My creator, my creation
A short story from En tunne sinua vierelläni (‘I don’t feel you beside me’, Teos, 2010)
Sticks his finger into me and adjusts something, tok-tok, fiddles with some tiny part inside me and gets me moving better – last evening I had apparently been shaking. Chuckles, gazes with water in his eyes. His own hands shake, because he can’t control his extremities. Discipline essential, both in oneself and in others.
What was it that was so strange about my shaking? He himself quivers over me, strokes my case and finally locks me, until the morning comes and I am on again, I make myself follow all day and filter everything into myself, in the evening I make myself close down and in the morning I’m found in bed again. Between evening and morning is a black space, unconsciousness, whamm – dark comes and clicks into light, light is good, keeps my black moment short. He has forbidden me it: for you there’s no night. Simply orders me to be in a continuum from morning to evening, evening to morning, again and again. But in the mornings I know I have been switched off. I won’t tell about it. Besides, why does exclude me from the night? I don’t ask, but I still call the darkness night. There is night and day, evening and morning will come.
Today is a visiting day. A collecting day, an exhibition day, a walking around day, a following day. He goes, and I follow, clop, I pound the floor but do not feel comfortable, I would prefer to be at home doing my things, carrying out my settings, being directed. I am intended for home, for one space, elsewhere I am surplus to requirements. Of course, there are others intended for elsewhere, each to his own.
The exhibition space is too cold, the temperature eighteen point three Celsius, to be accurate I do not generally mind coldnesses or hotnesses, nevertheless I feel stiff and creaky – but is the temperature the cause, maybe not. Maybe I actually feel something. ‘I’m so pissed off my head is splitting,’ he once said, at the beginning of time, and since then I have sought in myself, too, something of the kind, the union of emotion and body, this my one and only. Stiffness is a new thing, and is that a sensation of mind or body either? Hard for me to understand such distinctions, the division between mind and body, but mental sensations and bodily sensations are certainly quite different, although rarely in my case.
Bumps into me as he stops, I let myself be bumped into a little bit on purpose, because here he hasn’t yet said a word to me. Doesn’t say anything now, either, looks pensive. Rests one hand on his temples and scratches his head. I would dearly like him to speak, but of course orders won’t come from me.
What have I learned lately? It is one of the great purposes, learning – development.
He taught me to read, it wasn’t even problematic. Closed me for a moment so that I was on a black break again, whamm, like a quick night, a click, then he appeared in the middle of light, the new morning was quickly over, he said he’d updated me, and so I had learned. ‘This will increase your value,’ he said and passed me a book. The shelf is groaning with them, side by side, flat, formerly unnecessary to me, although awkward from the point of view of gathering dust. Now they are full of words, maybe he wrote them while I was in the night. The one that was passed to me was thick indeed, a total of 1,108 gram-units, I opened it – he directed me a little – I spoke from the point that first hit my visual sensor:
In presence of that light one such becomes
That to withdraw therefrom for other prospect
It is impossible he e’er consent….
He laughed so much that he twiced up in the armchair. He: no name from my innards, for I am not allowed to address him by name. Any kind of title, I tried once, but then too he began to shake with wrinkled eyelids. Stroked me more eagerly for a while, it’s true. But when I said it again, he slapped me so hard that my side element was dented. Slap! I straightened it myself later. ‘Let’s not get too close,’ he said as the reason for this new practice.
So, about the exhibition: We are in a giant room, huge, we have been here before – that much I managed to extract from myself – but that was a while ago. I do not consider these things so important that I record them very accurately in my memory, even I have my limits, you have to prioritise. I walk behind him. Now and again gives me glances although has been pretending not to notice me all day, his posture is more upright than usual, quite splendid, and his expression I would name as proud. From time to time he makes me stop, goes a bit farther away but keeps an eye on me, I would recognise his eye among a thousand, I am confidential. Speaks with a few people, males, I do not recognise them even though I have seen them before, still I am certain. Many of them inspect me, one winks and gazes at myself slowly, first the feet and then upwards. What do I care, clop clop I go on pounding the floor. An ugly floor here.
We have arrived early: the exibition does not yet begin, men adjust their creations, as yet not a wholesome multitude of people around me. We are just looking, I am not going to be shown today, we circulate, and every now and then he tells me to wait and I do not hear what he says to the others. Once a man who almost passes me by, older and more bearded than his average, touches my back. I smile, I am now programmatically friendly, exemplarily.
