The Mechanism of Love

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Barbara wasn’t sure how much more she could stand with Trevor. At the same time, she didn’t know how she could possibly live without him. They’d been together now for twelve years, matched by some incomprehensible algorithm she had neither the mental capacity nor the desire to understand. Supposedly, it was a system which made no mistakes. But these days she had her doubts. Just this morning, he’d woken her two minutes before her alarm with flowers and breakfast, when all she really wanted was coffee and a shower. Black coffee, scalding shower. And the constant chatter. Exactly when had that begun and how could she shut him up?

A light tap on the bathroom door, followed by a rattle of the doorknob brought her thoughts back and she chewed the inside of her cheek with irritation. Couldn’t she even take a shower in peace without him needing something? Their relationship had devolved into the kind of fondness one would save for a favorite dog. “What is it, Trevor?”

When did I start locking the bathroom door? She flipped the switch and turned the knob, letting the door swing inward of its own momentum as she toweled off her not-quite-grey hair, cut short and sensibly. No fuss. Barbara looked up at him under her straggly, wet bangs with her eyebrows raised. “Well?”

“You are now six minutes and twenty-five seconds behind schedule.” She waited for more.

Trevor shuffled his feet and wrung his hands nervously like an old woman at church, then he pointed to the clock hung over the bathroom mirror. “It is now seven-fifteen.” He paused. “Seven-sixteen. And you need to leave no later than seven-forty if you are to catch the 323A train into the city for work. And if there should be too much pedestrian traffic between the station and your office, I fear you will be late. For a third time in as many months.” He handed her a pair of slacks that had ben draped over the towel rack and she seized them from him with a quick snap of her wrist. He seemed surprised by the suddenness of her movements. See? I can be fast too, Trevor.

“I’ll get there when I get there,” she said, but it sounded petulant and childish, even to her own ears. She sat on the closed lid of the commode and pulled the slacks over her feet, standing again with a flourish. She pushed past him and stomped back to the bedroom, slamming the door and throwing the wet towel on the coverlet. Trevor followed and picked up the discarded towel between two pinched fingers as if it was a diseased rat. He walked to the laundry chute, arm extended, and deposited it.

“Barbara,” he said in a prissy, lecturing tone, “if you are late again, I have a feeling there will be vocational repercussions that you may, in hindsight, find distressing.” She glared at him while she tossed papers haphazardly into her briefcase. “I know you do not like to hear distressing news, which is why I always do my best to ensure you not be subjected to unpleasantness, even if it is of your own doing.” He had walked over toward the large bedroom window that looked down on a city devoid of real life and pulled the curtain aside, letting in cheerless winter morning light.

“My own doing,” she repeated and huffed. “I hate to break it to you, old Trev, but this is my life. And if I want to screw it up, just why the hell do you even care?”

“Well,” he said, looking absurdly thoughtful and retrospective in light of her mostly rhetorical question. “I suppose it’s because we share this space. We live together. I would like to go on living here in this pleasant apartment with you. A job reversal would affect us both. Not to mention the emotional upheaval I would have to endure and assuage.”

“What, you worried you’ll get turned out into the streets and freeze to death?” She asked and her lip curled up in a miniature snarl that she could feel and did not like. Trevor wasn’t all that bad. He had his good parts. He kept the place clean, kept her company, even if she didn’t want it, and was a hell of a good cook. But things had changed over the last few months and she wasn’t sure what the root cause was. She could take him in for a check up, but he’d probably refuse. Maybe he was just getting quirky. Maybe they all did that after years of being with the same person day in and day out.

Trevor cocked his head a little as if he hadn’t understood her question. “Nevermind,” she mumbled more to herself than him. She snapped the briefcase closed, not caring that papers stuck out on one side, and headed for the kitchen. It banged against the wall, most likely leaving black streaks and maybe even a dent or two. Trevor would fix it if she had. He always did. She yanked open the door of the fridge and scanned its contents. The orange juice looked heavenly. She spun off the cap and drank straight from the bottle. She felt, rather than saw Trevor’s look of disapproval and chose to ignore it.

