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Episode #8 – “Love Over Glass, Skin Under Glass” by Penny Stirling

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Love Over Glass, Skin Under Glass

by Penny Stirling

The seasick lover becomes a saltwater cistern

She built her first lover out of glass.

“I was often disappointed,” she said as she showed her creation around her gallery, “that the things I make with such skill cannot admire my handiwork.  Now at last I have made something that can look on itself with wonder.”  But, she had to admit, she liked it even better when the lover looked upon her with wonder.

Her lover’s skin was glass, her lover’s touch was soft.

The nights were fine since she was skilled enough at glassblowing to give her glass lover skill enough, but soon she began to dread the mornings.  More often than not when the sun had risen and they roused from their sleep, her lover would turn to her and say something like, “I dreamed the ocean bore down on me, rubbing and grinding me down until I was nothing but the finest fragments scattered all around the world.”


A full transcript appears under the cut:


Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode eight for May 28th, 2015. I’m your host, Keffy, and I’m super excited to be sharing this story with you.

Our story this week is “Love Over Glass, Skin Under Glass” by Penny Stirling.

Penny Stirling edits transcripts and embroiders pixel art when she’s not writing the speculative. Her poetry and fiction has appeared in Lackington’s, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit and Heiresses of Russ.

She also has work coming out in the next few months in Interfictions Online, Lackington’s, and Liminality.

As a brief head’s up: this story does involve descriptions of domestic abuse which may be upsetting to some listeners.



Love Over Glass, Skin Under Glass

by Penny Stirling


The seasick lover becomes a saltwater cistern

She built her first lover out of glass.

“I was often disappointed,” she said as she showed her creation around her gallery, “that the things I make with such skill cannot admire my handiwork.  Now at last I have made something that can look on itself with wonder.”  But, she had to admit, she liked it even better when the lover looked upon her with wonder.

Her lover’s skin was glass, her lover’s touch was soft.

The nights were fine since she was skilled enough at glassblowing to give her glass lover skill enough, but soon she began to dread the mornings.  More often than not when the sun had risen and they roused from their sleep, her lover would turn to her and say something like, “I dreamed the ocean bore down on me, rubbing and grinding me down until I was nothing but the finest fragments scattered all around the world.”

One morning the smith entered the kitchen to find her lover holding a mug to one of the ears she had so painstakingly carved and polished.  “I pretend it is a seashell,” said the glass lover with a smile the smith had often seen while her lover was asleep.

When she realised she had only ever seen it so, she took the mug and dashed it upon the ground.  I can do the same to you, she did not say, but her lover was quiet that day and recoiled from her touch that night.  She never caught the lover listening to mug-echoes again, but suspected it still happened.

The lover’s voice was melodic, tuned exactly to A-minor.  The glass-smith began to hate it.  She offered her lover a tongue piercing and, though the lover’s mistrust was as plain as the smith’s intentions, after many days of coaxing the lover acceded to the accessory.

When the smith’s fingers twitched and the chisel slipped the lover knew it was neither her skill nor her attention that had waned.  Ever unable to cry tears and now unable to voice contempt, the lover screamed and lunged at the smith, trying to tear out her flesh in reprisal.

But the glass-smith had skill enough to easily kill what she had ceased loving.  She shattered the glass lover’s limbs, filled the corpse’s chest with seawater, and used it as a fish tank.


Metal deals welts

She had a friend who worked metal.  She beat her lovers into shape in the forge and then they would whip her into submission in her bedroom.

She offered the smith sterilised metal with which to adorn her flesh, but she was a lover of glass and thus preferred her skin smooth and unbroken.  She gifted her friend with glass beads and rods to sit beneath her skin after she promised that they would not be shattered under the caress of her lovers.

“Just because glass is fragile,” said her friend, “doesn’t mean it must break.”


A pre-abused becomes post-rebelled

She built her second lover out of glass as well.  But she had been burned and she had learned.  There would be no room for home-longing or sand-lusting or sea-dreaming.  There would just be her and her glass lover.

