Geraldinium Holmes picked up her welding mask and put it on. Then she picked up the welding torch and turned that on. The actinic blast of light illuminated the scorched and twisted metal beneath her arms and chased the shadows the periphery of the room. In the next room a young girl sobbed and strained at the restraints that kept her affixed to a wooden bed, and below them both, in a suburban bedroom decorated with too much chintz and pink fur, a middle aged man paused in his reading of the Daily Mail and wondered what the noise was.
The scrap metal had come from the wreckage of a helicopter crash via a contact who refused to meet Geraldinium in person. She’d spent several weeks on Craigslist hunting for suitable scrap for the sculpture she wanted to create, and just when she was beginning to think that she was going to have to go accident hunting in order to obtain it, she’d received the kind of ill-spelled, semi-illiterate email that most people consign to the spam folder. She’d assigned it to her assistant, the orphan girl, to follow up, reasoning that if anything happened to her then at least she had no family to worry about her or miss her, and that the orphan girl was quite mad enough to be a danger to the writer of the email anyway. Two days later, the orphan girl turned up at Geraldinium’s street-long attic studio with a flat-bed truck with the wreckage atop it, and apparently a boyfriend in the truck-driver. Geraldinium had wished them both luck and starting unloading the truck.
She lowered the torch to the metal and listened as the hiss of the acetylene changed tone. In the bright, retina-searing whiteness of the flame she felt a purity and cleansing that was almost religious, and reminded her of her Pope period during which she’d created life-size images of thirty-one of the longest serving Catholic popes. In exhibition they were hung in a large circle and the viewer invited to sit in a wooden chair in the centre of them all, on a dais that slowly rotated. She’d been forced to discontinue the exhibition because of the high incidence of mental illness in the viewers.
The metal softened and yielded as it heated, and she used rusted iron tongs to seize it and mould it against and into other parts of the metal. Slowly, painstakingly, the helicopter wreckage began to resemble a trapped giant, a man or woman trying to pull themselves free of the grasping machine. As the gas hissed and the metal spoke in its own soft, tortured way, she could almost believe that it was talking to her.
In the bedroom below the man in the bed with the paper frowned at the quilt. Something hot and metallic appeared to have dripped from the ceiling and had burned a hole both through the duvet and, by the looks of things, into the mattress.
“Acid rain?” he muttered, and reached for his writing pad. The paper would have to hear about this!
On her bed, the orphan girl screamed again and writhed against her bonds. Geraldinium had tied her down when she’d told her that she wanted to elope with the truck-driver.
Geraldinium turned the acetylene supply off and the flame extinguished like life cut short. Afterimages danced in front of her eyes despite the smoked glass of the mask, and she sat back on her heels for a minute, letting her eyes recover and re-adjust. Then she took the mask off and looked at the sculpture.
“Rust,” she said softly. “That’s what it needs now. Rust.”