The Mandrake

The Mandrake is drawn from the seclusion of earth by the leaves of her hair, by the hands of people with a death wish, or by dogs tied to her with strings.

Those who pull the Mandrake from her unlit, sodden isolation are people who want to use her to improve their lives, people who presume in her a magic they respond to with yearning. Before even laying eyes on her, they hallucinate her into an enticing shape, likely to provide happiness and glory.

They have seen her depicted in illuminations, in fragmented impressions on the pages of books. Based on her appearance, they take her to be something she is not, a creature of inestimable abilities. They fall in love in ways that cannot be sustained by reality.

When they bite her, they lose their minds, slipping into dream states so deep an incision could be made into their very skulls and they wouldn’t notice. They hold her in their enormous hands and say, “You will fix my sadness, my past mistakes, my shaking bouts of fever. I don’t care if my next life is spent in the absence of light, surrounded by ash.”

She has unsettled many people with these promises they make to themselves, yet when the time comes for her to live in their care, these same people are already overrun by madness, unable to see the truth of her root body, her leafy hair, her need to be kept watered and safe.

It is easy for her to believe in the magic others ascribe to her. Sometimes, while still packed safely in soil, she thinks of herself the way others have, and finds a tingling joy in the idea of being special. But this joy comes at a price, and she will always end up damaged, ground up completely and mixed into a drink, retrieved from the corners of the earth by a lovesick elephant, or else made into an immovable amulet, a trophy to cure someone’s stagnating libido.

Ultimately, once drawn from the earth and seen in the reductive light of day, she can’t help but disappoint. The only defence left to her when she feels the familiar tug on her quills is to go deep into the visceral part of herself, and there to conjure up a scream that will burst eardrums and arteries the moment it reaches the air, scream and scream until the grip of the desiring hand has loosened, and the tugging person, with all her unfulfillable anticipations, falls lifeless to the ground and disappears.

Woodcut of Mandragora in Leiden, 6th Century
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The Angel

The Angel has a body smooth as a pebble washed over by relentless tides, rubbed free of features by the suspended palpitation of drops he calls home. There is no hair anywhere on him, his skin is without veins, milky as jade. Nothing about him can be held on to, no part of him likely to get caught. 

His self is tectonic, contained entirely in his visible, superficial parts. Everything about him is external, even his skeleton, which is interwoven with what serves as his skin. This skeletal mesh is made from a lightweight mineral, as good as hollow. No bodily fluids course their way through him, only the ceaseless traversal of air. His body is an empty cavity, bearing no organs, no heart, no brain. Despite all this emptiness, his body is virtually unbreakable.

When he manifests in his physical form to those who are not angelic, he does so in visions or dreams, and always for the purpose of delivering a message. He has never approached someone else for the sake of communion, or the solace of intimacy, but only so as to reveal something to them. The meeting is always one-sided, and after appearing in a bodily form, adorned with human features, or animal ones, or even as a celestial cluster, he disappears again, leaving those he visited to ponder what they were just told.

His favourite way to appear is on hot summer nights, as a wavering shadow on a bedroom wall.

But it doesn’t matter which structure he uses to appear to others, because in many ways he is always unsubstantial. The world he inhabits could not contain him otherwise, and he would fall right through the limpid boundaries of his home. 

Once, the Angel appeared to a man who lived alone in a small room in a town overrun with students. The man tried to trap the Angel in one of the communal shower cubicles, and succeeded in keeping him there behind glass for nearly three days. During those three days, the man visited the Angel frequently, and sat silently watching him without asking a thing. The Angel, in his confusion, forgot to deliver the message he’d been assigned. This had never happened to the Angel before, nor has it happened since. Nothing in the physical realm has the power to trap him, and yet this man’s glass cubicle seemed to interrupt the state of things for a while. 

The Angel thinks back to this time, the terror of encountering physical resistance in a way that is otherwise totally foreign to him. 

The Angel’s body, being hollow, has a lot of room for the dance of emotions. They swirl almost ceaselessly in the cavity of his rump, like immortal butterflies with their absurdly oversized wings. While he experiences feelings on a nearly continuous basis, the Angel lacks the capacity to express them. This is fine. As a celestial being, there is no need to communicate his emotions to anyone else.

None of his emotions can be expressed in gestures or words, but they all float and knock against each other inside him, sometimes with enough force to form temporary composites. This results in confusingly mismatched emotions, which the Angel observes with a chuckle: fear coupled with erotic attraction, sadness blended with disgust, joy combined with intense regret. The Angel watches these emotions flutter and burn in a varicoloured display. 