The smith sourced factory-made sand so that her lover could remember nothing before her.  She used broken shards for her lover’s eyes so her lover could see nothing other than her.  She chipped at the whorls in her lover’s ears so her lover could only hear her voice’s pitch.  She fused her lover’s ankles and knees rigid so her lover could not leave the basement.

But her glass lover still learned that they were not a glass lover loved, and the glass lover’s mouth could argue and despise as well as it could love, and the glass lover’s hands could scratch and slap as well as they could love.

She who had made the glass lover might not have loved but she could break as well as she could make.

The second glass lover housed freshwater fish.


Wood suffers wounds

She had a friend who shaped wood.  Ey carved and sanded eir own lovers and would then tell her of fire or warping or splinters.  In the end ey found lasting happiness with her help:  she crafted glass genitalia, orifices and fingers for eir lover to wield.  Without the constant anxiety of injury their relationship blossomed like the maple trees of the mostly-wooden lover’s childhood did every spring.

As thanks ey carved a gumtree heart for her next lover.  The smith was polite but though glass appended had bettered her friend’s life, dilution could not improve her own.

“For all its beauty and versatility, glass is too transparent and empty,” said her friend.


The violet-stained becomes a lover disdained

Her third lover she also made from glass.  She didn’t have patience for a new craft.

Sometimes she said it was an accident.  Sometimes she said she was drunk.  Some other times she said she’d experimented, despite the glass lover never asking why.  This lover would neither speak of the ocean or emotional desires, nor ask for explanations of their purple body, for the smith had been clever this time and given the glass lover’s mouth only the option of pleasure.

Still, there were problems.

It was like trying to make love to someone with hypothermia.  Even if she warmed the glass lover over fire–or turned out the lights or put red and orange quilts on the bed–it still felt wrong, like a corpse gone to cold instead of glass blown to come.  She tried painting the glass lover a shade closer to life but the paint flecked off as they fucked and left too much mess.

“I can’t,” she said as the glass lover stared.  It was dark; she could neither see her lover nor help but see her lover as bruised, bloated flesh rather than glass.

Her lover’s skin was blight, her lover’s touch was bilious.

“I have no more room for fish,” she said, and sold the glass lover to a fetishist.


Clay gives copy

She had a friend who turned and pushed clay into all manner of household and handheld goods and fired and glazed them into works of art and tools of love.  They often exchanged vases, offered excuses to stay and watch each other create.

He helped the smith make an asymmetrical mess of a bowl on the pottery wheel.  While it sat in the kiln she helped him make moulds from his body and wheelchair with wax and quick-drying clay.  Carefully, slowly, she prised and slid them from skin and prostheses and wondered whether he did this for the clay reflections or the clay embrace.

“I think it’s more fun together,” said her friend.


Praise and compromise brings an apprentice’s peace

She gained an apprentice when the woman who delivered her groceries did not return home.  “Please teach me your craft,” she said and spoke of the wonderful works–conscious and inanimate both–she had heard of, the desire to heat and mould and blow she had cultivated, the services she could trade for the experience.  The smith heard the fervour but saw that while the woman spoke of glass and mastery, it was the smith and not her work that was observed and caressed.

Her skin was not glass, her touch was not cool.

But she was pleasant and crafty in her own appreciable ways.  In appraising this diversion from her despondency the glass-smith allowed reluctance to be overcome as she came and buckled under the woman’s pressure and persuasiveness.  While the new apprentice attended to the smith in the bedroom she also proved attentive in the workshop, learning first the methods of fusing and slumping and then, as skill and pride and the smith’s admiration grew, delight of the trade.

As well as her workshop and her bed, the apprentice filled the glass-smith’s life with distractions from love and house with delicate glass fish modelled after her favourites in the aquaria.


