Grandma calls her sex robot Sony. We tell her that’s just the company who makes it.
“Well,” she says, “he looks like a Sony. Doesn’t he?”
We tell her he doesn’t. We tell her ‘he’ looks like an automaton with silver skin and copper eyelashes, which is exactly what he is, one of many mass produced for the pleasure of the lonely. We point to the round brass orb at the fulcrum of his legs. Do you know, we ask Grandma, what happens when that opens? Do you know what’s inside?
“Of course,” Grandma says. “A smart dildo. So?”
So. So nothing. We just ask her not to name him Sony.
To which she replies, “Well, what else am I supposed to call him?”
We tell her she shouldn’t call him anything. We tell her it is unseemly, having it in her house. We point to the needlework on her walls, the antique picture frames on her shelves, the holographic displays of great and great-great-grandchildren. Then we point at the sex robot, naked save for the round brass orb, stunning sculpted muscles in plastic relief, modeled, in fact, after Michelangelo’s David, though individual models are, of course, customizable.
Grandma’s, for instance, had the chest widened. Grandma is a sucker for a big chest.
“All sorts of people have these things,” Grandma says. “Why shouldn’t I?”
We tell her, people have them, they just have the decency to hide them. Their sex robots are in their closets, the corners of their basements. Their sex robots are tucked under their beds—all sex robots, of course, fold into the fetal position for easy storage. We tell her, you can have it, just keep it out of sight.
“Well,” Grandma says, “I’m just honest, I guess.”
No, we say, you’re insane. It’s too much, we tell her, too much. The sex robot is always with her. When we come to visit, it opens the door. When we call, she tells the sex robot what we’re saying to her. At Christmas, when we gather at Grandma’s house, the sex robot is there. Grandma puts presents for it under the tree. She knits a stocking with its name and hangs it over the chimney. At Christmas dinner, it carves the turkey. It sits next to her; it spoons sweet potato casserole into her mouth. And when she is finished with her meal, it massages her calloused feet. We tell her to stop. We tell her there are children present. Not physically, maybe, but digitally, watching open-mouthed through their screens.
“If you want to take him,” Grandma says, “you can. Just be careful stepping over my dead body, I want to look good for my funeral.”
We give up. The sex robot stays with her for seven years. Then, one night, Grandma’s heart monitor fails. The sex robot alerts local paramedics. No one knew it had that feature. We didn’t know it could open the door for the EMTs, or call and alert us after. We didn’t know it could stay by the door, opening it for us when we returned to figure out what could be sold and what could be shared.
The sex robot continues as if Grandma is there. At night, it sleeps on the left side of her bed, until we have her bed removed; then it sleeps on the floor where the left side of the bed used to be. Early in the morning, it wakes and makes coffee, until the coffee machine is gone. It picks out a grapefruit from the refrigerator, until there is no more grapefruit, no more refrigerator. The worse is when it sits at the table, when it cuts the grapefruit into perfect wedges, when it raises them and places them gently where Grandma’s lips used to be. When the sex robot lets go of the grapefruit, it falls on the chair with a wet plop. Until there is no more chair.
None of us has the heart to shut it down. It is powered wirelessly; if we do nothing, it will go on endlessly. Yet day by day, as we remove every last trace of Grandma, the sex robot remains. Until at last, it is the only thing that remains. In an empty house, it continues its precise pantomime of their lives. We decide together enough is enough. We must shut it down. Tomorrow.
Except, when that tomorrow comes, the sex robot is not there. We look everywhere. We know they can fold themselves into more compact units. We told Grandma so many times. We look in every corner, every closet. We’re all worried, but we don’t admit it. We just keep looking.
Someone suggests looking for the sex robot at the mausoleum. We laugh. We make fun. It doesn’t sound sincere when we do. Really, we were all thinking it. We were all picturing the robot, leaving the house at night, walking the streets, guiding itself to Grandma’s remains. We picture it there, looking on the brass plaque hiding her ashes.
But none of us admits to this, and none of us go to check to see if we’re right. We’re too afraid we might be wrong. Instead we go home. We perform our accustomed routines. We eat, we bathe, we climb into our beds. And from our closets, our basements, from under our beds, our sex robots unfurl themselves and join us, programmed to hold us until we fall asleep.
William Hawkins is currently a student in the MFA Program in Fiction at UC Irvine. He lives in Los Angeles.