There was something magical about painting a face. The brush, an extension of her short, stubby fingers, caressed life into the soft silicone, imprinted a soul on each feature.
Livia preferred starting with the eyes, which lied on her dining table, finished and drying, next to her palette. They determined the shade and thickness of the eyebrows, the expression, the mood.
Echoes of high-pitched laughter reached her from the living room, bathed in the morning sunlight coming through the wide, swept head windows. The girls’ voices, their laughter while they played with dolls in the living room, didn’t alarm her anymore. Instead, she was delighted to share her home again for the first time after the uprising and the war that followed.
Despite her nightmares, she felt safe in her father’s house. After she and Bernard fixed the broken windows and walled the damaged solarium, it looked like the postcards from her childhood—the open spaces; the smooth, floral patterns on railings and balustrades; the light-brown furniture and wooden finishes and the small, white tiles. The ghosts of her siblings and friends, hanged as traitors and left to rot on the bridge as she escaped the city, still haunted her at night, but they couldn’t touch her anymore with Bernard and the girls at home. Away from town, she became a shadow.
“We’re running out of batteries, and the girls need a few things, too. I can to town go tomorrow morning to be back before dawn,” Bernard offered, turning a chair around to sit with his chin resting on the top of the backrest. Sometimes she thought he looked like her father in old photographs—medium stature, stocky, heavy brow, dark hair, pleasant smile. His cold fingers toyed with one of the eyes on the table. “How many more are you going to fix?”
“A couple, maybe? We have plenty of space.” Frowning, she looked up to him. “You already went to town this week. Let’s wait a little, alright?”
He shrugged, not wanting to press the issue. “You’re making him look quite young.”
“You think?” He nodded. “I’d have to change the structure of the face and I have no silicone left. I can try painting the eyebrows thicker, though,” she replied, pensive, examining the face.
“Paint him like you painted me,” he suggested. Finding Bernard and the girls among the ruins of a house was the best thing that happened to her. Even with limited resources, she fixed him with just enough silicone to make a new face for him, even if the arms and legs remained skinned, the metal underneath exposed. His default programming was pleasant and helpful and came with a lovely singing voice.
“I couldn’t make another you. You’re unique.”
“That’s sweet of you. I’ll check the traps, then. You’re also running out of meat.”
Behind her, the girls’ metallic hands peeked under oversized hoodie sleeves as they sprinted from the living room toward the stairs.
“I can heck the traps myself.”
He shook his head. “It isn’t safe for you out there. I’ll be right back.”
She saw him disappear through the backdoor toward the backyard and the woods beyond. Her world, confined, still cracked around the edges, was slowly starting to come together with his soft smiles and the sounds of the girls’ laughter upstairs.
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