This week on Words, Pauses, Noises, the veil between reality and fantasy twists and tears in a beautiful slice of magical realism. ‘Mechanical Sheep’ pulls the adult imagination back to its origins, blurring memories of first loves, the wonder of desire and a fascination with death. Words, Pauses, Noises takes great pleasure in presenting MA student Stephanie Dotto and her short story, ‘Mechanical Sheep’ to our creative platform.
You sit with a boy you once loved who tells you that in the future we would all be made of metal. He buys you a drink in a dimly lit bar and recounts stories of the lives that he has led since you saw him all those years ago. You can’t remember the last time you touched him so you smile shyly and pretend like this is the first time he has lured you into his bed. He reminds you that his apartment is just around the corner so you grab your things and follow him home. His room has far less furniture than you remember, housing only a desk and a tall lamp that flickers every time the train passes too close to the window. You sit on the bare floor, wondering where his bed has gone and where he keeps all his clothes as he hands you a glass of red wine and tells you about the civilization of mechanical men. He tells you how we will evolve beyond our fragile bodies and delicate skin. He tells you these things as he takes off your dress and runs his fingers along your temporal skin, tracing maps of where the circuit boards would replace your bloodstream. You remember all the nights spent lying on the floor of his apartment, spinning stories while you fought the urge to sleep. At night you were world builders, exploring the possibilities that lay just beyond your reality. But now he is just a boy whose hands feel stiff and uncomfortable against your skin.
The walls of his apartment are an unsettling shade of white—the kind of white you only see on the porcelain teeth of celebrities—and you wish you could paint stars across his ceiling. He runs his hands up and down the length of your body as you strain to see the sky through the cracks in the roof. His fingers begin to feel hot against your skin. You pull away, afraid he will leave gashes and scars where the fire is sparking beneath his fingernails. “What’s the matter?” He asks. But all the words you come up with sound weird and out of order. He stares at you blankly. You run your fingers against his cheek but his cheek is not soft. It is hard like metal. You can see the wiring beneath the skin on the top of his hands, glowing in blues and reds and yellows. His mechanical arms pull you closer, pressing you against his stiff chest. You listen for a heartbeat, but only hear soft beeps and the whirring of machinery.
“Tell me a story,” you say softly into the thick air.
So he tells you a story of a mechanical sheep that lives inside an infinitesimal box. Both the sheep and the box are imagined into existence at the command of a young prince, but what the prince fails to consider is that the sheep cannot exist happily inside the box because the box is very small and only provides enough room for the sheep and nothing else. Though he is a mechanical sheep, he requires sunlight to survive. The tiny specks of sun that seep through the three small holes on the side of the box only tease him, keeping him alive long enough to remind him that he is on the brink of death. Every day, the young prince looks inside his box and smiles, knowing that he is the only boy who owns such a peculiar beast. When the holes fill, the sheep loses sight of the sun, becoming the saddest sheep in the world. He does not do any tricks or make any fancy sheep noises, so finally the boy grows tired of the box and places it on a high shelf in one of the many closets that line the corridors of his castle. The sheep, forgotten and far from the sun, shuts down and becomes nothing but a cold, outdated machine.
The story feels familiar, reminding you of the stories your mother told you when you were young. But in your mother’s stories, the sheep was a girl and the endings were happy. You realize suddenly that you are crying and the tears have set spark to your ex-lover. His circuits begin to fry and smoke pours from skin, turning the white room gray. The carpet catches fire quickly, and you slip from his mechanical arms, retreating back into the clear night.
Stephanie’s work is almost a fairy story for adults, where love and loss are paired with the knowledge that some things in our lives cannot be held onto forever. She seamlessly intertwines the elements of life and lore, magic and meta-storytelling to create a fantastical world between reality and bedtime stories.
What are some of the best adult fairy stories you’ve read? Do you have any suggestions for our readers? Do let us know! Stay tuned for next week’s installment on Words, Pauses, Noises.