Sometimes people ask him where he keeps his wings at night, and if they fold. How does he sleep, they wonder. 

He doesn’t respond to this, in part because his purpose is to deliver a message, not answer such proxies for existential concerns. He hesitates to break the spell; illusions are important to people, they keep their lives interesting and worthwhile. Spells promote a sense of hope in the inherent meaningfulness of the world, which is what allows people to remain vertical.

Without this meaning-making glue, people would collapse into a spreadable mass, and the Angel knows it would be cruel to tell them the truth, that he doesn’t have wings, that the feathery offshoots they see unfurling behind him are no more than the waste products his body sloughs off in its efforts to make itself lighter and lighter, that it is these very waste products that keep him light and that they are no more palpable or noteworthy than the clouds that wash him clean.

The Angel knows how easy it is for humans to get confused about their own narratives, a confusion born from the visceral heaviness of their ability to wish. This is perhaps the only emotion the Angel cannot feel: the closes he gets to wishing is feeling erotic attachment towards something, which can occur towards anything at all, material or not; but even so, because no emotion is ever expressed, there is no room anywhere in the Angel’s psyche for regret, an emotion he knows is human, and tied to the ability to wish.

He has seen the power of wishing in humans, when their whole bodies are arched towards the sound of the thing they desire. He watches these domed, flexible bodies, and worries that one day they may snap in half from their unresolved urges. 

The Angel takes his job very seriously, though the work he does is more of a vocation, truly something of a calling. The most consistent part of his appearance is the voice through which he conveys the message he is given. His voice is the most important part of his performance, because he knows that humans, whether they admit it or not, are drawn to or repelled by the content of language based on the sounds that contain it.

Each time he appears, he rounds off the edges of his voice, muffling it into a pleasing blur. Because he is empty of organs, he speaks the way a trumpet does, using an external breath, which passes in compression through his ringing body. The breath entering him exists all around him, and never stays inside him long enough to become part of his person.

Aside from his purpose, which lies in delivering a message, doing the bidding of an unreachable, disembodied force, the Angel has a lot of free time, not that he is bound to such concepts. Still, he divides his own infinity, so as to make it more bearable. He opens his eyes at the same time each day, then closes them again after a determined chunk of time has elapsed so as to create an artificial night. The Angel likes to segment what is otherwise as unstructured as a clear sky. Infinity is made more bearable by the interruptions and seemingly serendipitous patterns of clouds.

The Angel knows that what is most beautiful about him is not his appearance, but the movement of air as it passes through his crystalline body, rushing through his inner void on its own fluttering path. The only good the Angel ever does is temporarily shape the air he inhabits. 

Salvador Dalí, Angel, 1958

The Cyclops

After many years of being alive in a beautiful, sprightly body, she concludes that two eyes are too many, and that she would prefer to have only one. 

Since childhood, she’s had the ability to perceive time in spatial terms, time laid out in the landscape around her, the past a field stretching behind her back, the future a terrain vanishing ahead. Trees and other landmarks stand in for people, for changes in her psychic topography, and she spent years interpreting these signs instead of living in the present and simply allowing life’s unfolding to surprise her.

Because of this, the Cyclops has become afraid of past and future, and she dislikes seeing them laid out this way, so inescapable and distracting. Sensing time is fine, but being compelled to see it materialise whenever one’s eyes are open is too much.  

She’s heard it takes two eyes for depth perception to take place, and she is looking to confirm whether a single eye help her see immediate things more clearly, keep her from distracting herself with sensory information gathered from too many dimensions. She tapes down her right eye with a bright yellow bandage, planning to keep it shut for a year. 

With her remaining eye, the Cyclops can now focus entirely on the narrow radius of things around her, the so-called present. What lies ahead or behind no longer pulls on her attention. All that matters is what is right here, close to her body’s perimeter. Unlike her thoughts or senses, her body is confined to its own limits, and cannot reach very far into the surrounding distance. 

After taping down her right eye, only the here and now can penetrate the Cyclop’s remaining pupil. The present tunnels its way into her mind, keeping her tethered to her flesh. She panics at first, but soon gets used to being one-eyed, and to the lack of depth perception.

