Shaking fingers tear open the grey envelope and drag the letter out. A photograph falls to the desktop, but the man simply glances at it before turning the letter over and starting to read.
* * *
The creation jerks across the floor, loose bits ripping the fibres of the once yellow carpet, now matted and black from grease. Its voice, ever repeating, shudders out of its speaker which ticks with every consonant and growls with every vowel.
Do not be afraid, it says, but the man does not listen. The man just sits there and stares, as he has for countless hours, sipping long-bitter, cold tea. The man’s joints are in as much need of oil as its own and his voice is but a rasp, seldom heard and often muddied.
Do not be afraid, it says, but the man does not look scared. The man hunches in his chair and closes his face, tapping his fingers to the beat of his heart he can hear in his ears. He is not experiencing the kind of fear where one jumps and hides and covers their face, or the kind where one fidgets with their sleeves and tries to take deep breaths but can barely feel anything but pain in their chest and a bitter taste in their mouth. He is experiencing something akin to existential dread.
Norma’s letter lies on his desk, damp with grease and rings from the bottom of mugs. It has been read and understood, but reading it again would surely cause harm, so the man only glances at it. The ink has smeared in the corners, distorting the return address and greeting.
The man watches his creation try to nuzzle his feet, its voice gurgling out as it sputters oil onto his slippers. His chest heaves and he reaches down to pet it, rubbing the coarse seams where the steel was melded together with calloused fingers. The creation’s voice and the scrape of the man’s nails are the only sounds in the house, a silence only to be broken by the chiming of the brass grandfather clock upstairs and the creaking of the windows in the wind.
The man dusts off his pants and pushes himself to his feet, clamping his hands on the table. His teacup falls to the floor and breaks but he does not notice, and the creation trudges behind him to the door, sliding over the chipped china and following the shards imbedded the man’s slippers.
They do not travel far, only into the kitchen to shake tea leaves loose from the brown jar in the cabinet into a stained saucepan of water. The creation bumps against the man’s leg to warn him of the ceramic in the shoes but the man kicks him away. Do not be afraid, the creation says, but distances itself nonetheless.
The stove is not lit and the tea steeps slowly in the cold water and gathers dust. The man drags a chair across the linoleum and places it beside the oven. He shudders and drops himself onto the chair, the legs swaying under his weight. He rests his face on his hands and stares at the creation.
Do not be afraid, it says and pulls itself closer, trailing grease across the floor.
“I’m trying.” The man’s voice can barely be heard.
Do not be afraid, it says. They fall silent.
The man pulls at his lip, dull fingernails tugging dry skin with worry. “Do you think she’d like you?” he asks the creation, who does not answer. “Do you think I have grandchildren? Great grandchildren?”
He pulls the photograph out of his pocket. It came with the letter but was spared the same fate as the words, its colours barely dulled since the envelope was opened. The man shows the photo to the creation, smearing oil on the paper as he fumbles it in his hands.
It is a woman in sepia seated alone at a table. She is in her sixties and has long frizzy hair and a sad smile. She has the man’s eyes.
The creation rests on the floor and stares at the woman. The man sighs, “Do you think I have to respond?” They sit in silence, the photo growing dirtier as the man winds it between his stiff fingers, the date on the back becoming obscured.
Do not be afraid, the creation reminds him and turns to scrap its way back across the floor to the man’s room. It hears the scraping of the chair legs on the floor and the crunchy of the china underneath his plating as he enters the room.
The man, weary as he is, beats the creation to his desk and brushes the letter aside. He grabs the envelope from on top of the stack of papers in the corner of his desk and flattens it out. He grabs a medical form from the pile and scratches out the side with the writing with his pen. On the blank side of the form he starts,
He pauses, his pen dripping ink onto the page. The creation shudders up to his legs and rests against it, shaking his arm even more. He does not kick the creation away.
“This is the first I’ve heard of you. I never knew your mother well, but I wish I had, if that meant I could have known you. I know it’s been a few days since you sent your letter, but my house is hard to find. Do you have children? Or grandchildren? All I know is that you live in the city. Are you alone? I would hate for you to be alone as I am.”
He glances at his creation.
“I’m sure you’ve learnt from somewhere else, but I was a mechanic. I’ve built wonderful creations since retirement, little companions to stave off the loneliness, they’re modelled after cats, although it is a bit difficult to tell. Perhaps you would like to meet mine. I have no car and rarely leave the house but will make an exception should you would want to visit. It is a sad world, where a man will not know his daughter.”
The ink blots at the end of the page, his writing scrawled over the entirety of the paper.
“I wish you the best,
The man rests his pen on the desk and stuffs the letter into the discarded envelope. He scribbles on it for the mailman to return to the sender. He pulls out the photo from his pocket and lays it on his desk.
Do not be afraid, the creation says, and the man simply breathes.
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Your take on the topic was super unique! I love the robot. Your writing is very good.
This is a wonderful story. You use imagery very well! It reminds me of "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury.