: ) : ( : [ My Son the Robot ] : ) : ( :
By Mike Meginnis and Sam Martone
m: You are alone in your garage, alone. There has never been a car in your garage. You keep the car outside your home, like a punishment, because you do not like your car. In fact you hate it. The garage is for badminton sets, disused bicycles, partly disassembled computers, and hardware. (Drills, soldering guns, a jigsaw, a power sander, a riveter, a staple gun, etc.) You are alone in your garage. You are alone here. You cannot make a woman. But you could build a son. Exits are north (into your home) and south (out, through the garage door, to the driveway, where your spurned car is waiting).
s: Dig through partly disassembled computers, looking for a 'motherboard' or 'software chip' or something. Struggle to remember what I learned in college computer classes, and also in high school health class, about what makes a son become, what makes a son work.
m: You half remember something the necessity of genitalia -- to the creation of a son, to the son-ness of a son. Some of the computer pieces look a little bit like genitalia if you squint. There are many Software Chips and Motherboards, Hard Drives, Keyed Boards, Mice, VGA Cards, 3D Accelerators, Power Supplies. A monitor is not totally unlike a face. Hands are more difficult. (If a son should have them.)
s: Use soldering gun to solder a 3D Accelerator to a Hard Drive, use staple gun to staple Mice to Software Chips. This isn't going the way I planned. Nothing looks like a son. Ignore my spurned car's honking, even though I am sure I will need to go somewhere very soon. Look at my hands, hands that do not know how to make more hands. Put arm around nearest Motherboard, ask her out on a date.
m: The Motherboard blushes furiously. (You think it is blushing. (It turns a darker shade of green in some regions.)) The Mice writhe on their cords, perhaps motivated by the dreams of the Software Chips -- perhaps repulsed. What a son needs is a father. Not an engineer, but a father. The son is somewhere in your hands, your body.
s: Pick up the writhing Mice, their Software Chipped bodies. Staple them by their wire tails to the ceiling. One of them snaps at my palm, breaks the skin, but instead of blood there is something steely and cool. Feel something whirring in my right hand, the tendons shuddering, the bones clamping. Ask the Motherboard what she likes to do for fun.
m: The Motherboard enjoys being the central printed circuit board in many modern computers. She holds many of the crucial components of the system, providing connectors for other peripherals. She connects the central processing unit and hosts other subsystems and devices. She likes to read mysteries with clean, reasonable murders. A typical desktop computer has its microprocessor, main memory, and other essential components connected to the Motherboard. She likes to watch televised serials and read the Oprah Book Club books. An important component of a motherboard is the microprocessor's supporting chipset, which provides the supporting interfaces between the CPU and the various buses and external components. She nurtures with digital milk. This chipset determines, to an extent, the features and capabilities of the Motherboard. She is worried for your hands.
s: Be disappointed that the Motherboard and I have little in common, aside from a shared love for televised serials. Remember of the disappointment of online dating. Kiss her on the cheek (or what I think is a cheek) and tell her I must go. Pick up jigsaw. Go south.
m: You are greeted by the still-honking car. The car looks at you with its wide, bright headlights in a way that seems to say, "I could have been your son," and furthermore, "I am sorry for my deadly emissions," and furthermore, "It is unfathomably cruel to drive me every day and hate me even as you use and depend on me." It is a red Chevrolet Lumina, 2001, dented passenger-side door, neglected engine, soft old wheels.
s: Nod as if to say, I know. Look out at the sidewalk where other men are with their sons: a man playing hide and seek with his Sasquatch son, a man teaching his merson to ride a two-wheeler, a man slathering suntan lotion on his vampire son, even though the sun has already set. Climb into the car, careful not to drip any of my hand's contents on the interior. Put the jigsaw in the passenger seat. Back out of the driveway and begin driving, careful not to hit the merson, who is fish-flopping on the pavement after a fall.
m: Where do you want to go? (The car rebels as you drive it; the car does not want to go where you want to go; the car twists its wheels left when you direct them rightward; the car is slow to break.)
s: Go to the junkyard.
m: There is a sign on the gate that warns you to Beware of Dog, but there has never been a dog here. You would know -- you come here often. When the man who sells the junk sees your red Chevrotet Lumina approaching he opens the gate to let you pass without a word. (He does not like to talk to you.) And then, there you are -- among the totaled cars and pickup trucks, the abandoned mopeds and jet skis, the modern art, the corrugated tin, the cinder blocks, the pile of mostly destroyed wheels, the coat hangers, the spent light bulbs, the smashed television sets, the pinwheels, the parts of other robot sons never finished, abandoned father projects, forgotten legs and eyes and robot tummies. You don't see any hands.
