My gross keyboard

The Machine (3)

Read (1) and (2). I’ve started including the notes to myself and potential edits, just in case anyone’s curious about my thought process.

Some time ago I went with a friend to a psychic. My friend was—taken in The Loss—a great believer and insisted I try at least once, to the point that she paid the fee equal to ten days of clicking. “I’ll hate you if you don’t,” she said, handing me the damp paper ticket. I didn’t then, but I see now the slight shaking of her hand and the pale amber tint to her eyes. The early stages. We’d been given pamphlets by the government and received messages over the emergency network, and the disconnected had received personal visits regarding the signs. ATTENTION AND TIME IS EVERYTHING. I’d laughed, as you do, as I do when the border between serious and humor is unclear. And that day it was.

Did she know? Because…. No, I can’t give you that, the last of her. Not yet. We’re still strangers and I have too many questions. How did you survive The Loss and how much did it cost? Or did you even know about it, living so far up here? Was it something you only had to read or watch? 

We entered a white, windowless room: that was the first oddity. The second was the lack of incense or candles burning. In fact, the room was lit with bare industrial bulbs and completely spare but for three chairs, one of which was occupied by a man in a brown suit. He faced the wall, away from us. For the first fifteen minutes of our meeting I saw only the back of his head. Black hair, wavy, freckles, slightly jutting ears, and erect posture. I couldn’t see or hear him breathing, but the freckles gave away his humanity. gave him away.

She pushed me toward the right chair, sat in the left and [something about tension leaving her body? or that will happen when he mentions the end is coming.] Of course, my friend had been through this, none of it surprised her. 

She turned to me and smiled (that smile!) then walked strongly/forcefully/boldly to sit in the left chair. Sara grayed early and wore her hair long. Today it was in a single braid, rather than her usual two. As was her habit when sitting, she snatched up the braid and looped it into a bun. How many times had I watched her do this? Why didn’t I see that she could now wrap it five times? [like the implication, but this seems weak to blame self for. Or she now has one instead of two braids, whereas her hair was too thick like that before.] LOOK FOR HAIR LOSS. Why are we so pathetically unobservant? Why isn’t there a billboard or pamphlet or emergency alert for that?

My footsteps twanged/bounced off the walls like plucked rubber band as I crossed to the remaining chair; and an image of me sitting on the tile to remove my shoes flashed, but that was a ridiculous idea, who cared if I made noise, and my shoes stuttered and squeaked as I stopped/halted and continued in the same moment and was sweating as I sat, without scraping the chair, beside Sara. She squeezed my hand with hers. ARE YOU SUDDENLY COLD? But Sara was often cold and her fingers swollen and numb, both from poor circulation and nibbling at her cuticles. She said it was genetic and carried a pair of gloves with her, even in the summer.

“I got laughed at a lot in school,” Sara told me once. “No one ever wanted to touch me during handholding games. Ew, the glove girl. She’ll make you sick. But I had such a great collection. Grandma had saved my mom’s from when she was little and Grandma had made most of those, because gloves are usually so boring. I had stripes and spots and flowers and plaid and every single color you could think of. The hardest part of getting dressed was figuring out which to wear that day. Mom said she could read my mood from the gloves I chose. Now they’re mostly worn out and in a box somewhere, and I’m stuck with the boring ones.”

I mimed putting gloves on, but Sara only smiled and turned to face the back of his head again. So this is the back of a psychic’s head. Looks pretty normal. Is the facing away stuff real or is this part of the hocus-pocus bullshit, to create some air of mystery so we’re sucked in? Sara’s breathing became deep and regular, almost as if she were asleep. Not that I could hear it or anything in that room other than the irregular pounding of my own heart. I attempted to match Sara’s breaths but that just made my heart beat faster and louder, like those torso sized drums in marching bands that keep everyone stepping together. Except this was making me fall apart: sweat started dripping down my face and arms and blackness began creeping in from the sides of my vision until I was just about to lean over and put my head between my knees, like you’re supposed to do in a faint, and he turned around.

Here’s the part where I describe what his face looks like. I can’t. I have no memory of it. I assume all the parts were there, but I couldn’t tell you even if threatened with metal splinters beneath my nails scorpions and the rebirth of my mother. His voice reminded me of a recording I saw about the old candy making process, where people tugged on thick ropes of sticky sugar and folded it back and pulled and folded it back. His voice was deep and strong like that, and as he spoke the sound seemed to be pulling something from me, something I struggled to keep and relinquish simultaneously.

[My weakness at description is painfully evident here.]

“I’m only borrowing it,” he said. As I let go a slow chill spread across my chest and down through my groin. Goosepimples rose; my lower back ached. I leaned closer to Sara and, I realize now, to him. My hand was enveloped in his own—did I give? did he take? all agency had drained away, my head throbbed—enormous hands, with blunt fingernails and fine black hairs on the knuckles, I wanted to pet like a small animal. I flexed my new hands, because they were mine now, both mine and his, and across from me sat Sara and my now empty body but it wasn’t me there but him, staring out from my eyes….

I’ve tried to reconstruct the hours we were in the room, but I’m putting together a puzzle with half the pieces missing, and the pieces that are there, I can’t look at directly, but with a side eye. Most of what I see is Sara’s eyes, practically glowing amber in the falling darkness. And I’m suddenly very sad. His voice speaks from within my body. My/his throat vibrates deeply. “You must return to the water. It will help you deal with what is to come.” I stop breathing then, for just a moment as I let go of the bridge railing and fall forward, as I had so many times before while my finger click click clicked, and gasp only when my body slams into the water, my lungs filling, my arms flailing, my eyes seeing only another’s. And they are closing.

[Note to self: tense issues]

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One thought on “The Machine (3)

  1. This makes me want to read an entire (this entire?) book in which the edits are included. In which the process is included as part of the book itself. It would have to be a book of sci-fi, yes? or experimental fiction. (Sorry for the tangent. Your process here is so interesting, and made me appreciate it for itself.) I’m enjoying this story so much. Thank you for sharing it!

    Liked by 1 person

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