My Robot


I stay in bed and watch as my android gets ready for his day.  He spray showers, then combs his black hair.  He wears the Oxfords I picked out for him.  My favorite color on him is eggshell blue; it brings out the blue in his gold-flecked eyes.  Every morning, after he puts the coffee on for me, he leaves me a note.  Mary Alice, it will say, have a good day.  I'll be home soon to make you happy .  The words only varied once; he used to say "I will be home."  Now he says, "I'll be home."
      My android and I are moving out to the country next year.  Lawrence is my android's name, although they don't call him that at work.  They call him Arbor, my last name.  They didn't take to him at first — he's only the second android they've ever employed — but after awhile, they warmed up to him.  His boss told me once he sometimes forgets himself, almost asked him out for a beer last month.
      Lawrence was promoted — or, I should say, I was promoted, because legally all his earnings are mine.  He works with computers at a place called ComTech.  Anyway, our raise means we can afford the commute.
      We decided to sell six months ago.  What put the idea in my head was the way he looked at pictures of the countryside in my magazines.  House Beautiful and Country Living were his favorites.  He taped lakeside scenes to the refrigerator.  I tried to show him artwork from my coffee table books, but the magazine pictures interested him more.
      "Would you like to see it for real?" I asked him.
      "I can see it," he said.  He takes things literally.  They say that may change in a few years, when he learns more.
      "Why don't we go there?" I asked him.  He stared at me.  That's what he does, when he wants to catch my eyes.
      "You would like me to serve you on a vacation to the countryside?" he asked.
      "We could go.  A vacation," I told him, "for you and for me."
      I lost my son a few years ago, and at first, I thought Lawrence's childlike qualities were what made me love him.  Yes, he could be my robot son.  Of course I love him.  I never say this to anyone.  Not even him.  It would only confuse him, if I said this to him seriously.  I only say it in bed.
      That's another secret.  They don't tell you, when you buy them, that they can do this.  Well, certain models are made for it, I know there's this whole sexbot thing, but those aren't androids, those are sex robots.  Glorified blow up dolls.
      There's no law against it, but I know people would think it's sick.  Sometimes I wonder.  Is this something people do, in secret, with their androids?  Or is it something special to me and Lawrence?
      You might think I pushed some button on him, or got horny and ordered him to perform some sexual act.  It wasn't like that.  I'd had him for close to a year and a half, and we'd just started to talk in ways you might find inappropriate.  My sister would tell me I needed to get out and talk to some real people if I'd let her in on how I spent my evenings.  Walking with Lawrence.  Taking him out to movies, watching him watch me eat popcorn.
      He'd taken sick days to care for me while I had the flu.  He'd stayed by my side until my fever broke.  He held a garbage pail level with the bed, for hours.  Just held it there.
      I'd been well for a day, but I was still keeping him home with me.  And he'd come home from the store with everything he needed to make spaghetti for me.  I was sitting in the windowseat, staring out at the rainy street.
      "Mary Alice," he asked me, "why are the lights off?"
      I didn't answer him.  He put the groceries on the table and sat with his arms folded in his lap.  At first, I thought it was eery, the way he can be so perfectly still.  Now it calms me.
      "I'm fine Lawrence," I said.
      "Are you sad?" he asked me.
      "Yes.  I miss my husband."
      "Your husband, who was killed tragically in a fire while heroically trying to save your son and your small dog, Toby."
      "Yes."
      "I am sorry," he said, "I would like to make you happy, Mary Alice."
      He didn't turn on the lights.  Instead, he went into the kitchen.  I listened to him unload the groceries, pull out pots and pans.  I opened the window, smelled the rain on the asphalt.  He didn't know this, but sometimes, while he was at work, I would sit here, looking out, for hours and hours.  Without noticing how the time slipped by.  Androids have a great sense of time, I don't think he'd know what to make of it.
