Gregor sat back in his chair and smiled. He put down the brush to admire his handiwork. The porcelain woman sat on the bench before him, the paint still sticky on her face. He didn’t need to check the photograph to know she was the twin of his beloved Sylvie. They were identical in every way, right down to the fact that neither of them was alive.
Gregor ran a hand through the porcelain woman’s golden curls. They sprang back into place, glinting in the late afternoon sunlight.
“Ah, my beautiful porcelain woman. I shall name you Odile,” he said. He took one of her cold, smooth hands in his own and gazed into the painted blue eyes.
Gregor talked to the porcelain woman, telling Odile about Sylvie, and their dreams of running an art school in the town. He told her about the tuberculosis that stole his Sylvie away, leaving him lost and alone. He explained how he spent the intervening years locked away in his rooms at the top of the tower. Odile simply listened.
Some hours after sunset, Gregor yawned and shook his tired limbs. He scooped up Odile and carried her into his bedroom. He settled her into the rocking chair by the window.
“Sylvie used to sit here when she couldn’t sleep. She said she liked to knit by moonlight, and keep watch over me. You can hold her vigil now,” he said.
Gregor planted a kiss on Odile’s lifeless cheek. He climbed into bed and fell asleep under the watchful gaze of his porcelain angel.
Dawn’s tentative fingers crept over the red roofs and smoking chimneys. Gregor stirred, feeling the sun’s early caress on his cheek. He got out of bed and carried Odile up to the small roof terrace at the top of the tower. Gregor settled her on some pillows so she could gaze down over the town.
“Sylvie used to sit up here while I worked. She liked the fresh air and the morning sun. I’ll come and get you at lunchtime,” said Gregor.
He patted Odile’s head and left the terrace. His footsteps rang out on the narrow stairs. For the first time in fifteen years, he whistled a melody of summer and hope. The tune echoed around his tiny kitchen as he prepared his solitary breakfast, and continued while he pottered around in his workshop. At lunchtime, he fetched Odile, and she watched him work during the afternoon. She listened to his prattle about ceramics and glazing during supper, and she watched over him while he slept.
Days turned into weeks, and Gregor continued to talk to Odile. He fixed up her hair, and sewed her new clothes. Sometimes he touched up her paintwork. Gregor was always very careful with his porcelain woman. On Valentine’s Day, he laid out a special supper for them, and confessed he was scared he might trip on the stairs, and break her.
“I’d be ever so upset if anything ever happened to you, Odile. You have no idea how much I appreciate you. It’s been so long since I had anyone to talk to. The people down in the town...oh, they let you talk as long as they get to interrupt with their gossip and idle chatter. Not you, my dearest Odile, you know how to listen,” said Gregor. He patted her hand.
The weeks turned into months. Gregor showed Odile the pieces he was working on, although he was careful not to allow any buyers to visit him at home. He feared they might want to buy Odile. She was not for sale, and it didn’t seem right to make another.
One Thursday in late September, Odile sat outside. A makeshift shelter of wood and canvas stretched above her in case it rained. The clock in the town square struck noon. People scurried around in the streets below, hurrying to the market for their lunch of bread and cheese.
Later, the clock struck six in the evening. Odile remained on the terrace, surrounded by twilight. Candles burned at the windows in the houses below. Men patrolled the streets, lighting the gas lamps. Their glow cast warm circles of light across the cobbles. Gregor did not come for Odile.
Thursday turned into Friday and Odile still sat on the terrace. A light drizzle pattered on the canvas above her as the sun fought to break through the early morning mist. Lunchtime came and went, but Gregor did not. That evening, a strong wind pulled down the canvas over Odile, blocking her view of the town.
Some days later, a stranger ventured onto the terrace. He saw a pile of old canvas by the chimney stack, and made a note in his book. He muttered about the state in which the old man had left the place, and left. Another strong wind that night tore away the canvas. It fluttered across the terrace and over the side, snapping from one gust to the next into the darkness. Odile sat in the cold night air, watching the lights go out in the windows of the town.
Night and day chased each other across the sky. Heavy rains plastered Odile’s hair to her porcelain head, and strong winds tugged it dry. Birds gathered on the terrace. The sound of nails being driven into wood within the tower drove them away; only mice and rats would use the narrow stairs now.
The nights grew longer, and colder. Rodents sniffed at Odile’s dress, tearing strips from the skirt to line their holes. Her beautiful floral dress, so similar to Sylvie’s, hung in rags around her porcelain legs. Spiders crept across her hands, spinning webs between her fingers.
Snowflakes drifted onto the terrace on Christmas Day. The town spread beneath a steel grey sky. Odile’s painted eyes didn’t see the townsfolk singing carols around the tree in the square. Children ran around in the rooms below, their laughter drifting up the stairs toward the terrace.
A tear slid down Odile’s cheek.