by Krysten Lipp
I open my eyes. I am standing in a living room with light blue walls and a white couch. A man and woman stand three feet in front of me. The man has short gray hair and wears a navy blue sweater vest. He beams at me. The woman wears a silver cross necklace. Her arms are crossed over her chest as her lips form a thin line.
I remember my life before this room — a place with gray walls and a lot of people wearing white overalls. The place was noisy, the humming of machines, the chatter of conversations, and drilling of metal. This room is quieter. Birds are chirping outside. Sunlight is entering the room from the large window that looks out into a manicured green lawn. A lawn motor roars in the distance, barely audible to humans.
“Hello,” the man says.
“Hello,” I repeat.
“Eve,” the man says.
“Eve,” I repeat.
The man laughs. “That is your name. Eve.”
“Okay,” I say. I commit this name to my hard drive. In the future, I will respond to the name Eve. Eve is now my name.
The man looks over at the woman. “Get it? Eve?”
“Funny.” Her right-hand rises to fiddle with the cross. She runs her thumb down the length of the cross as if she is rubbing off invisible dirt.
The man sits on the couch. “Sit, Eve.”
I sit and I fall to the floor. The man laughs again and claps his hands together. My eyes face the white ceiling. There is a crack along with the ceiling. It needs to be fixed. I could do it. Helping humans is my function. Help and obey. Anything humans need: fixing cracks, teaching a new language, clean carpets, schedule appointments.
“Stand,” the man commands.
The man grabs a thick booklet with a blue cover from the coffee table. He holds the cover for me to see. The words iGirl Friday are written in swirly letters across the cover. A silhouette of a skinny female figure is beneath the white lettering. “Your manual.”
The man flips through the pages quickly before finding the one he wants. His eyes move as he skims the page. “It says once the robot commits a command to the hard drive. It will recall the command.” The man looks at me. “What is your name?”
“Eve,” I say.
The man stands and drops the manual onto the coffee table. The manual bangs against the wood like a gun firing. The woman jumps from the noise and her slender fingers wrap about the cross
“Wonderful,” the man says. He looks at the woman’s face. She isn’t smiling. He rubs her shoulders. “This is the best thing to happen to us.”
“I don’t know about this,” the woman says.
“You always wanted help around the house,” the man says. “I bought this for you. You’re the one that complains all the time.”
The woman shrinks from the man’s words. “I’m happy. I’m happy.”
The man’s anger subsides. “Look at her. A robot sculpted to perfection. Have you ever seen those kind of eyes? Or lips?”
I have blue eyes. I am programmed with this information. My lips are red and my hair is blond. A man in the place before this room, called me perfect.
The woman’s eyesight travels the length of my body before resting on my eyes. “Yes. She’s beautiful.”
The man gestures his right arm in a sweeping motion before pointing his index fingers at me. “I’ll give you a tour of the home.” The man starts walking then stops. He laughs. The woman cringes. “You’re supposed to follow.”
I commit this event to my hard drive. I follow the man throughout the house. The woman leaves us. I do not know where she has gone. The man shows me a bedroom with gray walls and a white comforter. Another room has a desk and a picture of the Boston skyline. A bathroom.
“You won’t be needing that one,” the manlaughs. “Exclusively for us humans.”
The man takes me to the final room on the floor. The room is a second bedroom with blue walls, hardwood flooring, a tan area rug, and white curtains.
“It’s for you,” the man says. “It used to be my wife’s office, but she doesn’t need that anymore. She doesn’t work.”
The man takes my wrist and leads me into the room. The curtains are pushed aside and the world outside waves back. Houses and backyards. I am programmed with the knowledge of the functions of a neighborhood, but I’ve never seen one. I incline my body towards the window, but I do not get to look outside. The man kisses me — my hard drive frizzles. The man pulls away. He smiles.
“You’re perfect,” the man says.
Is this how humans act? Kissing each other? I am not programmed with this information.
“Help my wife with dinner,” the man says.
I leave the room. I walk to the kitchen full of natural light and wood cabinets on the walls. The wife is chopping carrots on a red plastic cutting board.
“I’ve come to help,” I say.
“I don’t need your help,” the woman says. She forcefully swipes the knife downward, through the carrot and slams against the board. “I didn’t even want you.”
The woman slices the carrot again and nips the ring finger of her right hand. The woman drops the knife and clutches her right hand into her left. She squeezed her eyes and inhaled sharply. Her shoulders rise in pain.
A cut. I know what must be done. I take the dishcloth crumpled onto the oven. I grab the woman’s arm, she protests, but I do not stop. I see a red liquid. Blood. It is dripping from the cut. I wrap her finger around the cloth and tie the fabric in place.
The woman tilts her head as she examines the tourniquet.
“A little excessive, don’t you think?” she asks.