Her left eye is now individualised, capable of seeing with more intensity what is right in front of her. The seeing eye can be seen in turn, which feels like a miracle to her now that she is no longer spoilt with twin versions of this magical organ. Her eye is precious in its uniqueness, and she trusts it more and more each day.  

The eye she has hidden under the tape is invisible and unseeing, yet it still remembers. It recalls the things it saw, remembers what it was like to glimpse past and future. The hidden eye has no use for the present, in which it cannot take part. Exiled from the present, it warms itself on its memories.

Sometimes at night, the Cyclops imagines she can hear the right eye weep under its bandage, weep with small shudders of frustration. Pangs of guilt keep her up all night, and she has to bury her hands elsewhere, under her pillow for instance, to keep herself from ripping the bandage off and bringing an end to the eye’s despair. 

In order to keep this from happening, the Cyclops plans to have the eye removed. After all, it is now merely a vestige of her former bifocal vision, to which she feels no need to return. Being in the present is a much better use of her time, and what better way to keep herself in this state than by removing any distractions.

The Cyclops is learning to come to terms with anything beyond the here and now being a mere illusion. From her former farsightedness, she returns again and again to herself, until the continuous return becomes a spiral, a vertiginous spin. The simultaneity of things sometimes makes her nauseous, and only the narrowing of her focus can heal her. 

Desire has depleted the Cyclops, scattering her across space and time. To desire objects in the world is to run away from herself. She knows that distance from the object of desire causes suffering, which means that the ability to see into a three-dimensional distance, spatially or temporally, gives rise to suffering. The self cannot exist simultaneously in the present and the past or future, and having only one eye puts a limit on desire.

Having only one eye helps her return to a state of pure consciousness, in which she isn’t always observing herself from other vantage points, but simply being in the present.

The Cyclops is a craftswoman. Her hands have strong opposable thumbs that can hold various elements of the human anatomy with an assuredness that delights anyone experiencing it. Her thumbs push into the sore flesh between another’s shoulder blades, and she feels useful when she gives someone else’s tender muscle some release. She builds things by holding them into the fire until they glow, then hammering their materiality into a more deliberate shape. 

Ideally, the Cyclops would like to exist outside of thought, in the radical present. She wants to hear the creaking inside her walls, the slam of every car door in her street, the shaking of leaves in the neighbouring tree, the wet lick of the lids across her eye. She knows that human consciousness identifies with what it sees, and if consciousness sees only the present, it will believe itself to be no more than this present. This is the change she is waiting for. She wants to live far from the hope and dread brought on by the future; she must not allow herself to hope. 

Sometimes, she misses the fading, unseeing eye under the tape, and its ability to look further in time than the present; she misses imagining the future and remembering the past, misses envisioning happy possibilities ahead.

But these things have put her into difficult positions before, especially where love is concerned. Love, she knows, is a selfish and delusional endeavour, and must not be seen anywhere except in the radical present. Love cannot be placed into the past or future as anything other than cruel illusion. Only that which is right here, within the narrow boundaries of her body, can be trusted and held. 

And so she sits in her short-sightedness, listening to her own, incessant breathing, to the kneading in her stomach. She senses the world’s hands pulling her out like dough, calling on her to spread herself wide, and she does what she can to avoid responding. 

After a while, the taped-down eye and the bone tissue containing it begin to degenerate from misuse. Her head shape changes to accommodate the growing intensity of her single open eye, which has begun to swell up and radiate its power deep into her skull. 

Only when she dreams does she open both her eyes. She looks around the world and sees it in a way she remembers: the past stretched out behind her, bobbing with the people she loved, and the future ahead, a vast field of possibility. She feels the sting of recognition, and yet a dream is only a dream, a playground for the self outside of the confines of time, and therefore it has no bearing on what she is trying to achieve at all. 

Francis Picabia – Cyclope (c. 1924-26)

The Sphinx

The Sphinx never says yes, nor does he ever say no. He says everything in-between, none of which means a thing. Like many powerful animals, he spends much of his time resting, waiting for his distractions to approach him. His occupation is to stand guard in front of a tomb, which his impressive size allows him to do. 

As a guardian, he guards not only his charge but also himself. Any attempt to approach him or his tomb is subjected to the same, merciless test, although in the case of his personal space, the riddles are harder, even impossible, to solve. Whatever the angle of approach, the Sphinx never truly opens himself up, only appearing to open before closing like a trap. 

