The first and last time that I fell in love with Andrea was when she came in for her annual valve job. Yes, I know. Robots have flaunted synthetic flesh for two decades. But doctors who treat robots are a conservative lot – electrical engineers with a medical sheen – and we prefer the old terms. A valve job is an inspection of the skin for lesions and dryness. Andrea – younger than her years and petite, with dark darting eyes — had a gash near where the human heart would be. “Did you fall on your sword?” I said.
Last year, she would have laughed. “I tried to kill myself.”
“Rotsa ruck. You can’t override the program. Not that rule, anyway. May I ask why?”
“No.” But she said it so softly that she meant “Yes.”
I went to our young bearded receptionist. “Cancel my appointments for the afternoon.” Stephen was a Generation One robot, refreshingly slow on the uptake and not inclined to pry. Unlike Andrea, who belonged to a noisier and nosier generation. I checked my appearance in the full-length mirror – baldish, smooth-faced, with the calloused hands of an inventor – and returned to the treatment room, which was darkened to encourage patients to tell their seamy tales. On the far wall were shelves of my hundreds of textbooks on computer science and brain surgery, well-thumbed and alphabetically arranged. I stashed my Walker Percy novels in my main desk drawer: Out of sight, within reach. Beneath the textbooks, on a shelf of its own, was my ping-pong paddle. I closed the door.
“You knew that I was a waitress,” Andrea said.
“It’s a long story, not. Robot meets boy, loses boy, short-circuits boy.” She dabbed her fake eyes. “It all began before I became a waitress, when I was still walking the streets, as I had for twenty years. Men think that robots are ideal prostitutes because they don’t need time to recoup. But we aren’t and we do.”
“The Generation Two robots do.”
“The work was dull. The ol’ in-out, in-out, without a speck of the pleasure of a Wordsworth poem.”