The Sum of Two
He was not made to be real; perhaps, a little more than suffering eyes and the sum of many parts. He was not made to tell stories, yet crafted romance on the right, lies on the left. He could be a music box. Wires, gears, voltage to spangle in the sun.
(Or he could be one of many love letters, stored behind crooks and crannies, between the space where the sums of their parts met.) A loving machine. His eyes flickered and peered at her beyond the fog, so hard to reach yet close enough to breathe.
She thought, he can't be as real as the rain. While trees cupped lonely arms around his crescent hair.
"…But I can tell you a story." His gaze undulated softly.
"How do stories know if they're real?"
"They need not know, because all the world's a stage, and the men and women merely actors."
(Sometimes the creators were too perfect. They knew how to align gears, pulse wired signals, and beam thoughts from the mind to the heart in the space of a millisecond. Sometimes they created things a little more real than humans. So why would robots know about Once Upon a Time?)
"I would like a real story."
He sighed, lips parted, contemplating melody.
"About a ballerina," she continued, "And a tin soldier." She watched as the digits clicked in place and the gears shifted deep inside, as the smile broke over his pale face, as the eyes lit like planets and he could seize the day.
"Once upon a time…" (a story), "There was a porcelain ballerina, delicate, who lived in a roomful of colours and toys."
She breathed, "There was a tin soldier. With one leg and a heart of gold."
(A wisp of curling leaf,) "Ever real."
"Did they live in a castle," she tightened, "With clouds of lavender, starry fountains, and planets… dark as space?"
The machine shone. "Heaven, dear, they met in heaven."
The first time he met her he saw her straight to the scar. It trickled across her neck and twined between her breasts. A blotch, a living parasitic genetic mutation. As she stood, naked as a statue in the bathroom, she scrubbed her nails across the snaking thing. Wondered: how real am I?
Flesh and blood, maybe. But the Cartesian Eyes, the Afghan Nose, the smatter of freckles across her mask. These were no genes inherited from loving biological parents. Instead, she was a hybrid, a storybook of cross-breeds and selection, a patchwork of test-tubes carefully cleaned and re-arranged.
So, every week she took a paint stripper and worked on the scar till it wavered and ripped away, oozing.
That's when she saw him in the crystal mirror. He could have been watching the sun, or contemplating a fly. His eyes burned like onyx set in ice and held a thousand tragedies. (Perhaps they were pieced together, like Life, into different shades and unrealities.) An ironic glimmer cursed through her lips. When she released her fingers from their grip on the sink, they were bruised with blood.
"The ballerina had a heart and one leg too," he heaved. "Or so it seemed. She stood on one leg while the other froze midair, a graceful arabesque."
She threaded her fingers through the leaves.
"So you see, the tin soldier was like her."
"With two legs between them."
(The sum of drops to form an ocean, numbers into words, the sum of two to form a mystery they sometimes called "love", and other times "man.")
He said, "They met in a world that could be nothing but heaven."
"… Did they dance?"
"With two legs between them they waltzed. In a toy garden that was always Fall, while paper trees carved out drooping trails. The rocking horse was their gentle giant; the Jack-in-the-Box, a pleasant surprise. They had had picnics and explorations…"
"…And he wrote love letters."
(Yes, he did. He wrote love letters that calculated the meaning of Life: the Sum of Chocolate, The Total of Giants, the Breadth of the Cosmos. Rows and rows of numbers. The pages languished behind curtains and drawers, between her earlobes or under her skin, so she could find them and piece them to a sum of many parts.)
"But her favourite one…"
(was One plus one equals two.)
(That was somewhat true.)
The first time he met her he kissed away her tears. He could have been watching the sun or contemplating a fly; but as he smoothed over the serrated scar and suffered the geography of pain, she was wrenched by a mystery of sums and parts. Does a machine understand? Does he comprehend the tenacious bond between Nature and Artifice? Too late, almost, as his kiss burned into her lips, did she regret her spasmodic decision. She pulled away for a second; he clung for an eternity.
So she said, "Who are you?"
The mirror rippled; as like her mind, it struggled to set image onto crystal, to actualize, to define a sequence of numbers and signals into a real man – and eventually, a sum of two.
He said, "I love you."
"Then she broke," her whisper cut through the haze. Slits of silver. "When the soldier saw her scar, it was too much. The ballerina split into scintillating pieces…"
(Scattered over desks, lamps, and scented books. A kiss here. A honeydrop here. A mask under the bed...)
The trees echoed.
His gaze, perhaps he wanted to cup her chin, read her lines, verify. "So he could piece them back together, one by one." (Whimsy eyes.) "So each piece would have a name." (Kings and Queens.) "So everything could return from whence they'd come." (Heaven.) "So in the end…"
"But he was not very real."
Like rain-fire, "He was real enough to love."
(Real enough to two-leg waltz, to tell stories, and disappear inside the rain.)
(The he in front of her now, not the he in the story but the he in real life, could not have been real. He was not meant to tell stories. He could be a music box instead… but what did his letters say? Love letters never lied. They only brought numbers from one world to the next.
