It took weeks to make her, to carve every strand of hair, every scar, every nail and bump and ridge out of the clay. It took even longer to make the heart, to enchant every few centimeters of wire and to bend it in just the right way. But when she was done, Cassandra almost cried. Naomi looked as beautiful as the day she left.
The colored slips were placed perfectly around the body, adding just the right amount of tint. From the long black hair to the emerald-green eyes, the sculpture was an exact replica. If Cassandra was to see the body she made walking down the street, she would think it was really Naomi. All that was left was to bring life into it, to fill the heart with the love of the real Naomi. Love that wouldn’t want to leave just because Cassandra had done something stupid.
Cassandra was a skilled sculptor, but to say she was any sort of witch or magician was a stretch. That had been Naomi’s thing. Still, when Cassandra found the spell book in the back of a kitchen cabinet, she felt like she had to try. There was no harm in that. And, there was no other option. She had done everything else: calling Naomi, texting her, reaching out in every way possible to apologize and say it won’t happen again.
Well, it’s already happened once, Naomi’s mom answered matter-of-factly when Cassandra showed up at her house in a last-ditch effort. When Cassandra didn’t have any response to that, Naomi’s mom sighed and closed the door, saying it was time for the two of them to move on so they could be better people.
Instead of taking that advice, Cassandra started building the clay sculpture that night. Carving into it every promise, hope, and desire that she wanted to give the real Naomi. Everything she wanted to do right. And, weeks later, she stood in front of the beautiful sculpture she built to make everything better. It would be better this time.
As Cassandra opened the spell book, the smell of musty pages overtook the scent of clay, the two swirling together in something earthy and old. She pulled at the weathered pages until she got to the one she wanted. She paused, took a deep breath, then clearly and simply repeated the words on the page. The worst case, Naomi didn’t come. Cassandra would be exactly where she started. Heartbroken and empty.
The strange and twisting words came to an end as Cassandra’s mouth closed with a snap. But Naomi still stood mannequin-like in the center of the studio. Maybe Cassandra had done something wrong. The spell should have returned the love she’d lost—the version of Naomi that existed before that terrible night. Yet nothing happened.
Cassandra closed the book and hugged it against her chest. It was pointless anyways. Naomi, real or clay, would never want Cassandra after what she did.
But then Naomi’s arm twisted back like a slot machine, forming unnatural angles that made Cassandra want to look away. The head leaned left, right, left, right, then centered itself in the middle. The painted flesh became more defined, more detailed, as if blood and breath were entering the body. Naomi blinked.
Cassandra’s heart stopped. It was hard to remember that this was just clay. That this Naomi didn’t know about the night Cassandra had raised her arm without thinking. This Naomi loved her. This Naomi didn’t leave.
“Who are you?” Naomi said.
Cassandra put the book down on her crafting bench. Naturally, Naomi was confused. Cassandra just needed to remind Naomi who she was to help her get her bearings.
“I’m Cassandra Hues, your—”
“You look old,” Naomi said. She put her hand on her hip, showing sass that Cassandra had never seen before. Maybe it just took time for the personality to settle in.
“I guess? It’s been a few months since you…last saw me.” She wondered how far the spell had gone back. From what time did it copy Naomi? When was the last time that Naomi had truly loved her?
Naomi looked left and right. Cassandra wished she had closed the studio door, but the heat had just become too oppressive. She wasn’t very good at thinking things through. She turned back to Naomi to ask some questions about what day she thought it was, but suddenly Naomi was wrapping her hand around Cassandra’s head, kissing her with earthy-tasting lips.
It was intoxicating, having Naomi in her arms again, feeling her body against hers. So intoxicating that Cassandra hardly noticed how the skin felt clammy and cold to the touch, how she could feel the clay that was still too moist sticking to her curls, and how Naomi was moving her other hand up Cassandra’s shirt. When the hand started to press against her breast, Cassandra moved back, breathing heavy. Even in their honeymoon phase, Naomi had never acted so much like a hungry teenager. She was deliberate, slow, and intentional. It was one of the things Cassandra missed. She had never dated someone like that. She was the exact opposite of Cassandra in many ways, and that’s why they needed each other.
Naomi tilted her head at Cassandra, but backed off. “What was that for?’ she said. “We probably only have a few more minutes until your dad is back.”
