Flash Fridays! July 31 2020

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Vaughan Stanger

Three months have passed since Janice left me.

Now she sits on one of the living room’s pair of Art Deco sofas, her knees pressed primly together, her skin blending perfectly with the cream damask upholstery.

Though naked, she retains her usual dignity. Her arms are crossed; her lips are pursed; her frown does not vary. I could change her expression if I wanted to, but that would not be appropriate. After all, it is the one I selected.

She is waiting for me to say something.

There was so much I wanted to say to Janice on that dismal February morning when she gave a tiny but definitive shake of her head and exited my life. I tried to find the right words at the time, but failed. Since then nothing has changed. I still feel the need to bare my soul, to peel back the layers of self-justification until I reach the core of my emotions.

Unfortunately I still can’t find the words.

Since Janice’s departure, I have re-made her again and again. My initial attempts fell some way short of perfection, but I laboured for my love. I am particularly proud of her hair. Silky to the touch, it falls in chestnut waves towards her bare, freckled shoulders. If I permitted Janice to play with it, I’m sure I’d experience a frisson of lust. But that’s not what she’s for. And in any case, I have deliberately not activated her autonomous functions.

Unable to endure her gaze any longer, I get up and walk away. I know that I will return before long.

I wander through the echoing halls and rooms of our home for the umpteenth time, my mind conjuring up images of the period furniture, beloved artworks and state-of-the-art gadgetry we crammed into it. Seeking perfection, we chose pristine copies over scuffed originals every time. Supplied with precise design data and the right kind of feedstock, the latest printers can reproduce anything: a Chippendale dining table with matching chairs; a brick wall daubed with Banksy’s graffiti; even Jackie Stewart’s championship-winning Grand Prix cars from 1969, 1971 and 1973. Making them was child’s play, even for an adult.

So we continued filling our home with exquisitely reproduced “stuff”, until the day when Janice remarked: “Our home is now perfect, too perfect for me to live in.”

The day after she left me, I switched the printer into reverse and began filling the recycling chamber. My beloved Banksy was the last piece to go. Now only the sofas remain. Everything else has been turned back into feedstock.

I sit down on the empty sofa and steeple my fingers. After a few seconds of contemplation I begin speaking.

“I wish…”

“I wanted to…”

“I should have…”

“If only…”

Janice frowns back at me, as if appalled by my inability to turn my thoughts into completed sentences.

Not for the first time, I attempt to figure out what’s blocking my flow. Could it be some imperfection in Janice? I lean closer and inspect her with the ferocious intensity of a teenager, examining the pores on her cheeks, the hairs on her forearms. No, I could not have created a more accurate simulacrum. She is perfect.

I try again.

“If only…”

No, no, no!

The urge to turn Janice back into feedstock again almost overwhelms me. I imagine de-laminating her layer by layer until nothing remains. Maybe next time I’ll create a fantasy woman. Animate some flirtatious living doll. Have sex with it. I could do that, really I could.

No, I couldn’t.

That’s not what I want, not what she’s for. I made Janice so that I could talk to her. So what then is my problem?

Once more, I get to my feet and pace around our home, contemplating the emptiness while rehearsing lines that I know I’ll never speak. On returning to the living room I realise that, even now, some examples of our “stuff” remain. So I command Janice to rise. She stands there, not watching, while I push the sofas into the recycling chamber.

The room is empty now, except for Janice and me, but still the words won’t come. Understanding does, however.

If the problem isn’t Janice or the contents of our home, then that just leaves me, from which I deduce that it must be time to go. But if I am to follow in Janice’s footsteps, won’t I be denying myself the opportunity to tell her how I feel? I ponder the paradox briefly before realising that there is a better way.

I reboot the printer, insert several tubs of organic feedstock and upload the necessary personal data. When the finished product emerges, I walk him over to Janice. They stand at arm’s length, not quite facing each other, as if they’d just been introduced by well-meaning friends at a party. It was like that for us, as I recall.

They’ll need something to sit on, of course.

My final action before departing is to activate their autonomous functions.

As I walk along the footpath, I look over my shoulder and catch a glimpse of them through the living room window. They are sitting together on the sofa. His lips are moving. And is it my imagination or has her expression softened slightly?

I think they’ll make the perfect couple.

Author bio: Having trained as an astronomer and subsequently managed a research group in a defense and aerospace company, Vaughan Stanger now writes SF and fantasy fiction full-time. His short stories have appeared in Interzone, Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Postscripts, and Nature Futures, among others, and have been collected in ‘Moondust Memories’ and ‘Sons of the Earth & Other Stories’. Follow his writing adventures at http://www.vaughanstanger.com or @VaughanStanger.”

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