“Busy Work” – Fictional Short

Busy Work

The wall was a cold and grey backdrop behind the old woman in the rocking chair. Her face had been painted in a healthy honey and the rippled grooves of her denim overalls had been coated in the finest royal dust.

The pastel shades of her chair had worn like the edges of the canvas, which had begun to tear and wrinkle. She held a bright lump of yarn in her hands that glowed like the embers of a febrile furnace.

Outside the dusty frame, in the realm of the living and the dead, an old woman failing the beauty and grace of her canvas-bound counterpart sat before a printing box. Her pallid eyes stared blankly at the empty device, whose metallic frames and glass walls encased a poor being whose sole purpose was to draw from an infinite wisdom and copy whatever its master desired.

The old woman’s bony fingers reached into her pocket and unearthed a glass plate filled with digital images she had gathered from her morning walk. She scrolled past the somber mist that had gathered in the park, the smiles of children walking by, the skyscrapers soaring into the sunlight, and the right hand of a suited man.

Her lips grinned as she pressed on the photograph, which darted from the plate onto the printing box’s cubic screen. As the machine whirred to life, she began to cut from the thin slab of transparent film on the table.

The intricacy of her movement was a work of art, her fingers guided with the precision of a razor’s edge. The old woman had to be vigilant; she knew that one slip and the sheet would stick to her like glue, by design. Her vision narrowed as she traced the outline of her hand, the printing box clicking to the steady beat of her heart. One. Two. One. Two. One. T—

Suddenly, the door flung open. It crashed against the nearby countertop, shaking the floor. The old woman sighed.

Her grandson had returned from work, the burdensome bags of his errands still hanging from his arms. Like any other consumer, he had loaded up a cart with as many trivial necessities as he could find, swiped them across the reader, and scanned his palm for payment before taking his leave.

“What are you doing, Amma?” he asked as he planted a passing kiss her ragged hair.

“Oh, busy work.”

The old woman spoke without lifting her gaze, which stayed firmly tethered to the printing box. When the machine skid to a stop, she gently slipped the transparent cutout beneath the glass. In an instant, its roof slammed to the floor. The old woman remained unstirred, as she had become well acquainted with the sound.

The printing box’s arm rose from its violence with the softness of a dancer. The old woman scanned the marked film with the glass plate’s lens, and her eyes set alight. The face of a middle-aged man flashed onto the screen, along with his sex, height, weight, age, hair color, eye color, date of birth, address, identification number, signature, and balance.

“P. K. Seitz,” she whispered aloud with the whim of a mischievous child.

The old woman slowly pulled the transparent film from the printing box and held it up to the light above her. With one eye open, she examined the fine work of the machine, then slid the sticky sheet onto her right palm.

Resting her back against the wooden rungs of her chair, the old woman closed her eyes and dreamt of another life.