The Ghost in the Machine

There’s no warranty on wives. No lemon laws. And don’t let them fool you, what you see is not always what you get. My lord, she was a pretty thing when she first came in, all the bells and whistles, shiny and new. Her green eyes shone like beacons in the night, it was a comfort to have her in bed beside me, slits of jade between almost closed eyelids, a fine thing to not be alone. She had that classic beauty, like her face had been made by some artist plagued by idealism.

It took about two months before I realized I couldn’t stand the sound of her voice. Day by day it seemed to grow higher pitched, more grating. It was an empty voice, saying empty things, and it wasn’t just that. The sex was mechanical, her body cold on the inside.

I got to thinking she was broken one morning when she offered to make breakfast. "Scrampled eggs," she’d called them. She stood in front of the stove for an hour, egg in her hand lifted half way to breaking and she just stared. I asked what she was doing, but she didn’t answer. I let her be maybe longer than I should have, but it was nice to have the house quiet. After awhile I tapped her on the shoulder, and she shook like she got the chills. Then she cracked the egg and just went on with business.

It happened once when she was going down on me. She just froze, right there in the middle of things. I inched away, carefully, and zipped up before I shook her out of it. I took her to the doctor after that, but he said he couldn’t fix her. He recommended that I take her to a specialist, or at least a good mechanic.

I took her to Frankie. Not the best mechanic, but the best open on Sunday. He screwed around with her wiring while I sat in the lobby reading a grease-stained issue of Car and Driver. Frankie sat her down in a chair and fastened her to its back. Sweat dotted his upper lip while he tinkered, and I couldn’t blame him for being nervous. Most of the problem was that she didn’t come with a shut-down switch. Give them autonomy, and then forget the manual shut down, a real lemon, like I said. The fluorescent lights flickered while he worked. I think it was the vibe she was putting out. His hand slipped, he scraped the roof of her mouth with a tiny screwdriver and she shrieked like she’d caught a glimpse of perdition. Then she stopped. As soon as he steeled himself to get back to it, she started again. The magazine shook in my hands because it was that tone, electric and unbearable.

He didn’t fix her. I took her home and she was quiet the whole way. I took that for a good sign. When she started talking again, though, it was worse than everyday chatter, it was nonsense. Words that weren’t words, sounds that weren’t human. The slits of her eyes glowing while she was in sleep mode. We stopped having sex, and I stopped letting her cook.

I had Frankie fix her three more times. The last, she got hold of my credit cards after we got back, and she maxed them all out on vacuum cleaners. Vacuum cleaners! Near sixteen thousand dollars worth. I came home from work and there they were, on the porch, in the kitchen, a pile half assembled on the living room floor and her in the middle, grin frozen on her face.

I got them to take back most of them, the ones she hadn’t meddled with. But I couldn’t get Spouse-Corps to take her back. Thirty-thousand down the shitter. Her eyes didn’t close anymore at night. Those circles were just there, watching. She listened to me breathe and mocked the sound.

I told her to get in the car to go in for repairs, but she wouldn’t do it. I’d told Frankie to dissemble her, so I could keep her in a box until the divorce went through and I could find a buyer. And she knew it. Whether she could pick up on the signal from my cell phone, or she just knew me that well, I can’t say. She cried, thick oil tears that stained her cheek like mascara on the run. She latched on to one of the car doors and all the shoving and jostling in the world wouldn’t have got her in. The metal dimpled under her fingers. Then she turned those green eyes on me, and I won’t make out like I was brave. I slid in, slammed the door, pushed down the lock and started it up. She smashed one of my headlights, and lunged for the window as I pulled away.

When I came home, she was gone, with the remaining vacuum cleaners. I called Spouse-Corps again, but the operator said they still couldn’t give me a refund. I told her I had repair records to prove she was broke from the start, but she assured me I’d voided my claim by not taking her to a registered technician. I wasn’t about to give up so easy, I gave her an earful about how she’d run off, even accused them of programming her to do it. But according to her tracking chip she was still right here, hadn’t even left the property. The operator sounded so smug when she said it, I wondered if she was one of them.

I looked everywhere and couldn’t find her. Sometimes I think I hear the sound of mock breathing, see green slits reflected in the windows at night. But I tell myself it’s just my imagination, that she’s gone. I don’t vacuum anymore.


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