Paper bears patience

She had a friend who folded paper and gave her bright decorations and lanterns every holiday.  He made his lover from thousands of sheets of paper.  Unlike most crafted lovers, his came to be in stages and was conscious even when only a head.  He added to his lover’s body as his lover watched:  torso, arms and beyond.  The origami lover’s body was fragile and often he had to re-attach some limb or digit.  Going outside or strenuous movement was forbidden, as was any physical expression of love beyond light, dry, touches.

Her friend commissioned sets of stained glass windows and glass songbirds to keep his lover entertained.  She offered to make cages too but he preferred to let them fly free around his home, alighting wherever and singing whenever, as long as they did not make a nest from his lover.

“Sometimes,” said her friend, “you are a bit abusive and demanding.”


One given free will to love becomes one finally given leave

She next made not another glass lover, but a glass being who could choose love.  The smith crafted every inch of the glass body as carefully as she had her previous lovers, but instead of the cruelties and frailties she had worked into them, this time she gave freedom and control.  She let the apprentice watch but not touch, and though she said the glass was no replacement, her apprentice saw how she touched it.

She finished the glass being while the apprentice slept.  It was difficult not to caress the glass skin she had spent so long perfecting.  She kept her distance and smiled.

“I made you,” she said to the glass being, “but I will not make you do anything.  You are free to love or hate, to live or destroy yourself.”

The glass being was free to speak as well but it was many days before the smith was answered.  Her fingers twitched and her smile glazed as silence lingered.   She kept patient distance from her creation and filtered her frustrations through the apprentice’s ministrations.

But one morning finally:  “If you did not make me for a purpose then I am meaningless and may as well not exist, but if you did make me with a purpose then I am obliged and might never differentiate choice and duty,” said the glass philosopher, and then said many things more.

All the smith had wanted to receive was consent and sweet nothings, but every day she was given metaphysical questions she couldn’t answer and theoretical conditions she couldn’t comprehend.  All she had wanted was a lover as keen as her apprentice and as sleek as her work, but every day she watched apprentice and philosopher talk near her fish tanks.  She wondered about the closeness she at first thought polite, what had been shared when her creation only listened.

Her creation’s skin was glass.  It was not touched.

Every day the glass philosopher’s musings became deeper and broader, the look in their eyes needier, the pitch of their voice and the curl of their hands full of more and more yearning and desire.  But their attention and demands lay not in lying with the glass-smith, neither in playing with her skin nor plying her with flattery.  The philosopher lived only for answers, loved only epiphanies.

The smith could not give what the philosopher needed and she would not receive what she wanted.  She could have taken many things from her creation, but the glass-smith chose to provide supplies, maps and directions to the nearest university.

That night the apprentice comforted her, as she had every night the philosopher had not, and the smith did not tell her she was no replacement.


Paint begs perfection

She had a friend who painted landscapes for the walls of the wealthy.  Their watercolour fields and lakes and sunset wharves brought them fame and took them further and further afield, clients funding their supplies and travel for them to bring them back a beautiful scene as if sliced from the world and fixed on a canvas.

Her friend relied upon her to cut glass sheets for their frames, perfect and clear to protect but not obscure the art.  After a time the smith had commissioned a large triptych of the nearby seaside to brighten her kitchen.  When her friend visited to install the art and thought her walls too bare there began the frequent deliveries of paintings–mostly small or unfinished pieces, practice for their grander works.

“Nothing that we say will make you happier or better,” said her friend.  “You have to do that yourself.”


A downgrade attempt begets tactile regard

She missed her apprentice more than she’d guessed she would, but she had grown used to the woman and poor assumptions both.  If the apprentice kept her word and if her family kept time she would return before the smith could complete a glass lover.  Yet the smith’s lust would not rest while her apprentice was away so she crafted something less than a lover, thick and curled with carefully charted bumps and ridges.

Hours she poured into its construction.  Hours more she spent working over herself, hunched then stretched taut, rhythmic then mindless, expectant then harried.  She was too attuned to the apprentice’s touch; stubborn desire could not usurp it.  Boredom was the only thing that peaked, wrists the only flesh exhausted.  Her screams were of frustration rather than from finishing.

