I was the second object the princess touched when she gained the gift to enliven dead things, but she did not notice me between the clacking puppet and miaowing harpsichord. So I was left for the cook to clear as the princess barreled out of her parlor, gasping, drawing trails of murmurs down the waking walls.
She never knew me, for soon a magician came to fit her with the appropriate gloves, and another, later, to kiss the curse away. In and out of cherrywood cupboards I was drawn and placed beside my mute colleagues, as the princess grew silver as myself and finally, untarnished, died. I was laid at her funeral service (her husband could not eat), where all objects, even those she had touched, maintained a respectful silence.
The castle changed hands. At the estate sale I sat beside a forgotten half-pence who whispered that the Crown was in arrears, that to maintain itself it had leased its land which lay above rich coal deposits, that everything was changed. I had no reply: I am a spoon, who boasts one use to a half-pence’s thousand; who knows only the insides of people’s lives, which shift so rarely. And when I was bought by a petit bourgeoisie, at first nothing indeed changed. I was removed, buffed, arranged on stiff linen, and raised by soft hands to soft mouths sipping thin, expensive soup. Silence returned, for I had lost puppet and harpsichord and half-pence, the only objects that could hear me.
But gradually the meals grew sparser and poorer, the mouths harder. I stayed in drawers for months, blackening and breathing sawdust. Until one day my cupboard was wrenched open, smoke fell in like snow, and rough hands dumped me in potato-burlap to be humped through streets that smelled of fire. Tossed roughly against a splintered barricade of furniture and old carts (none of which could speak), I was removed to hastily ladle milk-soaked crusts into a young man with forlorn eyes, whose musket shielded piles of books like a mother’s arm shields a child. Later I lay in his blood.
For a long time, shimmering in its red mist, the city’s roaring day refused surrender to night. I longed for the half-pence or the harpsichord to make sense of things, for the wisdom of those items to which people, even if rarely, whispered their purposes. Instead a rat waddling by took pity on me. Stepping out from among her squeaking progeny, she said: “The Crown is over, and so’s magic. I’d lay low if I were you.” And to my query: “Of course I’m not a rat.” Obliging, she carried me off to her lair of carded wool and gnawed straw beneath a barn. “Staying out of sight’s the best thing for magic folk, these days. I wonder what the dragons have resorted to.” I never found out. Nor did she. Rats, even magic ones, have short lives.
For a time I lived beneath the barn, a tongue of ore in dust, while a thousand generations of rat-children flowed past me, snuffling and resourceful, unmagic. Above me the barn circled a zodiac of smells: rot, fire, mustard-gas, mud, diesel, ozone, and finally rot again. In that time I met no companionable objects, though the people flickering in and out of that place used me without speaking, as they pleased—to lift broth or penicillin, scratch an itch, bruise open a can, or at last, sharpening my handle, to kill. Then for a long, long time there was silence, and the nosing smell of green. Finally one warm afternoon a clever deer-foot snapped through the plank laid over me by the murderer. Looking up, I saw a unicorn.
“A conscious spoon,” it said with that dry scholarly bemusement all unicorns have. In the silence, sunlight rang on its horn like a bell. “Yes, there are humans left, a few. But more spoons, even if they mostly don’t talk.” It stamped philosophically. “What do you mean, what will you do now?
“You are what they called a utensil. Something defined by its use. Now that your users are gone, you must find your own.” So saying, the unicorn knelt beside me like marble bowing under water. Folded there, still as dawn, we talked, and talked, and talked. We had time.
Unicorns are immortal, but perhaps because of this, they bore easily. Two hundred years had scarcely passed, and the scratchy alder-thicket in the ruins of the barn barely given way to oaks, when the unicorn rose, shook its mane, and fled silverly to its next conversation. I did not see it again, or any others. But I thought about my purpose.
I thought, as around me the oaks thickened and burned and died and regrew; as the earth yawed north and the oaks bristled into jackpines packed in snow like sawdust, pitched south and puddled into banana-fronds and runnels of vines; cracked and split and fused in ripples of ore against which the pewter sea hissed, molten. I thought, as the moon spun away and the days lengthened, and the sun swelled like an apple in the sky. I thought until its ripeness enveloped the earth, a smell of warmth and ozone, ions thick as rich soup.
And as I tasted that richness I knew it, all at once—saw my end, my purpose, as my metal wilted against the crumbling earth. If the princess could see me now, I thought, as, trembling, I performed my last and greatest service.
Cupping the sun in my silver palm, I raised it gently to the earth’s lips.
Brittany Pladek teaches literature in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in Lackington’s and Ideomancer. She tweets, infrequently, @bpladek.
What’s Brittany’s ideal vision of a post-revolutionary world? “Revolutions are ideas, I think, more than events. The most meaningful ones are never over, unless we forget them. My ideal is a world where we remember.”
Art — Aleksandra Apocalisse was born in the USSR, from which her family fled when she was only 6 years old. She spent most of my childhood and young adulthood in Brooklyn, New York until she moved to Portland, Oregon in 2015. There, she is living the dream; spending the days outside with my dog, playing in the dirt, hanging out with plants, and expressing her dreams and innermost musings through art. She also loves animals, reading, learning about nature, getting lost in music, and traveling to tropical jungles.