“My dad?” Cassandra scratched her head, getting clay between her hair. Her dad had been dead for years, long before she’d ever met Naomi. And even if that wasn’t the case, she hadn’t lived with him since she was in high school. “Who are you?”
Naomi shrugged as though it was obvious. “Tiffany, of course. Who do you think I am?”
Instead of responding, Cassandra motioned for Tiffany to look into the mirror to her left. When she did, Cassandra watched Tiffany stroke Naomi’s cheek with Naomi’s hand, pull at Naomi’s hair with Naomi’s fingers.
“I think there was some mistake. You’re not meant for this body, Tiffany,” Cassandra said. She wasn’t sure how else to say that she had thought Naomi would be the only one who would enter. The only one who loved Cassandra right.
Naomi’s gaze dropped to the floor. Cassandra hated to see Naomi look this sad, and had to keep reminding herself it wasn’t her. It wasn’t Naomi. It was someone else, someone she hadn’t seen for a long time.
Cassandra padded up behind and wrapped her in a hug, before apologizing. Then, she stepped back and plunged her hand through the back of the chest with a wince. Tiffany gasped in shock, her face reflecting in the mirror as though she had been stabbed. Cassandra looked away until she felt the body still. Then, she pulled out the wired heart, trying not to think about how, for a brief moment, Naomi’s back was as smooth as skin.
While Naomi’s body froze, staring just beyond the mirror, Cassandra pulled at the wired cage, still slick with bits of clay. Strands of metal twisted apart and a golden wisp flew free, vanishing into the air. Cassandra closed the cage again and sniffled. She looked over at Naomi’s body, vacant and frozen, a hole right through the center, showing where the cage needed to go.
With a deep breath, Cassandra closed the heart back up, and put it in the chest. Her hands dripped with damp clay, dark streaks running down her arms.
Cassandra only needed a chance to prove that she could get it right. To show that she could be a better person. She turned Naomi around and used her thumb to smooth over the skin, making sure to be careful with her body. She stepped back and the clay figure jolted to life. The arm rotated, the head tilted, the eyes blinked. She stared into the clay eyes and wondered who lay behind them this time. Who else loved Cassandra before Naomi did?
She’d find Naomi even if it took a thousand tries. No matter how many souls the spell brought, there was only one that gave her gentle kisses and laughed as though the world was built for her. There was only one Naomi.
“Casey?” Naomi said.
Only one person had ever called her Casey. Cassandra rubbed her hands on her smock, as if wiping the clay away would remove what she’d done. What she would have to do again.
“Jake,” she whispered.
They’d dated in her early 20s. He was ready to settle down, create a life with her. She was not.
“Have you gotten taller, or have I gotten shorter?” he joked with a sly grin. Cassandra had never seen Naomi’s face tilt that way. It felt unnatural. Jake was so relaxed about everything, Naomi was not.
Cassandra moved toward him. It was the only way.
“I’m sorry, Jake,” she said, but before he responded, she had thrust her hand into his chest, clay bleeding down her arm. It was cold and slippery—the heart—but she managed. He gasped in the same way Tiffany had, the same shock of losing your life to someone you love.
Cassandra pushed the feelings down. She just needed to get to Naomi. Naomi would make her feel whole again. Naomi would make her smile and want to try again. Naomi would force Cassandra to be a better person.
She pulled at the wired cage, metal cutting at her flesh. Eventually, her fingers hooked, and she made a hole big enough for the light red soul to slip through. It disappeared into the air. Cassandra let out her breath. She looked back at Naomi. If she was right, if she could cast spells, this next one would be her. She’d only seriously dated three people.
Carefully, she placed the heart back into the chest and smoothed it over. Then, she stepped back and watched the arm move, the head tilt, and the eyes blink.
“Naomi,” she breathed.
Naomi stared at her and Cassandra shifted on her feet. She wanted to take her girlfriend in her arms and apologize for everything, to go back to how things were, but this Naomi wouldn’t know anything was wrong in the first place. This was the Naomi that loved her, not the one that left.
“Cassandra,” Naomi stated with no inflection. Cassandra shivered. The sculpture spoke with the voice of a corpse. But who else could it have been? She had already faced down her past failures. The lovers she’d abandoned.
“Naomi?” Cassandra asked.
