by VJ Miller, Sr.
This story can be also seen in my anthology of short stories, “Realms Uncharted – Tales From the Past, Present & Future” that is currently available on Amazon Kindle and in PB from CreatSpace.
SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED. That’s what the cover on the box said. Sherman had no idea exactly how much that simple statement meant. His balding, rotund, elderly figure could scarcely handle getting the crate in from the front porch where the bellicose delivery man left it. Even the enticement of a healthy tip and a cool drink could not get the indolent bastard to bring it any farther than the front porch. He reminded Sherman, in his imperious manner, of the words emblazoned on the side of his delivery van: “Door to Door Service”; it said nothing about carrying it inside. To hell with him. He’d do it himself.
The special instructions he’d given delayed its shipment by three long weeks. He’d been anxious since placing his order four months ago. Now it was here.
He didn’t open it right away; choosing instead to read again the return address of the ASIMOV ROBOTICS SPECIALTY Co. of Dearborne, Michigan with its bold print. Then his own name and address under the SHIP TO: label. Several times he did this as he stared at the pristine white plastic of the sturdy packing case.
When he finally steeled himself to open it his heavy shears made short work of the plastic binding straps; parting easy despite his stiffened hands. Atop the contents sat a replica of a human head; an elderly white haired female the spitting image of his dearly departed wife Emily.
His Emily passed to that greater calling of the Lord just 26 months prior. A heart inadequate to the task of supplying so large a body just gave up. Lost without her, his existence grew empty and pointless. He might seriously have thought of doing himself bodily harm had he not seen the ad in the Science Digest.
The Robot of Your Choice to Fulfill Your Every Need. You could choose from their fine list of stock or get one custom made.
Most men opted for the young voluptuous types: the impotent, inept, foolish, unattractive or simply shy young men who wanted a woman of beauty they could control on their tour to voyeurism and sexual perversion. Or the older men who needed to hold on to their youth by any lie available.
Sherman wanted only his Emily. That’s why his order took so much longer. The portly body with the pendulous breasts along with the stooped posture and spindly legs invoked some complex balance problems that had to be engineered out. Plus a special mold needed formulating for the face with the drooping jowly features he’d demanded.
Now all the pieces were out on the floor: torso, hands, arms, legs, head; dozens of electrical connections.
The instructions couldn’t have been more explicit; making the job easy to do with simple hand tools found around any home. A check of the packing list showed everything was there. After lunch he’d get right to it.
His children protested when they discovered what he was planning. Not only had they felt it was blasphemous to order a robot in the exact image of their mother, they felt Sherman might be becoming emotionally disturbed, and were of the opinion that he should seek counseling. That he should learn to let her go and get on with the remainder of his life.
They bitched incessantly of the cost, telling him the expense would seriously tax his resources. What they wouldn’t tell him was they were afraid the purchase would seriously cut into their inheritance. Sherman was no dummy, he knew his children.
He pined for the woman with whom he shared the better part of five decades. His inspiration all those years. She kept him on the straight and narrow when he would tend to wander from his focus. A good husband and ample provider, he was somewhat lax in his responsibilities. Oh, he paid the bills, eventually, after several reminders from creditors and his dear sweet wife. To say he procrastinated was to say Tolstoy was just a writer. He dutifully saw to the needs of his children for food and clothing, though Emily did all the shopping.
Fortunately, he worked for a plumbing contractor who gave him specific orders to complete rather than owning the business, for he’d certainly have gone bankrupt. After he retired, if not for his Emily, he might never have gotten up from in front of the TV. She pushed him out of the house and from under her feet to do handy work for some of their friends and neighbors; else he would have devolved into a shriveled up couch potato.
Sherman’s loss became so great he became lazier than normal. Things went undone: laundry piled up waist deep, house cleaning got ignored, he shaved sporadically; usually at the insistence of one or more of his three children when they came on that rare occasion to see if he needed anything. To see him on the street you’d swear he was homeless. He lost much of his appetite, eating only to stay alive because he had to. When he did eat he usually scarfed something full of empty calories.
