He had built a woman in his apartment, from bits and pieces of others he had known through the years. A nose from his next door neighbor, the legs of a dimly-remembered preschool teacher, the white, flashing arms of a girl he’d seen, laughing, in the park. She was a patchwork girl, but she was beautiful. It took him months of careful planning and study before she was finished, his wonderous Galatea.
It was early in the afternoon when he finished (with the eyes, of course, eyes bluer than blue eyes, the blue colour of dreams); he remembered this, later, because the sun had worked its way in through the venetian blinds and striped her skin. She looked like a tigress, or a wild zebra, asleep in the heat. The eyes were the last, important and minute, in their way; they contained the soul. The eyes made her real, made her more than just a pleasant diversion.
She blinked and looked around. ‘Galatea!’ he cried, and knelt, trembling and ecstatic before her. ‘Oh,’ she said. She looked at him (he could feel her eyes, the eyes he had given her, watching him), looked around at his apartment. ‘Oh,’ she said again.
She stayed with him three days. He never expected her to be there when he came home from work, and one day she wasn’t. There was a note, where he knew there would be a note. ‘Gone to buy milk’, it said, in handwriting he didn’t recognize. She was his creation, his woman; everything she was had come from him, so surely the handwriting must have as well. Yet he didn’t recognize it. It bothered him, kept him up nights, teased him as he was struggling to get to sleep. He worried at it. It was better than wondering where she’d gone, if she’d ever return.
Years passed, in the manner of things. He saw her, every once in a great while, in a grocery store, or waiting for a bus as he drove past the sidewalk, head just turning toward or away from him, never for more than an instant. He grew older, quiter, grayer; she never did. He was an old man, suddenly, and couldn’t think how life had gotten away from him and lingered with her. Sometimes he’d forget her, forget that he’d ever made a woman out of the air and desire, a whole cloth patchwork marvel, and then when all he had was himself and his small circle, he’d see her, just a glimpse to remind him that the world was larger and wilder than was comfortable.
Sometimes he carried her along like a secret, a clever secret against the drab normality of the world. He’d clutch her, the idea of her, to his chest and giggle to himself. Wasn’t he a clever lad? As smart as everything was. But then he’d see her, again, or find lost in the fluff and clutter of moving the note she’d left in that anamolous handwriting, and she’d be bigger than he ever was. Her voice floated on the wind, or through the window when he sat alone in a room somewhere. It always fell away into silence when he raised his head, startled, ears swivelling, to listen to her.
One by one, or in small groups, everyone died. His family first, of course, parents and aunts and uncles; the last generation falling away. Then his generation, friends from school, coworkers, girlfriends, boyfriends, politicians he had voted but not campaigned for, so that it seemed he was the last one still alive. Eventually he was, by what quirk of fate he didn’t know, living on and on, until the children of his cousins and friends started dying in their own turn, and he was just an ancient, wizened man.
He hadn’t seen her in years, not since he’d gotten so ancient and decrepit. He hoped he never saw her again. It wasn’t much that they’d had, so tenuous a thing indeed that you could scarcely call it a thing, but he was ashamed that she might see him so wrinkled and apelike, while she still carried her borrowed head upon a smooth and glossy neck.
It was his own time, at last, years and years past when he’d had any hope of living. He awoke every day saying in wonder to himself, ‘This is the future. I am living in the future.’ One day he didn’t wake, but slumbered on and on in the warm darkness, content, smiling to himself. In his dream he saw her face, saw that smile that he knew and had known better than any, heard the voice that sounded through the rooms of his heart, and was happy.
Save for one thing: whose was the hand that wrote the note? What unknown fingers shaped those mystic letters? It troubled him, and stirred the course of his mind, but still he slept on, and still he sleeps on, and that is all there is to this story.