The grandfather clock in the corner of my living room chimed. 1pm. Three knocks at 1pm, that was what their message had said.
Knock, knock, knock.
I cracked a smile. Always punctual, these kids. I certainly wasn’t as punctual at their age.
I set down my book and stood up from my chair. My knees creaked; I suppose my legs were up to be replaced soon. I tested the joints a couple of times before walking to the door. The house was a mess; I had been in another one of my funks. Books strewn everywhere, over every subject: Business Management, Psychology, Kinesiology, Quantum Physics, Anatomy, Robotics, what have you. The kids’ll understand, I reasoned. They know that Papa is an odd fellow, I told myself, while reaching for the door. I opened it to see three faces: two children and their father.
“Papa!” They cried in unison, happy as ever to see me. I kneeled down and hugged them as tightly as I could, happy to see them again. “How have you been, Papa?”
I looked Marie, the older of the two siblings, in the eye and sighed slightly. “Papa’s been in a bit of a funk, Marie.” A wave of sadness washed over her face when I mentioned this, but her sadness turned to glee when I added with a smile, “But as long as you two are around, my funk is gone.”
“Papa, have you made anything new for us to play with?”
“Not this time, Jacob,” I replied to the young boy. He seemed a little disappointed by this, but he was happy to be around me nonetheless.
“Alright, kids,” their father interjected before they could continue their line of questioning, “we’re going to be eating dinner soon, so go and wash up. You can ask Papa all of your questions while we eat.”
The two kids reluctantly got up and went to the kitchen. I stood up and my knees creaked again.
The kids’ father looked perplexed. “The legs are due for replacement?” He asked curiously.
I sighed as I looked down at my knees. “They’ve served their time, Jimbo. These things don’t last forever.”
“I dunno, Papa,” he added with a frown, “it seems like the replacements are getting more frequent.”
“It’s a different part every ten years, and it always has been,” I replied. “The last part was the right arm in 2254. It was your college graduation, remember? You gave me hell about that for four years straight.”
“Sorry, Papa. It just… took me by surprise. I always have to worry about something, you know me.”
I smiled at Jim’s apology. “Don’t worry about me, Jimbo. Worry about the fact that you’re losing track of the years.” I winked at him, then looked towards the kids in the kitchen.
“Marie is named after her great-grandmother, isn’t she?”
Jim looked at me with a perplexed look in his eye again.
“Come on, how could you possibly remember that?”
“I remember a lot of things.”
“So what are you forgetting to make room?”
“Nothing, Jimbo. I can’t forget things. I just keep expanding the storage for my memories.”
Jim shook his head, laughing at his own forgetfulness.
“You know, it’s easy to forget what all you have going on.”
“Oh, you all say that.”
I looked at the kids again, and felt that sadness I had been running from sneaking up on me again.
“You know, it never gets any easier.”
Jim stared at me after I said this, confused by what I meant.
“Watching generation after generation be born and grow up and live and die, it just… it never gets easier. It wasn’t easy when Jen died, and it hasn’t gotten any easier since.”
Jim looked around at all the books on the floor. He knew me better than any of his 113 cousins or any of their 198 children. He knew what the books really meant.
“How long did you spend reading this time?”
“32 days. By candlelight. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi to reading a paper book by candlelight.”
Jim sighed and looked at me with pity in his eyes.
“I have a question I’ve always wanted to ask you,” he said with a false confidence I hadn’t seen before.
“Shoot, Jimbo,” I invited, giving him my full attention.
“When you first started the conversion process, when you replaced your legs the first time, did it occur to you just how long forever was?”
I paused to think about this for a moment. In reality, I thought about this all the time; I just chose instead to read incessantly to stop thinking about it.
“No, to be honest, I didn’t think of how long forever was,” I admitted with a sigh.
“When did that finally set in?”
I looked over at the kids again. Their laughter was music to my ears; their happiness a symphony for my heart.
I looked back to Jim and said:
“When I attended the funeral of the last Marie.”
Drew Schackmann is a contributing writer for Gutai-Pravda Assembly. You can contact him on Twitter.
© 2014; David “Drew” Schackmann, Jr.