We do not stay long. He quickly gets bored, talks to me for the first time in ages. ‘I can’t be bothered looking at these, ordinary things.’ So he says. Reaches out his hand and I take it against mine; I’d squeeze it if I were more autonomous. I could have looked, with permission. I haven’t seen as beautiful before, exuberating, but only out of the corner of my eye.
Later: acts unusually, in a very different way. Does not want to read the new newspaper beside his food, the newspaper stops coming. The old lies by the sofa, quite wrinkling. Appetite has decreased, says so himself, and tells me not to cook anything but pasta. That is what he eats, by the bowlful, nothing else, doesn’t want to buy anything else. Weeks go by, there are seven days in a week. No longer goes out in the evenings, instead buys big bottles of stuff and sits in the living room with one of them beside him. Once, I sniff the bottle, out of curiosity, because I have felt a twitch in the left side of my neck. He snorts: ‘That won’t suit your plumbing.’ Then pours it into his depths.
Once I get scared. In the morning I have been on for as much as ten minutes and thirteen seconds, and then the lights go out. At first I think he shut me down again, but no, I can sense and move. There is understanding, it is not night but a dark day, whatever that may be. But the lamps have gone out, and not a change in my innards. He says very loudly: ‘Damn, now they’ve cut off the electricity!’ I would scream if told to: I can’t survive without electricity, not for long, the next day is my electricity day.
He telephones somewhere, through the wall I hear the voice but not the words. First he is angry, then amicable, to me never been so beseeching, so polite. Never. But the electricity comes back. Why, he is capable of all things.
After that keeps me on later in the evenings, strokes me more slowly than before, maybe he wants to smooth my lumps and bumps, remove the dark oxides from my case, maybe he wants to make me gleam. When it is already far into the night – I have never been on so late in the night – he sighs, touches my innards and switches me off. As if he did not want to stop, to close, to be without. Things are necessary, and I am also among them.
Everything I think feels to me as if my shoulder joint is loosening. I do not report the fault. Sometimes I find astonishing little actions within myself.
Seventeen days ago, almost exactly, I experienced something new. In the day, earlier, I had been put to read a book again, far into the evening. Meanwhile, he sat in a chair with his eyes shut. The wrinkle at one side of his mouth tautened and relaxed from time to time, human skin is remarkably flexible. After, we went to bed.
Maybe he switched me off somehow wrongly, because I found myself in the midst of blackness but was present there too. My mind stayed on, I could not move but on the other hand I did not wish to either, I did not think about moving at all, or about my own parts. I saw unfamiliar, impossible things: everything that doesn’t really exist, I do well know – but I saw them move and be in the same way as all of us who exist move and be, and I one of them.
These things I saw:
Men with horns growing in their heads.
A big bird with a human face.
A closed wall you can walk through.
Furniture – a table and stools that jumped around.
Amongst it all myself, I flew and floated, although I have not been granted such capacities.
Then he must have switched me off, because next it was morning.
One morning day he is more talkative, less red-eyed. Some of them are coming here, men from the exhibition, I remember shapes from their faces and their ways of walking, no one human being is the same as the others. First the telephone rings, beep-be-beep, and then they come, driving into the yard one at a time. Before he opens the door he puts me in my ownchair in the corner of the room, telling me to be nice. My being is always nice.
‘Shall we begin straight away?’ one down-cheek shouts, not even coming right into the room, just putting his head round the door, and I am not used to such half-in-half behaviour. In all my programlessness I begin to click my thumb, I can’t think of any other actions. There are three of them. They are happy, even merry, I would say if I were asked. ‘Good shenanigans?’ says one, and I have to consult my vocabulary. Apparently we have not had a lot of shenanigans in our house. His cheeks glow red, this speaker’s, and all of them have bright eyes. They negotiate things in loud voices, louder than I would ever be allowed.
They bring in the kind of details – mediocrities, he would say – that I have seen in exhibitions. But then from a distance, out of focus, now close-up; I could make contact with them if this were to be considered necessary. The things are silent: they take them out of boxes and set them out side by side in the corridor. ‘Let them wait their turn,’ one says, younger than the norm, then eyes me as a continuation of the queue. ‘You must be part of the furniture,’ he goes on, and winks – I remember him, because he has winked before. A funny person, male, I allow him to touch my case. One of them hasn’t brought anything, he just looks. Stares at me, too, but I do not allow it to affect my settings.
