Sunday, November 7, 2010

A selection from "The Utility of Love" by David Steffen

The Utility of Love
by David Steffen

he house landed with a crunch and a crash, and a moment later the recoiling bedsprings threw Dorothy halfway to the ceiling. Toto,       who had been curled up at her side, awoke in mid fall and landed in her arms snarling and snapping. She tried to grab him, but he was just a writhing ball of fur and teeth.
“Toto, ouch!”
In his panic he tore open a gash on her arm and she let go. He charged out of the bedroom. She jumped up from the bed and ran after him.
The hallway was a wreck. Floorboards were torn up in a huge circle to make way for a giant metal statue, as if it had been standing on the ground where the house had landed. Only its head and shoulders extended above the floorboards, but even that was taller than Uncle Henry. Its bucket-shaped head was ringed all around with little black nubs. If they were all eyes, the thing would be able to look in every direction at once. It had no other facial features.
She rubbed her eyes, looked again. Itwas still there. What in the world was this thing? A statue?
Toto dashed back and forth, throwing himself against every bit of the giant within its reach, snarling like a mad dog all the while.
“Toto, no!” she shouted. “Toto, stop it! You’re going to hurt yourself!”
Toto didn’t even pause.
The statue moved. Dorothy screamed as it scooped Toto up between its hands and peered at him between its fingers. The long, slender digits encased Toto like a cage.
Her fear for Toto’s safety gave her the courage to shout.
“Let him go! He doesn’t mean to be mean, he’s just scared.”
The metal man turned its head toward her.
“Did the animal injure you?” the giant asked in a deep voice.
She couldn’t stop herself from imagining that metal hand contracting, spraying blood everywhere.
“Yes, but he didn’t mean to. He’s very gentle.”
The giant raised Toto up to head level as Toto continued to hurl himself against his confinements.
“This is gentle?”
“He’s normally very gentle. He was just scared by the fall.”
The giant said nothing, merely watching the dog silently.
“Will you put Toto down, please?”
The giant complied and Dorothy breathed a sigh of relief. Toto began to hurl himself at the giant’s chest again. Dorothy wanted to pick him up but she was afraid he would bite her again. In any case, he wasn’t doing any damage and the giant was ignoring him now.
“I’m Dorothy.”
The giant stood immobile. Dorothy, who’d been raised to be polite, tried to keep from bursting with questions. She pressed her dress against the dog bite until it stopped bleeding. She waited as long as she could, until the curiosity overwhelmed her politeness.
“What are you? You look like you’re made of tin. What’s your name? What are you doing here?”
“My outer shell is made of a titanium alloy. I have no name, but you may call me Tin Man if you wish. Tell me, what is the purpose of Toto?”
“Purpose? He’s my friend. I love him and he loves me.”
“Violence without provocation. This is love?”
“He’s afraid you want to hurt me, so he’s trying to protect me.”
“Love: an urge that drives the need for sexual intercourse in humans, in order to produce offspring. Interspecies copulation cannot produce offspring, and you are sexually immature.”
“I don’t understand.”
The Tin Man paused for a long moment, his clockwork whirring.
Making babies.
Her ears burned. She knew about baby-making. She’d heard all about it from Susie Parker who had walked in on her dad making a baby with Miss Morris, the school librarian. But she wasn’t sure what love had to do with baby recipes.
“There are different kinds of love.”
“If your love with Toto is not to reproduce, then what is it for?”
“It’s not for anything. Love is for itself.”
“You speak nonsense. Love must have utility, or you wouldn’t seek love.”
She tried to look into the black nubs she assumed were his eyes.
“You really don’t know about love?”
“I do not. Will you teach me everything you know about love?”
“Of course! We’ll be friends. A friend is one name for someone you love. I can help you learn about love and you can help me find my way home. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry must be sick with worry.”
“If love of a friend is one sort of love, what are the other sorts?”
“Well...” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “There’s love of your parents. Your mother and father always know what’s best for you, so you have to do what they say.”
“I have no parents.”
She patted him on the arm to comfort him.
“Somebody must have made you. Who created you? I suppose your creator would be like a parent to you.”
“I have no memory of a creator. I woke in the wilderness with no memory of what came before. Dorothy? I have a task to complete. Will you accompany me? Afterward, you can continue your teaching.”
She nodded.
The Tin Man scooped Dorothy up with one hand and Toto with the other and waded through the floorboards until he broke through the side of the house. The broken house collapsed in on itself with a shriek of scraping timbers.
“Hooray!” A chorus of squeaky voices shouted up at them.
Dorothy looked down on a crowd of colorful people down below. They were so tiny! And their houses were like toy houses.
“What are you celebrating?”
“Your arrival, witch killer.”
“I haven’t killed anyone!”
“Don’t be so modest. Look!” The Munchkin pointed to a point under the collapsed house where a woman’s legs extended out onto the street, wearing silver shoes that glittered in the sunlight.
Dorothy gasped. “Oh my goodness!”
One of the feet twitched and a moan emanated from within the rubble.
“She’s alive!” a Munchkin shouted. “Finish her off, witch killer!”
“Tin Man, will you pull her out please?”
The Tin Man placed his hands together so Dorothy could grab Toto from the other hand. Toto was out of breath now so she was able to hold him without further injury.
With his freed hand, the Tin Man grabbed the injured woman’s legs and yanked her free. His pull was accompanied by a shriek of pain. He scooped her up so only her head and shoulders protruded above his fingers. One eye was swollen shut and her hair was caked with blood.
“Are you okay, Ma’am?” Dorothy asked.
The woman’s head moved randomly back and forth, but no reply.
A squeaky Munchkin voice sounded from the ground. “Kill her! Kill the Wicked Witch of the East!”
As Dorothy opened her mouth to speak, the giant’s hand contracted, crushing the woman in his fist. Blood sprayed out between his fingers and filled the air with a fine red mist. He let go of the Witch, dropping her mangled, shapeless corpse to land in a heap. Blood ran in rivulets between the yellow bricks.
Dorothy couldn’t look away. Her breath came quick and panicked. Her heart seemed to be trying to break its way out of her chest. Spots danced before her eyes and the ground seemed to jump up to meet her as everything went black.

She woke up to Toto’s wet kisses. She giggled and pushed him away.
“Toto, stop it. I had the strangest dream. I—”
The Tin Man loomed over her.