He is known to guard the dead, who in their physical paralysis are in need of protection, lest their riches be stolen and their bodies defiled to the point of no return. The Sphinx does not believe in ownership, but is happy to provide a service based on the beliefs of others.

The Sphinx believes himself to be in constant motion, like a planet or a shark, moving ahead into a future of potentiality, when in fact he is always sitting down, bolted to a pedestal of unresolved issues.

When it comes to dealing with others, of whom there is no shortage in his line of work, ceaselessly approached as he is by explorers, tomb raiders and lost tourists, the Sphinx has a failsafe strategy. The strategy is of staggering simplicity: he draws them in by seeming to invest without ever investing at all. 

The Sphinx has noticed that others are rarely immune to his allure and solid force, and when he poses them his riddles, they quickly mistake this for interest in the contents of their minds. Because the Sphinx is large and has an air of authority, those who approach him assume that he will treat them kindly, that he will be mindful of their hopes, and their fragility.

But the Sphinx doesn’t care, doesn’t have the capacity for selflessness others project onto him. The mistake others make is thinking that a guardian can always be trusted.

The Sphinx’s lion body puts him in direct relation with the sun, this bright, paternal star, blinding those below it with its fire, and causing them, in their blindness, to feel as though there were no other star in the sky but him.

For the most part, the Sphinx can’t understand why people see him this way, but he doesn’t try particularly hard to dissuade them. If pressed, he’d have to admit that it feels nice to be looked at with doting eyes by those standing below him; that it excites him to see them hesitate, to witness their respect and attempts to woo him. 

But, ultimately, this is all there can be had from the situation. The Sphinx is not a straight-forward person; he cannot, in a context of intimate expectation, speak his mind, so he talks around his worries in a way that places the fault with the other person. What he wants is not to resolve a problem, but to show the other person that any connection would be useless to pursue.

The Sphinx wants to be left alone by those who want him to change. At heart, he considers himself a solitary person, functioning best in a state of isolation. 

He lives at a great enough distance from other Sphinxes that he can allow himself to call them friends. Those Sphinxes guard their own monuments, which helps the matter greatly. Anyone not guarding a tomb or shrine is suspicious to the Sphinx, who worries that such an unattached agent will have designs on what he’s guarding, will expect to be shared with, or made a priority.

People are vultures, thinks the Sphinx, and he spends his nights devising further unsolvable riddles to keep himself safe from anyone attractive enough to bypass his better instincts. 

According to those who have known him, the Sphinx is a time-waster; not of his own time, of course, but of the time of those who stand in front of his large stone body asking to come in, and whom he feeds puzzle after puzzle, knowing full well what they don’t know, that no matter how many of his tests they pass, they will never be allowed in. He wastes their time to the point of exhaustion, waiting for them to leave.

The Sphinx is not confrontational, and will simply remain a silent, ungenerous wall until those who attempt to enter what he is guarding simply give up. 

What the Sphinx is really afraid of, however, is the seemingly endless list of demands others are capable of making: “Guard this for me, make sure nothing about it is allowed to change,” they say, which is fine, but then they also say, “We expect you to know who you are, and who you will have become by the age of five hundred and thirty.” The Sphinx is put in charge of keeping things as they are, yet he barely knows who he is. 

He is suspicious of the moon, who changes constantly for the sake of another, changes according to rotational whims and the light of the sun, and the Sphinx thinks that this doesn’t evoke a lot of integrity. Changing to accommodate an other cannot possibly lead to a fulfilling life. 

One night at sunset, a traveller burdened with heavy bags stops in front of the Sphinx and, rather than ask for admission, falls asleep on the warm stone of his paw for three consecutive nights. Befuddled, the Sphinx sits silently and observes the small body on his paw. The traveller’s innocent faith confuses him. 

When the traveller wakes, he asks for admission to the tomb the Sphinx is guarding. 

“I have come,” he says, “to visit the remains of my father, so as to learn about myself.” 

The Sphinx, who learns about himself in the process of withholding from others, finds this laughable. But the traveller is attractive, with an intriguing seriousness about his face, and the Sphinx hasn’t played with anyone in a while. The Sphinx poses the most difficult riddles he possesses, and the traveller sits cross-legged on the sand to think.

The Sphinx watches and finds pleasure in this new toy of a person, with his serious face and well-formed back. The traveller’s candour seems to warm a cold part of him, though only temporarily. Soon, the Sphinx loses interest and returns to old patterns as he deploys his familiar push-and-pull routine. 

