Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Companion

“I’m the black sheep of the family,” Odette would joke, “ha ha.”
She was the only one with any melanin in the Faber family—
the Fabers of St. Paul, Minnesota, that is.
Art museums and opera houses and botanical gardens
proudly wore the Faber name and gladly accepted Faber money.
But Odette was the product of a brief relationship between
Bridget Faber and Miles Rojas, who was “both black and Mexican,”
Uncle Douglas would say with some distaste.
(But he was actually Venezuelan.)
Bridget flitted in and out of Odette’s life,
with a beatific hippie smile and broken promises,
and Odette was mostly raised by her father’s older sister, Lettie.
Odette got her IT degree and moved to Portland
and didn’t think much of the Fabers at all,
but would call her Grandma Diana
from time to time on holidays, having decided that Diana
was the only Faber worth knowing.

Like most very old people, Grandma Diana
eventually passed away,
surrounded by her wealth and passive-aggression.
Odette was surprised to learn
that she had been remembered in Grandma Diana’s will.
She hadn’t been invited to the funeral.
When she arrived in St. Paul,
a gentle snowfall blanketed the streets in mid-March,
and Odette sighed.
Uncle Douglas offered to take her to a nice dinner,
and she wasn’t really dressed for it.
A steakhouse with a roaring fireplace
and white linen tablecloths on fine wooden tables.
She didn’t even mention that she was vegetarian.
Felt it would put Uncle Douglas out somehow,
and anyway, he obviously had something on his mind
as he swirled his tumbler of expensive bourbon.

“My mother always liked you,” he stated,
the downturned corner of his mouth revealing
that he disagreed.
“And I happen to know the particulars of her will,” he explained.
“She left you her Companion” and let the stunned silence
hang over them for a moment.
“She…had a Companion?” Odette asked, nearly choking.
With a weary sigh, Douglas replied, “Yes, we didn’t like to speak of it.”

They are very rare now,
but Companions were once quite popular.
Androids designed to provide love and friendship
and, yes, sex
to the lonely and the wealthy.
They were often designed to look like movie stars
or models
or deceased loved ones
or whatever you wanted.
Now they are considered sex dolls for pathetic people.
And unlike the service androids and maintenance androids
and construction androids still widely in use today,
most people’s Companions had been deactivated long ago.

“But…” Odette asked, “What am I supposed to do with it?”
Uncle Douglas appeared to change the subject.
“I understand that we haven’t always been kind to you,
and you haven’t been given your due as a Faber.
And yes, you are a Faber.
We haven’t always embraced…diversity.
I would like to use some of my mother’s money
to make this right.”
“I would appreciate that,” Odette replied,
and the waitress appeared to provide her
with another glass of an exquisite red wine.
“I presume you probably have student loans
or would like to buy a house?” Uncle Douglas proposed.
“That would be nice,” she replied.
“Then why don’t I help you achieve those dreams,
in exchange for you doing me a simple favor?”
“And that would be…?”
“Take the Companion to its factory in Atlanta,
where it can be quietly deactivated,
and our family can be unburdened.”
She knew damn well, of course,
that other members of the family
would get their money with no strings attached.
But it was a no-brainer to Odette.
“Sure.  Road trip with a sex toy.”

They had to rent a banquet room in a hotel
just to read the will.
There were prominent Fabers and distant Fabers
and Fabers twice removed.
Even some non-Fabers
who somehow got in to gawk
at the transference of unimaginable wealth.
“What a bunch of assholes,”
Odette thought as she took a seat in the last row.
She knew in advance that her inheritance
was not going to be mentioned here.
Only her immediate family even knew
of the Companion’s quasi-existence,
and they preferred to keep it that way.

The Companion’s name was Thomas,
but Odette was determined not to use it.
It wasn’t human, she reminded herself.
He was secured in a locked bedroom of Diana’s home,
in the historical district.
He smiled hopefully when she walked in the room.
“Are you Odette?” Thomas asked with a smile.
“Diana talked a lot about you.”
Odette paused.  He seemed so normal.
There was a sad hopefulness in his green eyes.
Then she remembered his purpose and shuddered.
“Come on,” she told him tersely.
“We need to get on the road.”
“Yes,” he replied and grabbed a suitcase.
Odette stared at the suitcase in shock.
They must not have told him.
Great, just great.
She reached down to take the suitcase.
It was lightly packed.
“Oh no, no, I can take that,” he insisted,
and their hands touched.
Warm and soft,
as if blood were flowing through his veins.
Those hands ran through her grandmother’s
hair and gently caressed her body…ugh. Gross.
He had a handsome, symmetric face
sharp cheekbones
thin, English lips.
Not Odette’s type.
Of course, she also preferred her men to be real.
“I just wanted to say,” Thomas began nervously,
“that I am very sorry for your loss.
Of course, I can’t feel as you do,
but my purpose was to care for your grandmother.
Her death affects me.”
“Um, thanks.”  Odette tried to turn to leave.
“Your grandmother recorded a special message for you.
It’s recorded in my memory,
and only you can access it.  Order me to ‘play message.’”
“Play message,” Odette sat down on the bed,
narrowed, suspicious eyes.
Thomas suddenly adopted her grandmother’s voice
as she spoke.
Odette nearly fell off the bed.

“My dearest Odette,” Thomas read
in a raspy, elderly, sick woman’s voice.
“I’m sure this is all very confusing
and embarrassing
to you. I would feel the same. 
Like leaving you a living, breathing vibrator!”
She started laughing. Then a brief coughing fit.
“But I’m desperate, honey,
and I know you’re the only one I can turn to.
I know these kids and grandkids and nieces
and nephews and cousins of mine
would put poor Thomas on the scrap heap.
They never liked him,
would never let him join us at the dinner table,
made me lock him away,
never let me talk about him,
constantly begged me to send him to Atlanta.
Odette, I love this man,
and I will tell you that he is a man.
A mechanical man
but with more of a heart and soul
than anyone I’ve ever known.
That was why I had to give him to you.
Because I knew that you have a heart
and a conscience,
and you are going to tell Douglas
to stick his money where the sun don’t shine,
and you will take Thomas to California.
There’s a small island off the northern coast
where he can be free.
I know I didn’t do right by you, honey.
I let them bully you out of the family.
If I gave you any money,
you’d spend it all battling the rest of them in court.
But I do love you,
and out of all the relations,
you’re the only one who reminds me of Thomas—
your grandfather, Thomas,
who died before you were born.
Please do this for me.
It’s my only real dying wish.”

“Well, shit,” Odette whispered
as the message ended.

“Should I…direct the car to take us to Atlanta or California?” Thomas asked.
He looked terrified, but he couldn’t be terrified.
Odette chewed on the knuckle of her index finger for a moment.
“Chicago,” she eventually responded.

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