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Clockwork Wives

You are not the only android at your husband's funeral.
Adrian, one of Jack's friends from work, has a new wife, short and dark-haired and delicate, the Clockwork Wives logo on her wrist half-concealed by a stack of silver bangles. She sits three pews behind you, but you hear the ticking of her heart, too soft for human ears. It's a soothing sound, and you focus on it throughout the course of the service. Not the glaring eyes around you. Not the fact that you have no idea what happened to Adrian's previous two wives.
Adrian and his wife leave the moment the service ends, his left hand locked in a death grip on her shoulder. Her eyes meet yours a second before Adrian pulls her through the doors, and they are so devoid of light they might as well be glass buttons on the face of an unloved toy.
The funeral is mercifully short, as are the mumbled condolences afterwards. The pastor comes up to you before he leaves and hands you a card.
"Something to think about," he murmurs, in the same rushed, slightly embarrassed tone of voice you might use to tell someone that they have a stain on their shirt or spinach in their teeth.
You look at the card, emblazoned with the name of the nearest reprogramming facility, just outside of town. You swallow, and you nod wordlessly. He ducks his head once, and then he's gone.
From their seat in the back, Mr. and Mrs. Silver are staring at you, their eyes as hollow and cold as February ice.
You've only seen them in pictures. Your husband told you about them, about how they vowed they would have nothing to do with him after they commissioned an android of his late wife, their daughter. The real Margo Ricci.
For one desperate moment, you want to run to them. To fall to your knees and beg them to take you home with them, to make you useful again.
But you're not Margo, you're not even her shadow. At best you're her portrait, her eyes without their light.
They leave without another glance, and you are alone.
There's been some debate over whether or not androids experience love the same way humans do. None of said debates involve actual androids, of course, but you yourself cannot decide if what you felt for your late husband even constituted affection.
He was not an evil man, and he was not cruel to you. You were never afraid of him in the way so many Clockwork Wives are afraid of their husbands. But he never stopped hoping that he could shape you into the wife he lost. You saw it in his eyes every time he asked you to choose a movie to watch after supper and you unknowingly picked one of her favorites, every time you wore Margo's clothes, every time you cooked him a meal the two of them had once eaten together on a date. He never stopped hoping, and it disgusted you, that hope, that stupid, flightless bird of wanting. You felt the same disgust with yourself when you saw human women in the streets, with their bright eyes and soft skin and the infinite possibilities of their lives. Such a stupid thing for the metal ghost of a man's dead wife to want: more.
After the funeral, you sit in your husband's favorite chair and almost call the reprogramming facility thirteen times.
It would be a good ending, a logical one. You've served your purpose, and now it is time to sleep. The minerals that power your heart do not come cheap; wars have been fought over them, lives lost. It is easier for everyone when Clockwork Wives give back. You picture your eyes in another's face, your heart beating in another's body.
Though you've never told anyone, there's a part of you that wants release. Not suicide, exactly, but the chance to rest. You wish to find your life's back door and slip through it, like a party guest who has outstayed her welcome.
But that's the thing about hearts: whether flesh or metal, they want to keep beating, even on the days when you wish they would stop.
In the end, you decide it is a decision that can wait till the morning.
You wake to the sound of rain pelting your window and a sharp tapping at your front door.
You are slow to approach the foyer. There are those in the neighborhood that see androids as an affront to God and nature. Now that you are alone, there is little to prevent them from hurting you.
When you look through the peephole, however, it is not any of the neighbors that you see.
Adrian's third wife flinches almost imperceptibly when you finally open the door. In the icy blue light of the dawn, she looks even smaller than she did at the funeral, and disturbingly young. Her feet are bare and dirty, and the thin sleep shirt she wears is ripped at the shoulder.
"I had to leave in a hurry," she says, then snorts ruefully, as if her words are the understatement of the century. "I'm sorry, but I don't have anywhere else to go."
For a moment, you just look at her, and the only sound is the ticking of your hearts, a sound that only you can hear. For the first time, you realize that she can hear yours too.
You open the door, and she crosses the threshold.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
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