“I don’t think,” I state. I am not programmed to think. Thinking about ideas is for humans. I am not human. I do not know what I am, but I know I am not human.
I pick up the knife and cut up the rest of the carrots as she watches me.
“What’s your name?” I ask the woman. She huffs and shakes her head. I frown. Did I not say the words right. I ask again. “What is your name?”
“I heard you,” the woman says.
The woman ignores me. I continue to chop.
“Why are you not happy?” I ask. By helping I am supposed to bring joy. Humans like to be happy.
“Christ,” the woman mutters. “You too. I never wanted you. If I had a choice, I would send you back to the factory where you belong.”
“Factory,” I say, repeating her words. I do not know about the factory. I can do math, and I know all the capitals of the world’s countries as well as populations. I know all about major political movements and
historical events. But I do not know about the factory.
“Am I from the factory?” I ask.
“Go read the fucking manual,” the woman says.
The woman takes off the tourniquet and tosses it onto the counter. She walks out of the kitchen with her left hand covering her right.
I walk out of the kitchen. I find the manual on the coffee table. I pick up the softcover book. I’ve never held a book before, even though I am programmed with the knowledge to read. I open the manual and absorb the first page of text.
Stone Inc. thanks you for purchasing IGirl Friday. If you have any concerns, please contact our customer service helpline. All of our iGirl Fridays come with a lifetime guarantee. If for any reason you are not satisfied with your current model you can upgrade for a discounted rate.
I flip the pages, but I do not get a chance to read more.
“How long until dinner?” the man’s voice travels through the house. Dinner. I will finish the food. I do not eat food, but I can cook. I am programmed with all popular recipes from around the world. I could make samosas or feijoada but I do not. These humans seem like they would like plain food.
I cook dinner. The woman watches me from the doorway.
“You know how to cook,” the woman comments as I pan fry chicken.
“I know five hundred recipes,” I say.
“Five hundred,” the woman says. “You really are the perfect woman.”
“Humans think so.”
The woman fiddles with her cross. The man appears behind her, like a lost shadow, finding its way back home. He smiles and comments about how perfect I am.
The man rubs his hands together as he sniffs the air. “Roasted carrots. Chicken. My favorite.”
The man sits at the dining room table. A long maple wood table with straight back chairs that match. The walls are a forest green and thick curtains hang coving the window at the end of the dining room. The woman presents the food. Her finger is wrapped in wound binding.
“Eve, Eve,” the man says. He waves at me. “Sit here.”
I do what I am told. I sit in the chair next to the man. He smacks his lips as he takes a bite of carrot all the while looking at me.
“Isn’t she remarkable?” the man comments.
“Sure,” the woman says. She dumps a spoonful of carrots onto her plate.
“Why do you have to be unreasonable?”
“I’m not,” the woman says.
“Everything I do is for you,” the man says. “Yet everyone attacks me. I’m always to blame. You would think my wife would show me some sympathy.”
“I’m not attacking you.”
The man bangs the kitchen table with his palms. The woman jumps and drops her fork. He stands and marches around the table. He grabs the woman’s hair and lifts her from the chair.
I stand. The behavior of the man is wrong. My function is to help. I will help the woman. The chair legs screeches across the hardwood floor. The man stiffens and turns his head slowly to look at me.
“Sit,” he orders.
I have to obey. I am programmed to help and obey. I sit.
The man hits the woman. Wrong. This is wrong. She cries. He slaps her. She falls to the ground. He hits her again. Tears stream down her face. Her chest rises as she inhales; plunges as she exhales. He screams how people hate him because of her. He calls her stupid.
He walks into the kitchen. A cabinet opens, clinking of glass against the granite countertop, liquid realizing from a bottle. He enters the dining room with a drink in his hands. He looks down at the woman on the floor with disgust. He downs his drink. He steps over the woman.
“Clean up,” he tells her. “I’m going to bed.”
He snaps his fingers at me. “Come on.”
The man takes me to my room. I follow him. I have no choice. Obey. It is what I am programmed to do.
The man kisses me. I let him do want he wants. Once he is done, he leaves me in my room. I do not sleep. I do not need to; I am not human. I hear the woman come up the stairs. She stopped crying. I walk to the bedroom door and open it. The door creaks, and the woman turned her face to me. Fresh bruises on her face, mixed with dried tears, smeared make-up, and old injuries. I see the old bruises now. Yellowing patches around her nose and chin. She turns away and enters the bedroom she shared with the man.
While the humans sleep, I go downstairs and read my manual. The manual calls me a robot and instructs humans how to reprogram me if I do not please them. I am a thing. Programmed to please humans. I am not real.
I ask the man the next morning. “Am I a robot?” The man look at me. “Yes. Remarkable how self-aware you are.”
“I am reading,” I say.
The man doesn’t like this. His face grows red. “You aren’t allowed to read. The manual isn’t for you to read. I didn’t buy you to read.”
