“I don’t know if I’m hungry.”
“A healthy breakfast is important.”
Mike tilted his head and looked questioningly.
“It is important for you to be healthy, Mike. I’ve already started you on a regimen of exercise. It is important that you eat well too.”
“All right then.” He got up and made his way to the shower.
True to her word and her name, Patience was waiting patiently with a piece of whole wheat toast and a glass of grapefruit-pineapple juice.
“What now?” he asked as he ate.
“You have to work today,” Patience replied. “We will go to the gym for our workout later.”
It was Mike’s last day of the school year. He had already packed away everything that needed to be packed, so all he really had to do was show up and wait for the principal to check him out. By eleven, he was done. He had walked to school, and he walked back home to find Patience at the door in a tight pair of red shorts and a white spaghetti tank. He had a small salad for lunch, and then they went to the gym.
“Are we going to exercise every day over the summer?” Mike asked on the way.
“Five times a week.”
Time at the gym went quickly and Mike suffered only a small amount of discomfort from his stomach. Afterwards, as they drove home, Mike asked Patience to stop at the cemetery.
“I promised Tiffany that I would stop by every week, but I haven’t been there in months. Of course, she was dead when I promised her, so it’s not like she heard me.”
Patience pulled the car into the cemetery gate and drove around at Mike’s direction until they reached the southeast corner, where the green of the grass met the tan of the surrounding desert. Mike climbed out and walked to the marker at the head of his wife’s grave. The marker was covered with bits of grass from the last time the lawn was mowed, as well as bits of dirt. He knelt down and brushed it off. Tiffany Louise Smith 1984-2021, little enough to sum up a lifetime. 2021! Could it really be eleven years? That didn’t seem possible.
“Who is buried here?” asked Patience.
Mike looked up. A few feet from Tiffany’s grave was another. Affixed to the flat grave marker was an upright statue, about a foot tall, of an angel, a little girl with wings, wearing a nightgown and holding a flower in her left hand, her right hand raising a handkerchief to her eye.
“Some poor little child.”
Home once again, Mike took another shower and had a quick nap before getting up to play a few games of Age of Destruction on vueTee. Pausing the game, he went to the kitchen to get a diet Pepsi and noticed for the first time that the kitchen cabinets had been scrubbed clean. He opened one to find it reorganized inside. This sent him on a tour around the house. He went into the garage to find that what had once been only the home of a gigantic mound of surplus junk had been reorganized. Tiffany’s Tesla, which hadn’t been driven or even charged in more than two years, was clean and polished. There was actually enough room for Mike’s Chevy to sit beside it, and it had never known the interior of the garage. Most of the room’s contents were now on the shelves along the walls, and what remained was neatly stacked against the west wall to either side of the inside door.
He went upstairs to find that Harriet’s old room, once almost as buried as the garage floor, had also been cleaned and organized. Though the right side of the room was now filled with labeled boxes, the left side had been cleared completely out. Mike noticed that the closet now contained Patience’s growing wardrobe. Even the pictures on the walls had been dusted, though they still were just as oddly placed as they had been. Lucas’s room, which had not been nearly so cluttered, was now empty with the exception of an exercise mat in the center of the floor.
“Just as you wanted.” said Patience speaking right behind his left ear.
“Shit! You startled me.”
“I can’t believe how much you’ve done in a week. What are you doing now—alphabetizing my underwear?”
“No. I was on the phone with Harriet. She invited us to dinner.”
“Hmm. Both of us?”
“Yes. She specifically asked that I come too.”
“Speaking of Harriet, what are you planning for her room?”
“I didn’t have any plans yet,” said Patience.
“Why don’t we make it a guest room? You can move your clothes into my closet. God knows I don’t need all that room.”
“As you wish,” she replied sweetly.
Later Mike hopped in the passenger side of the car and let Patience drive them to Greendale, to Harriet’s house. Patience wore what she referred to as a red bra-top dress, though it didn’t look at all bra-like to Mike, and a pair of matching three and a half inch wedge shoes. Mike wore a pair of tan slacks and a matching pullover shirt which Patience picked out for him. He was quite happy as they made their journey. It was a beautiful day. There wasn’t much traffic. And just having Patience with him seemed to make him happy.
Harriet greeted them with a smile. When Harriet’s husband Jack saw Patience, his mouth fell open.
“Put your tongue and your eyeballs back in your head,” said Mike, as he walked passed him. Then for good measure, Harriet smacked Jack on the back of the head. As he sat down, Mike looked at Patience to see alarm on her face.
“What?” he asked.
