Robot Lust – Leon Taylor

“ ‘I thought that you might like to walk with me to the ice cream parlor,’ I said. Tim put his rag on a hook, sneered, and locked his arm in mine. Clearly, I would be paying.

“I didn’t mind. Life in New Orleans is best lived on the street. The sidewalks climb, crumble and twist – they have a life of their own – and the shops in the Quarter beckon all the drunk strangers. Boudreaux Ice Cream was just three blocks away, as if a block had any one meaning in the Big Easy. I had already ordered a praline cake with Tim’s name iced across the top. He stared at it blankly.

“ ‘Can’t you read?’ I said.

“He hung his head, and I pecked his cheek. Mr. Perfect.

“We returned to the diner and made a date for Friday. I barely noticed the glowering girl in the corner booth.”

Andrea helped herself to a cup of my coffee, with five lumps of sugar. I drink it black. “Tim and I saw each other for six weeks but rarely talked,” she said. “The story of Tim’s life was short, and mine was made up. Mainly we bowled, since I found it easier to err on the alley than at the chessboard.  

“One night,” Andrea said, “I saw the booth girl in the adjoining café: Thickset, sallow-skinned, and red-eyed. ‘That’s Laura,’ Tim said. 

“ ‘She follows you like a probation officer,’ I said.

“ ‘Your turn,’ Tim said abruptly. 

“I won the game. For some reason, Tim couldn’t concentrate. As we left the alley, he said, ‘I’m busy next week, but maybe for Mardi Gras.’ He walked away.”

Andrea frowned in her remembrance.  “Who was Laura? I asked around. She was his younger autistic sister. Like him, she didn’t read. But she did watch reruns, and she could recall all the casts of minor series – My mother the car, Mister Ed, you name it.  But on the street, she couldn’t have held up her end of a twenty-second chat about the weather. She could talk only to her brother, and that she did at length. If Tim married, Laura would be part of the newlyweds’ furniture. I emailed him, apologizing for my joke. He didn’t reply.

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