She built me from clay, the traditional material. I opened my eyes in my still-wet face and saw her glaring down at me. This is my first memory. She pinched my cheeks and twisted my nose, trying to get the shape right.
I cried like a child would, and she ignored me, gouging a dimple into my chin with her fingernail. I held still, fought my trembling, the urge to scream. I didn’t want to make her angry.
She never smiled at me. She’d cast her own features for mine, and she wore that same scowl every time she looked into a mirror. But still, I hoped I could please her.
It didn’t matter. Unfired and soft, my first body could not keep the shape she gave me.
I snuck outside to play tag with flesh-and-blood children, and wherever they touched me, their hands left imprints on my skin. When I fell, gravel embedded into my knees, sinking deep. My features blurred beneath my tears and smeared when I wiped my face.
She turned my face this way and that, smudging my cheekbones and pressing her thumbs through my temples. “I hardly recognize you,” she said. “What would my coven think of me if they could see you now?”
She broke me down, crushing me into a lump of clay. She would try again.
She built me from stone. I took an eternity to carve, as she liked to remind me. My cold hands curled into fists, and my steadfast heart beat slow and empty. She built the body to last.
Not as impressionable now, I would be her constant companion for years to come. She worried about the subtle changes time wrought, pouring potions over her hair to keep it thick and dark, smoothing poultices over the fine lines in her forehead.
I tried my best to make her happy—cleaning, dusting, arranging candles on her altar. I moved as fast as my heavy limbs allowed, but I was forgetful, clumsy; I knocked things over.
Often, I stood staring out the window, daydreaming of far away places. Where did the other children live? I imagined I could play with them, that my body belonged to me.
“Lazy,” she said, shaking her head. “Stubborn.” She rarely spoke to me, except to demand or criticize.
My stiff hands shook and I spilled one of her potions, a vial of red effervescence she’d brewed to keep her skin clear. I watched it spread across the floor like a bloodstain. “I think you defy me on purpose,” she muttered.
My remorse was not good enough.
It took an eternity to break me down again, to grind me down to nothing.. She would try again.
She built me from paper. With my whispering voice and rustling skirt, I would never be a bother to her. I lived in her library, devouring shelves of novels, savoring beautiful fantasies. I read nonfiction too, enchanted by real people and places that existed beyond her tower. Perhaps I could meet them someday.
My erudition delighted her at first. Her coven had grown bored with her, tired of splashing around in the stagnant, shallow puddle of her conversation. I still impressed her sisters, so she dragged me from the library to recite facts, figures, and verses for their amusement.
I grew sick of being her trophy. Determined, I set out to build a new, better body for myself, one she couldn’t control, so I could go wherever and do whatever I wanted.
She caught me with the library rug rolled back, chalking pentagrams onto the floor and inking spells onto my parchment skin.
“You ungrateful bitch,” she said. She erased my chalk circle. “You are nothing without me.”
She shredded me into confetti. She would try again.
She built me from silver, and I tarnished. From gold, and I collapsed under my own weight. She built me from glass, and I shattered. From fabric, and I unraveled. From wood, and I burned to ash. From sand, and I slipped through her fingers.
I shined, I reflected, I flared up, I slipped away. No form was ever good enough. Nothing I did made her happy.
In desperation, she built me from her flesh and blood. She gave me her bone, her sinew, her small stature, her near-sighted squint. I look more like her than ever, and she calls me her daughter.
She doesn’t tell me what she wants, and I’m not sure I ever knew. Am I to be her servant or her child? A slave or student or friend? I’ve given up trying to please her.
“You’re too timid. You never commit to anything,” she says, scowling at my jutting collarbones and thick glasses. But what can I do? This human heart she gave me beats so fast, and I’m afraid, but I am finally my own.
There is nothing left to try. If she breaks me down again, it will be for good. If I escape, I will vanish among billions of souls. Either way, I will be gone. She knows this. She can sense my power, and something between us is gentler now.
Lifetimes have passed since this all began. We have both changed so much. Sometimes, I doubt I’m the same soul she first tied to a lump of clay.
I carry her spell atop my tongue, the scrap of parchment that names me, animates me. I never open my mouth, lest my life fall from my lips. What would I even say? So I trail behind her, silent and starving.