That’s how it laughs, the little freak they call my grandson. With his ball-head and painted on mouth and eyelids that blink only upward.
The whole brood has descended on my flat. I have no idea why they’re here. My eightieth was months ago. Half of them are dressed in funeral blacks, the other half in fancy dress, or something. Thirty of the little darlings. Fiddling, prying.
“Dad, have you changed your underwear today?”
“Oh, isn’t that a lovely picture of mum, she was so beautiful.”
“Ninety-eight percent chance he’ll pass away tonight. I know. Sad. In a way.”
“Ha. Granpap. Ha.”
“Dad? Dad, you see that? Robbie recognized you!” My daughter, Priss, kneels down behind this… thing. Honestly, I thought it was one of the kid’s toys.
“Cool,” I say. I say that a lot. She looks at me with a dopey smile, you know the one that’s ‘recording the moment’? There is more expected here. If I don’t pick up on these cues I’m carted off to the docs.
“Hmm,” I say to the thing, “Robbie. That’s a lovely name, son.” Now they’re all looking at me, nudging each other, and I’m thinking. Hang on, this is a windup. Get the old goat talking to furniture. I play along.
The thing trundles into my knee. Everybody goes, “Ah…”
“You love your Granpappy George don’t you, Robbie?” Priss says.
“So. Robbie,” I say, knocking on its plastic bonce. “That’s short for robot is it?”
You know that noise? A kind of communal, inhaled gasp? Ah well. You will, one day. You wait.
Priss both smiles and frowns. “Dad!” She whispers loudly. “We don’t use the R-word.”
I kid you not.
But, to me, it kid not be. I don’t care what you say. It plays with the other kids, is treated like the other kids. Its big sister mashes food onto its face and then wipes it off and they call it ‘feeding’. That does not make it a child.
Priss and her husband, Carlos, they lost their real baby. Not long ago, either. Terrible time, though they took it spookily well. And now they have Robbie. We all do odd things in times of crisis, I suppose. It’s solar powered, too, so very economical.
Later, I’m cuddling with my lovely Prissy. The youngest are always your favourite aren’t they? Maybe they’re just the hardest to let go.
“I know you don’t approve, Dad,” she says, a bit tipsy from the fizz they bought with them. “But who’s to say what life looks like? I mean, our child is still a mix of everything that makes Carlos and I, inside. Digitally – no, spiritually! Whether it’s still ‘baby shaped’ or not, we love Robbie, and Robbie loves us. What else is there?”
“I used to say that about my old Honda. Not allowed to drive that any more am I?”
Priss rolls her eyes. “You kept forgetting which side of the road you were on.”
“Not my point.”
Priss buries her face in my neck and does this thing, breathing in deep. Breaks my heart. She’s done that since she was a babe. If I could chose my last ever human contact? That would be it.
“Oh Dad.” She sighs.
A phalanx of in-laws gossip. Blinking at me, but talking to the others, one of them says, “Finally letting us decant what’s left in his leaky old bucket.” Another blares a laugh then bites his lips. Carlos shouts an emergency conversation at me.
“You’re cool with it, aren’t you, George? You like the retro-gold model we chose for you?”
“What’s that?” I say. “My casket?” Big laugh that gets.
Priss peers at me. “You sure you really understand about the power of attorney thing, Dad?”
“You’re not putting me in that home. Damned nurses and baby-food and wall-to-wall re-runs.”
“It’s not about that. It’s about your… future.” Her face fills the room, deadly serious. Like first thing every Christmas morning, when she would open my eyelids to wake me up. “We’re decanting you, remember? You know, like Robbie?”
I’m lost in Christmas past. “Cool,” I say.
“You even listening?”
“Honestly! When did I become the child?”
“Oh Dad.” Again with nuzzle. Deliberate this time. Devious cow.
“You treat that idiotic robot with more respect than me,” I say.
They’ve gone now and the flat’s haunted by the party and I miss the hustle and bustle. Well the bustle anyway. Even miss the little robot thing. Yes, sorry. ‘Techsist’.
You know, my generation? We invented political correctness. I’m very proud of that. It needed to happen. But now it’s wrong to objectify… objects? What did we do to make our children love things so much?
And the last time I saw a look that serious on Priss I lost my house and ended up here in this flat. What have I agreed to now? What else can they take? And what is that dead-eyed gold mannequin they’ve put in my room? I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I won’t damn well sleep, I tell you that. God only knows what my children are scheming.
“Dad?” Priss’s voice comes out of nowhere. That’s another thing they do. Barge in your ears. What was wrong with phones? Still, bless my girl. Without fail, she calls every day, morning and night.
“Everything ok, sweetheart? We only spoke a minute ago.”
“Three hours more like. I’m fine. You need to sleep.”
“I… I love you Dad.”
I do as I’m told and go to bed. I’m tired, anyway. Bone tired. I put the whole lot out of my mind. Nursing-homes, robots, ‘decanting’. That blasted silly mannequin angel-of-death at the end of my bed. I tell myself, George, you know the rule. Children first, always. Whatever they’re planning to do to you, if it stops them fretting?
R M Graves
RM Graves is an illustrator and writer based in London. His art-book “Postcards From The Future” is available on Amazon and his fiction appears in Interzone, Escape Pod, Stupefying Stories, Flash Fiction Online, Every Day Fiction and Voluted Tales. He drives a Honda and thinks this is cool