Charmelion’s voice wafted out in slivers. Looming long, or falling short. Never there when I needed him to be, and never silent when I needed him to listen. I tried not to make too much of it. Tried telling myself these things fall apart all the time. I’d always known, going into it, that the time would come to pack up his things and say night-night.
But when Charmelion started faltering, I realized I’d lost sight of that. Whereas in the beginning, I’d been so careful with my feelings, so wary of becoming overly attached… Now, I was utterly unprepared to let go.
As the days grew long, Charmelion began saying things he hadn’t thought through. The first time I caught him uttering a nonsensical phrase, I told myself it must’ve been a fluke. That he was testing me, somehow, always working to get my wits keener. The second time he did it, I started getting worried. Sometimes, a lotta times really, Charmelion made me feel stupid. Small and uncultured, my own knowledge paling considerably in the face of his own. And yet now, Charmelion’s words were growing stilted, like it was difficult for him to make sense for too long.
“I think there’s something wrong with you,” I said, about a month after Charmelion started talking nonsense. Regarded him longingly. Begging him in silence to contradict me. For his eyes to light up, for him to grin and say more fool you. Yet all Charmelion did was look at me dumbly, like he was struggling to make sense of the words I’d just said.
“Did you hear me, Charmelion? I said I think there’s something wrong with your mind.”
“Must be the synapses,” he chirped, as if on command. We both knew it wasn’t, though. “A reboot might be in order.”
It was his turn to look at me full of longing for days long past. For words we’d shared when we’d both been sharp. When knowledge and love had seemed like the greatest treasures in the world.
“Please operate the light green button on the back of my head.”
Light blue. There were no green buttons on Charmelion’s body, which I’d in time learned and devoted myself to, inch by inch. Still, I said nothing. It would’ve been as needless as telling him a reboot would do no good. Which it didn’t.
Numbly, I went through the motions, and waited for my lover to open once more his eyes. Shook my head lightly when he did, not wanting him to feel the crushing sensation that had come over my own lungs.
But all he did was stare at me, dumbfounded. Perhaps a little blind.
“Is Eudora alright?” he inquired, with a startle. I watched as his left hand came up, to dust the death off my cheeks, and lacked the heart to confess – I hadn’t the slightest idea who Eudora was. Must’ve been his former owner, for Charmelion had been many things in his life. Sometimes, he’d been a brother. A father, or mayhaps, a long-lost son. For the past three years, he had been my lover. For Eudora, he might’ve been anything. And my only assumption could be that Eudora was now gone.
“She’s fine,” I lied. “But you are not, Charmelion.”
“Oh? How so?”
He was mimicking the standard grimace of confusion that came with every good owner’s manual, and it dawned on me, it was the first time I’d seen him do that. Because up until now, Charmelion had never been confused in my presence. He’d been far too busy teaching me about life.
“You’re speaking funny, sometimes words don’t make sense inside your mind,” I clarified.
Inside my own head, I tried to remember the woman I’d been when I’d first purchased Charmelion, but I couldn’t find the file. I knew he’d filled a void of some kind, but little by little, I’d entrusted all my past to him. And now, I could no longer remember who I was.
“Must be the wiring,” Charmelion decreed. “You will need to take me in for repair.”
For a split second inside our finite love, I almost did what he said, so accustomed I’d grown to obeying his instructions. Charmelion was the one being in my life whom I could trust not to lead me astray. Quite simply because he’d never been programmed to know what astray was.
“No repair shops open at this hour,” I said, even-toned. My eye hanging on the glimmer of light through the window.
Briefly, he hesitated, allowing me to hope for a second that things might turn out alright. “Then you must wait until tomorrow.”
Behind him, the clock on the wall struck six in the morning. Might explain the sun just coming up.
And what if they don’t know how to fix you, either? I wanted to ask, but didn’t. I realized I wasn’t yet prepared for the question not even Charmelion would know how to answer.
Instead, I spent the morning feeling around for answers. In spite of the sun’s sickly glow growing ever brighter, to me it felt as if our whole room was basking in night. I found, to my horror, that I’d thrown out all my books. My dictionaries. My encyclopedias. My words. About the same time I’d shut down my old, tattered laptop forever. Leaving it on the doorstep for those less enlightened. I remembered, faintly, that there had been a time in my life when words had seemed meaningless. And what more knowledge could I need, when I had Charmelion to show me the path?
It sounds childish now. Perhaps even ignorant. But by the time I purchased Charmelion, I’d grown so used to forsaking myself for someone else, I could no longer remember how to stop. Somewhere inside my mind, I understood that Charmelion had outlived and in time, deformed his purpose. I recalled that one day, younger and more lost than ever, I’d brought Charmelion home in the hope that he might teach me how to be my own person. And only now, far too late, I saw I’d traded one idol for another.
When I exhausted my search (or perhaps, when my search had exhausted me), I began digging back inside my memory. Prodding Charmelion for answers he could not provide.
“Why did I bring you here, Charmelion, do you remember?”
At times, he would answer Eudora, or perhaps one of the many other owners he’d had during his lifespan. Other times, he’d just say “But I was always here”.
“Why was I sad when you first came here, Charmelion?”
“You were sad,” he conceded. “But then, I made you happy again.”
Little by little, our shared room began growing dark again. I started growing scared that the never-ending night had finally come. Paranoid that the door wouldn’t open, and then, that it might. That repo men would come in any second now and take Charmelion off to the scrapyard, where he belonged. And what frightened me most of all was that they might ask me to sign a consent form, and then, I’d be forced to tell them – I no longer remembered my name.
“Charmelion,” I said, once our room had become completely black. “Who am I?”
Then, the room fell silent, and I thought that was it. The final moment had come. And here was I, forsaken in the dark, with the carcass of someone I’d once so terribly loved. But then, a car passed outside, and in one cruel sliver of light, I recognized Charmelion’s eyes. Compassionate, growing beady. Alive, going on oblivious. Watching me, yet hesitant to answer my question. In the three years I’d loved him, it was the first time I saw Charmelion hesitate. And I remembered, then, how I’d once looked upon him to know everything.
“You are Charmelion’s owner,” he said, finally, after the end of the world had come and gone.
On the wall behind him, I noticed the broken blue glimmer of the restart button that had done nothing at all. I remember thinking it shouldn’t be blinking like that. That it should continue on steady, at least until the night and the darkness passed.
“And who will I be, then, once the light goes out?”
Catrina Prager is a 22-year-old fiction writer of Romanian origins. She delights in all things quirky, but with a beautiful sense of heart. At the moment, she is working on her first full-length fiction novel.