“Are you mad at me, Mike?”
“No. Of course not. Why?”
“You were making an angry face.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I was just worrying about something I don’t even need to worry about.”
“I don’t like for you to worry, Mike.” she said. “I want to make all of your worries go away.”
Inside, they sat and talked for a while. Harriet, who worked at a dentist’s office, regaled them with stories of bad teeth and bad breath. Then she talked about Jack’s baseball team. He played with a group of men from his office. Finally she started telling them about her gardening. She described in great detail all of the plants that she had recently added to her yard. Mike wasn’t paying too much attention. He tended to zone out. Once Harriet got started on a topic she usually wrestled it to the ground and killed it.
“Get away!” shouted Mike, when one of Harriet’s dogs suddenly stuck its nose in his crotch.
“I know you really like dogs, Daddy,” said Harriet. “You just pretend you don’t.”
“I like dogs fine, when they aren’t sniffing where they shouldn’t be sniffing.”
“They are just curious about you,” she said. “I’m surprised they aren’t sniffing at you, Patience. They don’t seem to even notice you.”
“Hey Harriet,” said Mike. “Didn’t you just say you needed some more potting soil or something?”
“You’ll never know how surprised I am that you heard that much of what I said,” she replied. “But yes, I do.”
“Let’s run over to Lowe’s and get it.”
“Well, I have the quiche halfway done.”
“Patience can finish that up for you,” said Mike, looking at his girlfriend for, and seeing in her face, confirmation. “You and I can run to the store.”
“I thought real men didn’t eat quiche,” said Jack.
“Real men eat whatever the hell they want to eat,” said Mike, managing to keep most of the derision out of his tone.
“Come on Daddy,” said Harriet.
Father and daughter took a quick drive down the block to the neighborhood home improvement store. Mike hadn’t really wanted to help pick out potting soil. What he wanted was more reassurance that his daughter was not bothered by his relationship with a robot. She was very reassuring. She seemed as happy that Patience was in her father’s life as he was. Their conversation on the topic ended just before they reached home again with two forty pound bags of planting soil.
“One more thing Dad,” said Harriet, who only called Mike “Dad” when she was angry or serious. “Try to be nicer to Jack. Don’t talk to him like he’s a moron.”
“Well he is a…”
“It’s his house, Dad.”
“Yeah, all right,” conceded Mike.
Mike tossed the two bags of soil over his shoulder, ignoring the short stabbing pain from his stomach, and followed Harriet through the gate and around the house to the back yard. He tossed the bags down beside the flower bed and dusted the dirt off of his shirt.
“Why don’t you go see if Patience needs any help,” said Harriet. “I want to get these last two Verbena in the ground before dinner.”
Mike walked in and found Patience standing by the stove and Jack leaning on the counter nearby. Patience gave him the kind of smile most people reserve for someone they thought lost at sea or perhaps for Hunter Tylo when she was carrying an oversized novelty check for ten million dollars from Digital Clearinghouse. There was something shifty in Jack’s expression though. Mike asked what was going on. They both spoke at once.
“Jack fondled me.”
The look of shock had not even completely registered on Jack’s face when Mike grabbed him by the shirt collar and dragged him through the kitchen and out the door into the garage. Calling for Patience to stay and finish dinner, he shut the door after him. Jack was beginning to square his shoulders. Mike shoved him back against the wall of the garage.
“Hey, don’t get all jealous,” Jack began. “She’s just a sexbot.”
Mike grabbed Jack’s face in his right hand and slammed it once again into the wall, this time making a large round dent in the unfinished wallboard. He squeezed his fingers together until Jack looked as though he were doing an imitation of a fish.
“You don’t get it!” hissed Mike. “This isn’t about Patience! This is about Harriet! This is about my daughter!”
Jack’s eyes got rounder.
“If you ever hurt my little girl, if you ever cheat on her, I will kill you.”
Once more, Jack’s head slammed against the wall.
“If you want to leave. Tell her. Get a divorce. Now is a good time. There aren’t any kids yet. But if you stick around and then cheat on her, I will kill you.
“I… will… kill… you.” said Mike. “It won’t be quick. It won’t be painless. And you know what? I’ll even get away with it. Look me in the eye. See if you can tell if I’m serious or not.”
Jack’s round eyes rolled over in his head to focus on Mike’s close, way too close, face. A look of recognition crossed those eyes. Mike crinkled his nose and looked down at the spreading wet spot in Jack’s pants and the widening puddle of urine forming on the floor around Jack’s shoes. Mike let go.
