I Will Work for Love

Composite by Adam Myers
Composite by Adam Myers

Tall houses scrape at the blue, white-cloudy sky. The neighborhood grass glows green. This doesn’t look at all like the cyborg farm.

My boyfriend is driving. I sit in the backseat with the laundry. I wear human clothes, just like him, and I sort our wearables as we rush onward. 

I also glance out at the many doors, facades, and driveways of our new neighborhood. The houses look the same, except varying in their pastel colorings and differing slightly in height. 

We arrive at our new house.

My greatest hope is that my boyfriend, who of course is a human, will select me for marriage. He says he might, because I have a Protestant work ethic. I once asked what that meant. We women from the cyborg farm do not know about Protestants or other religious sects. 

“It just means you work hard,” he had replied. I still want to know more, for I find philosophies fascinating. 

We unpack and settle in and I hope he will tell me. But whenever I allow my recursive brain structures to ponder and explore, and state aloud my queries, he turns on the television.

I used to write poetry at the cyborg farm. One of my poems went like this: I may be more than half robot, but I have a heart and feel love. When my boyfriend purchased me, he told the owner of the cyborg farm that time is money. I didn’t ask what that meant; I still don’t want to know. 

In the new house, we have two human housemates. A brunette woman and a blond male. I wear a wig. Otherwise I look perfectly human. But around the housemates, my boyfriend acts differently toward me. He tells them, “We’re just friends.” 

But that’s not true. We sleep together most nights, except the nights he rejects me. Then I shiver and cry in my own room, on a narrow bed. I don’t like that room, because there are no lights and it’s very dark. There are no decorations, but I’d like to add some for the nights I have to spend there.

Watching the three humans play out in the green yard on weekends, I feel my dreams slipping away. I press my face against the window’s cool pane of glass.

My boyfriend doesn’t like it here. He calls it “suburban hell.” But I like the yards with their children, dogs, and sprinklers. It’s much nicer than the cyborg farm, stuffed with straw and machinery and factory belts. Perhaps happiness is a façade, like the one a house has, I tell myself. Once you get past the front of happiness, there is quiet and sadness and doubt.

I drive to a large building and work there on weekdays. There are engineers, and marketing and science personnel. My boss is a round-faced, complacent man. He meets me daily in the front lobby, and takes me to my office. “Processor Drone One, it’s good to meet you,” he says to me each time, as if I’ve forgotten. I follow him upstairs and get plugged in to my networking port. I don’t have time to write poetry anymore, not like at the cyborg farm.

“You might have noticed half your paycheck is missing,” my boss told me at the end of the first month. “It’s because we paid that half to Mr. Billingsley.” 

Mr. Billingsley is what the world calls my boyfriend. I still work even though my boyfriend gets half my check. I guess this is why he likes my Protestant work ethic. Out of all my tasks at the office, I enjoy writing instruction manuals because I feel the work is more human than machine. Also, when I work on them, I get to sit and look out the windows at the small and tender trees that encircle the building. 

In the spring, we attend a wedding. My boyfriend tells me he thinks the ceremony is a rather dull proceeding. But I find the exchange of vows and overall atmosphere painfully exquisite. I hold back tears. 

That night, when he reaches for me in bed, I feel a supreme melancholy. I think: I will never be his wife.

The next week, I get a raise! I feel like flying and don’t know what’s next. The sky seems forever blue when I walk on my lunch break. When I go home and tell my boyfriend, he says that he can afford to kick out the housemates, which he then does. “Now there’s no need to pretend between us,” he says. I am glowing. I am really, really hoping for things to be different. 

“I am happy to be a good citizen,” I tell my boyfriend. I trim the trees in the backyard. I cook dinners. He is so tall and handsome, my boyfriend. When he holds me, and I listen for his heartbeat, I feel I can move mountains. I think, one day soon, he might give me an engagement ring. Then I will feel the sort of happiness I only imagine in dreams.

Late on a Sunday, we are resting up. “I want to go to school, to a real university,” I tell him.

“Why?” he says.

“I can work better if I learn more,” I reply.

He frowns. “True, but the university is very expensive.”

“You’re right,” I sigh, and am filled with sadness.

Then he leads me up to his closet. He opens it. “Look,” he says. Books clutter the closet — many of them. “These are my books from engineering school. You can learn all you want,” he says. I jump for happiness. 

He watches TV a lot. I listen to Brahms and Bach and Hank Williams, trying to understand emotions. Emotions are a curious thing. Do I feel music? When I play music, when my boyfriend is turned away from me and watching television, I feel disturbed by unknown vibrations in my soul.  

“I want for us to get married,” I tell my boyfriend one day. “Because I like to feel as if I am moving forward, and that makes me feel powerful. If we were married, I would feel as if our love is moving forward too. Perhaps I can even get another work promotion, because I am so happy.” 

I don’t think too much when I say this. But, after those last words emerge from my mouth, he gives me the most curious, sly smile.

A week later, an engagement ring appears. Six months later, we get married. It’s a civic ceremony, so I never meet his relatives. But I feel, at last, content. My new husband is the world to me. 

Our marriage wears on. Something strange happens to me. I start to forget about my husband a little and start noticing other people again, even more than I used to. I notice the poetry in the lives of people in my busy neighborhood. The elderly Indian couple who hold hands as they walk. The teenage girl who reclines under the weeping willow with her book. Children playing at the park. They shine in their beauty. 

I go out to simply watch. I can’t have children of my own. Now that my situation is stable, and I do not have to be returned to the cyborg farm, watching the children and other people is a relief to me.

Once a cyborg is married off, she’s hardly ever returned. Hardly.

Heather Sager lives in Illinois. She has recently contributed fiction to Slippage Lit, Horla, La Piccioletta Barca, Ariel Chart, and Lamplit Underground. Heather also writes poetry.

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