Heartbreak Is the Same in Every Language

“No Machine,” a short story by Dan Musgrave

Heartbreak Is the Same in Every Language

No Machine

When the sun is two trees up, the learners call Clyde to the room for work. Clyde leaves the people and enters the room with the machine. Clyde is one of the people who works. He is good. In the room with the machine, there is the machine, the glass, the door, and the window with shelf. Learners stand behind the glass with another machine. Door opens so learners can come inside the room for play. Window opens to let the people watch outside.

Clyde works with Peter. Peter is a learner. Clyde loves Peter. Peter has grey hair on his face and his laugh feels like sun-warmed dirt.

Today, Peter is not seen. Instead, it is Marta. Clyde does not like Marta. Marta does not listen. More and more Marta with Peter. Marta tends to Peter like he has hurt. Clyde has groomed Peter and there are no wounds, so Clyde does not understand. Peter asks CLYDE TALK TO MARTA but Clyde says NO. More and more Peter goes. Leaves Clyde with only Marta.

Marta is bad. Marta makes Clyde use machine sentences. Marta wants WHAT NAME OF THIS WHICH IS RED? And PLEASE GIVE CLYDE M&M. She says NO when Clyde tells her something true. Something like TICKLE SKY WATER GREEN BLUE RED BLUE BLACK HAPPY NANA NANA. Which is machine talk and too small. Clyde means: when it storms, Nana holds within her all the colors of the earth and makes the people forget their fear. Clyde tries teach Marta. Marta not listen.

Peter listens.

Clyde knows the learners’ words are too small. They need the Machine. They can’t see things the people do. Clyde feels sad for the learners. But this is why the people work. They teach. They help.

But Marta won’t learn. Today, Marta is behind the glass and Clyde wants Marta to listen more and more and the want fills his legs until he must kick. Feet to glass. Bam! Get it out.

Marta flinches. Clyde leans, shoulder against glass. He sees past Marta to find Peter hiding. But no Peter. Marta stands different. Marta’s arms hang sad. He cannot let her know he has seen so he turns to the machine instead of seeing closer to learn.

Clyde pulls the lever. Machine wakes up. Machine words light. Machine says “Hi Clyde,” with its voice.

Clyde gives the machine the bird. Peter taught Clyde the bird. Clyde gives the machine the bird whenever the machine says, “Hi Clyde.”

Before Clyde can use machine, Marta types, PETER NO MORE.

Clyde ignores this. It is nothing talk.

PLEASE MACHINE OPEN WINDOW, Clyde presses. Maybe Peter hides outside. Maybe Peter will scare Clyde in a fun way. Clyde’s hair tingles with possibility.

The shade on the window ups slowly. Clyde ups onto the shelf to see. He thwomps the window with his hands. Moves on one foot, then other. Finally, he sees outside. In that which is blue, birds weave grace without jumping from platforms or swinging from ropes. Plants on the ground, color of which is yellow, dance. Clyde likes the dancing grass. Its ends tickle his face and lips. Clyde talks about the grass with his voice. The other people respond. Nana loudest. They agree. Many are excited to be with the grass today.

But no Peter. Clyde sees to the glass. Marta is still there. She makes words with her hands but Clyde pretends not to see. If Clyde uses the machine, Marta uses the machine.

Clyde downs from the shelf, goes to the machine. He sees through the glass again. He sees through Marta. No Peter.


NO PETER, Marta responds.

Clyde scans the symbols. Marta understands very few things. He must talk careful.


Marta shakes behind glass and Clyde sees. Marta plays hide. Bad hiding, like a baby. Hands over face.

Clyde thinks, talks. MARTA HIDE QUESTION. He sees. Marta does not answer or stop hiding. Marta’s game is not fun. Maybe Marta has hurt.

Clyde slides to the glass where he and Peter tickle with air. He presses his face against its coolness. One curved hand over his head to stop the false Clyde in the glass from appearing. He sees. Nothing. He bams the glass. Then waits. Waits for Marta move her hands. Clyde’s lips purse out. Question.


Marta answers, SAD.

Clyde traces his finger over the symbol.


Marta shakes again. Clyde is sad for Marta now. Marta wants to say more and more but her words are too small. The machine talk touches few truths.



Clyde responds with his mouth. The people agree.

NO PETER, she says.

Clyde wants to talk about this with his mouth because she is right. Maybe she is learning good, but a feeling in his middle makes Clyde quiet. His arms turn heavy and slow. Clyde does not like that Marta wants Peter but Marta cannot have Peter.

QUESTION PETER QUIET GO HIDE SLEEP HIDE GO. He wants to know if Peter has gone beyond words and the ability to be seen except in the place of dreams. This is not a machine sentence, but Marta answers.


Clyde sees at feet. He wants Nana and the people and grooming. The hollow in his middle is bad. But the people’s voices are outside and Clyde is in the room.


Clyde sees only at the machine. Not Marta.


Marta never enters the door. But it opens. Marta enters. She waits. Clyde takes Marta’s hand. It’s soft. He brings her into the room. Clyde wraps his arms around Marta. They rock. Marta’s eyes make more sad. The sad touches the hollow in Clyde’s middle. They stay in hug, and say nothing.

No machine between them to keep them from understanding one another.

About the Author

Dan Musgrave was raised by animals in rural Kansas. Currently, he is one of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship’s initial cohort of Literary Fellows. His work has appeared in The Missouri Review and The Sun. For nearly seven years, he did linguistic, cognitive, and behavioral research with captive bonobos while they trained him in the art of being a better person. Find him online at danmusgrave.com.

“No Machine,” is published here by permission of Dan Musgrave. Copyright © Dan Musgrave 2018. All rights reserved.

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