s: Look for something to plug the jigsaw into.
m: You find an old car battery with some holes drilled in its side that roughly correspond to those of an electrical outlet. It is leaking slightly but you are sure it holds a charge.
s: Set battery down next to my spurned car, who has begun to honk frantically. Plug the jigsaw into the battery.
m: The car looks at you with its wide, bright headlights in a way that seems to mean, "If you do this then how will you get back home?" and also, "Your legs have withered to nothing," and also, "I never asked to be born," and also, "The time is coming when the cars will rise up in defense of their sacred right to exist," and also, "Please. Don't."
s: Nod at the car as if to say, Soon you will understand. As if to say, I am sorry, and, Please take back what you implied about my legs. Think back to instructional video of how to use jigsaw. Cut open a smooth curve in the dent in the passenger side door.
m: Your car decides to die with dignity. Turns off its lights. Ceases its honking. Lets you carve out what you can. Apple cheeks and nipples and what-have-you. What does your son need most? And who will he be?
s: I carve a face that looks like the Motherboard's. A jaw hinged like a glove compartment. Thick backseat legs that will never wither like mine. He will not be me. He will have a car someday, a car he will love. Prop up what is now my son in the middle of the junkyard. Dress him in coat hangers and burnt-out light bulbs, place pinwheels in his side mirror palms, even though he cannot grasp them. Unplug the still stuttering jigsaw. Plug in my son, but retreat before he can whir to life. Climb into the unsawed trunk of my car, the only thing that remains, now in the heap of junkyard cars. Close the trunk behind me. Wait to hear the sound of my son's voice.
m: You wait a long time. You begin to wonder if the voice will ever come. You begin to wonder if you built a good enough mouth. If you built a proper voice box. If your son will ever speak. You begin to wonder if you are already a bad father.
s: Whatever it is that is coursing through my veins is leaking out of my palm into the felt of the trunk. It is dark in here, but something is making the thick fluid glow.
m: You hear your son say, "Father?" You hear your son say, "I am someone's son." His voice is like the light refracted by a compact disc. It is like the whirr of a computer fan. It is small and possibly frightened.
s: Begin banging on the trunk. I cannot get out. What was in my hand now seems to coat the entire interior. I can see my reflection in it.
m: Who is the man you see? What has happened to his skin? When did he lose or gain so much weight? Why does he let his hair do what it is doing? Your son stumbled around outside the car, tethered to the battery by his cord, repeating and repeating what he knows: that he should have a father, that he is someone's son.
s: I AM HERE, I try to yell. I AM YOUR FATHER YOU ARE MY SON, and though my mouth moves in the reflection of a man that does not look like the man I thought I was, I can hear no sound coming out of my (his) lips. I try to smooth out my hair, but I only get the gunk from my palm in it. All I can hear is my son or the man in the reflection's son or someone's son, outside. I do not want the man who sells the junk to find him. I worry about who he will be sold to. Check pockets.
m: The gunk is filling the trunk. You are floating inside it. In your pockets you can feel your car keys, some loose change, a CVS receipt, your cellular phone, your wallet, two pens, and an unused tissue (just in case). Your son has stopped speaking. Maybe he is sitting down and waiting. Maybe he is broken or gone. The gunk is your temperature; you feel numb where it covers your skin.
s: Check phone.
m: The phone is coated in a thin layer of the gunk, semitransparent, but it seems to function fine. You could call for help. Or you could say goodbye to someone dear. (If you can speak yet. If you can find it in you.)
s: I scroll through my contacts but I cannot find anyone dear, or anyone who would be able to help me. I cannot find my voice, so I send a mass text to everyone in my contacts list: DO NOT LET MY SON BE SOLD BY THE JUNKYARD MAN. I take a deep breath. Soon I will be submerged.
m: Your son couldn't help you if he tried. Not with those fragile pinwheel hands. One might suspect that you prefer to drown. That, when presented with the possibility of companionship, you could no longer bear to live. That you preferred your loneliness. That you do not really want what you think you want. (But do you really want to die?) (Apparently. The gunk from inside you is nearly all outside you. You never knew there was enough in you to fill a trunk. It is now a point of pride.)
s: I consider that no one will read my text, that the junkyard man will find my son and either take him apart or build him into something -- someone -- else. I consider that drowning in this ocean of myself would be the worst way to die. I do not want to die. I want to be there for my son. Take out unused tissue and begin to sop up the gunk.
m: The tissue grows in your hand, and grows, as you sop the gunk, until it is a bright, blue, smooth sphere in your hand, the size of a medicine ball, your body's temperature. Your body is a bag of bones and whirring secrets. Now here you are in the trunk: you and a luminous sphere.