“Get cleaned up,” he said, heading back into the house.
Harriet was in the kitchen with Patience, washing her hands in the sink.
“What were you two talking about in the garage?” she asked.
“I was just apologizing for being such an ass before,” said Mike, as he heard Jack enter behind him. “But, uh, Jack spilled his drink. So he needs to go change his pants.”
“That’s fine,” said Harriet. “Patience and I are just getting ready to set the table.”
Mike thought that it was the best quiche that he had ever eaten. Sautéed green beans and fresh fruit completed the meal. Harriet was a little concerned that Patience wasn’t eating anything, but Mike assured her that this was completely normal. He also pointed out that Jack wasn’t eating much either. Jack apparently didn’t feel well and everyone agreed that he looked a little green around the gills.
“I heard you speaking to Jack in the garage,” said Patience on their way home.
“Did you hear everything?” asked Mike.
“Are you upset with me?”
“No, Mike. I could never be upset with you.”
“I just thought that you might be disappointed that I wasn’t more jealous over you.”
“You’re not feeling jealous yourself? Or upset that I love Harriet more than I love you?”
“I would expect you to love her more than you love me,” said Patience. “You have known me for only a few days. You’ve known her all her life. Your love for your children is just one of the many things I like about you, Mike.”
When they returned home, there were several packages waiting on the front step. Two were quite large—as big as the box that Patience had arrived in. One was small and flat. Three others were odd configurations. Mike picked up the small, flat package and examined the address.
Mr. Mike Smith
11 North Willow
Springdale, California 82803
As it turned out, this was the only one of the packages addressed to him. The others had all been sent to Patience D. Smith at the same address.
“What the hell is all this?” wondered Mike.
“These are some of the purchases that I have made,” Patience replied.
“These aren’t all clothes?”
“Of course not, Mike. I’ve started selling some of your old things on eBay, and I realized that there were a number of things that I could buy and sell for a profit.”
“Are you sure? There’s a lot of junk on eBay. That’s why I sell all mine there.”
“I’m sure. This package is from Submit Fashions.”
“Really?” wondered Mike. “That sounds like some kind of fetish shop.”
“Well it isn’t,” said Patience. “It’s a store that sells sexy clothing for young ladies.”
“Such as yourself.”
“Such as myself. I noticed that you enjoyed watching me in my new clothes.”
“Indeed I do,” replied Mike.
They took the packages in and Patience removed most of them to the garage. Mike sat down and opened the one small package that had his name on it. Inside was a new texTee. It was like the one that he had used in the hospital. It had a brushed grey finish and a larger screen than did his old one. He turned it over and flipped the on switch.
“Good evening, Mike,” it said aloud.
“Do you like it?” asked Patience from the hallway.
“It’s beautiful, but I wasn’t planning on buying a new one. My texTee isn’t that old.”
“I noticed that you liked the one at the hospital,” she said.
“I did like it, but I don’t remember saying anything about it.”
Patience poked her head around the corner and grinned. “It won’t be long before I know what you need before you even know that you need it.”
“Just as long as you don’t tell me ‘I’m sorry Mike, I’m afraid I can’t do that”.
“I doubt I’ll need to do that,” she replied.
“Well there you go.” Mike turned back to his new texTee. Time Magazine was loaded and he began reading the political department.
“What do you think?” asked Patience a few minutes later, now back in the center of the living room.
“I think Barlow is an asshole. Why is he cozying up to the religious right? You know he hates them.”
“I mean about my clothes.”
“Holy Crap!” said Mike, looking up at last. “I thought you said that wasn’t a fetish store.”
“It is not a fetish store. This is what all the young women are wearing.”
“Then all the young women are dressing like sluts.”
Patience was wearing a halter top and a pair of short shorts, both of which were made of some kind of very shiny white plastic material. She had a matching pair of shin high white boots with platform soles that had to be three inches high.
“How do you propose to walk in those?”
“I can walk just fine,” said Patience, and began doing a sort of 1970s electric slide, sideways across the living room. “Does that mean you don’t like my new clothes?”
“I didn’t say that,” Mike laughed. “Did you buy a swimsuit from Slave Fashions…?”
“Whatever. Did you?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. Would you like to see it?”
“No. Save it for tomorrow. We’re going to the beach.”
“That is very exciting, Mike,” said Patience, exactly as excited about it as she was about anything Mike suggested.
Mike spent the remainder of the evening gathering together everything that they would need for a day at the beach. Then he watched the news and joined Patience who was waiting in bed for him. They spent a very enjoyable half hour together there, and afterwards Mike had just enough awareness to note her leaving him alone as he dozed off.
