Rex had grown slow. He creaked and rattled with nearly every step now, and frequently his legs would even shift beneath him, teasing the inevitable collapse to come. It might have bothered others, trying to keep up with numerous chores while slowly descending into immobility, but it didn’t bother Rex. He was good like that. He liked to be busy, liked the work. There was a peculiar peace he found into the monotony of it, a comfort in the repetition that had helped keep him sane over the years.
Though Rex had never been the leisurely type, he was careful to start his day right at sunlight now. With his joints growing stiff and his motion choppy, he couldn’t complete everything by nightfall unless he dug in right away.
So he rose early that morning, and like many mornings before he tended to the gardens first. He watered, trimmed back hedges, and cut away the withered blooms that sullied the sprawling spectacle which beautified the estate. He filled the feeders last, taking a few moments to watch the hummingbirds flit about and compete for real estate near the nectar.
“They’re nearly as quick as you,” the man had once told Rex, watching different birds hover about the same plastic cylinder.
“There’s no need for flattery, sir,” Rex said. “They’re far quicker.”
“They are?” the man had asked. He folded shut the book in his lap and handed it to Rex. “Read this and tell me what it’s about.”
Rex paused, gazing down at it with reverence. “I’m not–”
“Go on,” the man said, sipping at a steamy cup of tea. “I give you permission.”
Rex had cracked it open then, peeling back the opening page and losing himself in the words within. When he finally resurfaced, he shut the book and looked back up at the man. “It’s about an astronaut stranded on an abandoned planet,” he said. “About how he uses his wit and tenacity to survive the indifferent cruelty of nature.”
“Very good,” the man had said, taking back the book. “Do you know how long that took you?”
“A little under a minute,” the man said, raising his tea to his lips again, steam still rising from the cup. When he brought it back down, he was smiling. “Still think you aren’t faster than those hummingbirds?”
Rex shook the memory from his head, checked the time, then turned and started back toward the house. Noon was fast approaching and there was still so much to do.
Though his tasks inside the manor were markedly easier on his ailing physique than his labor in the gardens, the sheer scope of the place made it just as time consuming. Dusting, sweeping, and changing the bedclothes were all small tasks, but with so many shelves, floors, and beds to change, they had become titanic ones. But Rex didn’t mind. In fact, he quite enjoyed attending to every room and seeing that each was still in as good a shape as when he’d left it the day before. But of all the dozens of rooms he cleaned, none delighted Rex quite as much as the kitchen.
He wasn’t entirely sure why it enchanted him so much, checking all the silverware for tarnish and making sure the burners on the stove-top still warmed without issue. But if he were to guess, he thought it may have something to do with what he remembered of watching the woman bake. She had made it look so easy, sculpting such luscious and opulent desserts from little more than butter, eggs, and sugar. It had been akin to magic, and she’d accomplished it using such mundane tools.
“It’s beautiful,” he’d told her once, watching as she’d finished dabbing green into the irises of what appeared to be some sort of female warrior, rendered thick in butter-cream frosting across a canvas of German chocolate.
“Thank you, Rex,” the woman had said. “Do you think she’ll like it?”
“I think she’ll love it, madame,” he’d assured her. “It’s from her favorite book, no?”
“Or so her father tells me,” she said, licking some of frosting from her fingertips. “Can I ask you a question, Rex?”
“When the two of you are talking, does she ever–” She paused. “Does she ever call me mom?”
Rex had thought for a moment, reaching back into memories that were now long forgotten, but which were fresh to him then. “I am afraid not, madame,” he replied. “Not to my memory.”
The woman shook her head. “Well, your memories don’t lie, do they, Rex?”
“No, madame,” he’d told her.
She shed a few tears after that, they had landed in the frosting. Rex remembered wondering how they might affect the taste. He would never learn.
By the time he finished the last of his tasks in the kitchen, day had given way to night. Rex stumbled slowly through the dark halls of the manor, making his way toward the room they’d set aside for him on the upper level. At one time it hadn’t been much more than a closet, but after many renovations it had adopted a familiar coziness. A pillow and blanket were laid neatly across the hardwood floor in mimic of a bed, while a short night stand and lamp, whose light had long gone dead, stood next to them. Books from the man’s library frequently took up temporary residence on the stand and on the nights when the moon shone full and bright through the skylight in the ceiling, he’d read them. Yet none of these niceties made Rex feel quite as at home as the painting that hung beside his makeshift bed, right in the spot where the room got the most light.
It was a crude thing, an approximation in rough, uneven lines that depicted Rex in the gardens, his hand extended to meet a young girl’s. But when he looked at it, every time he looked at it, the same old memory came rushing back to meet him. Old, but not stale. A treasure.
“He might scare the other children,” the man had said. Rex was not supposed to have heard this, but the man had been unaware that he was tidying a room down the hall from the girl’s and Rex’s ears operated far better than they were often given credit for.
“I don’t care,” the girl had shouted. “He’s my friend and it’s my party, I want him there.”
The man sighed, “Then invite him if you must, but don’t expect your friends from school to be excited about it.”
“I’d rather it be just me and Rex then,” the girl had replied confidently.
She’d gotten her wish when nobody but Rex and her parents had shown the following week. But if it had bothered her at all, the girl never let it show. They had cake, opened presents, and painted on the canvases the woman had bought for all the children who were supposed to have come. When they’d gone through them all, Rex and the girl exchanged their best pieces and hung them in each others’ rooms.
Rex raised a finger and flipped the switch that hid behind his rusting ear. A moment later, a flurry of text and numbers transcribed themselves over his vision. He turned his attention to the battery display: 62 %. He ran the math, four months if he kept operating at this rate. Scowling, he pulled up his power consumption details and found what he hadn’t wanted to admit to himself. Even after shutting down all but one of his long-term memory cores a few months back, they were still the leading consumer of his energy. Begrudgingly he ran a projection on how long the battery might run if he turned off the last of them. “Four years,” he whispered, flipping the switch back off.
He stared up at the stars that glistened far beyond the ceiling window. They were out there, somewhere, but would they be back in time?
“One more day,” he told himself, the painting catching his eye as he lay back on his blanket, preparing his sleep function. “Just one more.”