      I got up, finally, and went to the kitchen.  If he were my first Lawrence, I would have tried to explain it to him.  He was chopping garlic.  I walked up behind him.  My eyes are just level with the nape of his neck.  I stared at the whorl of hair at that nape, stared like an android.  He needed a trim.  I cut his hair for him, even though he told me he could do it himself.  I like to cut your hair, I explained.  That satisfied him.
      It amazes me, how each tiny hair, even the mole on the left side — is so lifelike.  He doesn't smell at all though.  If you pinch them, the saleswoman told me when I first saw him, they feel it.  But if he's yours he won't react unless he you've told him you want him to.
      I blew, lightly, just blew on his neck.  That's all.  He put down the knife, turned to me.  Stared at me with his robot blue marble eyes.  And grabbed my shoulders, and kissed me.  He kissed me.  Believe me or not, he did.  And it was — not gentle.  I put my hands up to his throat and felt his pulse.  He had one, beating and beating as if blood were flowing through his pale synthetic skin.
      I cried that night, and he cupped my face in one robot hand.  And traced it with the fingers of his other hand.  "I need to sleep now," I explained, "can you just hold me?  And not stare at me.  Lie down beside me and close your eyes, like I do.  If you wouldn't mind."
      And now, when we're alone, he holds me without my asking him to — it is the one thing he seems to know, without asking.  I once asked him if it made him happy, what we did.
      "Everything we do?"
      "Sexual intercourse," I explained, "it's not something androids like you are supposed to do with women like me."
      "I can't be happy, Mary Alice," he said.  Contractions are new to him, he just started using them a couple months ago.
      "Does it make you feel different?"
      "Yes.  I can feel satisfaction.  I only feel this satisfaction when I have made you happy."
      "So you feel satisfied?"  That made me laugh.  He didn't understand of course.
      "I'm glad I can satisfy you, Lawrence."
      I asked him once, what would happen to him if something should happen to me.  Would he be re-sold?  Should I leave provisions for him, in my will?  Could he live independently?
      He told me he'd programmed himself to die.  That's not how he put it.  He said his systems would shut down.  He would not belong with anyone but me, he said.  I liked the use of the preposition "with" instead of "to" and I told him that.  I also told him he didn't have to do that, shut down that way.  "I would prefer not to discuss this," he said.  It's the closest he's ever come to snapping at me.
      I cook now.  For myself, he doesn't eat.  He watches me eat.  "See," I told him, "I sort of shut down a few years before I knew you but now I'm waking up.  I have a few special talents."
      "You have many special talents, Mary Alice," he said.
      "Not really.  All this money I have?  I inherited it from Lawrence.  I mean, my husband Lawrence."
      "Did this Lawrence believe you had special talents?  He was your husband, and so he most likely believed you did."
      "Yes, he did.  He thought I was cute and smart, and a good Mom."
      "You are good at talking, as well.  And at explaining what it is to be human."
      "Thank, you Lawrence."
      "You're welcome, Mary Alice."
      He's reading poetry books now.  I didn't ask him to do that.  "Your hair is not red like a rose," he told me.  "It is not so flat.  I haven't seen this red, in books or in gardens."
      "You think I'm cute," I said.  He doesn't know how to flirt, he probably never will.
      "You're not as pretty as some of the women in pictures and movies," he told me, "But you are more pleasing to look at.  I am satisfied when I look at you.  I would prefer to look at you."
      "So you prefer my face, to other women's."
      "I prefer your face," he said, "to all other faces."
      There aren't many androids in the country, but we'll keep to ourselves.  I have a garden planned — radish, squash, okra, corn and tomatoes of course.  My first Lawrence grew up on a farm.  We'd go to Vermont, every fall, to get a pumpkin and see the leaves turn.  I think I've found our home.  It's a great big old salt box smack in the middle of the woods.  It needs a few repairs.  We'll replace the shingles, re-do the kitchen.  I want a nice kitchen.  I like cooking for us.  
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