“The scientific world has been fascinated by Transparent Individual Syndrome since its first appearance in the 1920s. Appropriately dubbed “Glass Orphans,” Transparent Individuals have been discussed from the Ivy Leagues to parliament floors, and dinner parties throughout the world.
Most Glass Orphans are young women or girls, although there have been enough male TIS cases to prove the female-centric hypothesis invalid. What is apparent is that the glass-making process is torturous, and one that most often kills the individual…”
“Transparent Individual Syndrome: A Study of Glass Orphans,”
Duggard, A. (2013)
Perverse Human Development, 3rd Edition
“Like all tempered glass, Glass Orphans form under extreme pressure in transformative heat. Their makers apply it skillfully, if cruelly, although more have perished during the process than have transformed.
After the heating process, the Transparent Individuals’ molten bodies are left to harden in a cool environment…”
“Forming Society’s Most Fragile: Glassgirl Making,”
Hasthorn, R. (2011)
The Shadows Behind the Curtain: Studies of Contemporary Child Abuse
“Between 1930 and 1993, underground glasshouses were frequented by men sexually fascinated by the fragile process of glassgirl-making.* In 1993, the Canadian Government passed the Glass Orphan Prevention Act, criminalizing not only the TIS process, but also ‘the act of engaging in the process, and / or possessing or exchanging images, film, video or any other representation of Glass Orphan making.’
While the GOP Act significantly lowered numbers of those suffering Transparent Individual Syndrome, it is impossible to know how many deaths have occurred in illegal glass shops. However, studies have noted a rise in glassgirl-making resorts in South Asia and Eastern Europe, catering largely to North American men…”
*The fetish was also explosively popular online when videos of glassgirl-making littered the Internet in the early 2000s, despite its criminalization.
“Canada Responds to the Glass Orphan Problem,”
Mulholland, K. (2014)
My Aunt Renata was a glass orphan. She was in my grandmother’s maple when my uncle first saw her. He told me the story of their meeting every spring, as we sat around their kitchen table dying eggs, Renata’s elbows etching deep scratches in the wood.
“She was reading a book,” he always mentioned, a nod to me, just like you!
The sight of her surprised him. She must have walked hours of lonely Saskatchewan flatland to end up at the farm. The closest town, just a little hub of a village, was over 20 kilometers away. But the rarity of travelers found on Lubomir’s property was not what shocked my uncle.
Renata was a masterpiece. Undeniably beautiful, she was the very balance of delicate strength that the most remarkable of us have to be. Her body was as ethereally lithe as an empty champagne flute. A spider-like fracture ran along her right cheek, but the lines lit up her clear eyes, offsetting the missing parts of her nose. She was so lovely, he laughed, that he almost turned from her and ran back to the barn to spy from afar. But then, the clouds broke, and that changed everything.
“The light that shone through her blinded me to the light that shone through her,” he’d wink, his words thick with the heavy accent of his Polish birth.
The young man my uncle was approached the strange woman in the tree with a stride that covered fields daily. “Are you not afraid of falling?” he asked. “Won’t you break?”
“If I break, I break,” she replied, turning her page without meeting his gaze. “There are worse things in life than shattering; I’ve already lost three toes and half a tit and it hasn’t affected a thing but my balance.”
My uncle walked closer, then, straining to hear the lyrical voice reverberating in her hollow throat. He pulled himself to her, hoisting his weight with both arms and one foot on the base of the tree.
“There could be nothing worse for me than for you to fall,” he said. “My hands would shred to ribbon gathering your pieces, and then how would I glue you back together?”
That made Renata smile and the sun shone through her prism teeth, causing a nearby bed of budding tulips to open. “You’re very strange,” she said.
He lowered his voice and his face, whispering up at her with eyes as blue as the faded overalls he wore. “You have glass skin,” he said. They both laughed.
That afternoon, he brought her in to meet his mother and mine – just a girl, then. They were engaged right away, and their small community welcomed the newcomer in typical Canadian fashion.
But afterwards, when the hole had been dug and the dirt had been spread, the police reports filled and the farm put up for sale, the voices of the townsfolk made me ill. Around every coffee shop and church corridor, conversations paused as I entered, eyes burning question marks into my back as I passed. It killed me, hearing their names on the tongues of strangers; the greatest romance I had known, reduced to gossip, to the quick raise of an eyebrow. They didn’t know her, they didn’t know how careful she tried to be, how great a sacrifice her gentleness was.
“No closer, child,” she’d say to me as I inched to her lap. My childhood winters were spent on Lubomir’s farm, my mother too ill to care for me. Renata understood my loneliness, but, still, she’d hold back, silver tears in her eyes, just for me. “No closer, my darling. I’m sharp.”
