She'd made him with painstaking care. He knew this because she told him so, later, when he was bronzecast and impervious to wind and rain and, for the most part, the passage of time. She'd shaped him in clay, she said, lovingly drawing out his limbs, his jawline, the sheer slope of his spine as he cradled a knee against his torso. He was one of two, she'd murmured, but he didn't know what that meant.
He wondered sometimes what it would be like to uncurl, to stand upright, but she'd made him like this, she explained, to reveal his inner strength. By having him sit, one buttock flush against the soul of his foot, she could show the world his power, unspent, unspoken. Selfcontained.
Sole, s, o, l, e, she corrected him, as he tried out the word on her, not soul, s, o, u, l. He grasped at the nuance of the spelling, the spell, which took it from a thing that carried people like her from one place to another, to an entity she carried inside herself, but which apparently he did not.
Or might not. She couldn't be certain, she admitted, when he queried this. When he asked how he could truly know whether he had a soul or not.
The fact he had the curiosity to ask, she said, made her doubt her answer, rendered her unable to commit to a definite no.
She seemed to believe having a soul was evident in the depths of her feelings. She spoke of joy and sorrow, and seemed comforted by his ignorance over both these emotional extremes.
He knelt on the floor of the studio and watched her work, and knew that, however small, he felt something. It coiled in him, hot and snug in a space he could not quite identify. It rose up as he observed the sharpness of her glance; the movement of her fingers through clay, over paper; the touch of her wrist to her forehead. The way the sunlight caught in her hair.
He had no hair, and no movement, his hands trapped forever in his own embrace. But when she smoothed one palm over his bronze surfaces, traced the textures she'd pressed against his skin, he felt the heat inside him stir.
And then the delivery came, the sculpture, the one that the art museum had been exhibiting, now home again. Encased in packaging she cutaway tenderly, carefully. And at once he was eye to eye with someone so familiar it hurt to look – a bronze replica of his frame, a face to mirror his own.
And she ran her hand over the returned sculpture's shoulders and back, with an expression of such pride, such satisfaction, that he felt the heat inside him leap into flame. Envy. Now, isn't that proof of a soul?
Judy Darley is a British fiction writer and journalist who runs the arts and literature blog SkyLightRain.com, where you can see some of her other work. Previously she has had short stories published by literary magazines and anthologies including Toasted Cheese, Germ Magazine, Streetcake, Headstuff, and The View From Here. Her debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees is out now.