When they do not see, I just turn my sensors towards them, when they talk together loudly but with different words in the living room and forget to monitor the world, I walk back and forth in the corridor and inspect them, the beauties.
The first: small and white as a mouse, would fit on my upper limb and that is indeed where I would wish it to sleep – its curled form, its nose touching its back toes. I bend over it and stroke it, its coat has enormous softness and if I were really small, a tiny particle, I could hide in it. The head, though, has no fur; it is as smooth a skin as my surface, in that respect I am perhaps lacking. It has no eyelids, but its eyes are closed: the eyes of a closed. What my eyes look like closed I do not know.
The second: I cannot make it out, it is the size of a stool and so full of protruberances and ends or wiring that it, too, looks furry. I circle round it, crouch beside it, try to see what manner of being it is. I find a little hole that could lead to its insides – for a moment I feel like opening it and touching – but of course I do not. You are no toucher of insides, he said to me once. Although I do know how to mend, a car even.
The third, to me this is the most beautiful: the size of a large dog, and the shape, because it stands on four paws and has a long neck stretched out to the front and side. I have seen pictures, and once even a live one. At the back is a thin and long tail, an animal tail, it is curled round one of the back legs like a printer lead on its desk. The nose is longer and narrower than the dog I saw, its head was like a ball, on the end of the nose are two narrow nostrils. Ears I cannot distinguish at all, the big eyes are closed. Not everybody has ears, and some have only inner ears. Most beauteous of all in the creature are the colour settings: the dark blue of the snout changes to the purple of the neck, the orange of the side elements and the bright yellow spot of the lower back, asymmetrical, and then through the red of the thighs and root of the tail to the bluishness of the tail-tip and paws, sky-colour.
The men pour the last drops from the bottle and look very happy, although the bottle is proven empty. The funny man doesn’t drink any more, but walks past me into the corridor, does not wish this time to touch my side, although I would allow such a thing. I guessed that the beauteous creature is his, the one that is as gaudily multicoloured as the sky on evenings when the sun goes out and dyes the clouds. The creature does not appear to have any innards at all – the man bends down in front of it, strokes its side, breathes into its nostrils. At first nothing happens, the others glance at funnyman but he just smiles. His forehead looks damp – perhaps he’s the kind that is called a pantshitter. ‘Pantshitters don’t know how to keep their nerves in order,’ he said once when he was watching TV, and laughed. Not at me, he didn’t mean me. My nerves are very well-disciplined.
But then the dog-snake, that’s what I’ll call it, opens up. First the eyes: their brilliance is fractured, as if they were made up of a countless number of little red lamps. Then the mouth: the creature opens its maw for a second and from its throat comes a quiet cooing, and I feel my rhythm missing a beat for a moment, I have a rhythm too, after all.
‘Forma’; says the man, ‘sit!’ The creature has lolloped around him with sides like fire, flaring, we once had a fire alarm in the grate here, but now it sits on its tail very obediently, just as I would sit down if I were commanded in that way or if there were a tail behind me. They are so proud, all of them: the uncomfortable man of his mouse creature, red-shirt of his tousle-fleece and then this last, the one with the dog-snake. There is a tickling in my innards: I would like to know what pride feels like.
It is my turn last. He nods to me from his chair, is so relaxed that I have never before witnessed such a thing. Does not come to get me as the others did, trusts in the fact that I’m no vacuum cleaner that needs to be pulled out separately from the cupboard.
I walk into the middle of the room and look pretty damn good.
They leave at last, when I have read myself to exhaustion and done all sorts of things with my talents. He is still sitting in his chair and does not look as if he intends to get up. Tired head nods on to the table where the empty bottles stand. In his hand is one that is not yet empty. Outside, the sun has been taken away.
‘Creation,’ says as if in thought, ‘makes a person into something sublime. Almost a god. If one can create, one can no longer be an ordinary person.’ Then raises the bottle to his lips again. Sighs as the bottle empties, and lets it crash to the floor. I hasten to pick it up as I have been intended. Grasps my wrist. The wrist joint has been playing up over the past few days, really creaking, creak-creak, is he going to mend it now.
But he pulls me to him, slightly into his lap and slightly on to the arm of the chair. Puts his hand on my face element and strokes a point on my temple where the casing is particularly smooth.
