She unwrapped it. Hands shaking. I could tell from when I had come in she was in pain. She lay on the floor. The breathing laboured, malnourished body lying, favouring one side. She looked like she hadn’t eaten for awhile although there was a hunk of bread next to her. That was the bread the machine got yesterday. She hadn’t eaten much. She hadn’t said much.
I knelt beside her, nestled in her hand, under the material was a little gold thing. Not quite beautiful. Delicate.
‘What is it?’ I asked
‘A clock, or more accurately a watch. But to you a clock’. The voice was hoarse, withered.
‘What does it do?’
‘It tells you the time of day’
‘Not magic, mechanics. It needs winding every day to work. There is no battery. Do you know what a battery is?’
I did, it was what ran the tracking device I had brought here. It was solar power, that meant the sun gave it energy. It would work for awhile but we had no means of fixing it. We had lost a lot of knowledge, a lot of skills. When something broke it was generally broken forever. How had that happened. I couldn’t even remember. The things that did work were held on to, doled out to people for missions like this.
The old lady talked on. ‘A battery is just a source of electricity. Complex, well not that complex but beyond us now. He has a battery in him. His source of power, charged by the sun. But you didn’t come for him. His technology is well beyond you.’
I took it in my hand.
‘You have to wind it every day.’ she said.
She made me do it, right there in front of her. She knew it. I knew it. What was coming next. I half smiled.
I could see the old woman’s tears. ‘You will come back for him one day?’
I could see she was attached to the machine. It was a fine looking thing. I would have like to have taken it with me. But this clock was the treasure I had come for. It was somehow important. Somehow more important than the machine.
I nodded. Somehow, someday I would come back for the machine. It would be fabulous to take a machine like that back. But I had come in a small boat. He would be safe stored here somewhere until someone could come and get him. After all he must have sent the transmission.
‘What’s so special about this clock?’ I was curious, wanted to know. It didn’t seem that special and what was it doing here?
‘It’s the beginning of everything. The clock. Once we could count time, we could master it all. All those brilliant machines, they started with something like this. A way of counting time, of making sense of something that flowed around us. The power to harness and structure our day. Its complex. There’s a book I’ve written it down. I’ve taken it apart and put it together many times. I would show you how but there isn’t time.’
She was one of them, a memory witch we called them. Someone who remembered how it once was. Someone who knew the course of human history and all it’s folly. Someone who had seen the beginning of the end but not been powerful enough to stop it.
‘How is part of the reason I am here’ I said slowly.
The old woman looked at me.’ Its there in my words. You can try it on your own, some other time or place. Not here. You have to go. I have to go.’ The last words were unsteady, uncertain.
She reached out her hand and folded mine over her little clock.
‘The book’ she said to the machine.
I was transfixed by the machine, a wondrous thing. Gone from our world now. She was right I would like to take it back. Impossible. I would come and get it one day. I needed this bit of technology. That machine had sent a message to somewhere else, who knows where and that had come eventually to us to come and get this piece that was so important. The machine for all its function was useless to us. We no longer had the means or material to make power.
The clock, we could make the clock. Unmake the clock, make it again and learn.
The machine handed me the book. I took it. Opened it. Full of glorious illustrations and writing. Beyond me. I would need to study the pictures.
How old was this old woman. Maybe she was no older than me. Life was difficult out here. I looked at her. I hadn’t really seen my own face in a mirror for years. Perhaps we looked the same, but I was not a memory witch. I suddenly wanted to know her story and her name.
She smiled at me as if she knew what I was thinking. ‘There is no more time.’ she said quietly.
She lay back and closed her eyes. I could see the pain across her face and as she lay right back I could see the hip. It had no structure. It was broken.
I said a quiet ‘Thank you’ . I grabbed her nose between my two fingers and jammed the palm of my hand into her mouth. Her chest rose and fell and I squeezed harder. She did not resist. Life passed from her beneath my hand. She was gone.
I looked at the machine, tears streaming down its face. What to do with it?
It seemed to know. It took a blanket and lifted her body. ‘I will bury her’, it said simply ‘and then I will wait for you to come back, you will find me here somewhere in this house. Take me and lay me in the sun and I will work again.’ Then he picked her up and was gone
I memorised the words.
I left. It was still early in the day. It had been easy in the end, finding her. I had simply followed the signal. The thing had met me at the door. It had known I was close. Getting home would be less easy. I skirted the market avoiding contact. I put my hood on and looked down. I strode purposefully passed the two people I saw.
I didn’t really understand. What was so special about this piece. Why had she had it? Why now?
I was at the beach before I knew it. I couldn’t resist touching the eucalypt. Reminded me of that place, where once I had a home. Before all of this. Before I abandoned even the concept of all of this. It was stripped bare of its leaves, such an odd thing to do. I touched it. Felt it. Smelled it. Looked at the leaves around it. The faint smell of eucalypt drifting in the breeze. I took it in. The tree was as naked outside as I was inside. I tried not to think about any of it. To focus on the task at hand. Out here. On my own. In the wrong place without a home. My arms still ached from the previous bout of rowing. I looked out at a becalmed sea. I had brought the old ladies bread with me. There was no sense in waiting. I would get the boat and begin to row.