((Author’s note: this story contains an accident that gets a little graphic. If that bothers you, you may not want to read it. I won’t be offended if you don’t.))
I don’t really remember my birth… I tried, when I was newer. Bright lights, darkness, noise, heat, motion, and pain are all I can recall from those minutes and hours. I could barely feel the steps in between the layers… I remember my shell, it was the first part of me… and my lining, so soft, so gentle, so comforting. From the very beginning I couldn’t wait.
Others like me were all around. Before me, after me, above me, below me… so many of us! Where would we go? We could barely wonder. There was so much activity with the noise and machines around us that none of us could tell if we would stay together or if we would all go to separate places, separate people, separate uses, separate endings. It wouldn’t matter. We all knew, somehow, what we were meant for. We all knew what we would be doing. Just like a baby knows when it is hungry, and knows who its mother is, and knows how to bring her, we all knew what to do.
I was finally separated from those before and behind me. There were no goodbyes. We all felt the same. We all looked ahead to the same moment. Every one of us was concerned with one single day. It might be soon after leaving this place. It might be a long time from now. It didn’t matter to us, only that it would come.
Soon I was joined by others my size. Twelve of us, stacked close, pressed together, held securely. These were my companions: all of them just like me. We would go together and stay together and, possibly, maybe, each have our days close together. Where would we wind up? How long would we wait? Who would it be? What would our days bring?
We were all wondering as we found the light suddenly dimmed with the whir of another machine. We had been pressed together before, now we were bound that way by a tight confining covering. The twelve of us fell quiet at once. Where were we? There was motion beneath us. We were lifted again, spun about, carried one way and then another; it was impossible to tell. Enough light passed through our protective prison that we could see only shadows and movement, so much movement, until we stopped. On every side, gentle weight pressed around us until the light was gone completely and we were still.
None of us had really been still before. It was completely dark; there were no shadows to show movement, no feeling of motion, barely even any sound reached us in our darkness. Where were we? We sat still there for longer than we’d spent out in the light, in all the machines, being made. We listened.
We listened. We waited for sound to come near us. When it did, we listened for it to come even nearer. Each time we fell silent and wondered if it would be the moment when we continued on our way. Then it went away again, and some would talk while others were quiet. We hoped, we listened, we waited.
One time the noise came closer than it had before. None of us spoke. We wanted to hope but we didn’t dare. Was it our turn? Was this our time, now? Would today be the day when we’d be on our way toward the end of our journey? It had been longer than any of us could tell, waiting for the next step, the next motion, the next part. Would this be it? The sound got louder instead of softer. We looked at each other. Could it be…?
Then, we moved. The ground shook underneath us as we felt our prison lifted and carried. Whispers broke out from every direction. It was time!! We were on our way again! Where were they taking us? Would today be our day? Was it our turn to do what we’d been made to do?
We stopped just long enough to wonder if we’d made it. From above us, the same heavy weight we’d grown accustomed to pressed down. We could hear the same excited chatter from there. It seemed we weren’t alone after all!
The whispering stopped as the motion and sound came toward us again. For a short time, more carriers were brought, each holding another group of groups. My companions and I couldn’t even count how many there were… there were more outside our own container than inside! How many of us could there possibly be? Would we all be going to the same place? Would I share my day with one of these strangers? There were so many questions to ask, so many stories to share. How long had they been waiting? How many times had the sounds and movement come close to them before they’d been brought to us? How many of us did they think there were here? Did they think we’d all be going together to the end?
A high squeal, and a heavy grinding and clanging broke our talk. A rumble of another machine began and the floor beneath us began to tremble. Some of the others whispered hurriedly. This was the end, they said. Something had gone wrong. We weren’t moving forward at all. Still others were certain they were just foolish and nothing had gone wrong. This could only be the next step on our way. Perhaps this machine was used for… and then they fell silent, since they had no better idea than any others.
We thought that the vibrations would be over soon. We were wrong. They went on for ages, and ages, and even more ages as we felt the weight above and to the sides pressing in on us. There was no light at all. Sometimes the holder on one side would push on us, other times the other side, always the heaviness of the one above us bore down on those of us high up in our own container. Some of us talked, some listened, some stayed silent the entire time. We sat in the darkness and the vibrating floor and the leaning and shoving and swaying for longer than we’d done anything before.
Once in a while the vibration would stop. Every time we waited for the same clanging and squealing and every time the rumble and shuddering would begin again.
Then one time, after we’d all learned that just because the machine had stopped it didn’t mean we had reached where we were going, we all heard a squeal and grinding and then the floor twitched once, and everything was still. There were voices! We were close!!
The familiar sounds and shivering came back as we were lifted and carried by another machine. There were people nearby! Maybe one of them would be the one we would see on our day? Maybe one of them would take us, all of us? Was this the place we would finally be useful? Each of us was asking the same questions when the machine set us down and moved away. Voices receded and there was silence and blackness again.
The whispers broke out again. This was it, said some. This was where we belonged. This was what we were made to do.
Of course it wasn’t, said others. This was merely another stop on the long way to our greatest day, when we would be everything for someone.
I stayed quiet. I knew that they were all being silly, of course. Every one of us knew what we were meant for. Could they have forgotten in so short a time? How could they have remembered after so long? This wasn’t the end. The end was more than this place, this darkness, this quiet. It would be something perfect. We were all created for that one moment, that one instant when someone would need us and we would be there, the one day when someone else would be glad that we existed. That day wouldn’t come in this black place folded up, wrapped and sealed shut. There was more yet to come. If they had forgotten, I hadn’t.
Not one of us spoke when we heard a soft sound approaching. It stopped very close by and jostled our carrier, scraping and rending and pulling and popping at the prison that had kept us safe and confined and blind and waiting… and there was light.
It was a bright, bright world beyond our dark case. The wrapping that held my eleven companions and I hardly hid anything now from us. Someone had come to take us home! Was this the person we would help? Would he be the one we had been made for?
Under two arms, he carried half of us away. A short walk, through a door, and then more light. Brilliant light was everywhere. We could see colors, too: blues, and yellows, and reds were nearby as we were carried along and finally set down one after another. The sound around us was incredible. It swayed, and curled around us, and spun in a way that no machine we’d ever heard could create. The light shone down at us. We sat still. The activity was overwhelming. People passed by, some quickly, some slowly. Every time someone came we all froze silent. Maybe she would be the one? Or he would? Or one of those two? We didn’t know, we couldn’t know, but it made no difference to us… we did know that we were close, that it was nearly our time.
Soon, one of them didn’t walk by. He came, pushing a cart the same as the others. He walked slowly and turned his head from side to side a lot. Every one of us watched him. He stopped. He looked around again. He looked at us. He reached over. He picked us up. He set us in his cart. He walked on. We were going home.
We could barely think straight. The music and the voices and the people and all the way we’d come and now finally it was time and we’d found him! We barely noticed the rest of the store. So many colors and sounds all meant nothing next to the excitement of finding the person we’d been made to find. When we were picked up and moved and put back in the cart again, it made no difference. Once through the door the light was even more dazzling than before but it didn’t matter. The glory of the blue ceiling with the white shapes wasn’t important. Only he was important. He was just our size! We would be perfect together. We all hoped we would fit right, and that when he needed us, we wouldn’t fail. We couldn’t fail. We had to work. We had to be what he wanted us to be. We had to.
We sat spellbound for the entire trip. The light continued to flash shadows over our wrapping as we moved. There were more sounds outside and so much we could see as we passed by… but every one of us was watching him. Every movement that he made brought us closer to where we were going. Each time he turned the wheel, or looked over his shoulder, or reached down for the lever beside him, or shifted uncomfortably in his seat, we got to know a little more of him. By the time we were there we questioned how there could have possibly been anyone else for us!
