“Give me the penknifeadmin / February 10, 2019
“Give me the penknife, it’s about time that we should receive our award,” Orson Yates yanked the knife out of his sister’s hands, and in three precise slits, cut the envelope open. The two siblings and their cousin peeked down upon the letter addressed to them in golden cursive.
Daya Yates burrowed her nails into his shoulder, “What does it say, Orson? How much?”
“I will get to that, if you just please stop bloody piercing my shoulder, will you?”
“Oh let me,” Ezra Westwood snatched the letter out of his hands and unfolded it as if it was breakable. “Dear nieces, upon receiving this letter I have passed away. Isn’t that how wills commence? No matter, I know what is on your minds. I will get to that point shortly. However, as you are now truly listening, I would like to use this opportunity to recount recent events. Ezra Westwood, Daya and Orson Yates, do you recall that silly robot that you sent barging into my home? Oh, it is a fun story, much better than you think. Let me amuse you…”
“We were thinking, uh, we thought it was time that, uh…” Ezra faltered, licking his lips habitually between stutters. His eyes sought Daya’s, asking for assistance, but she kept her gaze unnaturally fixed ahead. On his other side, Orson rubbed an invisible speck of dirt off his leather shoes.
He lowered his voice, “Ms. Plums, could you…could you please remove the sugar glider off your shoulder?”
The elderly woman scoffed at him, “What, is he distracting you? The sugar glider stays.”
“Well, in that case,” He cleared his throat, but got no further as the eyes of the creature bore into him. He couldn’t help but to think of two massive black olives staring back at him.
“Oh, for goodness sake, Ezra,” Orson stepped in, “since the rather unfortunate incident regarding your former nurse, and the ones before her, we decided to run with a slightly different tactic this time around.”
Daya threw her head back in the direction of the door, “You can come out now, dear.”
Ms. Plums pointed a gnarled finger at the door, “I will not be subject to another one of those perfunctory nurses, forget it!”
Daya chuckled, “Oh, this time it will work out, trust us.”
The door creaked, accompanied by a dull mechanic buzzing. Daya giggled, but was curtly silenced by her brother. Smooth plastic fingers clasped around the doorframe, pushing it open to reveal a 5ft tall humanoid.
“He will be terribly good help, auntie, and I bet you’ll find that you have lots in common once you get to know each other.”
Ms. Plums snorted, “Like what? Creaky blue joints?”
Orson gave a hearty laugh, “Don’t be such a bummer, your every need will be taken care of. Besides, this one will stick around no matter what you do, so you’ll have plenty of time to become friends.”
Ezra looked to the floor, “We’ll leave you to it.”
They scrambled past the robotic aid and out the front door before Ms. Plums could even open her mouth to argue. The room stayed silent except for the even ticking of the grandfather clock on the wall. The florescent eyes of the robot scanned the room, whizzing as they took in the sight of the quite strange and luxuriant living room. Ms. Plums, true to her fruity surname, filled every nook and cranny with a plant of some kind. Holly fern and jasmine, it all left a pleasant herbal smell. The flowery atmosphere made for an odd contrast to the polished robot with the cheerful pixel-face.
Ms. Plums raised a silver-threaded eyebrow, “What are you waiting for? Are you a rude robot? Introduce yourself!”
The robot tilted its head, “Personal names are uncommon amongst robots, my given name is JMS7.”
She adjusted her hearing aids and hoisted her plump body off the armchair, “Very well, James. I’m sure you are a lovely robot, but your services aren’t needed here. You can go home.”
James offered his hand to Ms. Plums who proceeded to ignore the gesture. His metal fingers clicked like soft sighs as they contracted into a fist.
“I am home according to my GPS system,” the robot said, “we are housemates now, but do not worry, I rest standing.”
Ms. Plums narrowed her eyes as the mouth of the robot formed into a smile. She marched across the room and circled the robot, her fingers searched around the smooth white surface of his back.
James’ head rotated to his back, “What are you doing, Ms. Plums? I would rather not be fiddled.”
“Looking for your off-switch,” she growled.
The brilliant light of the robot’s eyes dimmed to a somber dark blue, “Why? Do you have anything against robots?”
Ms. Plums pressed the buttons on James’ chest aimlessly, and suddenly the screen on his chest began to glow, which prompted her to stop.
“Yes, I have plenty of reasons why you lot should be sent straight into the sun,”
“Would you care to tell me why, Ms. Plums?”
She looked up at his little electrical face and knew he was human construct, yet there was such an innocent curiosity to him. No, she reminded herself, this piece of metal could never be her friend. He was a machine, designed to be ruled at her mercy. Humans would always be superior to robots, that was the rule of the universe. Why not tell that humanoid exactly the premise of things? Poor thing had no understanding of the world beyond some factory. She would teach him a thing or two.
“Now, listen closely, James,” she sat back down in her snug armchair, “you are a robot. Some intelligent human has granted you a mission to accomplish, and that is to be of service. You may have a brain of some sort emulating thoughts, and you may have decent learning abilities. None of that makes you a human. You are missing the elemental part, which is a soul. You robots are demanding too much nowadays, and all this talk of citizenships? Nonsense. You are taking the jobs of blameless workers, and can I be completely honest with you? Of course I can, you have no feelings. You are an unnerving bunch of machines that are ruining our society.”