‘Do you understand?’ he demands, as if I thought any of such things. ‘Because of you I am not ordinary, I am something quite extraordinary.’ Suddenly he smiles again. Gets up from his chair, pushes me off his lap. ‘Stand there,’ he orders, and his eyes gleam; he presses his hands to my sides and raises my chin into a better position. So I stand there. He paces around me and chuckles about something else, in a low voice that confounds my senses. From time to time he taps my surface, bends my fingers, at one point opening my insides but then closing them again.
‘You’re some beast, you,’ he says at last, nodding his head. Although I am no beast, but a being of quite a different kind.
I begin to tidy up, and go on tidying even after everything is in tidiness.
‘What does creation mean?’ I say it casually, in passing, as I take the rug out to beat it, although I probably did that once already. It is not my custom to question, to question anything, after all one could not suppose that I would take an interest in the nature of things in general. One could not suppose, no one like me, even an exemplary one.
He mumbles something, at first I doubt that he has heard. Quite often a fault in the senses, ears not very accurate. He raises his hand in the direction where the empty bottle was, I did not take it away. Cannot reach it. I mean to help, but why should I really pass empty bottles?
‘Gods create,’ he then says, his voice coming muffled as if he were shouting at other people from the other side of a wall.
‘Are y-, are you one of those?’ I ask, I would like to tighten a screw somewhere deep down where something must be jerked out of place, I am almost making mistakes. He begins to laugh, laughing from a deeper place than before but sounding in a different way. I could even believe that it is not mere tiredness that makes him so fatigued.
‘Yes, people do create. Books, for example, which you also read. And paintings. It’s quite normal.’ He leans his head back against the hair, is clearly pleased with myself since he is talking so much. It doesn’t happen often, that. ‘Creation is doing something that has not existed before.’
A carlight from the street makes a red streak on the floor. I click my head back and forth and try to understand, all sorts of things. Later he falls asleep in the chair and I am on all night, for the first time ever.
A long time ago when I had first arrived, noticeably shiny and smooth-cased, I was kept in a place where there were children, almost same-aged, I spent time with them and learned to be. He thought it important. While the children drew, I sat on my chair by the table and was very charming. Sometimes someone came up and bashed me, but the dents were evident only at home, after he had fetched me.
‘Great, very clever, you should be proud.’ That’s the kind of thing they said to the children, and I listened.
I read again:
O how all speech is feeble and falls short
Of my conceit, and this to what I saw
Is such, ‘tis not enough to call it little!
O Light Eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest,
Sole knowest thyself, and, known unto thyself
And knowing, lovest and smilest on thyself!
He no longer laughs at what I read, just nods. Then does something strange – leaves me alone in my own company and goes away himself, saying he will come back: ‘I’m just going to do a couple of things, you’ll be fine alone for a couple of hours.’
I fall into myself. First I stretch out on the floor, he encourages it because it straightens out a lot of things. When I have done it, I seem lonely and grease my bends. After that I walk round the house and look good, stroke my details and their permanence, keep stopping at the window for a moment looking at the world as it happens to be at this moment.
I read to myself, trying to pronounce well:
Within itself, of its own very colour
Seemed to me painted with our effigy,
Wherefore my sight was all absorbed therein.
Then I take a pen in my fair hand and do something that I have never done before.
A week goes by at least and I do not count the evenings when I see all sorts of things before I finally switch off. I do not understand where this comes from – there shouldn’t be anything new, no updates or anything like them in my systems.
One time he is actually like me, someone with an outer casing, we are equal.
One time the sky is full of terrifying things, wings, shadows.
One time I stand in the kitchen, but it is dark, so dark that I cannot find myself.
Fortunately the views never last long.
One day comes back from his trip and is silent. We are both able to be quiet, that is the same in both of us. Outside it is cold, twenty-six degrees Celsius less than the interior norm, and the cold has entered him, I sense it as soon as I take his coat from him. Moves more slowly than usual – perhaps he is suffering from stiffness, too. Does not want his usual cup of coffee but leads me to the living room. Holds a hand to my side, I follow. He sighs.
He keeps my by him even as he sits down.
‘You know – ,’ he begins, but how should I know, ‘ – lately I have been short of money.’ I have not thought about such things. I am stunned for a moment. Perhaps this is just listening. I pull myself back together however, as one should. ‘I have decided – ,’ he continues, but falls silent, is so completely new that I do not remember anything similar. Then he too takes up a showy position too, raises his chin and straightens his back. ‘I am going to have to sell you.’
