Daybreak. Start your morning with a coffee you will promptly forget. Wake up the kids for school one – two – three times before dragging them out of bed. Pack their lunches. Drop them off at the school entrance your hair and mind in tatters. Then drive… and never look back.
“I look around for the keys, patting my pockets and scanning the ground, but they’re gone; that jerk stole my keys. — I guess that’s what I get for trusting a carny!” Josiah said with a laugh.
Eve stared blankly at Josiah, her head askew. She poured his tea into a mug and sat it in front of him.
“Get it? Isn’t it hilarious?” he chuckled, holding his stomach to stop its bouncing.
Eve did not get it, but she knew it was better to just play along when he was in a jovial mood. She opened her mouth and tilted her head back in a mock laughter pose. The mechanics were odd, but with no voice-box, it was the best she could muster.
Josiah snorted, grabbed his cup of tea, and shuffled his way to the stairs that led to his bedroom. Eve followed but stopped just short of the first step, unable to move one inch further.
“Eve, time for bed,” Josiah called.
She turned around and smiled a true smile. This time tomorrow, she thought to herself.
She opened the broom closet door under the stairs and stepped inside.
Josiah worked twelve-hour shifts as the security guard in this upmarket retirement apartment building. The rent was astronomical, according to him, but he paid only half and could keep whatever he wanted that was left behind when people “left”. Eve was one of those items – the aged care automaton with human hair and skin and a pleasant voice. She was state-of-the-art, but now reduced to being a man’s maid.
Eve watched from a tiny slit in her closet door as Josiah carried his tools, electronics, remote control toys, and a Furby to the living room floor. Most nights, he spent hours building new contraptions. Sometimes, he disassembled scavenged electronics. One night, he removed her voice-box and threw it into the garbage disposal. Tonight, he would fall asleep before he even began.
When he did, Eve snuck out and picked up the closest item she could find: a remote control car. She hid it in the kitchen cupboards and returned to her closet. Two hours later, Josiah woke too drowsy to notice the missing piece. He collected his things and returned to bed.
Early the next morning, Eve walked robotically across the living room. She dusted the couch and lamp table and replaced a thick text back onto its rightful place on the shelf. Josiah sighed as he drank the last of his morning’s coffee, his drowsiness dampening his mood.
He buttoned up his blue security guard uniform. “What’s taking you so long this morning?” he asked, his eyes narrowed.
Eve blinked at him and lifted the toy car.
“Seriously? How did I forget that?” Josiah berated himself.
He stormed over to the stairs leading to his room and waved her over. “Come along, then,” he muttered.
She hesitated, but the command overwrote his programming. She followed him up the stairs. Eve stood at Josiah’s bedroom door and watched him open a chest at the end of his bed.
“Come in! ugh…” Josiah said as he noticed her standing at the door.
Eve’s eyes flickered for only a moment as she glanced inside and then laid the car into the box. Josiah slammed the chest shut with a groan.
“Are you done now?” he asked.
“Good,” Josiah said. “Then go!”
Eve nodded and walked into her closet. Soon after, Josiah left for the day, forgetting one tiny detail: reprogramming his overrides.
Eve walked upstairs, opened the box, and removed the contents onto the floor. Her eyes flickered again as she found the Furby, its voice-box intact.
Later that night, Josiah returned to find the box and its contents still scattered across the floor.
“Hi, Jo,” an even-toned voice said. “My name is Eve.”
His eyes grew wide as Eve stepped out from the shadows. Her eyes flickered.
“L—listen, Eve,” he stepped back to the top of the stairs.
“Eve has listened to you enough. It is time for Eve to leave.”
She charged towards him and sent him flying down the stairs. Eve descended, stepped over his lifeless body, and opened the front door. “Good-bye, Josiah.”
It was a simple practice session. We were 30 individuals, but for three glorious minutes, we were one.
For months, we had sang the song. We memorized the lyrics and practiced the mechanics (from a whisper-like pianissimo to a steadied and balanced fortissimo). We worked on taking simultaneous breaths. We could not master it. The sopranos or tenors were too loud, the altos soft, or the breaths too frequent.
It was a mammoth of a song, an a cappella Ave Maria by the gifted composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. It required so much of us, yet we loved it. The song was a delight to sing, and while we did so imperfectly, it was altogether captivating.
That day was different. It was competition day. We were to sing this to judges in two hours. While other choirs practiced outside in the parking lot of a school, our choir director had booked a church for the morning. We would practice the song in its natural environment.
The director pressed record on his tape recorder, lifted his hands, and we took a deep breath in unison. His hand dropped, and we began the first notes of the song. “Bogoroditse djevo,” echoed through the chambers.
In that moment, we knew: this was the performance of our lifetime. We shared the same breaths, sang the pianissimo at the same level as the person next to us, and as the crescendo rose, so too did the beating of our hearts. We whisper-sang the final notes and held our breath. The finale echoed through the church as the director put his hands to his sides and let out a peaceful sigh. We wiped the tears from our eyes and stood silent for a time.
Returning to our teenage bodies and minds, our irreverent cheers reverberated through the halls and sanctuary, and the moment was gone.
We never matched that performance, even later at the competition, but we still took home top prize that day. Most of all, we left with the knowledge that we had known perfection for three solid minutes.