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Saturday, September 15, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Ann’s Golem,” by Clive Tern

The idea of a golem was Reynold’s. He knew a few families in Golders Green who used them. It made things like shopping so much easier, especially since the Russians started dropping their little exploding machines. The way the tiny automatons walked about, seeking a target, was terrifying.

Knitting the golem was Ann’s idea.

“But they’re made from clay,” Reynold protested. “There’s a chap in Finsbury Park who makes two a week, good ones. He made the Blumstein’s golem, and the Goldberg’s. Whoever heard of a knitted golem? It’s preposterous.”

“Maybe. But our golem won’t look like a miner wandering about after his shift. Now, I’ll need supplies. Did you pay the Mortun & Fayson’s account? They were terribly sniffy when I sent last week’s order.”

“I did. Give me your list. I’ll drop it in when I go to the office. They can deliver it this afternoon.” He paused. “What suit do you think I should wear for the office today? I had the blue serge put out, but I’m not sure.”

Ann thought for a moment. “That’s the one you wore when we had the portraits done last year. You look good in those photos.”

“Hmm. Well, at your suggestion.”


Ann was embroidering when she heard the delivery van arrive. She continued stitching until the maid came in with the delivery chit to sign.

“Where would you like it all put, Ma’am?”

“Have the wire, mesh, and rods put in the work parlor. The wool should go in the project room.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Ann opened the Babbage cabinet and turned the mechanical computing engine on, to warm the valves up. Her research into  golem construction was nearly complete, but there were still some details being checked. The machine clicked and whirred, telling her the view-screen valves had achieved operating temperature. She sat at the control desk, flexed her fingers, and entered the lines of command to summon the results of her search.

The only doubt still in her mind was how to activate the golem. Hebrew characters on its forehead; God’s name in its body; singing and dancing around it. She just wasn’t sure which of the suggestions was correct.

The copper cables, which connected their Babbage to the master machine in the huge complex at the old Woolwich Arsenal, hummed as the results came through.

She flicked between screens of information and sighed in disappointment. The only new piece of information was the Hebrew characters for God’s name, and their English translation, yod, ha, waw, ha. If this was the right way to bring the creature to life, she’d need to practice her calligraphy to get them right.

The doorbell rang. Ann tilted her head, wondering who it could be. Possibly the Temperance Drive people again. Trying to save her from the iniquities of her afternoon’s dry sherry, or evening glass of champagne—do-gooding busy-bodies. She turned the Babbage off and was closing the cabinet when the maid came in.

“Ma’am, there are two gentlemen from the police here to see you.”

Ann frowned. A small lurch in her stomach was unexpected, but then so was a visit from the constabulary. She nodded to the maid. “Thank you.”

On the way down the stairs dark worries begin to percolate, fears tried to coalesce around the flutters in her belly. In the parlor she found long-time family friend, Chief Inspector Iain Dramber, and his deputy. When she saw them, saw their faces, she knew why they’d come.

“Hello, Ann,” Iain said, and pointed to a chair. “You should take a seat.”

“Reynold? What’s happened to him, Iain?”

“Sit down, Ann.” He looked at the maid who hovered in the doorway. “Could you bring some tea please, and a brandy for your mistress.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s happened to Reynold?”

“There was an incident on the underground this morning. One of those Russian walking bombs made its way into the station at Mornington Crescent. From what eye witnesses have said, Reynold tried to get people out of the way. When he saw it making a move towards some school children he grabbed it and…”

Tears were already rolling down Ann’s cheeks. “How did he… Was it quick? He didn’t suffer, did he?”

“No. The bomb was quick. He wouldn’t have felt a thing.”


In the months that followed Ann often found herself in periods of fugue. Days passed, she did things but had no memory of them occurring. Concerned friends tried to help; inviting her to the country, or down to the coast. She refused. Staying at home helped her to feel close to Reynold. Sometimes she responded to questions she imagined him asking, only to become aware of his absence anew when he failed to carry on the conversation.

It wasn’t until she had to replace a lightbulb, and went into the work parlor where spares were kept, that she remembered about the golem. The rods, wire, and mesh were all stacked in the corner—covered in dust.

It gave her a new sense of purpose.

The plans formulated before Reynold’s death came back to mind easily, and over the next couple of days she built the golem’s frame. The rods provided a solid core; the mesh built the approximation of limbs, a torso, and head; the wire tied it together.

