This was the idea: to make a woman with eyes that would burn only for me. I searched for the best materials in the wreckage of the railways, the American military base, the cemetery, the dump.
Some kids were living in the dump in a big old troop truck, the sort that used to bring American soldiers. The kids called it the Fuck Truck. They were all brothers and sisters.
One pretty girl: I’d seen her around. She got around and she was nice to everyone and once she was even nice to me. It made me sad, but I didn’t ever blame her for what was demanded of her, thinking how there weren’t many girls or women left.
The boys called me Stick Man and threw stones and bolts at me, but I was used to that. I didn’t take any of their bolts with me but I took something the girl threw and that was her look.
I gathered, divided, and spun and dug and what I dug I wrought. The first thing was a dog for practice. It worked and it still does, but I don’t let it live, for fear.
Then I was ready for the proper work: I made her on a concrete pediment in the old railway workshops at Port Augusta. The town had a golden age once, when the Indian Pacific, the Ghan and the Transcontinental all ran through there and the streets were paved with coins dropped by rail travellers. But towns like their dwellers fall from gold to silver and bronze and then to rusty iron. Her hair I made out of absorber, her trunk and legs out of conductor. I cut the soles of her feet out of reflector to contain the fourth element, the burner, the one that fires everything.
To look at she was a perfect humanoid woman. But her feet were a mistake.
When the sun swung into place I opened the roof to let it in, feeling sick in my hope. I waited for something to happen. She was so perfect to look at, if she didn’t work she would still be a beautiful statue.
I waited. I waited and thought of the talks we would have and the nights we would have. I was rusty and my voice is rusty, but I might have had a better voice if there was her to practice on.
The sun swung up and it worked like I thought. The burner coming from the sun got absorbed by her hair. It was conducted down through her trunk and legs to her feet, where the soles reflected it back so the burner up smashed with the burner down at a point behind her eyes. Those were cut crystal lenses and through them the burner escaped. Her eyes blinked once before they opened and a hole smote through the workshop wall.
Yes, her eyes burned for me, but hotter than I had dreamed.
It was too late to recalculate.
She looked around and the workshop fell down. There was nothing I could do. I ran through a rain of liquid steel out onto the flat. I moaned and beat my head.
What had I made? What had I wrought?
Then I turned. Now she could see the world outside. In dismay she was burning everything she saw. The workshop was bubbling. The town was cut by arcs of fire and the saltbush was scorched out to the skyline. The trees were gone and their shadows stood in their places The gulf died back under yelps of steam. The steam turned to clouds, but even the clouds could not hold together under her look. Her face went white while the land around turned black.
She looked for a way to get out of the sun, but everything that could give shade was burnt.
She cried out, and turned towards me.
I screamed at her, ‘Don’t look!’
She left me legless. She left me smoking.
With hurt on her face, she turned away. She was learning and she knew not to look again.
My legs were gone, but imagine how it would feel that she could not look at the man she had been made to look at? And my own work was not only wasted but evil.
Still the burner poured into her. She tried to turn its heat into other forms of energy. She tried to talk, but she didn’t know how.
She pitched her voice low: the earth shook.
She pitched it high: birds rained down dead.
Then she grew.
I had not planned it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I trembled and shook in her shadow.
She was crying. She tried to cover her eyes and burnt off her fingers.
She blocked out the sun. Her hair blew around, though there was no wind. Storms sprouted along the lines of force radiating from her and lightning fed into her storm. Soon there was a whirling of lightning over her head that looked like it might pull in the sun. I moaned.
The kids in the dump ran around screaming and bolting wheels to their truck. But the nice pretty girl was not screaming. She was standing quiet out on the claypan away from the others looking up at her own face, which was still growing. She didn’t hear me shouting for her to go back. The air was so noisy with screams and smoke.
Then the girl’s immense image, out of its wits, stepped sideways and squashed her, without even knowing.
I cried out and crawled on my belly towards the girl. I wiped the ash from my eyes. She was dead.
The truck shuddered and bounced onto the road, gears snarling. Two kids worked the pedals while one hung off the steering wheel steering. She did not look. Just let the truck take their shouts out of hearing.
Then everything was quiet and smoking as far as I could see. Nothing left to burn. And she had no more crying in her.
I was dry from screaming and now I whispered instead.
‘Close your eyes,’ I said.
She did not look at me, but turned her head this way and that, keeping her eyes turned skywards, as if there was talk going on up there.
I waited, wringing my hands. So beautiful. Her hair spun out of a dark matter which no light can escape. Her complexion: you couldn’t fault it. A metallurgist’s idea of pure: not one molecule imperfect in a hundred million molecules. Her symmetry: never seen before. She glowed as if every pore gave out light, and so it did.
I swallowed and whispered again, ‘Close your eyes. Close them, love.’
Her look of pain and fear told me she understood.
Oh the nights I had lain and dreamed of her before I dared to make her. I’d worked on her so long, dreaming night and day of how I would teach her to talk and think. Of the talks we would have and the nights we would have. But she was made not to harm.
She clenched her fists. She closed her eyes. The sun blazed. Burner kept pouring in, and now it had no escape. I closed my own eyes, but I saw through my lids what happened. My body – what is left – still wears the blisters of her fall. The burner melted its vessel. Like glass she was solid then suddenly liquid. Now where she stood there’s a hole with glass sides deeper than stones can sound.
That then was the idea, and how the idea went wrong. And this is the story now: now the town is gone. I am burnt inside and out. I made her because I was lonely, but there has never been a lonelier creature unless it was my maker.
First published in Southerly 2004