My wife is a robot.
She changed. She no longer laughs at my jokes. She doesn’t smile. She won’t reach to me in the middle of the night, or lay close on a cold night. When I come into a room, she leaves. She goes to work early, and stays late. And the touch of her skin is three to four degrees cooler than it should be. She has a pulse—I’ve felt for it in the middle of the night, on her wrist, her neck, her temple—but a pulse doesn’t make her human.
At first I thought Maggie had a boyfriend, so I followed her. I read her emails, texts, social media messaging, all of it. There is no boyfriend. When she leaves early, she goes straight to work, and she’s at work until late. She eats lunch at her desk, and doesn’t talk to her co-workers.
At home, I asked if she felt okay, and she said she was fine. I told her she should make a doctor’s appointment. That she wasn’t herself. She smiled at that, but she went to the doctor anyway. Nothing was wrong. I wondered if he was part of it. Was the doctor fucking her?
For weeks, I racked my brain. Why is my wife different? Had I done something to deserve the stares that freeze me in my tracks?
We still fuck. Usually, on Sunday morning. And it’s not that she lays there. She’s not impassive. She works it like she’s fighting for her life. But it’s all an exercise. An act. Before, her hips never moved. Her tongue didn’t explore. And her orgasms, when she had them, were soft, quiet whimpers, not the monolithic, aggressive struggles she has now. It’s as if she wants to pull me into her and consume me.
Two weeks ago, she said she had a business trip out of state at the end of the week, and I offered to tag along. Her lips stretched across her face, and that’s when I first imagined the mechanisms necessary to extend the lips. I could see it all. The cogs and wheels shifting and turning beneath the skin, reacting to what I’d said, all so she could smile. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. No, she told me. It’s only one night away.
Until she left for the trip, I didn’t want to believe. But I watched her, and what I had always thought was indecisiveness, was the lag of the computer chip in her brain calculating what would most be like Maggie. How would Maggie respond to this or that? What would she say or do? The fucking could be programmed, to the final heave and moan, but how can day to day life choices be anticipated? It’s not as simple as making a decision. It’s making a decision that will mimic Maggie. No algorithm can predict every act.
She left for her trip, and I couldn’t sleep. I thought about all the changes in her, and I finally understood. That she was a robot explained it all. The cold, detached way about her. Her savage lovemaking. The expressionless, pale intonation of her usual voice.
They’d made her a robot, but why? Nothing could be gained from me. My time of knowing had passed. What I knew was likely public. Anyway, those synapses no longer fire. All that’s there now is a bright flash and the noise of thunder. And pain.
As far as I knew, nothing could be gained from Maggie either. She’s not part of the machine. A paper pusher. Her office handles nothing unknown.
I was missing something, but I didn’t know what.
When she returned, she told me she loved me. She missed me. She put her lips to mine, and we made love on the couch. She held me and told me she’d try to do better. She said she hadn’t been herself. She told me she was sorry. She traced my scars with her fingertips and tried to not cry. But she did. A robot doesn’t cry. It can’t, can it? Had I been wrong?
A week passed, and life was like before. We watched television together, and drank wine while we cooked. We made love. She laughed. She smiled. I had my wife back.
And yet, I didn’t.
This morning, after she left for work, I cleaned the bedroom. Made the bed. Put water glasses in the dishwasher. Carried her suitcase to the closet and lifted it up to the shelf, but I had a thought. I set it back down, and opened zippers. What was I searching for? Dirty clothes? Maybe. What I found was a business card. Rosalyn Edmonson, PhD., Life Planner. On the back was a time and date. There had been no business trip. She’d been to this life planner. Was this code for reprogrammer?
Now I knew. The robot had noticed me noticing her. She extrapolated that I knew she wasn’t my wife. Data collected. Then analyzed. And a new program written by the doctor. I think they failed to take taken into account the effect war had on me. It’s said that war makes a man, but it doesn’t. War undoes a man. I’m undone. And how’s a good wife supposed to respond to this?
She leaves her broken husband. That’s how. Only a robot would stay. They made her into a robot so she would stay.
And now, as she sleeps next to me, I wonder if robots bleed.
Cedrix E. Clarke‘s fiction has been published in Deathrealm and Smokelong Quarterly.