Madame Tussaud

by Noa Covo

She grows up in a house of abandoned arms and legs. She is taught to count on wax hands severed at the wrist, she caresses faces that end at the neck as her mother dusts. As she strokes detached heads, she wonders if they look like her father did, dead on the battlefield, she wishes she could have some part of him to keep, his open palms or his reassuring smile, milky with wax.

Womanhood, she discovers, is learning to create. She is taught to make molds, to give boiling wax a life of its own, she crafts great men from between her fingers, whole and still. Her mother dusts them one by one.

The letter arrives from the palace, demanding her hands at the service of a princess. Royalty, she discovers, are like wax sculptures, the women waiting to have their soft stomachs molded into heirs, the men with their feet planted in the ground, gathering filth. The princess, her pupil, is not interested in great men; she spends her time making wax children instead of the flesh ones she will never have.

The rebels outside the windows are all disjointed limbs, arms and legs flailing, they are not wax but fire, and they sweep up the palace. They take everything with them, the princess, the king, the queen, and her. She begs them to let her go, tries to prove to them that she is real, like them, not a figure on display. They let her live so long she documents those that didn’t. They throw the heads of lords and ladies in her lap, blood still blooming from the stems of their necks. She is not made of fire like those armed with the guillotines, at night, in her cell, when she hears her mother weeping, she begins to think she is made of stone.

When she leaves the prison, she sculpts two living sons, their round cheeks not wax, not fire, not stone, just skin. She takes them and her sculptures across the sea. Her heart is her mold for a chamber of horrors, she invites people to shriek at the ghosts of her pain. The finest of her exhibitions is one moonless night aboard a ship, when the crates split and her work is spilled into the water. She watches as her creations are devoured by the waves. She lets the sea mist wash over her stone face until she feels she is eroding.

She settles down with her sculptures in a brick house. At night she caresses their faces, and they whisper, begging her to join them. She learns to make herself for a second time so that she may stand with her memories, so that they may live together; heads with necks, limbs with torsos, fathers with daughters, whole.

Noa Covo is a teenage writer. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Jellyfish Review, Waxwing, and X-R-A-Y. Her microchapbook, Bouquet of Fears, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow. She can be found on Twitter @covo_noa.

A Portrait Study by John T. Tussaud of Madame Tussaud at the age of 42, published in The Romance of Madame Tussaud’s (2nd edition), London: Odhams Press. p. 120, via Wikimedia Commons.