Naomi’s mouth twisted into a jeer and she stood straight, her shoulders wide and neck high. Even though Cassandra was still technically taller, she had never felt so small.
“Have you already forgotten about me?” Naomi said. She moved forward, swift and deliberate. Every move looked intentional and strong. Cassandra backed up until she hit the table. The spell had gone wrong. This wasn’t her Naomi. Her head reeled.
“I thought, after all the time we spent together,” Naomi continued, walking closer and closer, “I thought you’d never forget me.”
Naomi was now close enough that Cassandra could smell the clay in her breath. Normally a smell that comforted her, it was nothing but terrifying now. She shrank down on the table and Naomi loomed over her. Only one person had ever treated her like this.
“Abe,” she whispered. Had he ever even loved her? They’d been on and off for a few months, but all she remembered was his cruelty at the end. She’d left as soon as she had the chance.
Yet, here he was in the body she’d built for Naomi. Three hundred pounds of clay and wire and magic. She shuddered to think of what he could do now. Just one blow could knock her out, or worse.
She reached for his heart, but Abe smacked her out of the way with Naomi’s hand. Cassandra pulled back, clutching her arm to her chest.
“Of course, bitch.”
Cassandra couldn’t hear anything but her heartbeat, couldn’t smell anything but his earthy breath. It surrounded her like a poison. Her mouth felt dry and she swore she tasted blood. She needed to get him out of Naomi’s body.
She took her left hand and felt on the table for something to help. When she found the sculpting knife, she grasped it in her shaky fist and brought it forward with a scream. But, when she got close to Naomi’s face, she found she couldn’t do it. Not to her Naomi. Taking the heart cage out was one thing, but intentionally hurting Naomi was too far. She had promised herself she would never hurt Naomi like that again. She hesitated, the knife above Naomi’s head like a sacrifice.
Abe knocked the tool from her hands. It skittered along the concrete floor.
“So, now that that’s over, how about we have some fun,” Naomi’s voice said, honey dripping from each word. Cassandra’s chest heaved. She had to get out. She glanced toward the door, still open, then kicked Abe in the leg. It felt like she was kicking a rock, but the clay collapsed beneath her boot.
She darted towards the door as he collapsed. There was a thud as his head hit the sculpting table. She knew she shouldn’t have turned, but she needed to see Naomi one last time.
Naomi’s face had collapsed like a smashed loaf of bread. Her hair, so carefully placed strand by strand, now jutted out of the dent like a hair job gone wrong. A twisted smile contorted her misshapen face as she lurched past Cassandra and slammed the door shut.
“That wasn’t very nice,” Naomi said, a slight gurgle to her voice. Cassandra’s heart raced. This must be how Naomi felt that night.
“This isn’t you. This isn’t…it isn’t you,” Cassandra whispered to herself.
“Of course it’s me, Cassandra.” Naomi opened her arms with a smirk.
But instead of responding, Cassandra dashed across the garage and grabbed the cutoff wires. She lunged for Naomi, wrapping the wire around the sculpture’s neck and pulling. The tool cut through the skin with little effort, causing Naomi’s head to start sliding off. Naomi reached up to stop it, and Cassandra forced her hand into Naomi’s chest. Naomi’s face froze in shock.
The heart was sticky and warm when she pulled it out, a sickly green wisp floating inside. Cassandra looked over at Naomi’s body, at the mess it was now, then back at the wisp. It banged against the cage.
She pulled the wires apart and the green soul disappeared into the air. Her breath rattled in her chest, but the body was motionless. Abe was gone.
When her pulse finally quieted, she settled down to work, carefully repairing all the parts of her love that had been damaged or broken, apologizing the whole time. She molded the figure back together with gentle hands, crying the whole time about how horrible she had been. Instead of rejecting Abe, somehow she’d become him. Trying to force Naomi into being what she needed, using violence when it came to it. Even after Naomi had fled, she’d still tried to force her back.
She couldn’t do it again. She’d build the sculpture, but it wouldn’t belong to her anymore. This time the body would be truly built for Naomi, so that she could live a life without Cassandra’s abusive traits in her memory, a life without triggers and tainted memories. A life without Cassandra at all.
But, when Cassandra finally finished and placed the wired heart back in the clay body, the real Naomi never showed.