As mentioned, we’re starting a new challenge — the Genre Writing Challenge. Each round, the three writers — Perry, Gary, and I — will write a story on a genre. The Twins decided the Third genre is Science Fiction.
For the record, I think this is a difficult assignment if trying to think of something in the future. That’s because we’ve easily exceeded expectations — well, some expectations, the more reasonable ones from 20-30 years ago, let alone from 50 or 100 years ago — and completely missed amazing things that are now commonplace in much of the world. I mean, Captain Kirk and Spock would be very envious of my Galaxy S23 Ultra . . . probably as envious as I am of their Phasers.
Anyway, we’re again staggering the publication of the stories, and this is Perry’s story.
Our usual disclaimer:
The writing challenge has no restrictions, and the stories span a wide gamut of subjects. The majority of the stories fall in the PG range, with a few perhaps pushing into the R range. Those ratings are guidelines, but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. The same goes if you are not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
So, without further ado, here’s Perry’s contribution to the Science Fiction genre.
Wait . . . first, the blurb:
Winifred and Darlene are a disgruntled lesbian couple searching for a more fulfilling relationship. Desperate, they turn to technology…introducing a Third member – a cyborg designed to meet specific needs. What could go wrong?
Copyright 2023 — Perry Broxson
(5,150 words – approx. reading time: about 19 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Darlene and Winifred, a middle-aged bi-racial lesbian couple, had just celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary with a lavish, 9-day vacation on St. John Island. Each had hoped, in their own way, to rekindle the waning flames of their marriage. Darlene would have been quite delighted with serial evenings of wild nightlife and sweaty sexcapades on the Caribbean beaches. Winifred, being more reserved, pined primarily for a stronger emotional and spiritual connection. Such was the Hole Mate vs Soul Mate conundrum that has bedeviled straights and gays since the beginning of hominid bond-paring.
In the lesbian community, there is a term for what Winifred and Darlene were experiencing. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it is called the Lesbian Death Bed – the inevitable dry seasons wherein that ladies of a certain age exchange libidinous rollicks for sexless, restful nights.
Now, on the Sunday morning of their return from the island, the ghost of hopelessness accompanied them in their bedroom. They’d arrived late the previous night and had not bothered to unpack. Winifred got up first. She bustled frenetically, flushing the toilet and brushing her teeth, hoping to awaken her partner. She winced as Darlene bugled a musical fart and rolled over. Resigned, Winifred wrapped herself in her robe and headed downstairs.
Once, just once, it would be peachy if Darlene got up first and made the morning coffee, Winifred brooded. God forbid, assemble some manner of breakfast.
Winifred made coffee and bacon. She was a vegetarian, so the bacon was for Darlene. At 10:49am, when Darlene shuffled into the kitchen, Winifred was sipping coffee and poking at her yogurt while posting vacation photos on FaceBook.
Darlene pointed at the coffee mug Winifred was using. “That’s not the mug I got you. Don’t you like it?”
Winifred peeked through the wreath of steam and said, “I may have accidentally left it in St. John. Sorry, hon.”
Darlene reached into her robe pocket and presented the mug in question, then clunked it down on the kitchen counter.
“Good thing I remembered it. Tell me, did you forget to pack it on purpose?” Darlene asked, one hand on her hip.
Winifred had learned two things the day she’d opened Darlene’s gift. One: the 18th wedding anniversary gift was not one signified by diamonds, gold, or silver, but porcelain. Something she did not know – and would have giddily gone to her grave without knowing. And two: her partner in life, Darlene Carter, thought her to be (A) Cold, (B) Bitter, and (C) