My wife and I were browsing around an abandoned warehouse filled with old typewriters. There were windows high on the walls with grimy, yellowed panes of glass that softened the light that shone through. There was a strong smell of stale oil in the air. The typewriters were piled up everywhere, old manual typewriters, electric typewriters, big office typewriters, all sorts of types and brands. Some were piled in heaps of gears and hammers. Over on a shelf by the wall there was a bin filled with loose keys that had fallen off the different machines. I slid the bin out a little ways with my finger and I gave the box a good shake. There was every letter of the alphabet in there, in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.
Any of the typewriters were free to take, if I could find one that worked and was worth taking. I came across a few typewriters that were sitting by themselves on tables and desktops scattered around the shop, as though someone had set them up there ready to be used. Seeing if these typewriters still worked seemed more promising than trying to extract any of the broken machines from one of the piles. They were at least still left at their posts, still maintaining the semblance of service. A few even had working desk lamps shining down on their carriages and chairs placed before them, ready to be occupied.
My wife started to get impatient as she followed me through the warehouse. She saw nothing but heaps of old junk. She said that I’d never find a typewriter that worked, and she couldn’t see the point in trying to find one, anyway. They were all old and outdated and obsolete. I came across one that had a stack of blank paper laid out beside it. It was a little blue typewriter, and it looked just like the one I used to own, except that it had an actual return key, rather than that long metal lever on the carriage. I told my wife to just give me a second, and I fed the paper in with that soft satisfying click of the wheel. It jumped to life with a hiccup when I flipped the power switch. The loose desktop rattled slightly from the warm hum of the machine as it waited for me to tap the first key.
I slid into the chair. I sat for a moment, looking at the broken parts that had been crammed onto a shelf behind the desk beyond the glow of the desk lamp. I looked at the ashtray beside the typewriter and the burned out stub of a cigarette left still poised and forgotten on its edge. I felt like I had to choose the first words I typed carefully. I felt like the health and fate of this machine depended on what I typed. It would be a summons from the outside world, a message recalling it to life. This was a negotiation. I had to convince the typewriter that it still had work to do, that there were still words out there worth shedding ink for.
I don’t remember exactly what I typed. I remember the click of the keys and the sharp snap of the hammers against the paper. But I hadn’t gotten more than five words out before I looked up and noticed that they had all run together on the page, a long smudge of consonants and vowels all hitched to one another in a single incomprehensible word, saying nothing. I jiggled the space bar. It felt loose under my fingers, and nothing happened when I pressed it. I felt the hum of the machine begin to fade away. The bulb in the desk lamp flickered. I tapped randomly at the keys, but the typewriter was gone. My wife just shrugged and shook her head.