Robots

Sometimes Henry thought he might be a robot. He’d read a lot of sci-fi as a kid, which meant that he had a vague notion of androids and humanoid robots and cyborgs. He didn’t really remember what all of those words meant. Presumably they all meant something different. Anyway, he remembered reading a story about a robot who wanted to be treated like a human. He hadn’t really understood it at the time, and possibly understood it less now. In his day-to-day life, he often wished he could be treated like a robot.

That would maybe be simpler. At work, for instance. He wouldn’t have to guess the direction of his boss’s whims, or wonder if he had an extra-tall stack of paperwork because Julie was still bitter about the breakup. That sort of thing simply wouldn’t exist. He’d get the work that he needed to do, and he’d do it, and that would be all. His coworkers might not even talk to him. Not that Julie talked to him anymore anyway, but still. Especially since she’d seen him leave with Karen last week. Her resentment had pushed him out of the room more quickly than usual.

He thought about this on the train ride home, reading the news on his phone. As happened too often recently, his eyes scanned the headlines without comprehending more than a word or two. He was lost daydreaming about robots, and drone strikes in the Middle East seemed much more complicated. Of course robots were complicated, circuitry and wires and all of that sort of thing. The complicated on the inside was different though. Robots took all of that complicated and made it very simple, and unless you were called in on a repair you never had to deal with the complication at all. The crossed signals would be literal, and an untwisting of a wire would fix the problem. Nobody would have to decode anything, because there’d be a built-in translator. Something like that, anyway. It occurred to Henry that perhaps he ought to read some more, or go back to the stories he’d loved when he was a teenager. He didn’t even remember enough detail to fill in the gaps in his daydreaming.

He was so engrossed in imagining an android that he almost didn’t notice when the train reached his stop. The announcement squeaked across for the second time, telling everyone about the next stop. The doors were starting to slide shut by the time he’d gathered himself to hurry through them.

The walk from the station to his apartment was short – he’d been proud to find an apartment only three blocks from a train station. He was still musing about robots as he fumbled for his keys and turned the knob. The warm smell of cooking rushed to him as soon as he opened the door, and Karen leaned over from behind the kitchen door.

“Hey, sweetheart.” She stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “I made some dinner – nothing fancy, just, you know, rice and chicken and some asparagus, I know you don’t like it usually but just try it, okay? I made it differently, and there’s some lemon and other stuff. How was work?”

Henry nodded, shrugging off his coat. Karen rolled her eyes in affectionate exasperation, as if they’d already been together ages and she’d done this a million times before. It had been two months, he supposed. If you counted the time they were flirting and meeting for innocent coffee dates, back when he was still with Julie.

He shambled into the kitchen and leaned against a counter. Karen handed him his drink – Johnny Walker Black, at least she knew what he liked to drink – and scurried over to the pot that appeared to be bubbling over onto the stove. She started talking again as she stirred and sprinkled and scooped, and he nodded when she looked up expectantly. It sounded, he thought, like she was talking about a birthday party they were planning at her office. He wondered absently why they bothered. Robots probably didn’t have birthdays. Or parties. He imagined celebrating the – what would the word be, manufacturing? The manufacturing of a robot. Probably it’d be an easy party because the robot could do all the work.

Karen was laughing now. Apparently it was a funny stories. Henry sipped his drink and smiled at her. She looked lovely there, flushed from the heat and fuss of cooking, her hair coming undone around her face. Mechanical things didn’t expect anything. He nodded and smiled, and thought wistfully of robots.

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