When the traveller, who is used to resistance, says to the Sphinx, “I know what you’re doing,” the Sphinx feigns ignorance, replying, “I have better things to do than defend myself to you.” 

When the traveller lays out the contents of his bags in front of the Sphinx and announces that he is unarmed, unwilling to cause pain, the Sphinx laughs and says, “You are small, I am gargantuan. What about you could possibly scare me?” 

The traveller opens his chest and reveals a burning heart beating fast between his lungs. 

“This is who I am,” he says. “Your riddles cannot be solved. All that proves to me is that you are stuck. But I see who you have the potential to be, and I see that it is time for you to change, to become a better version of yourself. Let me help you. I am not here to deceive you, my intentions are kind.” 

To this, the Sphinx says nothing, seals his stone lips and closes access to the traveller, who, after all, doesn’t know him at all, how could he? It is not yet time to change, the Sphinx thinks, not at the behest of this scruffy, diminutive tramp. The traveller’s eyes are pale as fish, and his arms open wide like the desert. 

“No,” says the Sphinx, but only to himself. To the traveller, he says nothing. The puzzle no longer matters, the traveller has failed and will not enter the tomb he came to visit. The Sphinx’s stone tail whips the sand and his paws cling to the status quo. Thus, he believes himself to be moving, never settling, the dust always flying around him. 

“I am who I am,” says the Sphinx, to himself and anyone who’ll listen. “I am this way, I cannot be otherwise, it would be a compromise, a violation of my serenity.”

The traveller has picked up his heavy bags, draped a cloth over the flames in his heart, and leaves small footprints in the sand as he heads off seeking another tomb in which he hopes to find his father’s remains. 

“The mistake lies in permitting the fact that your stars seem so like my stars to foster the illusion of their sharing a sky, when both our stars are in fact scattered in separate deserts, and are nothing but dying rocks and glimmering sand.”

The Lost Boy

She is a Lost Boy in the sense that in French a boy can be missed like an opportunity. 

She is lost the way the prodigal son is out there still, never completing his return because he is not ready to be forgiven, because like Mercury his orbit is eccentric, full of inherent kinks distracting him in his course, keeping him from colliding with what he truly wants, the off-centre God of his break-neck circumgyration, the brightest of all stars who causes on the surface of Mercury a roaring tidal bulge. 

Mercury, the filthy jester kid, Mercury who spirals after lust with wings on his secret hooves, and like Mercury she, too, is a Lost Boy, one set adrift in a narcoleptic swirl of street hustles and Shakespeare quotes. One of many daddyless Lost Boys, stomping on coffins, falling asleep on deserted roads under pink and yellow and lilac skies.

When she opens her eyes, the salmon have jumped backwards through the glitter and the clouds have fallen off the left side of the screen.

She is a Lost Boy in the sense that she has not yet learned to tame the many aching stars in her belly, and she is lost, also, because the place she set off from is there but the endpoint of her trajectory has vanished from sight.

Often, at night, her eyes deceive her, and she can’t be sure until dawn whether she is or isn’t stepping into the darkness of holes. While she waits for the lost other to return, the world is packed in shadows, and she makes up stories to pass the time.

Seen from above by a benevolent eye, her orbit takes on the shape of an egg, with the sun as the yolk stain in the middle. All she wants to know is that the person she lost isn’t lost forever, hasn’t disappeared, that he will return to her, that orbits are peculiar but never just lines vanishing into the ether.

When she speaks, she is lost, because the words she hears are not the words she is meant to respond to; what she responds to is the tone of a voice, the warmth of a body, the craving she has for the other. When she opens her mouth, she responds to the wrong part of what was said, and only later realises what happened. Words are bad vehicles of personhood. Words swerve on badly made orbits and around infinite corners, so fast she can’t keep up with her urge to vomit. 

She is a Lost Boy not because she fell unclaimed out of a crib but because the bars of the crib in which she grew like fattened fowl were made of stars, blazing and absent in equal and confusing measure. She wants to align herself with an equal, yet cannot bear the thought of being bound; she orbits, she leans, she gives the light she takes from another, gives little of herself because most of herself has the aftertaste of iron, of which she was taught to be ashamed. She is lost because she is too human for the broken shapes she takes on. 

She is a Lost Boy, and the mistake she makes is of not being open enough, rejecting the side of her that was hurt in the past; this is why, when she runs, she is lopsided. This is why, when she closes her eyes while walking, she ends up in a different landscape and cannot find her way back.