Instead, she shared softness the only way she could, her sandy secrets tickling my ear. Her wind chime voice carried on cool breath, telling me her adventures, about those who had almost caught her, about the rocks that were thrown and the people who threw them. The most dangerous were those who came too close, those who ignored her warnings. Some were drawn to the reflection of themselves in her body, but her movements distorted their perceptions and they panicked in fear of their own ugliness. Sometimes their rocks missed, sometimes their rocks smashed, and, sometimes, the vandals found splintered glass shards stabbing the heels of their feet.
Now and then, her sparkle attracted men, like it did Lubomir. But when her jagged edges sliced their amorous skin, most dropped her and ran. Every time Renata fell out of an embrace she’d chip – another angle to hurt with, and more fingerprints to wash off.
“But we’re all this way,” Aunt Renata would say when I cried for her. “Don’t tell me you don’t wipe off dirty streaks when you have to.”
While she was diligent in keeping herself from me, Renata couldn’t bear Lubomir’s longing. And while my uncle’s hands were as thick and calloused as any northern farmer’s, he was as clumsy as any other man in love.
One winter night, I woke to my uncle over the kitchen sink, blood pouring from his body and face, filling the steel basin and creating a puddle of red below him. My aunt tore off the nightgown she wore in strips from her body, wrapping the pieces as tourniquets around his various parts.
“Towels, Dara!” she screamed, seeing me rub sleep from my eyes. “Rags, bandages, anything. Hurry!” I pulled linens from the closet in the darkness, the night deepening in the blur of my tears.
“Never again, never again, never again,” she whimpered as he stumbled. When the blood stopped running, I helped my pale uncle back to bed, and Renata and I gathered blankets and hot water bottles to keep him from shock. Later, I listened to her sobbing from my room, the chime of tears on glass thighs: ting, ting, ting.
“She has been hurt before, Dara,” my mother explained, the day she left. She wanted me to understand, to withhold my judgment, to know sometimes there were some things that just couldn’t be set right.
“I know,” I nodded. We sat on the porch steps, waiting for the police. My tears dropped in neat circles on the gravel dust between my feet.
“She told you?”
I shook my head. “I saw.”
I saw everything. Transparent, every hurt and want and happiness passed through Renata’s body for everyone to see. She had a sort of parlor trick to misdirect most voyeurs, a way to kaleidoscope small amounts of light and color so she stunned curious eyes, saving her deepest self from scrutiny. But she didn’t save that self from me.
The memories that ran through her disturbed me as a child, and the thought of them terrify me now. She never talked of the orange-red agony of the liquefying, or of the man whom she called father – he who licked his lips counting dollars while others stuffed sweaty hands deep inside semen-crusted pockets as they watched her writhe. These things passed through the mirrors of her mind, but she would only talk about the hardening.
Nothing could warm her since the chill of that icy room, she said, nothing, save my uncle’s hot breath. So their love was made by exhales; he breathing warmth onto her frigid body, she dancing like a child in the sunlight, casting rainbows around her husband as he kept time with bandaged hands. He always claimed she was worth the scars.
“There isn’t a soul on Earth without a chip,” she said one day, her eyes like diamonds, “the beautiful just shine enough light that you don’t notice.”
We had just returned from playing in the tall wheat; she could hide there, the glints of sunset off of her mistakable for dragonfly wings. It was early evening and the sun was gentle, everything: tender, golden. Lubomir sat waiting for us on the porch, a bouquet of wildflowers in his grip. I went inside to make a sandwich and took it to my room. We expected my mother to arrive for a visit that night, and I wanted to finish a picture I had sketched for her. Had I known the words were the last she would say to me, I would have held her, rules be damned.
I woke the next morning to her screams ringing through the house, shattering near windows and some of her own organs. She burst from her room, frantic, blood sliding off her smooth surfaces. In their sleep, the blade of her shoulder had caught his jugular, draining him on their shared bed.
My mother and I ran to lock windows and cushion the stairs, although, if she wished to throw herself, we couldn’t risk catching her. We couldn’t even stop her when she walked out the front door. She didn’t look back. She didn’t wait for me to follow.
I don’t know where Renata went when she left. I don’t know if the world has ground her to sand, if she’s shattered herself, or if others have thrown their rocks. I like to think she made it to the coast, that she sank into the ocean, the waves caressing her eternally: rounding, hardening, smoothing. I like to think she feels Lubomir in the gentle rocking of the water; that the burden of her body doesn’t weigh as heavily as it did on land. I like to think Lubomir’s glass wife has misted and tumbled and weathered into frosted sea glass on a warm, sandy floor.
Katie Bickell lives in Sherwood Parks, Alberta, with her husband and young daughters. Her work has appeared Edgar Allan Poet Journal, Postcard Shorts, Gravel, and Bare Fiction, with work forthcoming in Punchnel’s.