First Publication: October 5th, 2015
Word Count: ~1700
MADE WITH LOVE
by Alexandra Erin
When I made Annabelle, I wasn’t looking for a companion. I hadn’t known at the time how much I needed one.
I didn’t think of myself as lonely as a child, even though I was frequently alone and didn’t have anyone who shared my interests. I was simply solitary. My interests were unique, or so I thought at the time. The adults in my life assured each other I would become interested in boys any time, and then some of them assured me it would be fine if I was interested in girls.
Mostly I was interested in making things, and in the strange blue stone that dotted the quarries and rocky outcroppings near our home, and in making things out of the stone.
Astralite, it was called. The star-stone. People used to think it came to the earth in falling stars, but that’s nonsense.
A geologist once told me we have no idea what made astralite form, but it definitely had a terrestrial origin. I don’t know that I could have articulated this as a child, but the way it appeared in veins running through the limestone certainly testified to that.
The name had stuck even after its celestial origin was disproven, because it was popular and evocative and it certainly fit in other ways. The luminescent qualities of the star-stone were one of its many notable qualities.
Despite the difficulties involved in commercial exploitation, high-quality astralite has always been in demand. I was fortunate that our local strain was not seen by anyone as particularly pure or interesting. It marbled our limestone with whisker-thin wisps, not great galloping rivers.
Over the course of several summers, I collected slivers and dust and pressed them into molds of my own devising, stamping out the gears and shafts and other bits that would become Annabelle. I’d created the technique to make jewelry that I gave away as gifts.
Astralite has a tricky reputation for jewelry. My mother still has the first pendant I ever made, but everyone has heard about the rich lawyer who had astralite stones faceted and polished like gems set into a necklace for his wife, only for them to break apart completely before she opened the box. The world is full of stories like both of these: the cherished astralite heirloom and the junk jewelry that disintegrates.
Sometimes astralite is like the most solid of bedrock. Sometimes it is fragile as hematite, soapstone, or amber. People chalk this up to differences in composition or structure, though no one’s been able to reliably measure such differences.
Those who work astralite will tell you the truth, though most people think we’re just being romantic. It’s simple, though. You have to love it.
The proof of this sits next to me on the sofa every evening, and lays beside me in bed while I sleep. I pressed her parts together out of dust and scrapings, but in twenty-three years not a single piece has broken, not a single axle has cracked. There isn’t so much as a chip on the tooth of any of her gears.
People think I’m a genius. Even the ones who believe I’m a fraud—and that’s most people—think I’m a genius at it. Even making a person-shaped machine that can walk and speak like a person is something of a holy grail in the field of robotics, an area in which I have no actual expertise or experience.
If Annabelle were nothing more than a remote-controlled automaton and all those intricate visible clockwork pieces suspended inside the thin blue glowing wire frame that bounds her limbs were simply there for show, she would still be a triumph in both design and execution.
The truth is, I don’t know how I made her. I started with the simple idea for an astralite clock. The immediate inspiration for this was an old spring-driven alarm clock my parents had, which I had taken apart and put back together many times.
As soon as I started making the pieces, though, I found that they pulled me in a different direction. I started making more pieces, other pieces, and putting them together in the way that made the most sense.
I started when I was eleven. It took three years, during which time most of the adults in my life thought I was making an impressive sculpture. When asked, I said “Something like that.” I’d had a vague inkling in my head of what my labor was leading to, but it sounded ridiculous to say it aloud. I was making a person. I was making a girl.
People tell me she is a work of art. I used to correct them by saying that her creation was done out of love, but I’ve stopped, mostly because I realized that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Still, I don’t like to hear Annabelle described that way, as a work. “A thing of beauty” is another one that makes me see red, though that one is also applied to other women.
When I was a child, I made Annabelle the size of a child. Since then, I have grown and she has grown with me. She bathes in astralite dust periodically, according to her own unfathomable internal rhythms. She takes it into herself. She grows. She changes.
We are adults now. We live together, loving each other yet not quite lovers, at least not in the sense that my more prurient correspondents assume. They like to ask how we have sex. I used to ask them why they assumed that we do, but more often than not, this would only result in even cruder inquiries in the next follow-up.
I support my love and myself with my astralite art and jewelry, which I sell to a select clientele in order to preserve my reputation for quality. It’s not enough for the customer to love a piece in the aesthetic sense, or to love the idea of having it. There has to be real love attached to it, flowing through it.
Astralite needs love to survive when removed from its rocky womb.
That’s the secret.
That’s the key.
That’s why I can work it as easily as if it were soft clay, and make a sculpture you can’t dent with a sledgehammer. When my pieces leave me and go out into the world, though, my love for them cannot sustain them. They must go to loving homes. They must be purchased with love, given with love, treasured.
Annabelle helps me vet my clients. While my explanations of astralite’s nature are still regarded as new age fringe theories by many, they are known. So are the qualifications I set for buying my pieces. Many have tried to bluff their way through the interview.
Usually it’s obvious when someone is faking, covering their covetousness with cartoon hearts in their eyes. I can be fooled, though. People can even fool themselves. Annabelle, the treasure of my heart, is never fooled. Love comes as naturally to her as breathing does to you or me. If this means she does not often have to stop and ponder about its existence, it means she acutely notices its absence.
Even with the vetting process, I offer no guarantees with my work, as things can change and hearts with them. I’ve heard from people who received one of my pieces secondhand, often through a bequest or at an estate sale, only to have it fall to pieces. Usually they’re just complaining, but in a few cases a new owner has sought my help in establishing that the piece was a counterfeit so they could seek redress from the seller. I have no choice but to disappoint them again.
On the other hand, I’ve received many kind messages from people who have found a secondhand treasure which appeared pitted and pocked but which cleaned up more nicely than they would have thought possible with a little tender love and care, or who inherited a cherished keepsake from a family member and want me to know how they feel closer to their loved one than ever when they wear or handle it.
I also receive several inquiries a week asking me for instructions on how to build another Annabelle, along with offers to buy her or requests that I make her available for an in-depth examination. I used to try to respond to these, but now I don’t bother.
It’s not even the volume of them. It’s the fact that even explaining that she is a person whom I love feels like I’m granting too much legitimacy to the premise that she’s not. It wears me down.
I couldn’t tell someone how to make another one of her. I don’t think there could be another one of her, any more than there could be another one of me, or you, or anyone else. I doubt copying her framework or the pattern of her gears would create a spritely blue glowing woman who laughs at my jokes and shares my fears.
The mechanics by which her physical form were constructed hardly matter. That’s not what made her. Sometimes, when I receive a query about her origins that is neither presumptive nor insensitive, I share what advice I have to give on the subject, though to my knowledge no one has yet succeeded in making another living being out of astralite, at least not on purpose.
I did receive an email yesterday from a hysterical mother whose daughter had found one of my tiny carved hummingbirds with its wing broken off. The girl had pressed the pieces back together. She wants to be a veterinarian, her mother said, and she cooed over the poor broken thing, and made it a tiny bandage, and kissed it better, and now a tiny blue hummingbirds follows her around, flitting around in circles around her head and watching over her while she sleeps.
Her mother wanted to know if this is normal.
I told her it’s natural.