When she was happy with the basic shape, she started knitting.

First the feet. A plain smooth stitch that imitated the single-piece calf leather shoes Reynold preferred. Then a flash of purple—he always wore purple socks. Said it was regal, instead of funereal like the black everyone else wore. The legs, torso, and arms were blue. She searched for just the right shade. It had to match his serge suit. The one he’d been wearing when he died. The one he wore in the portrait photos they’d had taken the previous year. Her second favorite print from the shoot sat on the table beside her, a reference point for her work. Her favorite was next to her heart.

At the edge of the creature’s arms, and round the neck, and collar, she used white, for the crisp white shirts he wore. The necktie was knitted as a separate item which she then stitched on. A deep lilac, with silver flowers.

Doing the hands was easier than she expected, but the contours of his head, his face, proved difficult. How do you knit the face of your heart-mate? She had caressed those cheeks so often, had slid her hand round his freshly-shaved chin with tender desire. Recreating their contours with wool, even the finest wool, knitted with care and devotion, was like trying to recreate the ceiling of the Sistine chapel while blind and using a sweeping brush.

For long days Ann looked at her husband’s picture. She sat and remembered his warmth, his skin, his smile. Tears flowed down her face. There were no sobs, she’d finished with those weeks ago. These were the pure tears of her memory, they were the moments they’d shared for years, the times that should have been remembered together in the twilight of their lives. The tears began to feel wasteful, like she was squandering precious recollections with each bout of lachrymosity.

She started knitting again the next morning, imbuing Reynold’s face with more than her memory, her love. She knitted it with her heart, and her soul. It was perfect.

Having done the face, the hair was easy. Chestnut brown with thick waves. She’d loved running her hands through his hair after he’d bathed, when it was soft, before he put wax in it. This wasn’t as fine, or soft, but it was as close as she could get.

Finally she finished. Reynold sat in the chair before her. She wished it was her Reynold, but it was as close as metal and wool could create. Now all she had to do was make him live.

She stitched the word ‘emet’, which means ‘truth’, into its forehead. It didn’t move. She unpicked the stitches. She obtained traditional Jewish music and danced around the creation chanting the letters of God’s name. It didn’t move. She wrote yod, ha, waw, ha, God’s name in its hebrew consonants, on parchment and folded it into the golem’s arm,  mouth, and head. It didn’t move.

“How do I make you live?” she asked, stroking Reynold’s head with tenderness. The strands of knitted hair felt wrong in her hand, but were correct in the memory of her heart.

“Oh Reynold, how do I make you live? I made you true, as true as I could.” She held the woolen cheek. The stitches were small and soft beneath her fingers. The wool remained still, the wire beneath it never shifted, the steel rods at its core continued lifeless.

Day after day she attempted to bring the golem of Reynold to life.

Lying in bed at night became a chore. A rote action enacted when she felt weary, and her body dulled with movement made uncoordinated by tiredness, even while her mind continued to whir. Street lamps shone orange light through the window as Ann’s sleep-deprived mind played false recollections of Reynold’s life. He didn’t die. He was a brave and lucky hero, saving children before returning home to care for his devoted wife.

One night she lay on the floor before the woolen golem, her head in its lap, her tears soaking into its legs. She took Reynold’s picture from the spot near her heart and looked at him. The crisp lines had started to fade; it was like she was losing him all over again. Soon he would be no more than the blurred representation on a piece of creased paper.

She fell asleep. Her tears dried into the wool. While sleeping she also dreamt. Reynold held her in his arms, soft and secure, like when they were first married. He never spoke, never uttered a word, just held her and stroked her hair. In sleep, in dream, she wept for him, for her, for them. He crushed her to his warm chest, and said nothing.

Dawn was shading the horizon when Ann woke with a clear and certain knowledge of how to bring life to the golem, to Reynold. His picture was still in her hand. She unpicked where the hair met the scalp, tucked the picture in the gap, and stitched it up again.

“Live, my love,” she said.

Nothing happened. She sank back to her knees, laid her head back into her ersatz husband’s lap, and wept tears she didn’t know were still available.

Hands of wool stroked her face. She looked up, and Reynold stared at her with stitched green eyes, his head tilted to the side like he knew she was sad, but didn’t know why.

Clive Tern is writer of poetry and short stories living in Cornwall, UK. He occasionally blogs about writing and life at

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