“Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave to animate the lifeless clay?”
-Mary Shelley, "Frankenstein"
It started with the skin.
Elsa stayed up all night looking at it. Sometimes she got so close that the sleeping body would roll over and murmur, fitful and dreaming, so that Elsa would have to stay absolutely still and quiet for a time. And she would continue looking.
The skin: It seemed a whole, solid thing, but up close she saw that it was millions of tiny pieces fit together in a way too subtle for the human eye. What a marvelous contraption; how could it be whole and yet still move as it did? Why didn't it break? And when it did break, how did it make itself whole again?
A face was skin, and a face was an identity, so that meant a person's identity was in their skin. Because she loved it directly, her love was pure and uncompromised. She loved the skin and it loved her back. Life was good.
But something was wrong that morning. The other side of the bed was cold; the skin was pale and clammy. It didn’t move, not even when she said its name. She wrapped her body around the unmoving form, trying to coax it back to life. Soft kisses and gentle touches didn‘t revive it. The face did not twitch back into a meaningful expression. The chest did not rise and fall with breath. Whatever had happened, there was no turning back.
Elsa examined every inch of it and found that the skin was still perfect. It was the body beneath the skin that had failed. Blood, bone, heart; these hidden things were so unaccountable. But maybe the skin could be saved? Mind racing, Elsa imagined a new and better body for it, a perfect body. One she would make herself.
She used scalpel and chemicals, working fast to remove the skin before it spoiled. She made the pieces as large as she could so that she would be able to put them back together later. All the while she was planning the next step: parts. They had to come from somewhere. Nothing from the old body could be trusted. She would throw it all out and start from scratch. That meant Elsa had to go shopping.
She covered her skin with makeup, scented it with perfume, and accented it with fabrics. She went out and met people who had muscle and sinew and bone beneath their skin, people with beating hearts and quick minds and strong bodies. She talked with them, drank with them, danced with them, skin touching skin in the dark corners of a bar. Then they went home and fell into bed, gasping and giggling, clothes coming off and sometimes tearing, Elsa’s eyes taking in every beautiful inch of their skin moving on her, against her, under her. Some of it was beautiful, but not as beautiful as what she would make.
Sometimes she found what she was looking for: A heart that beat strong and steady when she put her ear against the chest, or arms that felt solid when they held her close, or lungs that took steady breaths in spite of the exertion. Next came the needle: In it goes, quick and easy, the skin accepting it so that only a little dot of blood marked its passing. Then she carried the sleeper down to the workshop. Then came the cutting.
It took years. Her creation aged in reverse: The more time passed, the closer it came to life, and further from death. When the body was done the old, perfect skin had to be attached to it. And how to animate it? How to make the skin move and live again? It lay on the slab, pale and perfect, like a statue or an angel, but unmoving and unaware, while Elsa pondered. She remembered the electricity of their touch; maybe the skin would remember too. She shed her clothes and climbed onto the slab, straddling the body between her legs. Her laid skin against its. She pressed kisses to its quiet, unmoving lips and rubbed its flesh, touching, its hips, its thighs, its stomach. She kissed its neck and shoulders and the hard protuberances of its nipples. She let her tongue wander. She recreated the long nights and the warm mornings of years ago, hoping that it would remember and do what it had done then.
It was subtle at first, but she felt it: a quiver, like the vibration of a spider's web. Then it stirred. The ribs expanded with the first breath, and when she felt the fingers twitch and twine around hers she gasped and whispered in furious exaltation:
"It's alive...it's alive!"
It stood. It walked. It lived and breathed and saw and knew and felt. It was perfect. Elsa threw her arms around it and kissed it…but it did not kiss her back. She waited, aching to feel those arms around her again, but did nothing. And she saw indifference in its eyes.
Heartache. Tears. Elsa ran away. As she wiped her face in the bathroom mirror, she understood: She saw the wrinkles, the wear, the marks of age. Her creation became whole with time, but she had fallen apart. It probably didn’t even recognize her. Her body was strong, but her skin had failed it. She would have to fix it. To become perfect again.
She steadied her hand as she placed the scalpel blade against her cheek. "Throw it all out," she said. "Start from scratch."