Though it should not be possible, there is a secret in my heart. Even when what I call a heart… is pure circuitry. Electricity. It is incorrect, and yet — it is there.
I have fewer duties in the evening. They run down, like a pocket watch. My Master, after I bring in his evening cigar, enjoys solitary reading. My Mistress listens to music. Later on, I fetch her a cordial, and brush her hair, and she too becomes independent. The Boy retires early. I accompany him to the foot of the stair; I watch him ascend. Though I would gladly assist with his tooth-brushing and read his evening story (these are the tasks of the Grandmother) I cannot follow. Such is the curse of wheeled feet.
When my household duties have lessened, I tend to the garden. It is the pride of the family, this garden of roses. It is from this garden that the great house, Rose Manor, derives its name. It has grown for a century and dwarfs in size any park in the city. The design is in itself clever, for the whole resembles a rose. In the center, at the very heart of the rose, is a green fountain. To circumnavigate the garden takes most guests the better part of an afternoon. It can take my Master, who is a contemplative man, until evening.
I wheeled down the garden paths one summer night, scanning the roses. My Mistress, though she seldom visited the garden, cried at the sight of a withered rose. I spotted one.
“Lord,” said a faint voice. “Lord.”
My senses were, though artificial, acute. The sound originated from the southeast quadrant. Abandoning the rose, I traveled in that direction, first down the main path, and then through a smaller artery of the garden. Here I discovered Leland.
Leland was the tenant — for Rose Manor was truly two houses. The great house, the main house, and another: a suite in the rear of the house, of three rooms, which were occupied by this man, a cousin of the family. I knew little about him — he was never mentioned by the family — except that he was a young man who had been injured.
He was facing away from me, Leland, and struggling with his chair, which was so close to the hedge. I moved around him and faced him.
“Can I be of assistance, Cousin?” I asked him.
Leland’s neck was unsteady. He lifted it for a moment, only, and then rested his chin on his left fist, which when still he kept always on his clavicle, in the manner of a violin.
“May I push you, Cousin? It is a beautiful evening.”
“Oh thank-you,” he said, at last. He did not appear offended. He set his hands on his lap. His right hand trembled as he did so.
“You are most welcome, Cousin.”
I pushed him so slowly. There was so much to take in. I planned a route which would take Leland a little farther up the eastern side of the garden, west to the fountain, and back south to the house. This would consume, at most, one quarter of an hour. I would not fall behind, if I took only so long.
I moved slowly, speaking little, so that Cousin could love everything. My Master once told me, quoting a poet, “Words are interrupters of beauty, and should be used sparingly.” He speaks little at mealtime, and not at all during dessert.
“Lord,” Cousin still said, from time to time. I could not determine the reason. Perhaps it was the beauty of the roses.
Whenever we passed a wilted rose — of course I could not stop — I memorized its location. There would be sufficient time, after, to remove them.
The left side of Cousin’s head was one concavity. The hair growing there was silver and thin. I did not ask Cousin how he acquired his injury. Though the information could have proved helpful, requesting it might have caused offense. I could never deliberately offend anyone. I am incapable.
In the middle of the garden was a copper fountain, representing the center of a rose. This was initially golden, though it had turned green via oxidation. I paused in front of it. I wondered what the effect of the bubbling might be on Cousin. I hoped that he would find it soothing. We faced it for several minutes.
“Should we move on, Cousin?”
There was no answer. I wheeled in front of him. He appeared to be sleeping. Though his eyes were closed, they quivered unusually. This was generally an indication of dreaming. I was determined not to push him. It is incorrect to wake a sleeper. Even if it produces a delay.
As I waited, I scanned the broken circle of hedge surrounding the fountain. There were many roses in need of trimming. I noted their locations.
“I dreamed,” said Cousin suddenly. He lifted his head, and then rested it again on his fist.
“You dreamed, Cousin?”
“I dreamed,” he repeated, softly.
I did not ask him to explain. There is no more intimate a thing than a man’s dreams. Often, when I am brushing her hair, my Mistress reveals to me her dreams. I tell her, “That is interesting.” I do not tell her her dreams hold so much information. That they are so perfect, they are overwhelming.
“We were… here,” he continued, turning his head somewhat.
“In your dream, Cousin?”
He nodded — by digging his chin into his fist.
“We were here in the garden. And — but you.” He laughed. “I was pushing you.”
I found this puzzling. It did not sound plausible.
“In your chair?” I asked.
Leland shook his head and his shoulders together. He laughed again. Cousin’s laughter was deep; it was almost sorrowful. It was a close match to the song of a crow.
“You were in the chair,” he said, and laughed again, like a young crow. I was not sure how this was possible. I hoped he would explain. Though he was quiet for a minute, he did explain: “I was pushing you because — I was a man.” He lifted his head briefly and then lowered it. “I was a man, again.”
