The Invention

In a small, cramped room, surrounded by useless, discarded spare parts, Fiona completed The Invention. It didn’t look like the original models. It didn’t even quite work the way she had intended, but it worked. Right as it jumped to life, rattling on the table, knocking off delicate tools and extra bolts, she saw that it was working correctly. It was lightweight, but durable. She discovered she could use it while walking, while performing other chores, even while driving. It could follow her anywhere. It was several times smaller and more efficient than anything else that had come before it. Had she been a Greek, she would have run through the town, shouting out a woman’s name.

She called a hotline—one she had seen long time ago for such moments—and was put on hold for 45 minutes. The smooth jazz was distorted over the phone, often cutting out or overloading whatever small speaker was being used to transmit the sound. It was like listening to music while drowning. Eventually, she hung up the phone without success.

She took The Invention over to her friends. They struggled to remember who she was. “Did we have a class together?” “Oh, right, we did both work there. Wow, it’s been years!” “Wow, you’ve changed so much!” They would be happy, bemused, unsure who was reentering their lives unannounced. While asking about what she had been doing, Fiona would show them The Invention. Some were impressed at first—they thought it looked cool. They thought it was interesting; they liked the idea that she had been working on something. Some of them thought she had died, or gone missing, or joined a cult. But when she started up the machine, they gave confused looks. As Fiona’s eyes would light up, imploring them to look “here!” and “here!” and “here!” while showing various ways of using The Invention, they would squint, trying to see what she saw. Inevitably, however, they did not.

“I’m just not sure what it’s for,” they told her. “I like it, but I just don’t see myself using it.” “It’s very well made, but I don’t know what it is.” They would show her to their door, smiling, saying they should get together again, knowing that it would not happen.

Fiona waited outside large corporations and science labs. She would follow people she deemed important toward the door, trying to quickly show them all of the improved features in The Invention. They all quickened their paces, and soon learned not to make eye contact with the woman by the front door.

Crafting The Invention had taken all of her time, all of her skills. When no one bought it, she found it difficult to find another position. People had aged, the world had moved on. Not only were they uninterested in The Invention, but in her as well. Notices piled up, unopened, in her darkening house. The phone that never rang shut off. The lights that she had not used while tucked away into her workshop now could not turn on at all. But in the gloomy house, The Invention continued to perform. She would watch it in the dark, still taking glee from the smooth, efficient motions it went through. Its plastic shell gleamed, never seeming to take on any dirt.

Authorities found Fiona dead inside that house. She was on a ratty couch, surrounded by boxes of old fast food. But The Invention was still whirring. She hadn’t turned it off before passing away. And even after six days, which was how long the coroner determined that she had been deceased, it continued to run. An investigator at the scene took an interest in the device. He watched it work at his desk, thinking there could be some real use here. He showed it to a cousin of his with connections to Silicon Valley. Two years later, there are nine million of them now out in the world, and many more still to come.

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