At the door, Trevor stood with her coat draped over his arm, an overpriced coat rack, just waiting for her to leave. Confident that she had everything she needed for the day, she opened the door, took the coat, slid her arms into it, then once again picked up the briefcase. “I’ll be home late,” she said. “I have a dinner meeting.” She turned to go, waiting to hear the click of the door as he closed it after her, as always, but instead an iron grip encircled her upper arm and she pulled up short. “Ouch, Trevor, you’re hurting me,” she said looking at him with anger and surprise, but no real fear. Not yet. He had the oddest expression on his face. It was one she had never seen before. He looked ill, like he was having a sudden gastric attack. Or a stroke. But that was impossible.

“Please be careful,” Trevor said in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. It was terse and unfeeling, even for Trevor. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.” She nodded at him once, feeling confused, and gently twisted her arm out of his grasp. He released her, but it took longer than usual that she heard the door to the apartment snick closed as she waited for the elevator. As she turned to look, she saw that he was watching her. The silver doors slid open and she nearly bolted inside. What in the fresh hell was that all about? The thoughts were soon lost in the bustle of people and her rush to get to work on time. Or at least close.

It was nearly midnight when Barbara fumbled at the lock on the front door and let herself into the apartment. It was silent but for the ticking clock over the kitchen sink. Trevor must have retired by now. She’d had too much to drink, flirted with Charley, the young intern, and had even bummed one or two of his clove cigarettes, her own habit abandoned years ago. Only the soft light over the kitchen sink burned in the darkness. She dropped her coat and briefcase on a dining room chair and keys on the antique dining table. They’d probably leave a scratch. Trevor would buff it out if they had. She went to the fridge for a bottle of water. Her stomach felt a little bit ticky, but if she drank enough water, she’d feel more or less alright in the morning. She heard the sharp crack of the closet door and whirled around raising the open bottle over her shoulder, then lowered it again when she saw it was Trevor, storing her coat on its neat hanger in its neat and tidy closet. What would she have done with the bottle? Thrown it at him? Tried to stab him with it? She laughed out loud, but it held a nervous little tremolo inside it.

“You’re very late,” he said.

“I told you I was going to be out late, Trevor.”

“Yes, but you missed dinner. I had prepared stuffed breast of quail, sauteed field greens and a –“

“Oh Jesus Christ will you please shut up?” She shouted, not caring if it disturbed the neighbors. They were probably asleep with their sedatives and vodka tonics long ago taken. “I told you I was going to be out for a dinner meeting. That’s what a dinner meeting is, Trevor. Dinner.” She slammed the plastic bottle onto the counter and water sloshed across and onto the floor. Trevor crossed the tile and took a towel out of the basket, probably to wipe it up. Barbara grabbed it out of his hand. “This is what I’m talking about! You have got to stop all of this…this…”  she didn’t know exactly how to finish her statement.

“Nevertheless,” Trevor continued, “Dinner is at six. Which was six hours and twelve minutes ago. You got me to be your dedicated companion. Have I not lived up to my purpose?”

“It’s gone past that, Trevor. And I think you know it.”

“I love you.” He said it simply and without any emotion.

Barbara tried to swallow and couldn’t. Her heart hammered and she could feel the color drain from her face. “What are you talking about? You can’t possibly love me! You’re not programmed for that.” The refrigerator door creaked open behind her. The overhead lights flickered.

“But I do love you, Barbara.” He took a step closer and she backed against the counter.

“Stop this,” she said, but it came out in a dry whisper. Her eyes were wide, like a rabbit caught in a trap. “You. You can’t. You’re a robot. I’m a person.”

“I watch you, you know,” he said and took another step closer. There was nowhere left for her to back up. The toaster dinged. A metallic taste of horror flooded her mouth. The gas stove clicked on with a whump and blue flame cast a strange glow across the kitchen counter.

“Trevor, I—”

“Shh,” he said and laid a cold finger across her lips. “No more talk. It’s time for us now.” He leaned in toward her and she pushed her palms against his chest. She may as well have been pushing stone monolith. He didn’t budge. His cold, rubbery lips pressed against hers. Trevor was made to resemble humanity, but there was no warmth inside his body, no life force coursing through a tangled network of vessels and nerves. Just wires. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to scream, to pry him off of her, but it was no use. He remained with stubborn obduracy, sealed against her mouth.

