had not tried to get Miriam up, and by the time she woke they were evidently
ready, for she could hear their anticipatory clicks and whirs. When she
unfolded her limbs, difficult lately because of the stiffness, her cover
slipped off and she saw that her wound had gone to rust, the skin cracked
to expose what lay beneath, the edges green.
Shed been housed in this room
for all of her twelve years. In that span there had been only two others
like her, both regressing just as she was doing now, ragged flesh coloring
on the afternoon of the first day, swelling the second, fissuring the
third. How long the men would wait was not a question. They had taken
the others on the third day. Today they would come for her.
Emma, the one who had dwelled here
longest, stood before her. Miriam accepted the offered hand and raised
herself, and the elder, who was smooth and dark, touched her shoulder.
She was sitting there, just so, as the others creaked through the low
opening to the outside, the last, Emma, switching off the overhead and
tying back the greasy canvas curtain to let in the morning gray.
The room lightened to brownbrown
walls, with here and there a brown electrical outlet; a brown workbench
stocked with a small electric heater, three cans of oil, and a terra cotta
bowl half-filled with nuts and machine bolts mostly rusted past use. Miriam
reached into the space between the wall and metal side rail of her rack
and drew out a cylinder of solder. She held it up for the light. One of
the menalone, looking all around himhad come to the pen the
other day and beckoned. She was obliged to finish the morning feeding,
but it was also necessary to heed the men, and she obeyed. He reached
right through between the rails, then, and touched her. Moments later,
after she was permitted to step back, he tossed beyond her reach something
silver, then sauntered off, two other men having just emerged into the
gray light of the barn doorway. Miriam went to fetch it, and it happened
before she was aware it couldjust in an instant, a tug, and then
It took time to clear the pen. Then shed been walked outside and
made to idle on a spare feed trough until the dusk.
From outside came the grating of
wheels on sand. She returned the solder to its nook and ran a palm over
her knee. A man crawled into the room, peering until his eyes adjusted
and he could see her sitting at her rack, submissive. He put on the light.
Two more entered. There was a tightening in her, for the second was the
one who touched.
The men plugged cords into the outlets
and took readings from their black meters. One with no eyebrows approached.
He stood resting his cotton work gloves against his hips. She held still
and he knelt. He touched the skin near the wound, then drew a penlight
from the pocket of his coveralls and examined her. At her thigh she sensed
the whisper of his breath, in her sternum the cold of his steel probe.
A red lamp blinked on his meter. Before, it had always been the amber.
One of themthat manheld
out an army blanket. She felt herself raised by the elbows, the scratch
of the wool being draped around her. They laid her on the clay footing
and dragged her to the opening. Two men hauled by the head and shoulders.
The others pushed from within. Outside, she was distracted by the cawing
of some wheeling gulls. She could smell the salt musk of them. What would
it be, to fly?
She dangled just over the ground, the men clutching her wrists and ankles.
One of them stripped the hasps from the tailgate of the wagon and tried
to pull it open, but the damp had jammed the wood. She was tossed over
the side instead.
Four of them took the seats in front.
The other, the one she knew from the corral, lay down with her in the
bed. She recalled what hed given her, but they were moving, and
she knew they wouldnt stop to retrieve it, and that her elders needed
it anyway. And so they rolled, the squealing of the hubs and the wobble
of the wheels fresh sensationsthis was Miriams first time
in the wagon.
When it stopped, while the men ate,
she envisioned the town. None of her hutmates had ever been back to it
either, so the place was only conjectured. She expected variously colored
structures, some of them stone, some larger than the barn.
One of the men came to offer her
a leg hed cut from an animalburnt, the sour smell overpowering.
When she declined, he pointed at her and changed his face. The sideboard
was high and she couldnt see, but from the others came laughter.
Another flight, of geese this time,
passed so high she couldnt hear them, could only record the dark
and flash of their wings. They flew south, the same way the wagon was
headed. There was something about them that called her. She felt she belonged
to them. Felt a certain affinity.
The men boarded, and they rolled again. She thought of Emma. If Miriam
were well, the two of them would be finishing the second feeding together
even now. She would take care to keep order, maintain the requisite distance
from the animals. The programs all warned against distraction. Feeding
was to be taken seriously. One must keep engaged.
New smellsof water the wheels
lifted from the mud, and of
smoke, she thought, though it was different
from the smoke of the farmmetallic. She began almost to recognize
itsomething from before memory. Then a sudden turning, a stop, and
the nickering of the horse intervened. The men hammered the tailgate unstuck.
They slid her across the splintered bed. They lifted her as before. The
buildings were of wood. They were no bigger than the farmhouse, and there
were many fewer than consensus presumed.
They proceeded through a swinging
double door. The several men inside had just been doing something, she
could feel it, something they wouldnt perform in her view. When
she came in, they stopped, tucked a glinting object under the table, and
looked blithely on as she was carried to the far end of the room and lain
on the high counter. Near her, against the wall, were bottles, hundredsclear,
amber, blue, green, rose, red.
The men gathered. The touching one drew back a fold of her blanket. All
of them nodded. A couple of them looked away. The largest wedged close,
grimaced, and peeled the blanket further. She reached but she couldnt
And then six of them carried her
feet-first through a side door into a musty room packed with metal containers
and what back at the farm passed for spare parts. Junk, Miriam thoughtbolts,
screws, wire guides, caulk, bits of spent solder, Bakelite circuit boards,
old motors, broken servos, metal screening. They slung her onto a workbench,
and all but one stepped outside. He brought an empty steel drum from the
corner and put it beside her. He plugged an orange cord into a wall outlet,
taped wires to her forehead, looked at his wristwatch. He picked up her
left ankle and pulled. Then he frowned and went away.
When he came back, he sprayed her
hip with something cool and tried again. Off her leg came, easily. He
bent it at the knee and wedged it into the trash container, then pried
open one of the smaller cans. The contents were dark brown. Though it
wasnt really the same, the smell was strong. It reminded her of
the honey hut back home. He began at her remaining foot and moved upward,
rubbing until she was thickly coated to the top of her head.
Finished, he wiped his hands, stuffed
his used rag in her now empty hip, wrote on a clipboard that hung by a
string from a cup hook, and turned out the light. The door rattled shut
She thought it was something to do
with the wires that commenced the faint chirrup inside hera rhythm
within her rhythm, the timbre thickening into a sensation never sensed
before. Something fluttered. She felt herself go light, then, and rise.