The Spouse

“It is nice you are still able to take me for walks.”

“Yes… Can you see everything alright?”

“Yes.”

Green leaves started to sprout from the trees, their bases lit by small bright lights. The air was thick with pollen, bonfires and grill smoke, one of the many signs that spring had sprung.

“Are you able to remember this place?”

There was a pause, the brief silence a reminder of the cold stares they were receiving as they walked down the white concrete walkway.

“We were in our mid-twenties. I had just graduated from college and you were only months away from your promotion. We had walked this way during the summer. It was our fifth date. You gave me a necklace when had arrived at our designation. I cried.”

Another pause, the loneliness of the ghost of those words sinking into a pit deep in their stomach.

“Heh… Yes, you did, didn’t you?” was the reply, reaching up and touching their own forehead, touching the small, grey clip before pulling the hood around their face tighter.

They walked the streets, passing old flyers on stapled on telephone poles, centuries-old corner stores, their histories perfectly preserved in bulletproof glass tombs surrounded by concrete and siding. They passed old restaurants, with menus still in the windows; old daycares, peeled and faint colored hand and footprints climbing the glass as if trying to escape from their see-through grave.

“These places used to thrive. What happened?”

The voice almost sounded sad.

“A lot has happened while you were away.”

They had arrived at the train station, the tunnel floors practically gleaming with newer tile compared the one remembered. Even the train was different as they boarded; no more hissing and dragging of the doors, they glided open like a dancer on ice.

They train ride was a muted quiet even with other passengers on board. The air was stale with circulated oxygen, foods from riders and body odor.

“This does not change, however.”

They laughed. A passenger glanced at them, looked them up and down, scoffed and looked away. They frowned.

They sat in silence as the suburban residential district started to blur into downtown, the cookie cutter homes and apartments making way for taller glass and steel homes and businesses. The train snaked its way up and through buildings, reflections bouncing off each other as the train sped by office meetings and families.

They arrived at their destination, a shopping center that wasn’t crowded for once. They walked past a group of teenagers, a couple of them laughing and whispering to each other.

“Fucking weirdo.”

The elevator ride was long and oddly cold as the cube went up and up in its glass tube. Above the baristas, higher than CEOs, the elevator finally stopped when the fog was high enough to blanket the city below, the sun getting tucked in behind it.

They stared out a large window, watching the yellows and oranges slowly bleed into the blue-grey sky.

“You still enjoy this window.”

“Yes. It hasn’t been the same without you standing next to me.”

They turned to their left a giant door made of thick, red oak greeted them before slowly opening inward as they walked inside. The usual sigh of arriving home and the ritual of removing their shoes and hoodie was slow and tiresome. They stared out at the large and rather barren space they called home. They trekked through the apartment, their feet padding quietly on the carpet as red gold sunlight bathed the living space in a soft glow. Their hand went to their forehead, slowly unclipping it from their head with a slight wince. They headed down a hallway, the purple sky darkening the walls before being bathed in florescence. The hum of the lights almost drowned out the heartbeat ringing in their ears as they went into their bedroom, flicking on the lights.

A figure sat in a chair, staring off into nothing, eyes dead to the world, hands place gently on their knees, their legs crossed at the ankle. Dressed in a silk nightgown and cotton robe, they sat, unaware of the world around them.

The figure at the doorway slowly approached the one in the chair, putting a hand on their cheek, gently tracing their lips with their thumb. They slowly pulled the top of the gown down, exposing a small empty socket, big enough for the clip to slide into.

The figure in the chair continued to sit, the figure at their feet, watching their face slowly come to life in one blink. The seated one slowly turned their head to the kneeling one and smiled, placing a hand on their shoulder.

The ghost of the warmth that was that smile brought a tear to the kneeling one’s eye.

“I thank you for talking me on your walk. It is refreshing to be able to leave,” the seated one said, slowly standing up when the kneeling one stood.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. Would you like to help me start dinner, dear?”

“Of course, darling.”

They walked arm in arm into their kitchen, passing picture after picture of their lives. From their mid-twenties until their late sixties, pictures dotted the wall in precise chaos.

As Darling watched Dear move in programmed dances, they couldn’t help but smile. There was Dear, frozen in time when Darling they were their most graceful; three children, seven degrees between them, eight moves, thousands of sleepless nights and millions of laughing days. Where the lines on their face had formed deep lines of laughter and joy. Where the grey had started to take over an area on the side of their head. Where their hands had held onto more love than they could hold. Where stretchmarks were grown and presented after forming from joy and life and time and age. There they stood, a frozen beauty from years ago, the cold shadow of what was.

Dear tilted their head and smiled.

“Is everything alright?”

“…yes,” Darling had replied, going back to chopping vegetables.

It was an hour before dinner for two but for one was done. Darling slowly picked at their food from one side of the table as Dear watched from the other.

“Is it to your liking? You have not actually had a bite even though you went through the trouble of preparing it. Are you ill? Should I call for a doctor?”

Darling smiled and laughed.

“You almost sound like you care,” Darling said, reaching over and grabbing their glass of wine, taking a deep gulp and finishing it. Dear poured him another.

“You rarely drink that fast,” they whispered.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about,” Darling replied, taking a bite of their food almost angrily.

“If I have done something wrong, I would like to recti–“

“Oh, just stop talking! Please!”

Dear lowered their eyes and stopped talking.

It was another hour before Darling walked over to Dear.

“I… I just want to say I’m sorry.”

“You are not.”

Darling blinked and looked at Dear.

“What?”

“You are not sorry. I have been paying attention while I have been in that tiny contraption you put into your head. I know the memories you cling to. I can replay them with 76% accuracy, which is very advanced for an android of my making. You already are aware of that since you had several hands in my creation. I am very aware of what you are doing and I am sorry that I cannot give you the emotional connection of the person you wish for me to emulate. The person you want me to be has been dead for almost ten years.”

Darling’s jaw was on the floor as tears ran down their face, a silent whimper escaping their open mouth. Dear gently placed a hand under their chin and closed their mouth, wiping away Darling’s tears with the other.

“However, that does not mean I do not understand the significance of these memories and how important this person was to you. As my program becomes more accustomed to this persona, I will start to… “open up” more. You expected day 458 results when it is only day 20. Please, do not rush your own process. You will only hurt yourself.”

Darling burst into tears, almost wailing, as they fell to their knees. Dear sat with them, clasping Darling’s hand in their own, with the same warmth and urgency of the lover from years past.

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