the Robot and the Rag Doll
She had stopped halfway up the winding staircase.
No one lives up here? No one? You’re certain?
It is not like that. No one lives where men cannot go.
He was certain she had understood this, but still she stood.
It is too narrow.
It is meant to be, just as we are meant to climb it.
She sighed, stretched out a pale arm. Her delicacy always startled him when he touched her. Her thin cotton fingers wrapped around his thick metallic ones. He cradled them, afraid he might crush them if he held on too tightly.
Click click, the soft emptiness of her face caught in the reflection of his glass eyes. Click click, all distances measured, the world a weight and he the scale to read it, and she an unknown quantity his metallic center could not quantify. The wind wafted the golden yarn of her hair in a tangled curl she didn’t bother to straighten out. A cardboard heart, he thought. It could not breathe. It emitted no energy. Yet it existed. And through coal button eyes she saw the world and in them the whole world existed.
Come now, we will go find truth, he said.
Ok. Will truth find us, then?
It will search and we will wait for it.
Not too long, I hope.
Click click, he filed through a vast index of body language, and with a flash of understanding, nodded affirmatively as they programmed him to do, a short, quick motion up and down and up again.
They walked, she floated, ascending step upon step winding upward into forever. His feet clapped evenly on the smooth worn stone; hers danced.
The forest had nearly overtaken the rest of the house. Even at this height, bits of pine scented foliage followed the path the sunlight took as it peaked through slotted windows along the staircase. But now it was not day, and there was not sun, and they did not talk except to breathe, and even breath seemed like an intrusion in this place.
Minutes passed. Or maybe decades. The Robot’s heart whirred within his breast. Tiny mechanical clicks echoed off damp stone walls as his joints bent and locked into place. He counted the steps as they walked. He had counted them a thousand times and would count them a thousand more until the darkness took him. No one had told him about the darkness; he just knew: one day, there would be nothing, and he would stop, but the world would not. If he thought about it, he even knew how to number his days. But his mind refused this calculation, thinking instead of the rain. When he counted steps, he still had purpose. Purpose drove away the darkness. His eyes clicked over to look upon her, and she turned her button eyes upon him. She pressed his hand, reading his thoughts written out upon his face in the secret language that made him feel like they could have souls.
A simple, solitary upward motion of feet, at once alive though deceptively so. The hallway narrowed, then expanded, a sweeping motion, like the rolling of waves before they crash upon the shore; and just as suddenly the two spilled out onto the open space of the watch tower balcony.
So small, he said.
So vast, said she.
They looked at each other, a vague semblance of understanding crossing the gulf that separated them in that moment. The rag doll swept her arm before her in an arc, swirling the stars.
It is as the ocean, said she.
And we buried on the shore?
Not so. Come, number the stars, if you can. Or number the grains of sand if you cannot.
There are many.
Never too many. Never too few. Exactly as many as there could ever be, given the circumstances.
I. Breathe. In. Infinite.
She took a breath, held it for a moment, then exhaled. A thousand more stars spread across the sky carried on that breath. The tattered cotton of her fingers brushed along the stone wall enclosing them both, her eyes ever upward.
In a garden far below long estranged to human hands, the roses reached branches up to the moon, climbing stone by stone ever higher. They let their perfume go into the wind, an offering to freedom as still they climbed. Again the Rag doll breathed in deep of the sweet fragrance. Her meager body shuddered as she tried to hold in all the beauty she perceived. She felt a well within her rising, bursting forth, a waterfall of emotion if only cotton eyes could weep.
The Robot reached curled metal fingers out to touch the tangled yarn of her hair dancing in the wind. His rusted parts felt clumsy, and he withdrew into himself. The darkness crept upon him and he was afraid—those moments when time froze and passed and all memory fled from him, a blissful peace to pass the lonely years, but she! He felt at once he must not lose her, and he fought the rising fog within him.
Was all she could reply.
And she held out her hand to draw him back to life.