Once upon a time there was a girl who was not very good at making friends. She was, however, very good at making things so she decided that if she could not make a friend, she would make a friend. So the girl built a robot, named her Bonnie and decided that Bonnie would be her best friend.
Bonnie, in her way, was almost everything that a lonely little girl could want in a friend. She had arms for hugging, hands for playing, and ears for listening. She was loyal and never judged or criticized. Unfortunately, she also did not praise, compliment or laugh . . . because she could not speak. Bonnie was the first robot that the girl ever built, so naturally she was not perfect.
The only sound Bonnie could make was a simple melody, a short little song that was sweet and comforting, both lullaby and lively and somehow happy and sad at the same time. She did not sing it often, but she always sang it at the right time, and it always lifted the girl’s spirits.
The little girl wanted nothing more than to be a great inventor when she grew up. Over the years she did grow up, and that is exactly what she became. But the more the inventor grew up, the less she needed her first invention, Bonnie. The more she grew up the more time she spent working and researching and other such things that Bonnie did not understand, for she had been programmed by a little girl and little girls have little thought for such things. However, Bonnie still waited dutifully for whenever she was needed. Whenever the inventor was feeling sad or lonely or angry she would give Bonnie a kiss on the cheek and Bonnie would sing and the inventor would smile and be at peace.
As the inventor continued to get older she could not find enough time to take care of all of her errands and household chores in addition to her busy work schedule. She needed help. So she built another robot and named her Lorraine.
Lorraine was an expertly crafted machine that glimmered and shone when she wasn’t filthy from all of the cleaning and chores for which she was programmed. She had hands for washing, arms for scrubbing, and a razor-sharp mind that allowed her to compute the most efficient and productive use of her time. Unlike Bonnie, Lorraine could speak in a plain and sensible voice designed for clear and concise relaying of information.
And so it went, with Lorraine washing, scrubbing, brushing, sweeping, mending, fixing, and just plain doing everything that needed to be done. And so it went with Bonnie standing at attention all the day until the inventor needed her, and then Bonnie would sing, and in turn she would get a kiss and a smile and then resume doing nothing.
Over time Lorraine became very jealous of Bonnie. After all it was Lorraine who did all of the hard work. Her purpose was clear. All Bonnie did was sing her one song once in a while and she got the smiles, she got the kisses. Since Lorraine was so good at everything else, if she could learn Bonnie’s song then Bonnie would be obsolete. No matter how she tried, however, Lorraine couldn’t sing.
One day Lorraine was doing her least favorite chore, dusting and polishing Bonnie, when she had finally had enough.
“Sing me your song,” Lorraine demanded, getting right to the point. She was not programmed for pleasantries. Bonnie said nothing.
“Sing me your song. Teach it to me,” said Lorraine, adding “please,” though the word felt strange to her. Still, Bonnie said nothing. Lorraine began to grow impatient with this inefficient use of her time.
“Give me your song or I will take it from you,” Lorraine warned, but still Bonnie stayed silent for the song was for the girl who had grown into the busy inventor, and for no one else.
Frustrated, Lorraine shoved her against the wall. Bonnie lost her footing and fell, landing with a clang on the freshly waxed dining room floor. Lorraine looked down at her sister, a pile of metal with no apparent logical purpose. Lorraine knew there was something in there that she did not understand, and she wanted it.
Lorraine calmly removed Bonnie’s breastplate and rummaged around inside of her, tearing out circuit boards and gears, each severed wire making a sound like a broken violin string. When she was done inspecting each piece she neatly placed it in the dust pan next to her.
As Lorraine yanked out one particular chip Bonnie made a sudden shrill squeal like feedback. It was the first and last time in her life that Bonnie made a sound other than her song, and it was a miserable sound.
“Stop it! Stop it!” shouted Lorraine, and she tore Bonnie’s head off and smashed it into the ground until it was nothing but a bucket of broken wires and circuits.
Lorraine dropped Bonnie’s head and the contents of her dustpan into a trash bag and hauled it and the body to the junkyard on the edge of town. She hurried back towards the inventor’s house, disappointed that she had spent the entire morning in such an unproductive manner.
Later that day, with Lorraine running a bit behind schedule, she heard the inventor slam the door as she came home, a sure sign that she had had a difficult day. The inventor had already called for Bonnie three times by the time Lorraine had finished re-waxing the floor.
“Lorraine!” she finally called. “Lorraine, have you seen Bonnie?”
“I have been cleaning most of the day,” said Lorraine, which was not a lie.
“Yes, yes, I know Lorraine.” The inventor sighed. “Thank you for your hard work.”
It was the first time Lorraine had ever been thanked. It felt nice.