When he saw that ad he couldn’t get the order in fast enough. Sending them dozens of pictures, a list of descriptions as best he could recall and several recordings of her voice so it would be just right.
He laid the torso on its back on the floor and began to attach the legs according to the instructions, very slow and meticulous; he could not afford to mess this up. He worked with a fastidiousness he’d never shown before. His hands trembled while he carefully made the connections; each circuit, each valve, each hydraulic line double and triple checked. Anxiousness drove him to hurry, good sense and a burning need to have his Emily back brought on caution.
Once the legs were attached and he’d performed the diagnostics on them twice, he took a short break. He’d been down on his rickety knees for over an hour. The same rickety knees that had worked for over 40 years in countless damp musty basements fixing leaky pipes for procrastinators worse than himself. The same knees that ached and burned after each day of kneeling on them under untold numbers of dirty, soap encrusted, rusty old sinks on floors where the vinyl tile had lifted and cracked from ages of dampness. The same knees that rejoiced when the last day before retirement had concluded.
A cup of tea and a biscuit and he got right back to the assembly.
His knees burned and went numb as he pressed himself onward. A part of him questioned why he never had this intensity of purpose before. Surely, if he’d had this drive through most of his life he’d have made himself rich beyond his dreams. Nothing ever was important enough to get him to strive for greatness; getting by was enough. The minimum effort to achieve the minimum acceptable results had been his credo. His back ached from leaning over so long. His arthritic hands pained him after so long in that unnatural position, but he would not stop until he was finished.
The last connection was tightened just after 4:30. He stood slowly; having no choice, his joints locked in a severe stoop. Several seconds elapsed before he could straighten fully. The sudden rush of blood through unrestricted arteries caused his legs to tingle while making his head swim. The aches and pains he felt were overshadowed by the greatest sense of accomplishment he ever knew or cared to have when he looked at the creation lying there on the living room floor.
She had to be dressed. He limped to her closet where he kept with meticulous care every stitch of clothing she once wore. His children insisted their mother’s clothes were just a shrine to his loneliness, doing him no good – he should get rid of them. He paid them no heed. They even went so far as to try to sneak Emily’s clothes from the house while he did his shopping but he’d returned sooner than expected. A terrible row ensued and he banished his uncaring offspring from his house until they came crawling back to apologize and promise never to try that stunt again.
This time of day she usually dressed in a loose old house dress and her tattered slippers that she wouldn’t part with. He selected underwear and her comfort bra, as she called it, and returned to the figure of his Emily.
He gazed appreciatively at the nude replicate lying on the worn nylon carpet that lay for nearly ten years on their parlor floor. She’d kept it meticulously clean, where he left every stain to pay tribute to his ambivalence.
He warmed to the color of her blue-gray hair, trimmed like she always preferred. He scanned down past her double chin and pudgy neck to her ample breasts (with their pinkish-brown goosebumped areolae and large nipples) that drooped to either side of her ribcage like two feuding neighbors wanting nothing to do with each other. Down past her plump midsection to her navel that disappeared into the fold of flesh at her waist. Over the abdomen to the sparse thatch of brownish pubic hair that did not seem quite correct to his memory. No matter, it could be adjusted later. On along thin thighs that had no business belonging to her plump body, to knobby knees and skinny calves, past her always swollen ankles to her wide boney feet. Everything exactly as he related to the manufacturer, right down to the bunion on her right foot that always hurt during rain storms.
The panties came first; large, and cotton for her comfort. Before he got them fully to her waist he felt somewhat giddy and mischievous and stopped to twirl her pubic hair in his right forefinger. Next, he sat her up to facilitate the donning of the bra. His knee in her back to hold her up he couldn’t help himself as he reached around to tweak the breasts as he’d always done when he sneaked up behind her while she worked. She protested more of the surprise rather than the fondling. They felt much as he remembered.
In short order he had the robot clothed. Gazing appreciatively, something wasn’t quite right. Of course. This time of day she’d be preparing dinner and always wore her butchers apron. He quickly got it from the pantry where the garment remained since Emily’s passing. Only taking it down occasionally to wash away the gathering dust.
