Of Butterflies and Memories (story)

In the midst of a bustling metropolis, one crafted of concrete and steel, a particular maestro would hone his craft atop a sixty floor skyscraper. Perched against the cage iron fences that bounded the highest peak of the city, the maestro would draw on a canvas, one of the few remaining handmade objects within the city itself. From the grey morning glow of an artificial sun until the moment the cold blue street lamps would turn on, the maestro’s right arm carved swift strokes across the canvas, his mind empty bar constant drone to ‘paint from memory’.
What he painted was not the cold, cruel and calculating precision that the city was built on, but rather a more human touch, one of nature. The artist’s canvas was filled with a flurry of warm hues, perhaps memories of a world distant from urbanisation. His feeble, slim hands traced a single, monarch butterfly, its deep orange wings fluttering in a verdant, dewy paddock. His artwork bore no mathematical pattern, plan or technical prowess. Rather, he captured the true, unpredictable solace in nature, a force so rare in this mechanical, lumbering city. With time, news of the artist’s work permeated through society. People, dressed in their dreary clothes, made the pilgrimage to the top of the apartment complex. They all eagerly gazed at the artist’s canvas, hoping to escape the city’s mechanical austerity. In the midst of the maestro’s ascent to fame, a plain white letter arrived on top of the skyscraper. The artist, oblivious to the letter, was spurned by the single mantra, to ‘paint from memory’. It was only when the visitors trickled away that the artist noticed the single letter leaning against his painting. Gingerly opening it, right arm shaking with euphoria, the maestro was triumphant. The monochrome sheet of paper was his golden ticket, his invitation to the prestigious ‘Banksy Awards’. The artist stepped through the grand double doors of the presentation theatre, bathed in an atmosphere of anticipation. The venue emanated an air of cold, calculating architecture, with its sleek, modern design adorned in muted tones of silver and black. Rows of steel seats stretched out before a towering stage. The walls themselves were embellished with artwork. Each one of them was mathematically perfect, protruding no imperfections. There was an unnatural discomfort from such talented precision for the maestro. The artist walked onto the domineering stage, carrying his magnum opus alongside, as if right next to the field of glowing green grass. There was a hush as he came on, followed by dreamy sighs as the audience was entranced by the monarch butterfly, a reminder of their individuality in a metropolis of mechanical conformity. A man wearing a flawless, black suit walked up on stage. He nodded at the artist, a face that masked any satisfaction or excitement. And so, from there the bidding began. ‘Five hundred.’ ‘Six hundred.’ In his mind, it was hollow numbers, assigning financial value to beauty. The air crackled with electricity as the gavel made a final third swoop down, a palpable sense of tension among the crowd. The buyer, an unscrupulous man with eyes filled with glee, approached the maestro ready to shake his hand. Smiling faintly, the artist’s world transformed into a desolate void, his eyes rolling back, body stiffening. A group of engineers loomed in on the artist with calculated efficiency. Their hands deftly inserted a complex tubular device into the back of the artist’s head, extracting the memories and objectives implanted inside. In a matter of seconds, the artist’s eyes lost their spark, fading into dim shadows. The intricate mechanics that once animated the artist’s arm being ground to a halt. The memories were not his, nor was the right arm. He was a novelty, a living memorabilia that carried humanity’s history within, to bring nostalgic hope to those who could not escape the sprawling mechanical city. With an air of detachment, the men meticulously dismantled the artist’s body, isolating the artist’s famed right arm from the rest of its creaking form. The buyer lifted up his right arm, intending to mould the hand into his own human skin. Upon that stage, the delicate remembrance of the prodigy’s fleeting greatness ebbed into silent oblivion. Humanity sought the irretrievable memories of the natural world, pursuing it with great passion, yet the fragile union between nature and machine only served as a bittersweet foreshadowing of humanity’s longing; it was not the memories they cherished, but rather the meritocratic talent which painted them.

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