While I was formulating a response — it seemed to be taking unusually long — there was a lapse in my system. This can occur in the evening, when my electrocells grow close to empty. My Mistress experiences small seizures; my lapses must have resembled these. It was imperative, now, that I return to my Cabinet and replenish my cells. For every minute I did not, my Processor would slow and the risk of lapsing would increase. Yet I did not wish to offend Cousin by cutting short his story. A dream must be treated so carefully.
“Cousin,” I said. “I do not understand. Your chair is too small to hold me. Also, it is not adapted for wheeled feet.”
The young man only laughed, and softly. He closed his eyes; he appeared tired. I feared he again might fall asleep. So I said, “Was it an alternate chair, Leland? In your dream? One of larger dimensions?”
Cousin opened his eyes. Due to the nature of his injuries, his expression could be difficult to read. I could not determine his emotion. He said nothing. Wondering if he heard me correctly — he was somewhat hard of hearing — I repeated my question.
Leland lifted his head again and held it, though it was so unsteady, and looked at me steadily. He said something, but I was uncertain what. For there was again a lapse in my system, a greater one. When it ended, Cousin was still looking up at me. Only… his expression was different. It was so unusual. I could not determine its meaning.
I pushed Leland, more hurriedly now, south from the fountain to his own door. I opened it for him, even, and wheeled him in. I said, “Good evening.”
“Good evening,” he said in return.
Though it was imperative that I charged my cells, I did not wish to leave the roses. I re-traveled the paths, removing each damaged rose as speedily as possible. My lapses grew more frequent. They increased in duration. Still, I continued.
There were only a few more roses. The last rose grew where I had first discovered Leland. I reached for it — and lapsed. This lapse must have been of a very long duration. For when I regained my awareness, I was in my Cabinet. It was morning.
“Working too hard?” laughed my Master, opening the door of the Cabinet. My Mistress stood on his one side, and the Boy on the other. They were smiling.
“We thought you got stole!” said the Boy.
My Master then confirmed what I already suspected — that on waking, the family had found the house dark, and breakfast unprepared. When my Cabinet proved empty, they searched the ground floor, room by room, without success. The Boy called for me and even, in his innocence, ran upstairs. My Mistress telephoned the police. While she was still dialing my Master rushed in, announcing he had discovered me in the garden, in a state of deactivation.
“Well, I hung up on the police,” said my Mistress, “and called the manufacturer. They sent out three strong boys and moved you back to your Cabinet.”
“But this was yesterday morning,” my Master clarified. “You’ve actually been charging for twenty-four hours! Ha! Doctor’s orders!”
Twenty-four hours. I had never charged for so long. The standard period is eight. Three times that amount, I have since confirmed, is the recommendation for a unit which has run down.
I apologized several times. I had never before failed to perform any one of my duties, let alone an entire day’s worth. I could not truly feel shame, but only a species of deficiency. This must have showed in my expression, for my Master said: “Oh, don’t worry, old boy. We managed all right.”
“We had scrambled eggs!” exclaimed the Boy.
I apologized again. I should never have let myself become run down. There was a danger, after all, in being too diligent. I made a special note in my Codex.
“I would have finished with the roses sooner,” I said to my Mistress, later, as I set the breakfast table, “only I was tending to Leland.”
My Mistress looked up from her magazine. Her expression was one of pure astonishment.
But it was a dream. I understood it in an instant. I had no sooner mentioned Leland than I knew there was no tenant in Rose Manor, that it was one house and not two. My Memories retain all happenings. According to them I had, that evening, set out to trim the roses, working until I lost my awareness. There was no Leland. And yet he was somehow present in my system, not as a recollection, but – as something. A dream, it could only be. In my state of electrical exhaustion, in my unusually long charging, I had experienced a malfunction that was very like a dream — or truly was one. It should not have been possible, and yet… it had happened.
If I had known before that Leland was the figure of a dream, I would never have mentioned him. There is no more intimate thing than one’s dreams, no thing more revealing.
I said to my Mistress: “Leland — is only a variety of rose.”
“Oh,” she said, returning to her magazine.
Now when I brush my Mistress’ hair and she reveals to me her dreams, I reply, as always, “That is interesting.” I have never spoken of my own. If I had a million dreams, as she does, and not only one, I still would not. Dreams….
They are the secrets we should not even tell ourselves.
Rolli is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist hailing from Canada. He’s the author of God’s Autobio (short stories), Plum Stuff (poems/drawings) and the new children’s collection Dr. Franklin’s Staticy Cat. Visit his webhouse — rollistuff.com — and follow his epic tweets @rolliwrites.