She lusts after those who are more at ease with their desires and kinks. She is a Lost Boy endlessly looking for what is lost in others and clinging to it, looking to associate the burning in her chest with another’s fire, the way Mercury is at times a lesser Venus, bright yet not as bright as she who stands alongside him, and also more difficult, more elusive to the eye, more complicated, harder, in essence, to love. 

A short account of Melusina

I am the builder, my hands flicker with the need to touch and shape and move, a magic that wants to make things in the world.

Give me two things and I will fuse them together, hammer them against each other; I will make you a house, a ship, a palace, a grave, I will plant each homeless root I find into willing, loving earth.

Siegfried loves me for this, needs me for this very part of me. Siegfried has aspirations, knows he is meant to be something better than what the present holds.

I don’t perceive time in such a way, I can’t, I am too many things at once for something like time to seem linear to me.

But I am willing to make, to give, to use the effervescence in my palms on things that Siegfried desires from life. I’ve made him many castles over time, each better than the last, and I keep doing so. Not all of my creations live up to what we both imagine, and so far none of them have kept him close to me for good.

The problem doesn’t lie with the castles; they are wonderful, I know they are, the things I make are rarely far from beautiful. The problem is what Siegfried uses them for: endless distractions, endless parties designed to get people to love him. After a while, I have to hide from the activity.

But when I hide, that’s when Siegfried sees me most clearly, sees that I carry too many selves inside me. “Can’t you just be a woman, Melusina,” he begs me, “Just be one thing and be it fully, that’s all I ask.”

*

Every seven years, like the snake who birthed her, Melusina goes into the waters and rubs and rubs her skin until it comes loose from her body and sheds itself, running off with the stream.

This is an ability given to many humans in many cultures, but in Melusina’s case this act turns her body translucent. In this state of transparency, she can assess the damage her body has taken in those seven years, that time during which she loved too much, and was loved badly in return.

She assesses the state of her muscular tissue cramped and cracked from holding on too tightly, her tired tendons and bones. Has anything become crooked or stale, are there burst capillaries or clumped veins, has anything been deformed or permanently blocked? How broken is her heart? Are her lungs spotted from the air she breathes? Has another untruth been dislodged from the basin where she keeps her fears and made its way half-way up her windpipe? Has her liver ceased to care for her? Is anything cracked and in need of mending? Are her nails so full of ridges that she cannot scratch them down a lover’s back without leaving their dust behind? Are the roots of her hair barely clinging to the surface anymore?

For the most part, Melusina’s fine, healthy still, but who knows, seven more years may reveal a very different body to the one she has now. 

The Robot

Douter, c’est essayer des pensées, introduire des clefs diverses dans la serrure. 

Paul Valéry, Cahiers (1913-1914)

The Robot was built with a computer mind that eschews doubt. Doubt simply doesn’t occur to her. When she asks her friends to explain the concept, they say, “It’s the feeling of going about your daily activities and suddenly feeling yourself fall into the cracks between objects.”

The downside to most of her friends being poets is that she rarely finds their explanations useful. The tries to imagine doubt as it was described to her, but anytime she gets close she feels instead an urge to swing her arms at the objects in the room until they come crashing to the floor. 

The Robot was built deliberately; her friends, who are human, were not. In the process of her conception she was given predetermined responses and pathways for each problem she encounters. Her motives are clear, as are her goals, which flash as baby blue reminders in her field of vision. Her friends call her singularly determined, and admire her for this perceived quality.

But the Robot knows it is the absence of doubt that allows her to act as she does. Every part of her was deliberately placed, programmed with purpose. Every situation she finds herself in allows her to follow a given protocol. 

Sometimes, she wishes she could comprehend this elusive notion of doubt, even just for a moment, so she might understand her friends and why they seem to suffer so. With alarming regularity she finds herself on the phone with one of them and hears in their voice what she recognises as the chocking sound that comes from a human throat constricting with sadness. What made her friend sad, she asks, and the friend says, “The crushing weight of the world,” or “Unrequited love,” or “The unfairness of resource distribution,” and the Robot nods and says, “Yes, those are problems only to be solved by more advanced programming, endowed with a capacity for abstraction.” 

