“Good morning, you rotten bitch. Better get up and get the kids ready for school.”
I think differently now.
The monitor above my alarm clock shows his face. He’s smiling, but his eyes are crazed. He looked like that when I told him I was pregnant, too. Both times. At this point, I’m just glad the kids still have their mother to look after them. I get up, not because he told me to, but because he’s right, and I can’t justify ignoring him at the expense of Brinkler and Amalee. Our kids always come first.
“That’s right, get your sorry ass up and actually do something,” he jeers from the terminal in the kitchen. “God knows you never did nothin for me.”
I choose to ignore him. I slide in two McBlocks into the printer, paying close attention to the machine as it whittles the nutrient cubes into eggs and bacon. After I microwave them, I pour two portions of water into the mixer with a few dehydrated milk squares. Their shriveled, measly appearance reminds me of him. Seeing the mixture combine into a swirling white mass of nourishment, I feel like I’ve helped him undergo a similar transformation.
“Oh, lookit that. You don’t even have to really cook. Just use this fake shit and pawn it off on us like you’re June Cleaver or something.”
“They look like eggs and bacon, taste like eggs and bacon, so what’s the difference?”
“Difference is you’re a lazy bitch.”
I decide to have the conversation now, before the kids wake up.
“I don’t feel bad for you. You deserve this.”
He laughs. “I didn’t do anything. It was a computer, an A.I. for god’s sake!”
“This is the part where I remind you that cheating is cheating. What’s the difference?”
“This your idea of irony?”
“No, it’s my way of setting an example for the kids. Open the wall pods so I can wake them up, please.”
I hear the clicks from down the hallway. It reminds me of when I did it to him.
* * *
Sweat and grease kick in the door with a sound like an overturned trash can. The shouted demands for dinner simmer down into a vulgar deluge of FTL drives, gravitonics, and a slew of other acronyms I don’t know. The safety net of a hot shower is stolen away when grease-stained skin envelopes me. I feel like I’m using an onion for a sleeping bag, but manage to keep this out of my tone when I suggest dinner first, the kids need to eat, too, they want to spend time with their daddy.
The kids always came first. They were once a noose around my neck, dangling me over an endless stream of memories, forcing my tired brain to watch as mistakes, like so many pieces of driftwood, sailed freely below me. That’s how it started; I just wanted to be free.
I thought killing him would make it better.
So I bought the damned thing, a stainless steel cylinder with a hypodermic needle, hollow inside, much like me. Opposite the needle was a ratcheting dial, which promised to keep its contents alive for thirteen minutes. Exactly thirteen minutes. It was plenty of time. I’d tucked the kids to sleep in their wall pods and sealed them in with a bit of lavender. I normally don’t close the pods all the way, just in case they cry, I like to be able to hear them. But tonight, I didn’t want them to hear their father.
I retrieved the Extractor from my closet, stood over him in bed. I lined up the needle with the base of his neck, then jabbed it right in.
He awoke in a mix of rage and confusion, but it was all wasted energy. I wanted to whisper something sinister into his ear, finally decided to just finish the job. I pulled the syringe back, hard. It took a lot of force, a lot more than I realized. It filled the one-ounce tube up to about three-fourths with a translucent white liquid or gas, I couldn’t determine. I was surprised; I fully expected it to be black.
The human body cannot live without the soul. They assured me of that.
He went limp, then rigid. The sight of his flabby limbs lying perfectly still, his chest unable to rise and fall, reminded me of the early hours of our wedding night. It felt much the same. I quickly turned the dial on the tube to vacuum seal it, removed the needle and disposed of it in the laser shredder.
At the central terminal module in the kitchen, our household A.I. materialized in her traditional holographic form; too much make up and not enough clothes, sitting on the end of the counter kicking her feet like a little girl. Was it stupid behavior like this that had enticed him in the first place? He must have been a weak man if all it took was a bunch of lighted pixels in the form of a digital whore. The thought disgusts me to no end, reminds me yesterday I overheard him asking her to ‘dance like that again.’
“Oh, hello, madam. What have you got there?”
“An upgrade,” I said.
* * *
I sit the kids down at the table, and for the first time, we eat breakfast together as a family.
“Mommy, why is daddy in the TV now?” Amalee asks.
“Yeah, mommy, why don’t you tell her?” He growls.
I pat my daughter on the hand and say, “You know, sweetie, Daddy had to take a new job. He didn’t want to leave you and your brother, but you know what? What do Mommy and Daddy always say?”
Brinkler and Amalee both smile and cheer, “Kids come first!”