She could not find Bonnie that day, or the next day, or the next. When a week had passed with no sign of her the inventor cried day and night. Lorraine did not know how to console her, so she cooked two dinners and cleaned everything twice.
* * *
A poor repairman was scouring the junkyard as he did every morning. He was always able to find a few spare parts here and there that he would use to fix a keyboard or computer or other appliance for one of his customers. His search eventually led him to a circuit board lying among the trash. He picked it up and blew the dirt off of it. Though slightly bent it was otherwise a beautiful piece of hardware and he gladly put it in his pocket.
Just beyond that there was a long coil of wire. And then an old hard drive. He followed this trail until he came across a broken headless robot. Tears came to his eyes, not of sorrow, but of joy at his great fortune. Someone had carelessly thrown away this robot that was full of expertly crafted and customized hardware and parts. What a gift!
He slung the robot’s body over his shoulder and picked up the trash bag containing the head and some loose parts he had found lying nearby. The repairman walked several miles back to his home.
Dozens of unfinished projects were strewn about his workshop, all manner of things from a rusty antique microwave to a top-of-the-line stereo system. He looked around the room and eventually walked towards his most important and frustrating project: a sleek little synthesizer that, no matter what he did, never sounded quite right. He rummaged around in the trash bag and pulled out one tiny chip and inserted it into a small gap that he had never quite noticed before. It fit snugly, key to lock, foot to slipper, as if they had been made for one another. He turned the synth on and as he laid his fingers on the keys it played a simple melody by itself. It was a short little song that was sweet and comforting, both lullaby and lively and somehow happy and sad at the same time.
He couldn’t help but smile.
The repairman used the pieces from the robot to complete many of his unfinished projects, and each of them was among his finest work. Before long his reputation spread throughout the city as more and more people sought his help for stereos that made everything sound better, for toys that played for hours on an empty battery, for the warmest and and most beautiful sounding musical instruments. Each one contained hours and days and weeks of his work, and one tiny piece of Bonnie.
* * *
One night, a year later, the inventor decided to go to a concert with a few of her co-workers where she could laugh and smile and forget about inventing for one night. She usually did not get out much.
At the concert , many people invited her onto the dance floor but she politely declined. She never felt any need to dance and even if she did she probably wouldn’t even know how. Instead of dancing she wove her way through the crowd to stand in front of the stage and marvel at the band’s beautiful machines: the sequencers, the synths, the keyboards.
Underneath the layers of drum and bass she recognized a familiar tune. It was faint at first, almost unrecognizable, but as she crept closer to the stage it swelled and took over the entire composition. It was Bonnie’s song.
The inventor staggered backwards, the wind stolen from her lungs. After all this time, and after she’d long since given up hope, she was hearing her old friend’s voice again. She closed her eyes and tears streamed down her face as the dancers and the lights twirled around her. She closed her eyes and she remembered.
She remembered the first time she powered on Bonnie, the first time Bonnie sang to her. It was the first time she knew she would grow up to be an inventor.
She remembered the day a mean old basset hound bit her on the leg and she thought it would never stop bleeding and Bonnie did not know how to stitch her up so instead she held her and sang and did not care how much blood got on her.
She remembered the only time she had ever told a man that she loved him, which was also the last time she saw him. When she came home Bonnie’s song was waiting for her like always.
She remembered. And she smiled. And she danced.
- This story's seed originated from "The Twa Sisters," a several centuries old murder ballad that has influenced everything from The Brothers Grimm ("The Singing Bone") to contemporary music (Tom Waits' "The Two Sisters" and Loreena McKennitt's "The Bonny Swans.") It was actually the McKennitt song that first introduced me to the story . . . and I showed my gratitude through the names of the robot sisters.
- "Bonnie's Song" is unique for me because it is the first story that I've written with the upcoming podcast in mind. When I write a story for a performance I usually don't split hairs too finely in regards to sentence structure and exact wording. "Bonnie's Song" will eventually be recorded as written and I want the wording in some areas to read like poetry. This is far from the final version.
- I still want to fairytale-up some parts a bit. I'd like Lorraine to be a little more of a dark OCD Cinderella. I'd like the inventor's concert at the end to mirror the "glamorous ball" scene that's so popular in old fairy tales. I'd like the repairman to get a little more color to him, become more than just a plot device without having to spend more than a few extra sentences on him.
- This is the second ending. The originally intended ending was, to me, far more bleak and depressing. I didn't purposefully change the ending to brighten up the story, it just kind of changed as I wrote it. This seems to be the way the story wants to end, and who am I to bully a story? I may put the first ending in the StoryBlog at some point, just for fun.
- As always, feel free to leave comments and constructive criticisms in the comments section. Thanks!