Take a beautiful day, when she could ask him, while massaging his shoulders, What are you doing?
Calculating a sum, he would reply.
As she kissed his ears, A sum, or parts of what?
I don't know. Another dimension of you.
Another dimension of me?
But I'm broken. There's nothing left of me.
Then that whisper would haunt again, creeping up her neck and soaking ever so close to her lips, That's why you are so many parts.)
Now her fingers spaced together. Reaching into the past, or only fog. "Then she would break apart even more."
My tin soldier, my metal love, Mother Artifice was cruel and very wise, can't you see? She's fashioned her models of perfection after the flaws of mankind. She's seen Man's incompetence: his bargained loves, sporadic spurns, his ability to fail on every level. His hatred of remaining unspecified, no?
So she's created her own nature out of robots, selective breeding, and all that shit. And then her final jest: A Frankenstein for love! Knowledge and feeling and intensity all wrapped in one sleek and sexy package. When a thousand atoms break apart he'll bind them together, call it a day.
She created you. Do you have a soul?
So I'll ask you do you know what fragile means? Suffering eyes (art). Wounded heart (arrow). Fragile words… (fragile.) String the words together and you've got Suffering eyes art wounded heart arrow fragile words fragile… and the sum of its parts will constitute a soul, or a scar, or a story that means more than the sum of its parts.
Or I'll ask you about scars, specifically. Different types of scars. On my forearm there's the Human-Never-Understands. On my neck the Look-At-That-Pretty-Hair-But-HELL'S BELLS!-THAT-JAGGED-SCAR!. There's Mommy's-Ever-So-Proud-Of-You imprinted on my cheek and Ideas-Were-Never-Meant-To-Be-Real on a breast. But most people only see the Look-At-That-Pretty-Hair-But-HELL'S BELLS!-THAT-JAGGED-SCAR!, so you can see too, it was a splendid fairytale.
The problem is I'm not that much more real than you. I don't remember what happened at the end of the story but do you understand…? I'm a storybook of plans like you. Factorized. When they pulled me out of the test-tubes Mommy smiled. I wonder if they remembered to give me a heart.
His eyes gleamed and surfaced stars. "But she could love."
(When she read his letters, she stored the words-between-numbers in the canals of her heart: verbs for the aortic arch, adjectives in the aorta, right ventricle for adverbs. The left ventricle she reserved for pronouns. But how could she explain?)
"Yes, she was real. Every bit as real as he in their paradise."
"But in his presence, how could she remain-"
She searched for words, "How could she breathe-"
"It was impossible… to stick those atoms together and…"
His touch, fingers entwined in hers, was electric. "She shattered so he could piece her parts together, so they'd know the whole was greater than the sum of her parts, so with a kiss he could join a toe to a foot, an arm to a shoulder, a tongue to a-"
"BUT WHO IS SHE?!!"
…365-ONE THING-12-YOU COULD-7-NOT-1-PROTECT ME FROM WAS THE SUM-+-OF YOUR PARTS
His eyes welled in pain nd he stared, as their toy empire crashed, as their story died into nothing more than numbers and petals laced in tears. (Once upon a time she'd scrawled a letter of numbers in virgin blood, about the fear of too many sums.)
Her voice scratched, "She did not want to be loved. She could not love, and she would never love in return."
He did not understand.
"Forget it. She was not real."
"But real to him, the tin soldier." His fingers trembled past her hair.
"But what if she wasn't capable of such love?"
(Then she would die, irreversibly.)
"What if her whole – was less than the sum of her parts? She could be guilty-"
"-And that was why she broke."
(Yes.) A leaf gasped its last breath and howled, dripped to the ground, another October gone.
"The first night we met-" he began-
"There was no night," she clipped. Only a moon now, and you must run." But he could not let go. His eyes were steel sapphires.
"Yes," she babbled into the curve of his marbled shoulders. "You must. The tin soldier must. When the haters find you they will swoop over, like a storm cloud, cut you into little pieces."
Despite her pull of thoughts and the ache of parts that would never (again) fuse, she clutched his fingers one last time, clasped the machine and let go but did not let go. "What do you think I would do with the pieces?"
The Sum of Two, continued:
Once upon a time, a girl who was real rushed into a room full of sharp slices. Blindly, flailing for a sign. But there was none. She saw a foot and a joint, and thousands of shattered glass. She felt her heart heave.
Aching, she did not know where to cry at first because there were so many parts, each of them equally real. So she began with the crumpled papers in his maimed hands: The Sum of Chocolate, The Total of Giants, The Breadth of the Cosmos… And then, read the final Sum of Two:
1: What are you doing?
2: Calculating a sum.
3: A sum, or parts of what?
5: I don't know. Another dimension of you.
8: Another dimension of me?
21: But I'm broken. There's nothing left of me.
1 (Then that kiss would haunt again, creeping up her neck and soaking ever so close to her lips…): That's why you are so many parts.
(One plus one equals one.)