pissing and mechanical oracles proved their intimations. Though dead, Gris would be reborn to her, or return again to the lighthouse, with its workshop and flowers.
But the news provided problems of its own: if Gris was to return, then when? As time passed without respite, and wars sparked and fizzled out, she began to despair. Was she active enough in seeking him? The medium had claimed his return, not that she would find him. So what if he was back, getting married, growing old, and she had overlooked him?
She had to find him.
Marlène began to keep many companions. Frankensteins, the lot. Built by Gris to aid in his creations, she would stitch bodies together with her drug-tipped needle, cauterising and binding them with ecstasy. Of all the chimera they had built, the Marquis was her favourite. But there were others, and their number increased after Gris disappeared. Since she missed the sadistic plough of her needle over and through his body, stitching him up in elegant contortions, she took new lovers, hoping one might turn out to be her reborn creator.
And so she crafted centaurs, monsters, slaves; sewn together; threaded to machines and animals; their mouths needled shut or their eyes hemmed forever open; her serging, exquisite surgery. These barbaric golems stalked the lighthouse and the fields that skirted it, glutting on raw meat and fucking in brutal rituals of pain. But Marlène grew bored of them and their feasts, leaving them as per her wont and continuing her search for Gris with the Marquis. Carrying an oboe and a rifle, she abandoned the lighthouse to its own ends. She would come back when she was ready.
Only once did she use the rifle, and then only when a pimp refused to step aside and allow her to pass. Without a thought she blew his head open, spraying grey matter against the wall. His pack of retainers dispersed in frantic flight, leaving her path clear in the alleyway. From then on, she was left alone. Murmurs of the siren-woman who wheeled herself through the back streets of Paris soon spread in her wake; tales of a gorgon without legs, saddled on a trestle, passed into urban legend. Singer the machine-girl was a phantom with a hell-dog by her side.
Years passed, with her and the Marquis living out of a small apartment turned Sadeian dungeon, overlooking the Eiffel Tower. But still she had not found her lover.
It was the autumn of 1989 when she returned to find half her flock cannibalised. Those who remained were slow, their brains having grown dull from tireless decades behaving as animals. Thought turned to instinct, leaving them useful only as gardeners. But this didn’t bother Marlène, who felt calmer without responsibility. So they watered the petunias, and planted sunflowers and tulips too.
She still loved her creatures, stroking their blunt craniums and folding into their neanderthal arms. Now she merely felt resigned that they, too, would one day be gone, and that they could never be her Gris.
Come spring, she decided to leave early, heading to the cities disguised as a woman in a wheelchair with a rather exotic-looking dog. Then, whilst vaunting through the capital, she heard a mewling sound. The Marquis headed into the detritus of the alley, sniffing out some unseen truffle, and returned to his mistress with a baby in his mouth.
Despite the elements, the child was still alive. Covered in grime, its skin shimmered grey. Its eyes, too, were grey in that twilight. The whole world was smeared charcoal, and so she knew.
‘You have returned,’ she said, smiling, lifting the child to the light. ‘I knew you would come.’ She lifted him to her breast, it brimming with opiate nectar, and allowed him to sup freely. Her lover had returned. As he had fathered her, she would mother him; she would cover him; and when he was able, she would love him: again and again and again.
Bio:Bio:Adam Lowe, known to his friends as Beyonce Holes, is a libertine, writer, editor, publisher, promoter and piss-artist.
He writes kickass bizarro nightmares, postmodern punk-girl spec fic and surreal, erotic phantasmagoria and has been published in a variety of literary magazines and, more recently, some genre publications too.
His first book 'Troglodyte Rose' (an illustronovella with Kurt Huggins & Zelda Devon) will be released by CROSSING CHAOS enigmatic ink in the summer of 2009.