His name is Jacob and he says he owns me.
He has slicked back hair (held in place with smoky-smelling oil), a crooked smile, and when he touches my wrists it makes me feel dirty.
I sit on this shelf. This shelf is my life. It is all I've ever known - sticky dust, splinters and brown stains on my white pants. It is solid, wooden, and safe - because as long as I'm on this shelf, Jacob can't put in the strings.
"Such a good toy," he would murmur sometimes, strings in. "And how pretty you dance! I'll have to repaint the smile though, it's a bit faded. And the eyes. The eyes are a little dull."
There is nobody else on the shelf. Nothing. I cannot turn my head to check, at any rate. And I can never remember what I look at, what is straight ahead of me, because the terror of wondering if Jacob will walk through the door blots out everything else.
The fear of it is like the sharp smell of paint that hovers over me and my newly thick lips, my eyes that run down the sides of my face like blood from a wound. The fear is ever-present. The fear is me.
He glides into the room now, turning the neutral gray I see into violent reds and blues. Caution, a voice screams in my head, like the shouting from the shows I sometimes hear in the other room. Danger imminent.
"There you are!" he greets like an old friend misplaced by fate. He wears a nicely tailored suit with a blood red tie. Red like the wine that stains his breath at night. Red like a warning sign.
I stay still because what else could I do? I've never moved without manipulation before and now my limbs are stiff with fear and my head is heavy with panic. I could feel my wrists - what's left of them - tense up.
He plucks me off the shelf with a cruel, quick hand, cold with winter's breath. I clench my painted-on jaw, willing it to disappear along with the rest of me.
He sits me upright on a sleek oak desk, flashes a light in my eyes and pulls out the strings from his box of tricks.
"That smile just won't do," he mutters to himself, brow knit in frustration. "Slips off like water. Huh. Well, there's always room for improvement."
Then he puts the strings right through my left wrist. It doesn't hurt. There's a perfectly shaped hole, all lined in rust-proof metal. Then the other wrist. Then my ankles.
I picture putting a string through Jacob's wrists. I picture the skin puckering, pink with inflammation. I picture blood. I picture sinew and muscle, the white of the bone. I picture the same thing - the same string - but roped around his neck.
The image of it makes me forget that he is making me dance.
They are disgusting, jerky movements. It makes me dizzy as I spin, seeing all the gray walls spin and turn and merge into one big wall. One big obstacle whose limits I can't see.
But then I hear him sniffle. Then cry. And then sob. His mouth of needle pins and knife edges curl into a horrible grimace that makes me want to laugh better than any joke. As I spin, suddenly I catch a glimpse of a window, perhaps. I see the ecstatic blue of a radio.
"She used to dance," he says quietly. And he spins me faster and faster.
"I am not her," I scream in my head, and in there I feel invincible. In my head I see things bright and beautiful and nothing with heavy smoke smells or dirty fingers. I hear laughter - not my own, which unnerves me - and bewitching propositions.
Open your eyes, the voices coax, full of honey and midnight promises, and see. See what you are missing.
It is intoxicating. I am starting to see. I see a book - a gilded title. There is a silver spoon in a dirty dish. There are shadows that stretch like open monster mouths and wilting flower petals that are bigger than anyone's wildest dreams.
But then I hear a snap. It is a horrible snap like a crack of a whip.
Danger imminent, I think .
And I'm flying. Soaring through the gray so lightly and freely. I am the whisper of snow against a frozen window pane. I am Jacob's dancing strings - feather-weight and worn so thin you can hardly even tell it's breaking. And it is so fun I'm laughing with my mouth closed.
My arms come apart first, one into the dirty dish, the other against the window. My legs knock something to the floor in an earth-shattering crash.
"Her picture!" Jacob shrieks, and it's delightful to hear his voice peppered in fear. It is like hearing hallelujah when no hope is near.
My head hits the ground with surprising force. It hurts like unlike anything I've ever felt - but it's wonderful. It's wonderful. Below the shelf is wonderful.
Can you see? the voice whispers. Can you see now why I left him?
Two ink black shoes come into focus.
"Shame. The eyes are irreparable now."
As the boot comes down, I think, "No. The eyes are perfect."
And even though I have no legs, I feel myself stand up.