All was ready. He hesitated, palms sweaty. Had he done the assembly correctly? Had the manufacturer followed his instructions properly? Only one way to find out. He reached behind the prone figure and switched on the gyros. They whined to a high pitch while they came to speed then grew silent. Standing at the head of the body he grabbed it behind the shoulders and stood it erect with some difficulty. This robot was as heavy as his Emily had ever been.
He strode around slowly, examining the automaton from every angle. It stood three inches taller than he just like his Emily. Everything was perfect in his eyes.
He went through the diagnostics check twice just to be certain he’d not missed something. Now was the time to give the robot the personal touch. From a drawer on the end table he removed a tiny black box. Contained therein lay a shiny silver micro-disk that shone the colors of the rainbow when the light reflected from the surface. Here was the essence of his Emily. Before she died he had them digitally record her emotional patterns; the essence of her personality if you will. Being impossible to record all her memories and thought processes, this was as near as one could come to preserving a loved one.
The manufacturer was skeptical when processing the order. No one had ever done this, and special components had to be installed to satisfy Sherman’s need; but then, the customer was always right.
Sherman carefully installed the disk in the slot provided in the back of the cranium. Once inside the circuitry began to assimilate. Slowly the figure of a woman became more aware while it looked around. He kissed her gently on the cheek.
“Why thank you Sherman dear. You’re so sweet.”
Perfect. They’d gotten the voice absolutely perfect. Sherman was beside himself. The figure of Emily then naturally responded with giving him a hug and kissed him on his bald head as his Emily had always done. He hugged her with glee.
“Careful Sherman dear. Not too rough now. You’re forgetting my sciatica.” just as she always said. His eyes misted over. “Wait! What have you been doing here? What the hell is this mess?”
Sherman jumped back; eyes agape.
“And look at you. You’re a mess…. And you stink too. You’re not getting near me again until you’ve taken a shower.”
Sherman couldn’t believe his ears.
“And what are these dishes doing on the coffee table? Have you made a mess of my kitchen again? If you have I’m gonna belt you upside your head.”
Tears welled up in Sherman’s eyes, gently rolling down his face. He’d missed her tirades for so long. When ever she nagged at him she only endeared herself to him more. She always wanted only the best for him. His gentle heart pounded in his ears with the elation he felt.
The manufacturer had caught the timbre of her voice right on the nose. How it cracked and rose that half octave when she reached her stride.
Sherman was so overwhelmed he had to sit down. A deep smile upon his face.
“What’re you sitting down for? And why do you have that insipid smirk on your face? And why the tears? Have you forgotten your medicine again? Well don’t just sit there. I’m not going to clean up this mess all by myself. No sir! You get your lazy but up now mister.”
This was perfect, just perfect. Sherman pulled himself up with some difficulty.
“And what is this under your chair? A baseball bat. How many times have I told you if you’re going to play with the grandchildren to have them put their things away? I swear, if not for me you’d go to hell in a handbasket. Now take this and put it in the hall closet where it belongs.”
He took it from her with a pleasant smile and turned away when she put her hands upon her hips like she always had when she’d become annoyed with him.
Tears streaming down his face, he took the bat firmly in his gnarled hands, turned, strode over to his Emily and swung; connecting just behind the left ear. The head, detached from the force of the blow and flew across the room to land upside down at the base of the wall. The headless torso slumped, standing in place, dormant. Sherman stood before the decapitated robot: breathing heavily, teeth clenched, eyes glowering for several seconds.
The bat dropped from his grasp when Sherman shuffled over to the head and picked it up gently.
“You always did talk too much my dear.”
Emily always had a tendency to run on too long once she got warmed up. As much as he loved her the tirades eventually became too much. He’d dreamed of doing that just to shut her up but he couldn’t…. He loved her too much.
A quick check showed absolutely no damage to the unit just as the manufacturer had guaranteed. Their units would take any kind of damage given to them or your money cheerfully refunded. He’d have to write them a letter commending them on the quality and durability of their product.
Suddenly, Sherman was hungry; ravenous in fact for the first time in years. He’d have a hearty dinner, after which, he’d plug Emily’s head back in. Should she start ragging on him again — well… maybe this time he’d try for a homerun.