The vibrations of the machine stopped and he brought us inside. As instantly as we’d known he would be the one, we knew our days would be perfect. His home fit him: a little awkward like he was, very neat like he was, rather quiet like he was, each part arranged just so, in just the right way to be comfortable. This was where we would spend our days. We couldn’t have been more pleased.
We thought he was going to set us down when he took us to a room and opened the door into a small dark space. Instead, he surprised us again as we felt the wrapping around us tightening and pulling until the loud pop and a quick tearing sound as we saw the world clearly for the first time since the day we’d been made. None of us dared to say a word as he quickly reached in and snatched the one three down from me, dropped us into the small space, and shut the door to leave us blind again.
We stared at each other, giddy. Here we were!! We’d made it! What would it be like? That single question was the one we’d asked ourselves more times than any other. Having no reference at all only made the question more intriguing. We’d seen him, we’d seen his home, we’d imagined endlessly… some of it fit, some of it didn’t, but it really didn’t make any difference since we couldn’t see or hear what was going on now.
Now! Right now, one of my companions was experiencing that moment that we had all been created to know. I couldn’t be jealous, I was so excited. Was it going well? Was he happy? Would we all be successful? Of course it was. He was. We would. It was what we were best at. It was what we’d been made to do.
We waited for another age before he opened the door again and took the one two up from me, then it wasn’t long at all before another, then another and another. Soon I was the one resting in the middle, and we all knew that I would be next.
I did nothing but stare at the blackness where the door was. I barely talked. None of us did. We all knew the day would come very soon when we left each other for the last time. All the days before and now were leading up to that one.
And then, at last, the door opened again. This was it.
This was my day.
Shutting the door behind him, he laid me down on the bed and unfolded me. I stretched deliciously. All of my padding, so long pressed flat, breathed invitingly in the open air at last. Yes, here I was! I was ready. My tapes were strong and sticky, they would hold. The elastic in my legs and leak guards was stiff and taut. That particular scent, held for so long as I sat folded up, was just strong enough to be detectable. I’d done my best to hold myself in, to keep everything perfect, waiting for this moment.
My shell rustled against the bed audibly. I’d been sure that it would. It was one of the best things about me, I knew… that wonderful, wonderful sound, the one that I hoped might make him think back to when he was a tiny baby, wearing a tiny version of myself, happily cared for, perfectly innocent. No one could help smiling at that sound.
I watched him as it did so. He had his back turned to me now. Was he smiling? He must be, I just couldn’t see it. Despite a tiny and very brief twinge of sadness I practically glowed. The real moment hadn’t come and already I was doing what I’d set out to do! Already he was enjoying my presence and remembering the times that had brought him so much happiness. Today would bring the same; I was sure of it!
He turned back to me then with a bottle in his hand. His smile at the memory of his own babyhood must have already faded as I didn’t see it when he held the bottle over me and shook it. I’d never experienced anything like it before! The white powder quickly overpowered my own scent as it sprinkled down on me. It was so light and soft… for an instant I wondered if he thought I wouldn’t be soft enough as I was, but it quickly passed when I saw him set the bottle down and turn his back to me and bend his knees to sit.
The room disappeared. The whole world disappeared… at that moment, there was only him. My soft padding cushioned him, embraced him, enveloped him. I couldn’t see his face but I knew how glad he was, I knew it as clearly as I’d known my first day what I was meant for. I rested there and comforted him. Everything would be all right. There could be no question.
Far too quickly he reached down and pulled my front up, opening the tapes and tugging them around one by one. I could feel them pulling against my shell but I knew they would hold. They had to today.
He stood. I held to him. Yes, he was the perfect size for me. I didn’t sag, or pull, or slip, or climb. I could barely believe it when he rubbed my shell with his hands. In addition to unnecessarily checking to make sure I fit, because I couldn’t possibly not, I was sure he was enjoying the feel of me as I wrapped around him securely, safely, and perfectly. I didn’t have to see his face to tell by the way he ran his fingers along the edges of the tapes and along all the elastic.
