By Ong Sher Li
Note from the Author
I have to admit that I cannot claim true ownership over this story, since I have done little for this curious manuscript save piecing it together and editing it to form a semi-coherent narrative. I long to give credit to its original author, but he was unfortunately unnamed within the piece itself.
I chanced upon these scraps of writing under surprisingly mundane conditions; I discovered them while exploring my new apartment. They were unearthed from within a curiously large oblong box (shaped much like a coffin) left unattended in one of the rooms, for what must have been decades now. Along with them, I found, perhaps more interestingly, a pair of dolls that were quite frighteningly lifelike (both in appearance and size), and were dressed in all the trappings of a bride and groom. Curiously enough, only the bride was named. Her name was indeed Galatea (from which the title of this story was derived).
Needless to say, I have decided not to move into the apartment as of yet, until this matter has been sorted out. However, despite my inconvenience, I have fortunately discovered an interesting story to tell.
I was not, by nature, a particularly sociable child. I had always been inclined to keep to myself, not from any sense of spite towards others but due to an acute shyness that appeared to affect no other member of my family. My family had always assumed that it was an affliction that the onset of adulthood would cure, although as the years passed, this seemed (to them) less and less likely. It was thus incredibly surprising to them when they discovered that I had applied to study the mechanical arts at the University of N–, and they were further surprised to discover that I had been accepted. While they had their misgivings regarding my separation from them (since my previous behaviour had not inspired much of their confidence in me), they nonetheless saw me off to university.
I arrived in the city of N–, full of hope and anxiety, as would be fitting of one who was newly liberated from his family, and was pleasantly surprised to witness a city so immensely wonderful and lively as I have never seen. Indeed, stepping off the carriage in front of the apartment (that my brother and father had procured for me), I was very nearly run down by another passing coach due to the temporary stupor that this city had induced in me.
My apartment, too, had been to my liking. Later, overhearing many a conversation between the other students at the University, I discovered that it was indeed fortunate of me to be able to live where I did—and indeed, who could conceivably dislike it? There were numerous books shelves in the place, which practically begged me to line them; while a park, a mere walk away, beckoned me daily. And, perhaps, greatest of all, in a stroke of what might be considered kismet, through one of my windows, I could observe one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen in the entirety of my existence.
It was all the same that I had viewed the young woman only through my window at first, as it acted as a filter, of sorts, and observing her directly only left me permanently enamoured with her. The more I watched her longingly through my window, the more I desired to sing to the world praises of this undiscovered Aphrodite (who herself is a poor comparison to my beloved). I was, alas, conflicted. While I longed to describe her as beautiful, alluring, exquisite, and simply sublime in all her loveliness—these mere words would only restrict her to our inferior way of comprehending and articulating that which we find attractive.
My only respite from this terrible conflict was her, ironic though it might seem. But joy of joys! Certainly serendipity must have found favour with me in recent times, especially as it had her basking in the sun upon her balcony day after day, such that I often chanced to see her as I made my way to the University—and to my greatest delight, today, she nodded at me (so delicately as to be almost imperceptible) as I passed by.
I have finally been able to meet my most beloved Galatea! The discovery of my beloved’s name was more gratifying than I could ever hope. Ga-la-tea: is it not a wonder how three mere syllables able to encapsulate the perfection of what surely must be the prime specimen of feminine beauty?
The catalyst for this meeting was a single overcast day about two weeks ago. As I passed her that day, a slight drizzle began. Concerned, I cast my gaze upwards. My beloved had not moved. Anxiety gripped me. Had she not noticed the incoming onslaught of rain? Just as I contemplated intruding upon her home, a man—of considerable age and whose appearance was only too terribly familiar to me—appeared, and collected my beloved into his arms and took her into the house.
I approached the house and knocked. The same man who had been with her earlier answered the door.