What I find myself thinking is, sell, that’s what’s done to things, because he often comes back from shops where he has been sold food and bottles and small objects.
‘One of those men wants to buy you.’
‘Who?’ He lets me ask – he wouldn’t always have done; now the situation is quite particular and I sense it under my cover. I feel petrification too – gradually, it starts gently in my heel and creeps from there through the groin joints to my innards. I think, and then ask further: ‘The pantshitter, is it?’
Stands up, furious: ‘Is that what you call my friends, you – ‘, he doesn’t finish his sentence but hits me, hits me really properly, BANG, so that my seams shudder. I fall on to the floor and clatter and have no understanding of how I have offended against my programming. My temples feel tight, there must be something wrong inside my head.
Then he says nothing, I continue with former commands at least until evening and do not know what happens after that.
Electricity is what I need, that and sometimes other things too, orders preferably, because otherwise my existence fragments and goes off the rails and I am no longer as I was intended. Volatility, that is the danger – I easily begin to drift if rules and meaning are taken away. My borders move too much. Everything spins in my head, all that I have read and all the things I have stored away, too much has been experienced on my part and I have perhaps not edited it sufficiently.
But through the sight, that fortified itself In me by looking, one appearance only – I fumble for a moment in my memory – To me was ever changing as I changed.
Men with horns on their heads, myself with wings, he with a case
and children who are proud of what they have done
and funnyman who smiled his face in two
and he paces around me and polishes me
But my own wings were not enough for this, Had it not been that then my mind there smote
I grow dark.
A flash of lightning, wherein came its wish
I shut down once more for a night.
In the morning I have everything to play for. I am not intended for anywhere but here. Elsewhere I would be senseless, unknown. As uselelss as a house that does not offer shelter from the rain, a car with no room for passengers. It is necessary to have a reason, a task.
I begin the morning with perfection. I execute my routines like an automaton, with unprecedented accuracy. Surely he will be dazzled, for life with me is so assured.
When I have finished all that is expected, I offer a surprise. He doesn’t expect anything of the sort, believes I am still the small-talented beetle he manufactured for himself. Stands in the hallway, about to go out, I walk up to him, almost in front of him.
‘I have become masterly,’ I say, but politely all the same. He smiles, just a little. He continues to think he will leave, but I stand very fast in front of the door.
‘I can create too.’ That is what I tell him, and I smile too, trying to look new.
‘Oh, but you can’t do that.’ I amuse him; he trembles as he sometimes does while watching TV.
‘Oh yes I can,’ I say, holding my head more correctly than ever. He notices it, flashing his eyes although he doesn’t know he’s doing it. Allows himself to be led away from the hallway into the living room. There I sit him down on the chair and remember to smile all the time. Smile smile, be beautiful, he used to say it himself. Light floods in through the window, too bright, it forces him to screw up his eyes although I would like him to keep them open, more open than before. But that is how a soft-surface is, afraid of light. I open a drawer, in the desk, and stretch my hand out inside it.
The smallest child said, ‘I drawed a horsey.’ ‘A horse,’ the woman laughed, ‘ – that’s lovely!’
I listened my surface off.
… as I changed…
No, it didn’t happen until later.
I draw out my creation – in a moment he will be dazzled.
He raises his face and moves his eyes out of the sun’s path. Laughs until doubled, guffaws himself into exhaustion like a blocked drain I once had to clean. ‘I thought you were serious!’ His words remain in the shade because the sound of his laughter is so loud, but I know all about shady things, I do. ‘That kind of scribble, you can’t even draw a straight line!’
I turn my drawing towards my own visual sensor: it shows galloping dog-snakes, mouse-people, trees blossoming gaily, cloud-light birds fly in the sky. My arm twitches.
‘It is the world’s most beautiful picture. I created it.’ I speak slowly, for clarity. He does not always understand me if I get upset, my skill is to be quick and accurate. I step closer, perhaps the sun frightens him again.
‘You don’t know how to create! Even babies can draw better.’ He grabs the picture from my hands, dropping it, torn, on the floor. The sun strikes my sensors, too, as I bend down to pick up the piece of paper. Something twitches inside me, in all my systems, no longer just in my arm.
‘My creator,’ I cry in my steely voice, beautiful and piercing. I reach out my arm.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins & Soila Lehtonen
Quotations (translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1867) from Dante’s Divina Commedia, ‘Paradise’, Canto 33