The Glass Girl

Kella’s mother waited for the orange day to fill her daughter's body, and when the bedroom was heavy with beauty, she stood, her hovering mouth so close it made fog on Kella’s skin. With white cotton gloves, she stroked her daughter’s smooth, hard curves. Ever the gloves, as a mother's bare hand stuck and stuttered over the surface of a girl made of glass. 

Kella opened blown glass eyes. Mostly blind, and nearly deaf, she sensed vibrations keenly: when her mother hummed or stubbed a toe on the bedframe. 

"Let me rub your back,” her mother said. Slightly cool, Kella’s body was succor to her widowed mother.

"You will polish me down to nothing," Kella said. She disliked mornings. "The walls are cracked. I feel their long lines." 

"The walls are blue,” her mother said. “The sky is cracked."

In truth the sky was fine. Her mother was always frightened of something. Fire, flood, or wind. That morning she’d woken from a dream about stones raining down on their house. All manner of minerals—quartz and pyrite, soft calcium, hard emerald—pocking the shingles, lodging chunks of diamond and topaz into the meat of the roof. Iron and cobalt ripped the gutters right off. Violence took a different form each night in her mother’s lonely bed, and it wore out her heart.

Kella had dreamt of planets she’d never seen: cubes of rock, octahedrons of ice, and pyramids of ash (her favorite). At school they recited the planets according to separation from the sun. By distance, the teacher had said, but Kella knew the Sun preferred Mercury to Venus, Venus to Earth, Earth to Mars—

Kella pushed her mother’s hand away—“You make too much static.” Today, like the days before, she would ask her mother for what she wanted most: “Mother of fat and bone,” Kella began, “of skin and hair and teeth and blood, may I go to school?”

Like before, her mother tried to polish the thoughts from Kella’s head. She closed her lips and moved her hands. 

“The faster you rub, the better I read your thoughts,” Kella warned. 

Her mother’s face fell. Not school. The question came as a betrayal. One day it would pierce her heart through. On soft slippers, she moved to the door and locked her daughter inside.

Kella wasn’t alone. Two mice, the kindly pair living behind a furnace pipe, scampered up the bedpost, settling in the concave plateau of Kella’s chest. 

“I didn’t invite you.” She brushed them to the floor, pinching the Mrs.’s tail between wrist and rib on their way down. 

Kella sliced at the doorjamb with her long, glass nails. 

One day, men had been Earthbound, and the next, they’d touched the Moon. It was true and irreversible; the rocket’s launch, the canon’s fire, the infant’s crowning skull—they couldn’t be undone. The disapproving eyes of the mice bore into her back. “Mice don’t understand!” she hissed. Kella jabbed and slid around the lock, working for a release. She concentrated on the memory of her teacher’s words traced upon her body: Thursday and space shuttle. The door opened.

Shards of fingernails had fallen to the floor, where they were retrieved by the mice—perhaps for use as mouse cutlery. Kella hadn’t felt much pain wearing her beautiful nails down to their moons. 

Freed from her bedroom, condensation appeared on Kella’s skin. Her mother was bathing. She dashed into the master bedroom where her mother no longer slept; everything in that room remained the way it was before. Her father’s comb and handkerchief on the dresser, a bottle of cologne. Kella felt inside a glass dish—a few coins, all with men’s heads on them—and finally, wrapped in a soft square of fabric, Kella’s glasses. She had to sit, so great was the heaving in her chest, in order to weave the thin arms through her hair. Wearing her glasses, Kella could admire the photograph of her father perched on the bedside table. Despite the thick lenses, she saw none of the details of his whiskered face, nothing but a warm, red pulse within the frame that helped her remember him. 

The lenses hadn’t grown foggy. Her mother must have finished the bath and would soon come to check on Kella. Kella wrapped the fuzzy blanket at the foot of the bed around herself. She dashed through the halls, the hard balls of her feet thumping against lacquered wood. Kella then opened and shut the door on her mother’s world.

The path to school resembled Orion’s belt; she knew the steps by heart, just as she knew the feeling of her fingertip over a raised map of constellations. The cement sidewalk etched the soles of her feet while Thursday, space shuttle, and loneliness danced across her skin; the looping S’s tickled marvelously. Thursday. Thursday smelled of citrus and warm bicycle tires. Space shuttle. Kella would be the only child brave enough to orbit outer space. She would be able to breathe there. 

 

The children were more surprised to see Kella than her strange beige blanket dress. The teacher smiled. The space shuttle stood in the corner of the classroom. Big as a refrigerator, its crinkled aluminum skin gleamed. Sitting several meters away at her desk, Kella drank up its blue light. 

The teacher decided it was time. A small girl named Ruby led Kella to the rocket. “You have to crawl inside. Through there.” Ruby pointed then pushed Kella’s blanket-swathed rear to hurry her along. When Kella bumped her knee, she drew in a sharp breath. The fracture bloomed high into her hip. Nothing to fear, she told herself, it was just a fine wobbly line reaching for the sun. The door scraped against the linoleum tiles—a raspy sound that gave the children goose bumps like squeaky chalk on the blackboard—and closed. Kella waited inside the shuttle, its magic-marker smell engulfing her despite the round hole the teacher had cut away. Its close walls held mysteries the walls of her bedroom did not.

The children stared at Kella’s face through the viewport—so different from theirs—the overhead halogens pooling inside her like a pitcher filling with lemonade. 

Are you ready to blast off, Miss Kella?” the teacher asked.

Kella’s face remained a lighted mask—sculptural, elegant, a bit too geometric, rather like the Brancusi the students would see on their visit to the art museum. After a moment, the glass girl nodded.

“Ten, nine,” cried the chorus of children. They had not grown tired of this, not after nineteen launches in recent days, each captured by the teacher’s magic camera. “Eight! Seven!”

Kella crouched in her spacecraft and remembered a story she’d heard from a different teacher. About a girl named Persephone who lived half her life underground. Kella hadn’t liked that idea—she would rather be way up high than deep down low. Up high she’d be as weightless as she appeared on Earth. She would make it up to her mother by bringing her back a piece of the sky. A moon rock, perhaps. One ribboned with flecks of red and blue. Enough moon rocks to fill a candy dish! Golden butterscotches and bites of the moon for the crystal dish in the living room. Guests would marvel, their mouths watering, and her mother wouldn’t have to be alone.

“Blast off, Astronaut Kella!” the children sang. The teacher snapped a picture. Kella prepared to greet the stars.

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