When he was done he walked to a chair and sat down again. It was much more firm than the bed. I was glad again that I could comfort him and be soft for him to rest on. When he would lean to one side or the other, as he sometimes did, my padding would shift accommodatingly to cushion him more underneath. So close to him I could feel the tensions in his body as they rose and fell. I knew that sometime soon, sometime very soon would come the moment, the very one I had been made for, the one for which I’d traveled and waited and hoped for.
I waited a little longer as he sat. He was still at first. Then he would lean one way, then another, then settle for longer. Soon he was shifting almost more than he was sitting still! I couldn’t wait, I knew it couldn’t be long!
I was there. I was ready. It was finally time. The tightness in him built, and built, until he was moving so much that I kept my padding in the same place, in the center, because I knew that…
The he stopped.
I nearly gasped at the first touch of that warmth. It was small at first. Only a little came. My padding sucked it away thirstily. Then a long instant passed. More came. I felt him take a breath and let it out. Then another. I waited. I could not speak. I listened to his body, watched him, felt him. Finally he gave a deep and wonderful sigh.
The warmth flowed into me. It splashed against his skin. It seeped through my padding. It ran like rivulets along the leak guards. It pooled against my shell. I took it in eagerly. I swelled. My layers bloated, drinking in that warmth, that tension, that sense of calm and comfort and gratefulness I knew he felt for me.
Slowly, but far too quickly, the flow stopped. He rested there, in the chair. I rested with him. Neither of us moved. I felt changed. I was changed! My sopping layers, no longer the same spongy cushioning they had been, were squeezed and bunched. My crinkly shell was quiet enough to barely be heard. The tapes held stubbornly to it. I knew they wouldn’t budge, not at all. They held. I held.
I felt. The warmth found its way all through me. I welcomed it as it squeezed between my layers. It soaked its way through my padding. It very slowly crept up the leak guards and into the elastic. As he sat there, staying still, I could feel it spreading up through the back padding and up toward the waistband. I knew it wouldn’t reach it. I could already feel it cooling as the layers concentrated it all just as they were meant to do. In that blissful state I floated and listened to him. His rhythmic breathing, the quiet rustling of my shell when he moved, the soft gurgling sounds coming from his stomach, that same sort of tension that had been building before… I knew it couldn’t be the same, as he’d already emptied himself into me. So I relaxed. I listened, I felt and I enjoyed the time I had. I knew it would not last, it couldn’t. But that didn’t matter.
Even though it didn’t, I hoped it would never end. I wanted to keep him warm, and comfortable, and happy… who wouldn’t want to stay like that forever? Maybe he would just stay here, right where he was. That would be all right. He was just fine this way, there wouldn’t be any reason for him to want to get up anyway because I was here to take care of him if he needed me to. I only wished I could do more to help him, more to comfort him, more to make him feel glad to have me.
Maybe in answer to my thoughts he shifted again. This time it was actually like before. I felt the pressure in him below his stomach. I heard the soft sounds coming from inside him. Even as my saturated layers squished underneath him I knew suddenly that I was not finished yet. There was more I could do for him. My day was not yet done.
The sudden realization energized me. I listened to his body carefully. Yes, most surely he still needed me. The sounds coming from him told me. His motion in the chair told me. The tension in his body told me. No, I was far from finished. Even mostly spent as I was, it was not over.
I did my best to hold to him. The tapes didn’t move; they didn’t slip or pull or pop. I didn’t sag. Despite everything, I refused to leak. I wouldn’t fail him. I would not. It would be all right, I said. As I cooled further I willed what softness I had left to press against him, to calm him, to let him know all would be well, that I would take care of him, that he didn’t need to worry, that he could relax. I was here for him now and nothing else was important. All that mattered was for him to do what he needed to do. It was safe. It was right. It was what he wanted… and what I wanted.
