The colossus sits atop one of my bookshelves. A black, cast iron automaton rules over the elegant, aluminum unibody tools at my desk. Touch screens. Curved angles. Polished bezel and battery packs. The colossus is powered by human endeavor; its glass keys require the force of fingers riding along some prosaic wave. Important paragraphs. Maybe a secret short story. The first embers of a novel or manifesto. The colossus hungers for words. I sit in front of the television, its shadow looms over my left shoulder. Daring me.
I look at my laptop and PC, my keyboards and mice, and I’m reminded of the times. Things made for the masses. Quick, cheap production to control costs passed to the consumer (and increase profit margins). So instead of writing, I look up to the colossus. The metal casing is cool to the touch; my finger leaves an accent mark through the dust and cigarette smoke collected on it. It’s almost eighty years old. A veritable time machine or a former tool of a writer long dead (or maybe not).
Maybe she wrote an unpublishable story with it, something set in post WWII California or post-apocalyptic New York in the year 2020. Perhaps she was industrious, pragmatic, and used it when needed. Term papers or a thesis on the mating rituals of some rare butterfly. I can ‘t fathom the possibility that she never used it, that it was a birthday present re-gifted at Christmastime. Moving from house to house through recessions and revolutions. Maybe she used it to write a motion on behalf of Black Americans disenfranchised—allowing me the opportunity to fawn over an old machine today, rather than getting to work, exacting my own little measure of change.
I take it down from the shelf, sit it on the kitchen table, and examine its workings. Dried ink flutters as I blow into it. I lift one of its hammers, a capital and lowercase “S”Â, and rub my finger over the letters. My limp wrists, fine tuned for touch typing, vibrate like cheap crystal spheres as I push down the keys. I have to reset, reconsider my approach; I crack my knuckles and supplant one verb for another. This time, I don’t push—I strike the keys. I strike though there’s no paper, though I need to replace the ribbons or, if thorough, deconstruct the entire monolith, to then resurrect it from near death.
I think about my computers again, understanding their true values are contained within the hard drives. There will be no history; the iDroidTouchHD will not find itself in a new set of hands in the year 2090. It will be obsolete six months from now and, accordingly, I will abide by the times and upgrade. My data—an antiseptic reference to writings dear to me’—will come along, leaving behind a mechanized shell like a hollowed cocoon or marooned spaceship in lieu of a newer, faster, more fingerprint-resistant model.
The bell rings. I reset the carriage. I continue. I strike. My fingertips are sore. My wrists catch fire. I don’t know what I’m writing. What does it matter?
I care nothing for publication, for art and craft or drama and plot. No one will read it, not even me. Pieces of unseen text won’t float beneath a hard drive’s surface, waiting for someone to extract it should I fail to apply a Department of Defense-level wipe to it. My fingers strike and unhitch words bound to my mind, sending them into nothingness. I’m writing for the hell of it.
After my fiancee pokes her head around the corner—for a second time—I place the colossus back on the shelf. And like that, I forget all that I typed. I’m used to seeing end results, even the scraps of a crap short story; without a piece of paper in my hands, I wonder if I just wasted precious energy. Yet new words emerge inside of my head; quiet characters finally begin to speak.
So I sit down at my desk—and strike the keyboard. My plastic home keys are almost cracked by the newfound strength. In time, I return to touch typing, to that delicate balance of mental fervor and physical grace. A patient, postmodern construction of words slathered across a blank screen with millisecond speed. It’s not as fun over here, at the desk. The audience peers over my shoulder; the editor in me murders darlings moments after I type them. I think about perspective—vacillating between first and third person—and I strike the keyboard again.