by Nici West
He wheezed from his armchair as though just sitting was exercise. She had been waiting for his return for weeks and now, she could wrap her arms around his legs and look up at the new him. She watched his shrunken face, his deflated body. She watched the strange cloudy liquid from his glass pour into his lips. She watched his eyes, blinking in rhythm, his movements half man, half machine.
‘What’re you looking at love? Come sit on my knee.’
She turned away and gripped her toy robot. This one was smaller than him. It had a square face, thick metal arms that couldn’t straighten and lasers on its wrists. This one could fire red lights and fold into itself to be bigger or smaller depending on who it was fighting. This one could be put away in its box when she wanted it to. Out of the corner of her eye she looked at his lap, he was patting the cushion, fluffing it for her.
‘Come love. Come sit on my knee.’
She walked her toy away from him, it needed to investigate under the sofas, inspect for intruders. He took another sip of his drink, the liquid like silk as it caught the light. He strained to reach the table, nearly spilling as he brought it down to rest.
‘Does it hurt granpa? Where they put it?
‘Come here and I’ll show you.’
She had heard them talking of how he was getting a new one. A mechanical one that would replace the old and help it beat better. Part machine living inside him. She imagined a giant silver plaster where his heart used to be; from front to back a metal square on his chest as proof of scars from them.
‘Did they scare you granpa? Were they mean?’
He wheezed as he laughed; his voice faint as though spoken from beneath sheets. She wondered if he remembered how they did it. She could see their automatic arms churning to scoop out his heart. They must have been strong to hold him down. She wondered if he fought, if he had tried to get away. He patted the cushion again. She kept a tight grip around her toy. Hand poised on the laser button, she knelt up.
‘It’s OK. You can sit.’
‘Grandma says to be careful.’
‘Grandma doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I’m fine.’
She leant further on to his leg, keeping one foot on the floor. Her elbow sank into him; it deflated like a balloon loosing its air. His breath a struggle as he pulled her onto his lap with one arm. She sat on the cushion, facing into the room. She clicked the button on the robot, its laser flashing red then gone, red then gone. She listened for the matching pattern of his heart clicking on and off, on and off. His clockwork body now setting to work. He coughed; she imagined their mechanical disease spreading from his heart to his lungs. She held her breath to listen.
Before he’d left he was strong, she could sit on his lap and have no fear of falling. Now, his lungs were heavy. She tried to listen inside him. To it ticking. He coughed and it shook her legs. He was no longer hers. He was becoming one of them.
Nici West is a part time writer and full time olive tree killer living in Manchester. She currently runs a project called Bad Language.