I knew he heard me. I knew it. When he shifted in the chair again and moved his feet underneath him and leaned forward and lifted me off the chair just a tiny bit, I knew he heard me. When I heard him take a breath and hold it, when I felt his stomach tighten up, when I felt his skin begin to warm with exertion, I knew he heard me. When he lifted more, when he grunted softly in his throat, when he gasped as the muscles began to contract on their own, I knew he heard me. When I felt him opening up, when I sensed his concentration, when he began to push, I knew he heard me.
And he pushed. I was ready.
The sweet soft smell of the powder had since faded. If it hadn’t, it would not have mattered now as a new scent began to replace any hint that may have remained. It was sweet at first, but quickly became less pleasant until the sourness threatened to overpower my ability to keep it inside. As I did all I could, I couldn’t help but feel glad all over again that I was there for him! I fought hard to keep it in but the more he pushed the stronger it became. I knew I could handle it. This was my day. This was my time.
Then, I felt it.
It pressed against me and as it did I knew I would fail. I could feel the scent escaping through my waistband as a bubble of air forced it away from his skin for a moment, and in that moment, containing it had become wholly and completely unimportant.
With my shell already distended there was nowhere for it to go. The soft mass smushed and spread as he gave a final strong shove, pushing out the last of it, squashing some of it up behind and some forward, squeezing some toward the leak guards on the sides.
I ached joyously as he sat back down. The smell was overpowering but it didn’t matter anymore. I felt it mash flatter to quiet squelching sounds. Some of it was forced forward into a lump near the front, while more of it went up the back, even reaching the dry padding that had escaped the wetness earlier.
There was no fear that I would not hold. He leaned from side to side, causing more of the same sounds and grinding the hot mush between my padding and his skin.
Over and over I told him it was okay. I told him he was safe. I told him how good he was, and that he would be fine, and that he was loved.
I couldn’t tell if he’d heard me.
We stayed there, for a while.
I barely noticed when he stood up. I could hardly see when he walked into his bathroom. I didn’t feel the tapes come off. There was no pain as one of them tore at my shell. I was cold. All the warmth that had filled me was gone.
I couldn’t even protest as he pulled me off. The mess clung to us both; he swiped at his skin with my front, smearing it there too. I didn’t mind. I couldn’t. It had been perfect, it was perfect, it could not change. It would not. How could it after such a day? It was so far beyond what I had imagined. I was so lucky to have found him at last. With all that had passed between us, the caring and wonder and goodness and acceptance and pleasure… there could be no one better, anywhere, than him.
The floor under me was hard, and cool. I was glad for it. The elation, the fulfillment, the completion of my journey to find him… all was well, tonight. The rush of water was soothing. The steam settled on my open padding and left tiny glistening beads on loose fluff. I let myself drift, a little. Perhaps he would think the tiny spheres of water were nice to look at when he returned to me.
I felt his hands on me. Exhausted but cheered, I looked up him. I sighed contentedly. We would continue on, and I would make him even happier than before, happy enough that he would smile at me and say how glad he was that I was here. He reached his hands under me and I waited to be carried back to the bed.
But then he didn’t.
I don’t know why he didn’t.
He folded in my wings and rolled me quickly, pressing and bending without regard to how I was before, then put the three tapes where they were not supposed to go. They held, but they would not come off, not even to put me back on.
I didn’t understand. After what we had shared, what was he doing? I looked up at him fearfully.
He carried me quickly to his kitchen and dropped me into a can. His eyes never glanced at me.
The lid closed. It was dark again.
I was cold and alone. I shouldn’t be those today. Not today.
Had I done something wrong? What did I do wrong? Hadn’t I done everything right? Hadn’t I been perfect? Was it something I hadn’t done?
I’d done what I’d been made to do. I didn’t leak, I didn’t tear, I was warm and comforting and soft and strong and right and perfect. I was. I thought I was.