“Would you like a cup of tea, Ms. Plums?”
She looked at him in disbelief as he made his way to the kitchen, “Did you not hear anything I just said?”
Ambient sounds of cutlery sounded from the kitchen, with James’ clear voice cutting the noise.
“I chronicled everything, Ms. Plums. I admire your ability to be honest. It must be nice to be human, to know that all you say and think is yours entirely. You have materialistic goods and respect. I would like that too one day, if it is not too much to ask.”
James strode back into the living room, balancing a tray of tea, honey, and milk.
He lowered the tray to her level, “Hope you like chamomile tea.”
She pursed her lips and sipped the steaming drink, “Of course I do, it’s my house, I bought the tea.”
“That was thoughtless, I retract my remark.”
“Say whatever you like, I’m sick of my nurses pandering me.”
“What happened to them, Ms. Plums?”
She snuggled into her chair, a slight smirk on her lips. “I chased them out, James. They couldn’t stand me any longer. Some left in tears let me tell you, another had a panic attack when she saw my pet-spider Geraldine. I never understood the deal with spider phobia, people love fur when it’s on a dog but-”
“Or on a coat,” James interrupted, and the screen on his chest projected the image of a lady with an enormous brown fur coat.
“Oh, I didn’t know you could do that. Show me more, James.”
Like switching between TV channels, the images flashed across his chest rapidly. The queen, pugs, the Muppets, New Year’s Eve, an ocean.
Ms. Plums brought a shaky hand to the screen. Seagulls flew over the image, and deep cerulean waves rolled into the shore. So lifelike, she even got the taste of salt in her mouth.
“Ms. Plums, why are you crying?”
She brusquely wiped the tears off with her sleeve, realizing that’s where the taste of salt came from. How embarrassing, was she crying in front of this robot? Ah, but did it really matter? In the end, he was only a computer.
She sighed, “It’s been years and years since I’ve seen the ocean. I used to sail to the most extraordinary corners of the earth. I miss it terribly, that’s all.”
At once, all the lights in the living room shut off. She couldn’t see anything other than the bright light of James’ eyes.
Ms. Plums grasped at the air blindly, “What on earth are you doing? Turn the lights back on, you scrap piece of metal!”
“Welcome back to the ocean, Sailor Plums.”
James closed his eyes, and snuffed out the remaining bit of illumination. Then he reopened them, releasing a coruscation and bathing the entire room in a dancing blue light. Various fishes swan through the effulgence, anemones swayed to the rhythm of the ocean current.
The entirety of the room was engulfed in the robot’s beam of light. She wept in silence as the memories came flooding back.
“Thank you, James,” Ms. Plums clasped his hand in hers, “even if you aren’t human, you seem to be the only one who has actually listened to me. If I die now, I will die content because I’ve seen what my life truly was one last time.”
“…and who could have guessed that I would grow to love that robot byte by byte? In the beginning I just presumed that he was unable to care about me in any sort of way. After all, he is only a machine made to fetch my pills and help me around the house. It came as a shock, how much he really was capable of. With all this said, I will get to the point. It is no secret that I am wealthy from my travels, nor is it a secret that you would like to inherit this sum. However, due to recent events, I began to rethink my decision and I have come to the conclusion that every last penny goes to James, my nursing robot. I plan to give him a citizenship for Christmas this year. With that and this will, it will be the closest thing I can do to help him fulfill his dream as he did mine.”
“That’s it?” Orson roared. “Have we waited this long for that old witch to die only to have her robot get everything?
Orson gestured around Ms. Plums living room, which wasn’t looking as flourishing now in the absence of its owner. Everything was as she had left it that last Christmas morning. They all knew what some of her unusual artifacts could be worth in the eyes of the right buyer.
Daya pouted her lips, “That heart attack came too late, we should’ve never given her that robot. I don’t even understand what that robot did to make her love him like this? Like, why not us?”
“We could check,” suggested Ezra, “the robot recorded everything, I was mailed a copy of its hard drive after aunt Plums passing, we can play it through.”
Daya gasped, “Maybe it even recorded her death! How spooky!”
Ezra pulled out the USB stick with the recordings and stuck it into his computer. They huddled together inches away from the screen, watching their aunt from the perspective of the robot.
Daya nudged Ezra’s shoulder, “Fast forward unto the part where she dies, would you?”
They collectively held their breath. Ezra resumed the clip and turned the volume up, seeing the senseless amount Christmas decorations in the living room.
“I have a present for you, James, would you like to open it?”
The video focused down on their aunt’s hands, holding a neat present in blue and silver wrapping.
“I have never seen her this happy,” Daya whispered, “that humanoid is working some magic.”
The two robotic arms took the gift out of her hands, and unwrapped it in an uneven jitter of movements. The robot pulled out a framed piece of paper with black inking, complete with an official-looking golden stamp.
“It’s your citizenship, you are now a certified member of society, James. This is proof that you are appreciated. I want to help you realize your dream.”
The robot remained quiet.
“Aren’t you going to say anything, James?”
The video panned back up to Ms. Plums face.
An electric current sparked between the robot’s hands.
It slowly stretched them out towards her.
“Merry Christmas, Ms. Plums.”
The video cut to black.