But she was a glass-smith and she had mastered and outsmarted glass many times before.  She redesigned, no less carefully than before, as snugly fitting as before.  Her yearning was strong but her wrists were weak so she crafted something that was even less of a toy, something crooked and supporting.  It went where she aimed it, angled when she twitched.  Though still no true rival to a lover, it helped her convulse and conclude.

Afterwards she would lie, exhausted and content, with the glass of her tool slick and cooling against her skin, encircling wrist, holding fingers, resting on her stomach as she recovered.  At first she thought it the lack of company, but the simple touch of the glass across and around her flesh was as fulfilling as being filled or felt by her lovers.


Rope takes purpose

She had a friend who made temporary art from flesh and ropes.  Whenever in need of a new glass eye she would invite the smith over to strain against her cord, twist through the air and shudder atop certain knots.

Was this what it was like, the smith wondered, to be one of her glass lovers?  To look upon the one who has fashioned such art, to see the care in which she has been shaped, to realise the pleasure in her crafting, to trust her lover and moulder so completely?

“The difference is that you never once feel fear,” said her friend.  “I never give you reason to flinch from my touch or mistrust my actions.”


Haggled affection hides hungry infatuation

She watched her apprentice grow in glass-mastery and watched her glee when she writhed under her grasp.  The glass-smith found herself content if not happy, found for herself purpose if not keenness.  The nights when the apprentice fell asleep with a smile, the moments when they seemed to connect rather than coincide, the mornings when the glass-smith did not mind waiting for the apprentice to wake up and untie or roll off her:  they aroused in her something.

But her skin did not squeak, her touch did not thrill.

Whatever the woman’s attempted taming kindled in the smith, it could not match the fire she felt whenever a glass lover or glass tool embraced her.  And though she taught everything she knew of glass and relented to the apprentice’s appetite, she too learned and played with her own hunger.  The apprentice’s confidence bloomed and commissions and business boomed; the glass-smith tried to pin down what she pined for.

She created restraints and gags, corsets and stockings, dildos and chastity belts, contoured supports and toys:  all from glass, all handed over to her apprentice so she could be fondled and handled.  The smith spoke of embracing submission and growing beyond crafted lovers to keep her happy and willing to indulge, but however much she might pretend it was her apprentice’s controlling hands that thrilled, her apprentice’s slow tongue and insistent fingers that slid her shaking and breathless to climax, she knew it was the glass that pressed and caressed between them.

Sometimes, increasingly, when her apprentice was out the smith would stretch out on undulating sheets of glass and feel it against her back, her elbows, her neck, her thighs.  She thought of love and regrets, and glass–always she thought about glass–and she more often sent the apprentice for errands and appointments.


Leather shares living

She had a friend who cured and cut leather then tied together the pieces with metal links and corded rope.  She made inhuman lovers piece-by-piece with phalli instead of limbs, lovers monstrous with tentacles fully automated, lovers abstract of nothing but breasts and toes, lovers fanciful with wings and harnesses.  She didn’t make them for herself, but said she found delight in seeing others finally happy.

The smith made eleven glass goat eyes for one of her contracts and her friend offered to make a lover for her.  Leather could do what glass could not, leather would not break against her, leather absorbed instead of reflected.  The glass-smith declined.

“Glass is too rigid,” said her friend.  “Don’t restrict yourself.  Craft exactly who you want to do exactly what you want.”


Dreams beyond lust become a passion beyond love

She kept her secret as long as she could.  As contentedness and respect was only so satisfying, her apprentice so alluring would only be so accommodating.  Bound by promised exchange she did not begrudge, the glass-smith did not confide that she wished to be confined and crafted.  Stifled by attraction stagnated, she told herself that only glass governed by her apprentice’s will could suffice.  For a time, it helped.  For a while, her belief made it better.

