by Michael Owens
The goddamned robot stood by my sister’s grave, unmoved and unmoving since her funeral. Grass buried his feet; bindweed wound around his body; pigeons shat on his head and shoulders; rotted clothes exposed violet flesh. The willow he had hidden behind at her funeral had grown old and stooped like me. My sister loved him, married him, widowed him.
I hated him, hated those like him.
I dug into the gravesite. My joints grated and groaned like a rusted ship’s hull in battering seas. He was a piece of landscape. “Ain’t ya gonna ask me what I’m doin’?”
Caked bird shit cracked around his mouth. “You are digging a hole in the grave of my wife.”
“That ain’t what I meant, ya goddamn—” Anger, harsh as bad whiskey. “I meant, why I’m here—don’t ya wanna know?”
“I lack the capability of caring.”
I snorted. “Stupid, goddamn golems! Taking our jobs…” I stabbed my shovel into the dirt. “Moving into our neighborhoods…” Shoved with my Redwing. “Marrying my, my…” My throat clamped on the word. “Fuckin’ machines thinking yer as good as real men.” I heaved dirt at him; he did not react.
When the hole was big enough, I got down into it and sieved the soil with arthritic hands. I touched something compact and hard. I brought it up into the afternoon light, dusting soil and old roots and tiny coiled grubs off it. Tiny status LEDs winked green. I wiped more dirt away with a faded yellow bandana, held it up toward the robot. “Recognize this?”
“It is my emotion core. You removed it from me against my will and buried it with my wife on the day of her funeral.”
“Got that right.” I heaved myself out of the hole, a fleshy sack of old bones and regrets. “I love my sister.” I opened the robot’s chest. “I miss her every goddamn day. Weighs a man down, that empty feeling in yer chest, heavier every goddamn year. More than one man can bear.” I plugged the core into its socket. “Gonna fix that.”
“I do not understand.”
“Ya will.” I inserted power lines and nutrient tubes. “From now until ya rust away, yer gonna fuckin’ hurt just as bad as me.”
I powered the core up. The robot jerked, shook off bird shit and bindweed, ripped out of grass and roots. Sudden tears excavated canyons through years of dust. He keened like a banshee, an arterial spray of grief.