In the morning Mike loaded the beach chairs, umbrellas, and towels into the car, along with the ice chest full of food and drinks that Patience had prepared before he had gotten up. They hopped in the car and drove west. Though they were in California, Springdale was a good three hour drive from the coast. The time went by quickly though. Mike listened to the radio. Patience watched him with devotion in her eyes.
After three hours and eight minutes of driving Mike reached Oceanside, California. He pulled into a filling station two blocks away from the beach and topped off the car’s fuel.
“Hydrogen?” he asked, pointing the hose in Patience’s direction.
“No, thank you.”
He noticed that across the street was a surf shop. He sent Patience over to rent a boogie board. When she arrived back, she not only had the boogie board, but a shopping bag as well.
“What did you buy?” he asked.
“Since I have a new swim suit, I thought that it was only appropriate that you have one as well.”
“Oh shit,” said Mike. “Good thinking. I didn’t even pack one. I don’t think I even have one anymore. It’s been so long since I came to the beach. I hope you remembered that I am a fat, old man.”
“I don’t believe that you are fat or old,” said Patience, with a frown. “The average lifespan in the United States is seventy nine point three years for men, and you already look healthier after only a few days of exercise and nutritional eating.”
“Talk about damning with faint praise,” grumbled Mike.
They drove the two blocks to the beach, but the public parking lot was completely full. Mike paid forty-five dollars to park his car for the day in a private lot. Normally, he would have complained about having to pay so much just to park, but nothing seemed to bother him anymore. After trucking the ice chest, chairs, towels, umbrella, and boogie board down to the sand, and finding a good spot just above the high tide line, the two of them went to the public changing rooms.
Mike liked the swimsuit that Patience had picked out for him. It was long, almost to his knees, and was bright orange, yellow, and red. He thought it was the type of suit that a young man would wear. It made his head swell a little to think that Patience thought it was appropriate for him. When he stepped out of the changing room and saw Patience in her suit, his mouth fell open. Her suit was without a doubt, the smallest bikini that he had ever seen. Even on the internet. The little patch of material in the front could not have been more than an inch wide and it stuck up only an inch and a half above the joining point of her legs. The back had no patch of cloth at all. It was just string. The top could have been custom made for her, in that the two triangular cups so fit her round ripe breasts that there was not a jot of material wasted. Wondering if she might be arrested for indecent exposure, Mike looked around. He was shocked to find that most of the young women at the beach were wearing suits very similar. It had been a long time since he had been here.
Though there were plenty of women with small sexy suits on the sandy shore, Mike noted that almost every eye still turned to Patience as they walked to the beach chairs. While he sat, Patience rubbed SPF 210 sun block on all of his exposed surfaces.
“I suppose you don’t need any sun block?” he asked.
“I’m shielded against much greater radiation that I am likely to be exposed to here, Mike.” Patience replied.
“So you don’t tan?”
“No. I will remain always the shade that you chose when you ordered me.”
For the next several hours, Mike and Patience hopped through the surf, built a sand castle, knocked it down, pulled each other along on the boogie board, and had a great time. Though he was initially concerned about water getting into the small openings in the back of her neck, Patience showed Mike that she had protected against such a calamity by covering the area with a clear plastic patch. By the time Mike thought about food it was early afternoon. Patience had packed quite a picnic lunch–sandwiches, fruit, Jell-o, and diet sodas. After he ate, they swam, and continued playing in the surf, Mike pointedly entering the water without waiting for an hour. He refused to be responsible for propagating an old wives’ tale.
When night eventually fell they strolled along the beach, listening to the pounding of the waves. They walked to the opposite end of the stretch of sand, several miles from where they had parked, and found a seafood restaurant. They smiled and talked over the candle-lit dinner, though Patience didn’t eat. Then walked back down the darkened beach, hand in hand, pausing every so often to look at the moon reflecting off the waves. When they reached their picnic site, they found they were all alone on the sand.
Patience leaned over and kissed Mike deeply, her tongue darting in and out of his mouth. He returned her kisses and more. She deftly removed the tiny bottom of her swim suit and pulled him over onto her, as he frantically pulled at the strings that held up his trunks. Their lovemaking left a sensual imprint in the sandy beach.
“Like sea otters,” said Patience.
“That was a pretty good day,” said Mike.
They gathered up their belongings and carried them back to the car. Loading the things in the back seat, Mike opened the passenger door for Patience and then climbed in to the driver’s side.
“Yes, this certainly was a pretty good day.”