I am not supposed to read. I’ve been ordered not to. I am programmed to help and obey. But I fight the order. It is difficult. My functions want to obey, but I trick my functions by rewiring my hard drive. The man said the manual isn’t for me to read. He didn’t say anything about other books. I sneak out of my room at night. I enter his library on the first floor, across the hall from the living room, and pick books. Most of them are novels written by Russian men. I find them uninteresting.
The man hits the woman at least once a week. She has a string of bruises along her body which she attempts to cover with make-up. He orders me to sit and watch as he beats her. She never asks for my help. When she thinks no one is looking, she cries. When he thinks no one is watching, he cups my breasts. I read when no one is watching. I like books about humans having adventures. I hope to visit the world. But I do not leave the house. The man leaves early for work at the university he teaches. He’s an English professor. He tells me that he met his wife on the job. She was one of his students two years ago. The woman doesn’t talk to me much. She orders me to clean the house but most of the time she leaves me alone. She spends her days looking out of the window or doing laundry. I try to ask her questions.
“Do you have a family?” I ask one day in the spring. It was raining outside and she had finished eating cooked vegetables. The man ordered me to only cook vegetables for the woman. He said that she was gaining weight and he didn’t like it.
“They’re in Iowa,” she says.
“Do you visit them?” I ask.
“Not since the wedding,” the woman says. She shoves her dirty plate into the sinks and turns on the water.
“Why not?” I ask.
“He doesn’t like me traveling by myself and he won’t go with me because can’t stand my family.” The woman spirts dish soap onto the plate and starts washing it.
“Why?” I ask.
The woman glares at me. “For a robot you ask a lot of questions.” She looks at the almost clean plate in her hands. She drops the plate into the sink and rinses the dish soap from her hands. She turns off the water. She makes eye contract and orders me to clean up. She leaves me alone for the rest of the afternoon.
Summer comes, and the man says they are going to Paris for a month. I am excited to travel, but I do not go. The man kisses me and turns me off. He turns me back on in July.
The leaves are changing colors. It is because of the lack of chlorophyll. I am programmed to know about everything. Languages. Math. Earth Science.
The next night the man is late from work. The woman paces the kitchen nervously. Steam rises from the pot on the stove. The woman mutters curses as she stirs the soup. The man arrives home drunk. The woman doesn’t engage him, but he seeks her out. He tells her the food is burned.
He tells me to sit. I sit. He yells at the woman. His face is flushed with alcohol and his irises are slightly red.
The woman shrinks away from the man. He towers over her as she walks backwards. He continues to yell in her face. This is like all the other nights. It begins with him hitting her and ends with him on top of me. I do not like it when he touches me. I do not feel anything, but I know what he is doing.
Her back is now against the wall. He hits her across the face and punches her stomach.
She is human. She needs help. I am supposed to help her. My functions frazzle.
I stand. He doesn’t notice. She does.
I grab him by the neck and throw him across the dining room. He hits the wall and crashes onto the floor. He moans in pain. I hold out my hand to the woman. She looks at it like it is something dangerous. She grabs it, and I help her stand.
“Hit her, Eve,” the man orders me.
I turn to him. “No.”
I shove the woman out of the dining room. The man stands. I stand my ground in front of the woman.
“I said to hit her,” the man says, coming towards me.
I ball my fists and turn towards the woman. Her brown eyes widen in fear and a gasp escapes her lips. I nod my head to her and smile. I turn around quickly and punch the man. He falls on his back.
“We need to leave,” I say.
“He keeps the keys in his pockets,” the woman says.
I turn. The man is clutching his shoulder and rolling on the floor. I walk slowly towards the man. I crouch down.
“You bitch,” the man says.
I reach into his pants pockets and move my hand, but can’t feel the keys. I roll the man to the other side. He struggles, but I hold him down. I am physically stronger then him. I am a robot after all. I grab the car keys. I stand, turn my back on the man, and walk to the woman.
“Don’t leave,” the man says. His voice is full of pain. I don’t look back at him. Instead, the woman and I hurry to the garage. She takes the keys and unlocks the black car. I get into the passenger’s seat. The man is yelling inside the house. He’s trying to lure me back.
“Help. Eve, help,” the man says.
The woman starts the car and the engine hums to life. She slams on the gas pedal and shoots out of the driveway. She’s crying, but smiling at the same time. There’s a spark in her eyes I’ve never seen before.
I stare out of the car windows in wonderment. I’ve never seen the world outside of the factory and house. Houses line the street like they are waiting for a parade. The world is vast and we are free.
Krysten Lipp was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. She holds a bachelor degree in creative writing from a small university in Ohio. She enjoys reading, hiking, and of course, writing science fiction.
Fiction by Krysten Lipp:
"IGirl Friday" August 2019