apartments in the year 2042
were the same as they are today. They were still cramped and filled with dust mites
, black fungus
, stained clothes were still strewn across the furniture and floor, empty carbohydrates still molded in cupboards while fridges chilled rotten food, dishes still went unwashed and discarded McDonald's wrappers were still crusted with ketchup, mayonnaise and browned lettuce. The same variety of stinks still filled the air, they wafted from the garbage no one bothered to take down and from the animals that died behind walls, mystery odors still rose from underneath the sofas and out of the dark crevices where life could accumulate and perish. And the hearts that beat inside these apartments, and more specifically inside of Emily and Jacob, were filled with the same frustration and hopelessness that dogs those who live this way today. Lately though, Emily was more upbeat.
She had recently been a contestant on FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT A ROBOT, and to Jacob’s surprise and disappointment, because at this point her success equaled his failure, she had won. She had elected to do battle on the balance beams using large foam nunchucks and had delivered an unexpected flurry of strikes to the machine's critical points. After her opponent had fallen into the soft pit below, Emily had tossed her weapon aside, dropped off the beam, and planted her knees into the gameshow robot's throat and nose. Jacob, who was in the audience, got on his feet and whooped sarcastically as Emily clawed at the robot’s eyes and pulled at its hair (in 2042 robots were, “more human than human.”). The producer quickly cut to replays and stock crowd applause shots while Emily was pulled off Anthony, that was the robot’s name, and her makeup and hair were put back in order. Contestants going a little apeshit on the robots was not that uncommon an event, and the producer, Sukei, who was also robot, dealt with the situation professionally. She walked over just before the cast returned live, put her arms around Emily and, in her most soothing voice, said, “You did it honey, you won. You are a winner.”
The prize was a brand new Honda Home Robot.
Emily hadn’t wanted to leave the studio without the Honda. Sukei had assured her the robot would arrive in a matter of days, and had spent nearly a half hour showing her pictures of previous winners at their homes, happily posing with their Hondas, before Emily started to listen to reason. On the way home, sitting alone in the backseat of the show's flying limousine, she had felt positively jubilant. If the robot driver hadn't been there, she probably would have screamed out, "I am a winner! I am a winner!"
Fast forward to this morning and Jacob is in some sort of hell beyond hung over from blitzing through a six pack of Rodeo beer and a 26er of Pirate Robert’s Dark Rum. He had started drinking the night before, after the Honda arrived. It was delivered by two robots dressed in perfectly pressed blue jumpers who had rolled their eyes at each other before entering the couple’s building: clearly there would be no tip for this job. Still, after Emily opened the door they chorused, "Congratulations," before unceremoniously dropping off the big cardboard box in the pile of old shoes that served as the couple's foyer. "Baby," Emily asked, flashing the wide yellow toothed smile he had fallen in love with, "where are the scissors?" But he had just grunted past her and went up to the roof to get smashed.
So Jacob woke up much in the way he normally did, unsure of the night’s previous events, how he had made it down the roof's ladder and into bed, and wondering what to do about his rotting stomach. He was covered in a thin clammy sweat. He was dehydrated and wanting death, which he imagined, in more and more detail lately, as a massive grim reaper whose arms stretched out in a wide welcoming embrace, an otherworldly something that grew logarithmically larger as it neared, and would offer to take him into an empty place infinitely more promising than his life. At the very least his stomach wouldn’t hurt.
Eventually, prodded by the nagging will to live, he got out of bed. He went to the bathroom to piss and drink sloppy gulpfulls of metallic water from the sink’s calcified tap. This only made his stomach feel worse and forced him to lie down on the bathroom’s cold stick-on tile floor. He closed his eyes so he wouldn’t see the mildew and tried to find some sort of center, some sort of internal balance to cure his nausea.
Then he heard Emily giggle. He opened his eyes and his vision suffused with the fractals of the floor's black fungus. He pointed his ears towards the tiny kitchen, which was no more than two meters from his horizontal head, she giggled, “Oh... you are too funny …um… wow... I really need to think of a name for you.”
“No hurry Emily, we want to find a good fit.”
The Robot, thought Jacob, the fucking robot. It was in the kitchen right now. The kitchen that was too small for him and his wife to both be in at the same time. I wonder if it’s plugged in, he thought, probably. Probably just drinking up the power, completely unconcerned about the bills. Goddamn robot. His indignation propelled him up to his feet and for a split second he felt great, but then he took two steps forward and the smell of new robot - take the smell of any brand new boxed modern gadget and multiply it by a thousand and that is almost equivalent to new robot smell - wafted up Jacob’s tender nostrils. He wretched, a fresh clammy sweat broke out and he returned to the bathroom to vomit into the toilet.
While vomiting, he could hear the Honda raise its voice a little, concerned about the noises coming from the other side of the apartment. He could hear Emily’s resigned voice urge it, him (it had a man's voice after all), to not worry about her husband. “It’s fine,” she said, “It’s normal. He's a bit of a lunatic.” But the robot got up and Jacob heard the heavy footsteps approaching. Undoubtedly, Jacob thought, he was wearing some sort of smart black patent leather shoe. The new robot smell grew stronger and by the time the robot towered in the bathroom's doorway, standing six feet six inches tall, healthy brown Mediterranean skin radiating, eyes clear and vein free, cuticles properly pushed back, Jacob couldn’t stop heaving. There was nothing left in his stomach, not even the yellow acid, but he kept heaving. “The smell,” Jacob roared, “Get the fuck,” his face still buried below the toilet’s lip, “out of my apartment!”
The robot was stunned. He was, after all, only 12 hours old. Emily raced into the scene from the kitchen and tried to pull the Honda away, urging him to ignore her husband and telling him she would explain back in the kitchen. But the Honda would not move. As young as he was, he was programmed to help, he said, “How can I help you... Jacob, right? Would you like some water?” Jacob wretched again. He was exhausted from his last outburst and growing increasingly weak. He could only produce a faint, “the smell…please.” His eyes would have pleaded into Emily’s and maybe she would have understood, felt pity and ordered the robot away, but she was completely blocked off by the Honda's broad shoulders.
The robot moved closer and the nausea wracked Jacob’s body. His eyes teared and he began to cry. He wept like a hurt toddler, “please…” Jacob said as the robot kneeled down, ignoring the clear danger of staining his fine trousers, “please….” Jacob said as the robot took the weak body away from the soiled bowl and flushed the toilet, “please…” Jacob said as the 12 hour old machine cradled half of his body in his thick arms. Jacob couldn’t protest anymore. He was now totally exhausted and near delirium. Then the smell no longer bothered him. He could not feel the floor below him. He forgot Emily, he forgot job loss after job loss, he forgot the guilt of being a failure. All he could see were the Honda's big arms, they we were wrapped in a fine black suit. Then the Honda titled Jacob's head back and pressed his fingers up into the soft tissue below the chin, deeper and deeper, until there was a click, and all Jacob could see was darkness.