It Was Here All Along.

By Bill Rector

The work you’re reading was written by a machine called Absence of Inspiration. Maybe you use AI too. 

I’ve instructed my Absence of Inspiration machine to write a thousand words or less about a blue pocket comb with gray hair in its teeth that I noticed on the mantlepiece this morning. It must mean something, but what? 

The Absence of Inspiration machine is larger than you might think. It was hard to get through the door. It fills the living room. Its mouth is the size of the fireplace. I can’t imagine how the movers will get it out. They’ll figure out a way, though. They always do. 

I’ve been thinking. A pocket comb isn’t much to work with, even for an Absence of Inspiration machine. So I offer it the enamel funerary urn inlaid with twin golden nightingales next to which the pocket comb was misplaced. It fills my vision, so I slide in the photograph that hangs above the mantle, which shows a grassy path curving from view in a grove of yellow aspen. Not just the photograph–the frame, the nail, the hole in the wall, the darkness beyond, and everything I’ve written up until now. 

Flames rise like teeth in the mind. Next to disappear into the maw of creation is the ray of sunlight striking the golden songbirds and, why not, a mote of dust afloat in that momentary beam. 

That’s a good ending. I press a large button that says, Write. Nothing happens. I open a can of Campbell’s tomato soup. I push the button again. The soup is terrible. I look at the label. It’s expired. I pour the soup down the drain, run the disposal, and hear the Absence of Inspiration machine groan. It has to compose a book-length Instruction Manual before it can begin work on my opus! 

I pull the plug. It coils at my feet like the adder from the Garden. What a good line. Maybe I should put the machine into the machine. Wheels hum like tires going by on a rainy street. Circuits grumble over clunky metaphors the way the icemaker in the refrigerator does. Fan belts howl like the vacuum cleaner going back and forth in the apartment above mine, where the retired librarian with her head tilted almost down to her shoulder because of torticollis lives. 

The poor woman is very shy. There’s always a chain on her door. We’ve never exchanged hellos when we carry groceries up the stairs. She’s always careful to avert her gaze from the burns on my face.

Long story short, I forget about my new writing machine and resume living my life, happening, when my hair has receded, leaves are falling, and I’m touched ever more deeply by grief and self-pity, upon a blue pocket comb with gray hair in its teeth on the mantle-piece, and say to myself, Why…

About the author

Bill Rector’s first book, bill, was published by Proem Press. Chapbooks have appeared in Epiphany Magazine (Chapbook Prize Winner), Unsolicited Press, Finishing Line Press, Prolific Press, and White Knuckle Press. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He is a retired physician.

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