She was a glass-smith, though, and glass had been her first and truest love.  After skill differences between the two had dwindled, was judged negligible, and the smith ran out of excuses, could no longer wait patient or fail to forget her longing no matter how pleasant or devoted the woman could be, she tasked her apprentice with helping her obtain a happiness less suppressed.  She had asked for so little, given so much.  Surely what she asked now was still so little, what she offered was still so much.

Her skin was ready, her touch was pensive.

They argued and bartered.  The smith spoke of oaths and compromises she had tired of, love that she was wearied of deferring.  This time it was the apprentice who conceded.

They started with the smith’s legs.  The glass was hot but she had worked with fires hotter.  The glass was heavy but she had worn protective clothing heavier.  The glass was fragile and difficult and stiff but she had conquered practices tougher.

Her skin was agony and bliss, every new inch of it more intoxicating than any lover.  Her touch was distracting, torrid and almost delirious as the glass seared and ascended her body.

The smith could no longer craft herself when it came time for her right arm to be clad.  She trusted her apprentice.  The woman had failed to dissuade her from the glass and now she encased her in it.  Soon would come her shoulders, her neck, her head, her face.  She could scarcely breathe for impatience; she could scarcely breathe in for glass tight around her chest.

“I think I can hear the sea,” she whispered as glass trickled into her ears.


Maps lead musing

She had a friend who made maps with paper and ink.  He showed the smith the coastlines of a far-off continent, the migration paths of well-tracked birds, the probable rings of sea-dragon nests and the detailed town plans that were his daily work.  She brought postcards as they arrived and together they plotted the glass philosopher’s meandering journey.

Her apprentice commissioned a chart of her teacher’s body, having painstakingly plotted every sensitive spot.  When they presented it to the smith she mulled over its shadings and symbols until finally she touched an area with dense contour lines and traced the raised ink.  The apprentice fondled one of her breasts, keeping time.

For her friend she made a glass globe with raised mountains and dyed terrain.  He gently spun it, letting the contours and engraving slide beneath his fingers, and spoke of all the maps he had copied but never created, the towns he could navigate but never visit.

“You will always live with regret,” said her friend.


An apprentice’s graduation proves tender

She broke her only lover out of glass.

There was too much.  She wasn’t enough?  She had been everything.

“I can’t, I can’t,” she cried and struck the glass she had helped prepare.

At first her teacher screamed to see skin cracking and flesh exposed.  With a bottle’s whistle the lover of glass begged the smith to leave her so.  But though she loved her teacher and loved glass, she could not love her so.

This was too far.  She had tried so much–but not everything.  She had learned more than how to craft and love glass.

“You can’t, you can’t,” she cried and attacked the woman she had failed to mould.

Her skin was cruel.

The glass lover screamed shrill, vulnerable even while shielding herself.  The smith cried still and struck wild and wailed and soon her lover started to shatter and bleed.  But what could break off one could take on the other and just as the smith tried to rid her lover of the extra skin, the lover struck back with shard-ridden arms.

Her touch was ruin.

Soon they lay entangled and exhausted, a single figure of flesh and blood and glass and breath and pain, pinned and embedded into one another.  One dragged and slid her arm along the other’s body with cries and screeches, gasps and cuts.

“I love you,” said the glass lover–lover glassed–and stroked her lover’s cheek, grated glass coalescing glazed skin.

“I love you,” said the glass-smith–glass smitten–and kissed her lover, hot lips rough with slivers against cold glass slick with blood.

No one filled them with fish.




“Love Over Glass, Skin Under Glass” was originally published in Aurealis in 2013, and was reprinted in Heiresses of Russ 2014.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll have another story for you on May 28th.

[Music plays out]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. I just discovered GlitterShip and am enjoying the podcasts so far! I just wanted to let you know that there were some errors in the audio at the end of this one, just a few lines repeating in the last minute or two.

  2. This is unique … even though I did not always follow what exactly was happening between the glass smith and the apprentice, I enjoyed the lyricism, and the catalog of the smith’s friends.

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