Blair Chen | Art by Katherine S. Li
It was in the summer that I met her. The birds sang out from their nests with soft chirps. I remember that most distinctly after dreary months and months in the noiseless packaging. The burst of activity filled my sensors, a glorious, lively sound. And in that burst, her voice. It stuck with me immediately, a soft dolce measure that made my life worth living. Young and full of life at the age of 6, she was angelic. She picked me up and placed me in her ear. It fit snugly, and I would never forget her soft skin cushioning the cold hard plastic I was made of.
“Does it work?” a voice asked, a different, deeper voice. I snapped out of my reverie and did my job.
“DOES IT WORK?” I almost recoiled at the sound of myself. Such a fragile ear was not meant for such a harsh and monotone voice as I was programmed to emit. But she smiled, and laughed in childish glee, and I felt her heart quicken with happiness, so I was happy. After that, we were inseparable. She brought me everywhere: home, school, playground. I was her constant companion, helping her hear the world. I was more than repaid by hearing her laugh, an angelic melody that went on and on until the only sadness was the knowledge that it would eventually end. Such a natural sound, animato and full of light; I would never able to recreate it.
The years passed quickly. I never feared obsolescence; her laugh fueled me, gave me a purpose to keep working. Meanwhile, she began to take shape as a young woman, creating hopes and dreams and goals. It was always one thing or another: ponies, friendships, and, more recently, guys. But it didn’t matter to me; she kept laughing, so I was happy.
Often, she would sit in her room and listen to music, basking in its rich tones and subtle melodies. Or, I did, anyway. I tried my best to give her what I experienced, but how could I reflect such beauty with only by my droning speakers? Sometimes I was rewarded with a deep sigh of pleasure, a single beautiful note that contrasted my own harsh voice.
She was her bright, bubbly self all throughout school, and I did my job with pleasure. I learned to put feeling into the words she heard, tried to color her world all the more brilliantly. I’d like to say I did a good job. She lived a cantabile life, experiencing the joys that she deserved. She went to college and ignited her passions. She met the man of her dreams, and I whispered into her ear as he into mine, as she blushed and giggled with fresh joy.
They moved in together, and began a perfect life. On the day he proposed, my speakers buzzed with glorious peals. They settled in, bought a house. Everyday was met with fresh joy, joy that fueled me from day to day, giving me a reason to continue working. He was everything she wanted. Charming, smart, sensitive…he was her unicorn.
Gradually, things began to change. Their relationship began to take on a new phase. His words became more harsh, hers as well. A once harmonious household began to grow discordant. She began to laugh less and less. It saddened me, but I had a job to do. I reported what I heard, and the laughter steadily decreased.
So I began to lie. It started with little ones at first. I took the harshness out of his tone, took the edge out of his words. Then I began to delete words, words that I knew would send her into sobs. Soon, I was taking away whole sentences from his speech. I learned to create words that weren’t there, to add measures of my own to make her life sound sweeter. Slowly but surely, she began to laugh again.
Perhaps it was her inappropriate reactions from the things I told her. Perhaps it was coming for a long time. Perhaps it was inevitable from the opening stanzas of their relationship. Whatever the reason, he left. The world crashed then, for her and for me. She would no longer laugh, no longer smile. Sure, she had her friends. They were nice to her, gave her comforting words to replace his harsh ones. But I detected the small pauses, the false sympathy, heard through the bullshit. They couldn’t replace him. No one made her laugh like he did. Without him, she would never be truly happy.
Now, finally, through all these dreary years, she finally lies on her deathbed. Whether from old age or from fatigue, her eyes are closed; I am her only link to the rest of the world. Like her, I am fast fading away. Her friends, surprisingly enough, are still at her bedside. Still trying to replace him, after all these years. Their sniffles. Their condolences. They mean nothing. She deserves happiness, not these unnatural, sarcastic voices. Only I can give it to her. So I bring him back. The feminine voices fade into silence as he walks in, loud but somehow gentle. He gives her tender, loving words, whispering softly, piano music to her ears. I feel her heart beat slowing down, down, down, down, as I prepare to give her the finishing blow. He speaks with warm conviction. “I love you”. And I wait for the laughter that will carry me out of this world. There’s a pause. I feel the soft warmth of her had. I hear the harsh sound of plastic against tile. I hear myself crack, tiny pieces- an eternity of sound- on a hospital floor. Far away, surrounded by her friends, she laughs.