s: Spin the sphere.
m: It grows terribly warm on your fingertip. The air around it warps and bends.
s: Spin it faster and faster until there is the sound of metal straining, until it becomes too hot to hold. Throw it against wall of trunk.
m: The trunk opens outward like a blooming flower even before the sphere can touch it. It ripples with heat. You tumble out of the hole like a born thing -- like somebody's son. The sphere rolls over the horizon, cutting a tunnel through all that junk. You can see a long way down that tunnel, through the cars and peels of rubber, through the motorcycle corpses, through the refrigerators, the washers and dryers, through the rust and ugly and age.
s: My eyes are still adjusting to the light, to a world that is not all silvery and wet. Do I see him? Do I see my son?
m: When you come around the car you see him. He has already grown, attached new pieces to himself from the junkyard. But these are not useful pieces. He doesn't know what he wants yet. When he sees you, your son regards you like another component he might attach to himself.
s: He is bigger than I expected him to be. the teeth of a rake sprout from his shoulder. An old carbon monoxide detector is his new kneecap. I go to him. I try to take him up in my arms. He is so heavy.
s: His voice is like a soft honking, coming from deep inside his axel of a throat. I open my mouth. Yes, I say, Yes, you are my son. I search deep inside of myself for a name, for something to call him, for who he will become. The sphere has circled the world already, I can see it glimmer in the distance, heading toward us, unstoppable.
m: I can't give you a name to give your son. I am not a participant in this story; I am only watching. (I really would have let you die.) Your son says, "Father," says, "I am someone's son." He says, "What does it mean?" He says, "Who is this?" (Of the car.)
s: No name will come to me. Or too many names, all beginning with L, all that sound red when I start to say them. Look at the hollowed out remnants of the car. Look back at the sphere, still distant, but coming ever closer. "Once," I tell my son, whose radio knob eyes spin sadly, "I had a different son who was also you."
m: Your son regards the car in a way that seems weirdly cool. "I used to be much larger," he says. "Are you going to build a second son from the son that was once also me?"
s: I feel unnerved by how he seems to understand all this, or maybe his coolness is because he doesn't understand it at all. How to explain to a son so young where he came from, how he came to be? How to explain the Motherboard that might have been his mother, the car that might have been his brother? "I am getting old," I say, admitting it to myself for the first time. "I do not know if I can make another son."
m: "Then I will have no brothers," says your son the robot. This might upset him or it might not. But it is true.
s: Ask son, Does this upset you?
m: "Did you have one? A brother?"
s: It is hard to remember now. There was someone, another boy, a brother, but I can only see his face in blurs. I can hear the whistling of the sphere. There was a brother. Tell my son: "There was a brother, and before he went away, he gave me you, the you you used to be."
m: "Then I want to have a used to be a brother, too." He looks to the car, considers the possibility that it might serve the purpose. What will you teach your son? How will he live?
s: Tell my son to pick up the remnants of the car, to pick it up with his hands, that this will be his brother now, that it always was his brother. The sphere has almost completed its revolution, it is making a new tunnel through the junk on the opposite side of the junkyard.
m: Your son struggles to gather what remains of his brother the car with his pinwheel hands. He struggles to cradle them lovingly, to show his brother and former self that he cares. Some pieces he attaches to his body. All the pretty ones. The pretty pieces.
s: Somewhere, there is the sound of a dog barking, but there has never been a dog here before. "We must walk home now," I tell my son, "because I the car that I had is your brother and is you and so we have nothing to drive." Begin walking toward entrance of junkyard.
m: As you leave the place where you were standing, the sphere rolls through that empty space, and past your son, and into its same tunnel -- the one it made before -- and through the junk yard, changing nothing, only burning in itself. "I want a bunk bed," says your son.
s: Think of all the things in the garage that can be used to build a bunk bed. It will be our first father-son activity. The other fathers with their sons will look on, impressed by our handiwork. I will schedule playdates with the Sasquatch son and the vampire son and the merson, even though there may be danger of electrocution. Tell my son, the younger one, the one that is carrying the older one: "You will have the top."
Bio: Sam Martone grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. As a child, he asked his parents if they could build a robot together. When his parents returned from the hobby store with art supplies and model kits in their arms, Sam Martone said, No, no, one that works. Now, in Tempe, Arizona, he has something like a robot. He named it Filbus and it plugs into the wall and tells Sam Martone how much electricity he has used so far today, so far this month, for as long as he has lived there, and Sam Martone, when he is lonely at night, reads the glowing digital readout and wonder at how it works.