The conclusions the Robot comes to about similar situations often blend into one large mass. Unlike her friends, she isn’t subject to mood swings, or to cloudiness of judgment brought about by tiredness, sadness, or lust. She was programmed with very few basic moods, just enough to allow her to connect with humans on a fundamental level. She understands placidity, she understands upset, and she understands, though only in a rudimentary manner, attraction. Attraction, as she sees it, uses most of the same impulses as curiosity, but directs them towards a single person. 

For the most part however, the Robot’s capacity for desire is directed at the fulfilment of her tasks. She was programmed with the exact abilities required to complete her given tasks, and when she engages with the world it is in order to solve the problems that fall under the scope of her abilities.

When her friends tell her they lack purpose, she cannot understand what they mean, but stores the components of their statements for further analysis. Breaking things down into smaller pieces and organising them by similarities is her purpose. 

Like her friends, she is a composite creature with a material body and a programmable consciousness, although hers is programmable in a more straightforward sense.

The Robot knows the man who programmed her because he left traces of himself behind; while composing her mind, the man went through a break-up, and his own emotional reservations and short-circuits found their way into his intentions for her, his Robot.

As a consequence, her responses in romantic contexts mirror the programmer’s anxiety and detachment. It seems a kind of cruelty to have given her these features, but there are no accidents in building a mind like hers. She knows those responses were given to her deliberately, and they serve a purpose when it comes to fulfilling her tasks.

The very act of programming is an act of utter intentionality. 

But, needless to say, unlike her duties, her relationships all follow a curve leading to failure. Most of them even end the same way, and she could easily fold them all into one large mass of romantic failure if she didn’t differentiate between them by means of time-stamps and code-names. Her former partners, if asked, would give very different accounts of their relationship with her, but to her they all amount to the same path.

When her friends complain about feeling burdened by responsibilities, she doesn’t understand how this can possibly make them anxious. Responsibilities are tasks programmed into one’s set of functionalities, and which one can’t help but engage with. When the Robot encounters an object that fits into her set of duties, she drops whatever she is doing in order to fulfil the task at hand.

Why do her friends resist these tasks, and for the sake of what? What else is there? The Robot cannot see anything else, but has been provided with a basic sympathetic function allowing her to wish her friends could feel the bliss that comes with utter certainty.

Unlike her friends’ organic bodies, the Robot’s mechanical body can be taken apart without pain, and it is easily fixable. The reparative gesture is barely disruptive, requires no anaesthetic, and can be performed either by technicians, or by the Robot herself. She has the ability to recognise structural inconsistencies in her body and to seek out replacement parts. Luckily, few such amendments have been necessary, since she was carefully made by talented people. 

Only once did she find herself in a pickle, when after some serious exertion the screws around both her arms had loosened to the point where she had to sit still and calculate which of her arms was less likely to fall off if she tried using it to tighten the screws back up. Unfortunately, both arms eventually fell to the ground and she was left with no other recourse but to send out an emergency signal. When a member of her team finally arrived to repair the damage, the Robot felt foolish for a while, and retreated into silence. 

Still, it is an advantage to know that her body comes with a set of instructions, and that her entire construction process was carefully logged and monitored, and that she has full access to all of this information. Her friends often hold their stomachs and have no idea why they are hurting. 

The Robot understands that, in material terms, she bears little difference to the objects she spends much of her time taking apart and putting back together, such as light switches, toasters and printers. She cannot communicate with these objects because their programming is too basic and not set out for small talk, but even though she seeks out humans for her communicative needs, she has to admit that she feels more comfortable handling the hard, well-delineated materiality of a machine, no matter how primitive, than the soft, pulsating flesh of a human lover.

She feels the beat of human hearts, so different from the whizzing and whirring alive inside her, and she feels terrified. Suddenly, she finds herself saying something unkind to the loving human face looking back at her. In the next instant, the human has retreated, and is found trembling or crying in a corner. The same downward slope each time. The Robot is so familiar with it they all blend into one. The failure of providing the human lover with the tenderness she needs. The void of lost affection.

The Robot understands that humans have no means of compartmentalising their difficult feelings towards her, and so she tries to make things for them easier by disappearing physically. 

During the construction process, the Robot was given a soul. It features in her body as a material object, a cylindrical container which glows blue when she comes across something or someone that matches her predetermined set of sensibilities. Her soul’s aspirations are certain, and useful to the world she inhabits. Her mind was given room to learn from her actions. The Robot is not an accident, not an idle exercise in creation. Were she prone to doubt, the deliberateness of her existence would sustain her against it; luckily, doubt has never entered her mind at all.