He cut the ribbons with the precision of a surgeon. They had to be perfect. They must be perfect. If even one ribbon was out of place, she would be unhappy with him.
He cut the wide strip its length, making narrower bands. The thick ribbon resisted the blade of the scissors, the sound a muted slik as he squeezed the handles closed. Open, closed. Open, closed. Strips of ribbon fell away from the thick sheet: slender, perfect.
They must be.
Another thin ribbon, red and pink. The bow would be lovely. He hoped she would think it lovely. The trimmed strips dropped away from his scissors into a clean pink wicker basket, purchased just for this occasion. Every part of his gift must be pristine. Must be perfect.
As he cut, his heart overwhelmed with the love he knew she felt for him. His chest took on a fullness; sometimes he thought he would burst from her fullness. He only ever wanted to take her into himself, and therefore, he into her.
Music played as he cut: Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies”. The calming piano notes flowed over him like the cool water of a stream. That was good, because he tended to sweat while he worked, even in the fifty-nine-degree temperature at which he kept his workroom. Sometimes his fingers slipped in the scissor handles, and what had been a perfect thin strip of ribbon instead became a horrific abomination of his craft, of his offering: jagged edges, uneven width, tatters and tangles.
His tongue thrust from his lips, clamped between his teeth as he concentrated, wriggled like the tail of a trapped serpent. He never remembered he did that, until he realized his tongue was bleeding a little, and then was sore for two days after.
But it was worth it, for when he gave her his gift, she would be overjoyed. Any pain was worth that!
He finished cutting the final ribbon; there was no more stock to be had. It was always this way: he could not make a mistake with his limited stock, and if he did, he had to start over. Starting over was upsetting. Abandoning his previous work was upsetting. Throwing it all out was time-consuming.
But this time… This time it was perfect! Each ribbon—as he pulled them from the basket with delicate fingers, like they were made of gossamer—was perfect. The edges of all the ribbons were even and unmarred, thanks to the very sharp scissors and his skills.
“Practice makes perfect,” he murmured, then glanced up to see if he’d been heard, there in the shadows. It wasn’t time for her to know yet.
But soon. After all, what good was a surprise gift if she knew about it?
He giggled at that. Laying out the ribbons side by side on his worktable, he arranged them in the order that they would be needed. Now came his favorite part: wrapping his gift to her.
He had already fashioned her gift earlier in the day. He liked to do that first, while he was fresh and feeling creative, because as necessary a part of his process as was the ribbon-cutting, it was tiring, and he had learned his creativity waned if he did the busywork before the artistry.
But her gift was shaped to perfection, and he had finished that morning, even before lunch. He had been inspired! And why not? She was beautiful, and wanting to please her drove his emotions and inspirations. She made him be a better man. And knowing how much she would appreciate his efforts always carried him through the tiring part.
But now it was only a matter of tying the ribbons in the most artistic way he could do. He picked up the first, it almost three feet in length, and looped it around her gift. Then the next, and the next, until he had tied the ribbons in an interwoven mesh about her gift, the free ends gathered on top into a red and pink bow a foot and a half wide.
It was magnificent! His best yet.
Now she could see his gift.
“I know you’ve been waiting a long time,” he whispered to her as he flicked on the switch. “But now it’s ready.”
Two pinpoint halogen spotlights flashed on, shining on the head inside the Plexiglas case atop the wooden pedestal he had built, just for this occasion. The eyes in the face were milky, unseeing.
A large floodlight illuminated his gift, spilling light across the table and making the elaborate bow—the ribbons cut from the carefully peeled away sheet of her epidermis and dermis that had wrapped around her torso, chest to spine—radiate like a daisy blossom in midday sun. He had arranged her defleshed pelvis inside the arc of her ribcage like the golden sacraments on an altar, and had reserved her heart for the place of honor: atop the sacral promontory, between the iliac fossae that flanked the seat of her love like angel’s wings.
“Do you like it?” he said to her decapitated head inside the plastic case.
Some blood and matter still seeped from the scalpel-severed edges of her neck, but he had thoughtfully placed a thick pad of gauze beneath the spike upon which her head was fastened. He had also helped her by removing her eyelids so that she could see.
He knew she could see, because her spirit was too immense to be contained by mere flesh. He had liberated her so that she could sing among the spheres as she was meant, and he knew she was grateful.
“Do you like it?” he said again.
He bent and pressed his lips to the plastic side of her beautiful display case.
“I hope so,” he said. “I love you so much.”