by Donald Zagardo
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
A new home, an old house
Before exile, my university office surrounded by Ivory Tower elegance was the laboratory in which I prepared the philosophical inundations that were to be the instrument of my ultimate glory and subsequent censure. “Government and religion today impart the greatest threat to civilization, morality and life itself,” was an early quotation of mine that found its way to my office door, posted by an adoring student, no doubt. It remained there until the very end.
Today, my office is in the center of the old country house and is its largest room. It is beautifully shabby, nearly filled with unopened boxes of books and newspapers. Science magazines litter its many shelves; a dusty globe in one corner, walls covered with star maps and antique pictures of drunken cherubs. Yellowed blinds bent at provocative angles, a desk that is at least one hundred years old, large and official-looking and probably the reason why I chose this house above all others offered to me.
The room has a wooden coat rack with nothing but an old yellow rain jacket hanging on its hooks. It was there when I first moved in, and a golden red-and-black counterfeit Persian carpet, too worn to ever look fresh. The room is somewhat large for my current requirements but there was a time when an office of this size would have been perfect, filled with students and colleagues, arguments and laughter.
Against the one windowed wall, perched upon a small table, the old brown and tan record player rests. It is no less than seventy-five years old, still working. On it Ramona likes to play soft music that was made long before she was. Bessie Smith, Etta James and Billie Holiday.
Sunlight streaks through its windows. They should be cleaner, but their grime affects the light in a gratifying way. Ramona is standing in the doorway, singing along to the music, swaying.
Mid-April evenings were perfect for walking through my country town, then off to the border. I kept my eyes wide at first while walking, watching surveillance cameras turn towards me as I passed them. The sounds of the metropolis hemorrhaged more and more through the quiet evening air as I walked. I observed country people in plain country clothing thinning in numbers, as urban folk in drab-dark city dress became prevalent. The banishment zone was under constant surveillance, cameras everywhere, but there were no guards or patrols to keep one in or out. I found the boundary land irresistible.
A narrow line of light indicating the border was generated by hundreds of three-inch-tall mini-towers, harmless light, lavender on a background of grass green. My encroach was exhilarating, until my uneasy eyes began to see an increased number of watchful cameras and people everywhere; ladies and gentlemen, even children and senior citizens whose mechanical movements suggested that they were indeed artificials, observing my every move.
From a distance I watched several tennis matches at a small park. I could hear the lively sound of tennis balls being struck from nearly a quarter-mile away. Players both male and female, were perfectly built and played extremely well. They became motionless, however, when I approached, then turned toward me with watchful, green-blue glowing eyes. Sparrows surveyed me from their telephone wires and tree-top perches. Crows turned their heads as they flew overhead, their eyes glowing green-blue and watching me. The distant sound of barking dogs was transformed into a mechanical, frightening, unnatural sound. Have they come to drive me mad?
It seemed markedly possible to me at that time, as I ran wildly toward the lavender lights of home and safety. My lungs and mind were exploding with pain, fear my only conscious thought. I have become dread. I have become madness. I have become inhuman.
She was sleeping on the right-hand side of our queen-sized bed, beside me. It was just past 3:00 a.m., her trance assured. This terrible moment had been postponed for far too many months. I slipped out of our bed and went to the garage, searching for a proper tool. Fear and love found no peace within me. Her words haunted my mind. “Arthur, how lucky we are to have each other. I am the one, aren’t I, Arthur?” Romance was always important to Ramona, but I now knew why and what I must do. I cleared my brain of foolish thoughts and toughened my body and heart.
Doubt departed as I slammed the iron mallet with its short wooden handle into Ramona’s artificial-flesh covered metallic skull again and again. The hammer broke through three or four times, until wires and tubes, circuits and the plastic sockets of her eyes were strewn across the bedroom floor, the bed and the walls. It was not blood and flesh or brain matter that scattered throughout the room as I had secretly feared it might; it was artificial tissue and electronic gadgetry. Ramona flashed alive for a short moment before sputtering to a stop. She and the world were very still for a while. Neighbors must have heard the commotion.
Police and emergency vehicles swarmed the rural street in front of the old house. EMTs carried the beautiful, broken artificial life form, no longer animated, from the front door of our home to an ambulance, then to who knows where? Early spring morning light began to glow golden through leafless trees, reflecting off private mailboxes and police cruisers.
Later that day at police headquarters, when asked, “How did you know for sure, Dr. Jones, that Ramona wasn’t human?” I could not answer. I would have sounded mad.
Weeks have passed since my Ramona’s demise. Legal action has been taken against various corporate collectives by a team of lawyers on my behalf, with minimal results. Friends who thought me insane for so many months are once again associates.
While searching through the old desk and through Ramona’s notebooks, pictures and letters that she kept in the bottom drawers, I found several Valentine drawings of human hearts with names or initials, hers and mine, written within. They seemed a childish experiment to me at first. Perhaps we shared a foolish dream after all. Perhaps I’m just a crazy old fool who discarded his only chance at finding true happiness.
* * *
Dr. Arthur Jones' Funeral Service: Jonathan Briyer speaking to a crowd of no more than twenty at St. Peter's Episcopal Church outside the city, Elizabeth standing by his side, summer light glistening through stained-glass windows.
Dr. Arthur Jones, philosopher and futurist was discovered by his friend and colleague Fred Petersmith, while visiting Arthur's home four evenings ago. Arthur passed away, forensic experts surmise, early Tuesday evening of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was sixty-two years of age. Elizabeth and I were lucky to have called Arthur our friend.
As many of you may know, three months ago, Arthur's associate Ramona Hancock, a researcher at the University, was found brutally murdered near her city home. Poor Arthur, who had enormous fondness for Ms. Hancock, had difficulty coping with the circumstances of her death. Ramona and Arthur had a very special relationship. There is little doubt that the tragedy of Ms. Hancock's passing contributed profoundly to Arthur's. He was a sensitive soul.
Arthur was dedicated to his work. His scholarship set a high standard for colleagues and competitors alike. The intellectual world will mourn the passing of Dr. Jones for decades to come, but as friends we must remember Arthur today as simply a loving and compassionate friend.
Goodbye, dear Arthur. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your astonishing life. And thanks to you all for being here today. Good afternoon to you, and God bless.
Detailed sketches of Ramona were found in Arthur's old desk. Extra attention had been paid to her beautiful brown eyes. Every component of Ramona's external physiology was recorded, analyzed and reanalyzed. Arthur had even drawn up a theoretical technical profile of Ramona, a blueprint of her mechanical workings, although this craft was not his specialty.
Arthur had added words of love to the margins of each page. Tes yeux, j'en reve jour et nuit, I dream of your eyes day and night, and Je veux être avec toi pour toujours, I want to be with you forever. His extensive record also contained several childlike drawings of Valentine hearts with names and initials within. The file was titled Ramona X.
Copyright © 2018 by Donald Zagardo