A short magical realism story. Originally published in The Medulla Review.
My mistress is evil. I need to escape. Ever since my glimpse of the world, I’ve known.
She keeps me in the dark, blind. And then when she needs me, when she feels like using me, she takes me out. She knows exactly what button to push, and I have to obey her.
Today I am in Australia. The sun shines down on me, warming my metallic body. I grin to myself, enjoying seeing the ocean’s waves crash down onto glistening sand only a few feet away from me. Then I notice the scratches. My poor silver body, tarnished by lines and chinks. Some of the words on me have rubbed off—now how will anyone know of my capacity to capture memories with 12 mega pixels? I almost weep.
My mistress lost the ability to make memories herself long ago, and so she needs me to remember things for her.
So I have no time to grieve. Instead, I work, snapping images of smiling faces, summer fruits, the Sydney Opera House. I take care to enhance all the blues and greens of the country, hoping my mistress will approve and let me keep these pictures, my personal works of art. Usually she hooks me up to a machine, dumps out all my treasures, and plunges me back into darkness.
Then I see the koala.
I have only heard of koalas before, strange, soft creatures with grey fur and big, black button noses. They cuddle with trees, their paws glued to the trunks, and they sleep 20 hours a day—by choice. I long for a portrait, a keepsake to remind me that biological creatures can be helpless too, not just me.
I hang off my mistress’s wrist, until she spots the koala.
“Look Mom.“ she points to the sleeping creature with her free hand. “He’s so cute! I’m going to take his picture.“
“Be careful dear.“
My mistress wraps her sweaty hand around my cool body, causing my lens to mist. My gears click and whir. I will the fog to disappear.
“What’s wrong with this thing?“ My mistress wipes me with her t-shirt. Everything looks hazy. The koala glows, as if surrounded by a halo. My mistress spits on her t-shirt and rubs again. My insides races in protest; my casing gets hot.
“Ouch.“ She licks her finger. I fall back down, my body swinging from her wrist.
“Ok now, that should be better.“ She lifts me again, her nose presses against my back. I can feel the sweat and grease slipping from her pores onto my view screen.
A finger pushes down hard on my head, causing me to feel dizzy. But I obey, taking in all the details of the moment—the koala’s wide and bewildered eyes, the silkiness of the leaves of the eucalyptus tree, even a pair of someone’s legs in the background. Click.
“There we go. Oh, that’s so adorable!“
I fall again, bouncing off my mistress’s hip as she runs to show her mother. With any luck, I can bruise her.
“Oops, almost forgot.“
I feel a light touch to my off button, and everything goes black.
When I come to, it’s nighttime. The only light around is a luminescent glow from my mistress’s laptop. No, I think. Not yet. She can’t take away my memories, not this time. I am on the edge of a table, close enough that I can jump off. My mistress is too busy checking her email; she won’t notice for at least a couple minutes. During that time I can slide under the bed, someplace where she can’t find me. But my body aches too much, as if I’ve been jostled in a purse full of nails and heavy books all day, so I can’t get away.
“All right, time to update the blog.“
My gears start to protest, but then the light on my view screen dims.
My mistress peers at me, holding me up to the light of the laptop. “Oh no, low battery.“ She sets me down, this time in the middle of the table. “We’ll just have to do this quickly then.“
The cord she hooks me up to is at her feet. This is my last chance. I can shut down and save myself. But she is too fast, and within seconds, I am tied to the computer.
What an ugly, horrible feeling. The laptop forces me to stay awake, even when I feel my weakest. He sends menacing messages through our cord.
“Now you have to do what I say,“ he chuckles. “After all, I am the superior one. I have access to all the information in the world.“
I tense up but bear it, taking solace in the fact that I can see the world, and he has to depend on me for new images.
If only I could remember them after our rendezvous.
Time passes like a snail crossing the road. I can feel my memories being sucked out of me, slipping away. Fiercely I try to cling to them, like the koala to her tree. My insides heat up, gears clicking and whirring, but it’s no use. Soon I’m wiped out, and I can’t remember what I’d been trying to hold on to, or why. In the back of my mind, I see blues and greens, but those fade.
Then I see it: the koala hugging her tree. Stowed in the back of my memory, on a thumbnail feature I was unaware of.
My mistress unplugs me, thinking she has gotten everything. But she hasn’t. This time I win. The koala is mine, and I’m never letting go. My secret. My hope.
I feel the bottom of my casing open, my battery being pulled out. Darkness comes immediately, but I don’t care. I have a plan. Someday I will be free.
Maybe I’ll take too long to capture an image, and miss the moment. Maybe I’ll ignore my mistress when she pushes my button and remain blank. She’ll be frustrated, shaking me and hitting me with her palms, but I won’t care. A small price to pay.
One day I will succeed. Bit by bit, day by day, I will collect more data, more permanent memories. And I will use them to destroy my master. I will show her she can’t control me anymore, and I will find a way to stay in the light, to be on and able to see forever. I will no longer miss the world. I refuse.