'The Loyal Royal Wartime Typewriter'. Loyal Roy. Yours for sixty pounds. Imagine. Sixty Pounds! The straight-faced 'Brother' is on for eighty. Didn't even see the war. Forty years old. Tops. They stroke our keys as if we are the same. Brother's letters are barely worn. Light fingered secretary in the seventies. My A's and D's and R's and N's are hollows. I can almost feel the fingerprints. Name and Rank and Date of Death.
This place is full of junk. Furniture made from antique wine crates. Organic cotton bags with toggles made from twigs. Brother and I don't have a chance. Decorative at best. Oh, I delight. No doubt about that. Smooth, precise, ecstatic ding! I remember everything I ever wrote. That's history. Still, no one buys.
Then along comes Crystal. Her fingers are clean.
"Can I have it?" she says.
"It's your money," someone replies.
So it's goodbye, Brother. Goodbye, wine crate corner. Hello again, leather case. Crystal is short. Seven, eight, nine? I scrape on the floor as she walks to the car.
"Was that all your birthday money?"
"No." The woman doesn't hear the lie.
She can't load ribbons. She has no paper. She says clack, clack, clackety clack as she types. These aren't words, just strings of letters.
mfoaid epasnd womwckass cpdcjasojc.
crystal...crystal..crystal...crystal sarah hayes.
Name. Arthur Samuel Deerham. Rank. Private. Date of Death. Sixteenth of the eleventh, nineteen forty-three. Crystal hits the number keys.
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
I am Crystal. I am 8.
All those wasted words. Crystal Hayes has nothing to report. No Name, No Rank, No Date of Death. Service number, Regiment, Age, Nationality. Here comes another Sarah. S and A come up together. The type bars jam. They don't reach the platen. No more.
"Why is that thing here?"
"It's broken," Crystal says.
"Get it off the table."
"Can you fix it, Mum?"
Mum has a look.
"It's not broken. Just jammed.
She's gentle. Small fingers. The metal doesn't scrape.
"You need paper."
Fully operational. Mum touches the keys. I wonder what she has to say. The front door opens.
"Upstairs now," Mum says.
Under the bed. In the dark. Crystal rolls the sheet of paper through. There are footsteps on the stairs.
"Crys? Come out I want to see you."
She curls up. The man kneels on the floor. He looks at us.
"What have you got there?"
Her arms wrap around me. She's never letting go.
We talk when he goes. With paper and ribbon I am a different animal. Permanence. Posterity. Words can't be thrown away.
She felt something then. Familiar.
13th March 2012.
Dad came home today. First time in 3 weeks.
I hid. Is that weird?
I am still warm from the hug.
Name. Name. Name. She knows it. I know it. The music of N A M E. She types it again. Her fingertips linger in the indents.
"You know my name," she says. "Your name is Royal."
She can call me Roy. She writes,
Name: Caroline Hayes
Date of Birth: 12th April 1981
Oh, how I love a list.
Name: Kevin Hayes
Date of Birth: May I think
Job: Something to do with cars
She will learn specificity.
Crystal finds reportage at the top of the stairs.
Date: 14th March 2012
Place: The Kitchen
Names: Mum, Dad.
Mum: You arrogant ******
Dad: Just calm down Caroline.
Mum: Go to hell.
Dad: I don't need to.
Smash. Something broke.
We have a rhythm. I always had it. Crystal hears it. No more clack clack clackety clack. We report on the casualties of war.
Item: Blue Bird Bowl
Cause of death: Smashing
We love the word death.
Caused by: Dad
Other: Leaves 5 bowls in a set.
She's a quick learner.
Date: 16th March 2014
Place: The garage
Names: Mum and Dad
Mum: If you get in that car you better not ****ing come back.
Dad: Oh I'll be back. You've still got my record player.
Mum: And your daughter.
Dad: Don't worry. I'll be back for her too.
No broken items in the garage.
We use up paper fast. She files chronologically. She rolls weekly bunches and ties them with elastic bands. She labels by date. The tubes of paper stack up on the bookcase. She's asleep when he comes in. I'm on the desk. We have moved past the propriety of a case. I could be needed at any time. I watch him at the door. He watches her in bed.
I can't warn her. He takes a roll from the top of the stack. He's wearing slippers. His feet make no sound. He takes care with the elastic band. He's not a fast reader. He leafs through week one and two and three. Then he crumples. Wasted words. A soft angry scrunch. Then louder, ripping and tearing. She wakes up.
"Daddy? Don't. Daddy, don't rip them. Don't!"
The room is bright with paper snow.
"What is this Crys? Did she tell you to do this?"
"Caroline," he is shouting. "Caroline, wake up."
We can all hear her coming. His fingers are stained with ink.
"Where did you get this?" He points at me.
"I bought it," Crystal mumbles.
Speak out Crystal. Clear and concise. No unnecessary detail. Name and date and place of purchase. Instead she is crying. I thought we were done with crying. He is rough when he grabs me. He doesn't find the case. We see Caroline on the landing but she doesn't stop him. Crystal doesn't beg. They just let me go.
I wasn't there long enough to get a dint in the C. Or the Y or the S T L. I remember everything I ever wrote. All those wasted words. All those dates of death. I tell the birds. I tell the black bags. I give a wartime glimmer to the morning men. Twenties, thirties, forties, tops. Wouldn't know an antique from any other junk. Although, you'd think they would know junk. The leavings of the household follow me down into the jaws of the rubbish truck. They are shouting and laughing. Upstairs, Crystal is crying but not for me.