A Short, Happy Life
by Simon Smith
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
For the next few days, I conducted experiments. I cooked a meal, walked to the park, drove a car and went to the shops; all in a state of complete unawareness. Returning to the world of sensation was never a problem. I would deactivate intuitively, whenever it seemed the appropriate time. My worries about inadvertently triggering the device also proved unfounded. I appeared to have more self-control than I realised. The vague idea of the code was not a powerful enough spell. I was required to actively drag the words to the front of my mind and inwardly pronounce them with force and clarity.
I must say that I wondered how this was achieved by my unconscious self, and this led to other questions about what sort of things might be glimmering within my curtained mind. I was obviously capable of responsive and pre-ordained action, but what rudimentary dreamings might emerge in that inchoate miasma? I had a chilling vision of some twisted scenario reminiscent of a story by Lovecraft or Poe.
Boldly or foolishly, I ignored these misgivings. Enraptured by novelty, I spent the rest of the week putting Auto-Mate to the test. The time passed quickly; it seemed not long at all before my holiday was over. It was time to go back to work.
I had high hopes of impressing my colleagues with my state-of-the-art augmentation, and it is true that I provoked their attention. They asked many questions about the installation procedure, often with no small note of envy, but when I spoke about Auto-Mate their attitude changed. They were incredulous that I had chosen that application.
I tried to explain the device’s significance, but these people had no taste for matters of philosophy. It was at this point that I realised the breadth of the abyss between us. I had to concede to being forever an outsider; as Schopenhauer taught us, some men are ill-fitted for a life at court.
I resolved to make no future attempts at socialising. I would be politely formal but spend my work hours entirely focused on the tasks for which I was paid. Unfortunately, this strategy had its own dissatisfactions.
I had always desired an intellectual occupation, but in truth my work was an interminable bore: working through endless unnecessary equations that were badly formatted and often wrong. No hope of transcendence to a world of Platonic beauty here. This was a brutal slog through morasses of mathematical mud, and every paper I rejected left me slightly more depressed.
I recall the day I was confronted with a sixty-page document announcing a Theory of Special Relativistic Thermodynamic Transformations. It appeared to be almost entirely comprised of redundant notation and printed in minuscule, headache-inducing type. I was required to work through every line of this quixotic monstrosity and would doubtless be challenged on my professional integrity when the document was consigned to the great wastepaper bin of futile endeavours.
When faced with such a task I am given to procrastination, and this instance was no exception. I made tea, read mail, filed documents; anything to delay the commencement of my dreary numerical task. Eventually I ran out of tactics and sat down at my desk with a pencil in hand. Then it occurred to me. Why not? Feeling slightly guilty, I brought forth the invocation: green elephants.
I came to awareness just in time to have lunch. Unusually for that time of day, I felt fresh and alert. I looked at the paper in front of me. I had reckoned the job to take over a week, but a third was completed already. I suspiciously leafed back through the document, half-expecting to find a spurious mess. Everything seemed correct and had been done with uncharacteristic neatness. I began to feel excited. I had discovered a method of outsourcing my workload whilst my conscious mind rested. I could literally do my job in my sleep.
I left the library office and walked to the refectory with a feeling of simmering joy, as if a whole new vista had opened up before me.
That afternoon I used Auto-Mate again. By the close of the following day, the job was complete. With my next task I employed the same practice. In no time at all, it was my standard routine. At the start of each day I spent a few conscious minutes prioritising my workload. I would then hand it over to Auto-Mate, reappearing briefly for an hour at midday when my stomach reminded me that I needed to eat.
I confess I began to look on my colleagues with a pitying sort of contempt. I imagined the library as a malevolent tyrant and the workers as scurrying serfs. Only I had the knowledge to circumvent this oppressive regime.
I could see that my studies had now become worthless. I had envisioned myself, upon their completion, immersed in some project in the world of research. But my heart knew the truth: job satisfaction is the song of a Siren. Many are the naïfs who have forsaken comfort for the chimerical dream of a rewarding career. With the benefit of Auto-Mate, I was no longer bound to partake in that demeaning struggle toward inevitable disillusionment. The library paid a good enough salary, my job was secure, and the work could be delegated to my unconscious twin.
I abandoned my doctorate and began working for the library full-time. I work there still. I have done the same job for the last fifty years and will shortly be leaving to draw my pension.
I don’t suppose there will be any great send-off. Maybe a card signed by strangers. Over the years many workers have passed through. The majority of them I chose not to approach. I didn’t learn their names. The truth is that I was hardly present, leaving in my absence an autonomous shell.
My colleagues are respectful; my job is done well and without complaint. I can’t say what they make of this white-haired old man with somnambulic manners, who lives alone in an uncared-for house. Their opinion means nothing to me. The person they know by my name is someone I have never met.
* * *
I hadn’t always lived alone, of course. In fact I was married before I was twenty. (Does that surprise you? It did me too.) My daughter was born soon after. A short time had passed since the end of my studies when my wife gave birth to a son, and we set up home in the suburbs. At first I was contented and had quiet expectations of a mild and unexceptional life.
Naturally, my children were the actuator of my existence. I can honestly say there was no purer pleasure than seeing small contented faces on my returning from work.
Alas, this was a rare occurrence indeed. My offspring were loud, obnoxious, and intolerably selfish. No children are saintly, but mine seemed accorded a special category of loathsomeness. I genuinely feared it was true; the spawn of my loins were in some way degenerate: the eldest, an ill-tempered harridan; the younger, a docile slob. Minerva forgive me, but I often wondered if I wouldn’t be happier had they both been drowned at birth.
Luckily for them, I had been granted the power of Auto-Mate. I didn’t take long to find its potential for use beyond the drudgery of the workplace and quotidian chores. Now I could show some parental indulgence. I could read bedtime stories, help with their homework and at times feign an interest in their laughably trivial lives. For some bizarre reason known only to my unconscious, I even proposed monthly trips to the zoo. My wife was delighted.
“Fitzroy,” she said, “I am very happy to see you coming to terms with your responsibilities as a father.”
Little did she know, that she had entrusted her children to the care of an insensate facsimile. I was no more a participant in those joyless excursions than I was in her dreams as I slept by her side at night.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Simon Smith