Amongst my numerous teachers, Professor Pretorius had proved to be the one I liked the least (a sentiment shared by most of the University’s faculty and my peers); due, in part, to his severe misanthropy and an exaggerated disdain for the ‘ignorant sheep’ who comprised his students. He had an incredible prescience as well, I noted, as he eerily predicted all I had desired to tell him with regards to her, as I stood there outside his home. I was flabbergasted—but most of all when he told me that he was her father. As my mind struggled to reconcile with the idea that he had assisted in her creation, I very nearly missed hearing him asking me if I would like to meet her.
She had been moved into the same room from which the balcony protruded. She was seated in a chair, her hands neatly folded in her lap and her gaze (when not upon me) fixed into the distance, as it always was. I approached her, slowly, nearly crippled from the torrent of emotions within myself. I looked into her smooth, porcelain-like face—and the realisation dawned upon me.
“Is she blind?” I asked Pretorius.
“Yes, and likewise deaf, mute and a cripple,” he replied, with an unexplained bitterness in the tone of his voice. “One might even go so far as to say she is barely alive.”
I found that I was far from appalled of her incredible frailty. Her utter and complete helplessness actually seemed to magnify her loveliness.
“What is her name?” I asked next.
“Galatea,” he answered.
“I love her,” I confessed, despite myself.
The old man sneered, perhaps doubting the sincerity of my emotions. “Boy, do you not realise what she is?” he said.
I shook my head. I was confused. Had he not just explained to me her peculiar condition?
“Go on,” he continued, “inspect her more closely; touch her bare arm, if it may help you comprehend.”
I did as he instructed. Her skin under her sleeve was impeccably smooth, and with incredible gall, I looked deeply into her unseeing eyes (so clear and perfect that they almost seemed to have been made out of glass)—and understood her for what she was.
But I found that my love for her grew stronger still.
Surely, I must have been considered quite, quite mad to find that it mattered very little to me what Galatea was now. While she had once been alive for some short amount of time, she was now far removed from any notion of life and humanity as the common man might understand—but not to me, or, it seemed, to Pretorius. And I could scarcely begrudge him for making her this way; had I been placed under his circumstances, I, too would have transformed my darling Galatea into her present incarnation, as opposed to surrendering her to death.
I longed to remain with her as long as these emotions held true. However, in her current form, she was fragile, yet eternal, while mine, although superior in its strength, was nevertheless an ephemeral one. I thus resolved to become as Galatea was: a soul eternally encased in porcelain.
Relentlessly, I implored, begged, and pleaded with Pretorius to perform on me the same surgery that he had on Galatea. Eventually, my persistence bore fruit, and he consented to the operation.
The specific process was, at best, described as an amalgam of the finest of the mechanical arts and some exotic form of alchemy. It would be a long and arduous process, Pretorius had warned me, since his age and the complexity of the procedure meant that he could perform it only in intervals. Those first several days were indeed the longest I have ever experienced and the pain—good gods, the pain—was simply without compare. But, as day after day passed, as my skin grew paler, as my limbs stiffened, and as porcelain subsumed flesh and blood, I felt less and less of it.
Pretorius himself would check upon me daily, warning me to cease writing (or even attempting to do so) often, for porcelain was ever so fragile. (Any writing that I may claim authorship from this point onwards was, in fact, dictated to Pretorius, since voluntary movement in my limbs had become immensely difficult.)
We spoke often of Galatea, after I recovered from each surgery. I listened raptly to the stories of her childhood: of how she was as beautiful as she was now (as impossible as I found this idea, for she was certainly more beautiful), and how a prolonged illness that struck her as she approached the zenith of her youth had left Pretorius only too aware of the transience of his daughter’s life, and had set into motion the long process by which she would ultimately be saved.
Pretorius asked me yet again today, as we approached the final few phases of the transformation, if I feared it, as his own beloved Galatea had, and I replied easily that I felt no fear, however, for after the transformation was complete, Galatea and I would be companions for the rest of eternity.