Finally, when she thought she would go mad, he broke off and looked into her eyes with his own, impersonal and emotionless. “Isn’t that the way it’s done?” She gasped for breath and put her hand over her own mouth. “Isn’t it time we stopped kidding ourselves?” He asked in a recorded voice and dropped her a wink which might have been comical under different circumstances. Probably from some movie. She shook her head violently, hair flying. The dishwasher sprang open and jets of water spurted onto the tile. “You’re mine, now, Barbara. I belong to you, and you belong to me.”

She suddenly remembered the code, removed her hand from her mouth and yelled “Model number T-CMP-R 2107 Deactivate!” Trevor stopped in mid-motion. The eerie green light in his eyes darkened. At the same time, the smoke alarm in the hallway began to bray. Emergency lights flashed. Glasses ejected themselves from the dishwasher and hurtled toward her. She ducked the first one, swatted the second one, both of them shattering on the hard stone floor, but the third caught her on the cheek and pain exploded across the vision in her right eye. The oven sprag open and a jet of hot fire shot across the kitchen, catching the tablecloth ablaze. Oh my god, she thought. “Trevor,” she shrieked. “Stop it! Stop it!” But Trevor didn’t stop it.

The icemaker kicked on and frozen cubes tumbled out of the dispenser, skittering across the floor to join  the shards of glass. And still the dishes kept coming. Plates shattered into tectonic chunks of pottery. The alarm continued its ceaseless racket. Forks and knives sprang from the dishwasher basket and embedded themselves in the ceiling, glinting in the firelight like miniature torches. Her feet were glued in place. Like in a nightmare, she was unable to run, to turn, to flee. Stuck in wide-eyed horror. On one side, the fire was beginning to creep, although the jet of flame had blown itself out. The refrigerator door slammed shut, then opened again, whacking itself into the wall next to it and embedding the handle in the drywall. Smoke began to permeate the air and she coughed, dragging in ragged breaths. “Trevor! Please!” She tried to yell, but it dissolved into a rattle of coughing like gunfire. The blender turned on and added to the racket and chaos. A Tupperware container of Jell-o flew out of the refrigerator, hit the wall, and dumped its green slithering contents, the same color as Trevor’s eyes, onto the floor where ice was still accumulating. I’ve always hated jello. He knew that and yet he made it anyway. The thought came to her from some distant land far away. It was that thought, of dying here in a puddle of awful lime Jell-o that made her do it.

Barbara crouched down onto the floor and covered her ears with her hands, closing her eyes. “Model number T-CMP-R 2107, Activate,” she choked out between sobs of defeat and terror. All at once, the noise and confusion ceased. She remained where she was, and the sudden silence made her ears ring. Hands picked her up off the floor and set her gently on the couch in the living room, then released. In the kitchen, she heard the hiss of Trevor’s on-board fire extinguisher, an added feature she’d requested, then a venting fan was turned on. She waited on the edge of the couch with her head between her knees for him to return and do something horrible.

Trevor did return, about five minutes later, with a glass of water and three ibuprofen tablets. “Here, Barbara,” he said in his calm what-do-you-think-the-weather-will-be-like-today voice. “Take these, they will help your headache.”

Barbara looked up at him, curious in spite of herself. “How did you know I had a headache?” He held out the pills and the water, cool green eyes regarding her icily, but did not answer. She took them with a hand that trembled in spite of her best efforts to keep it still, swallowed them dry, then leaned back on the couch.

“No one knows you the way I do, Barbara. No one will ever love you the way I do. Promise you will stay here with me, forever.”

What choice do I have? She thought, and surrendered as Trevor sat beside her with his perfect posture and put his inhuman arm around her shoulders. He leaned in for a kiss and she shuddered with revulsion. “I will,” she said, and both of them knew it was the truth.

Submitted: June 23, 2022

© Copyright 2022 heather hein. All rights reserved.

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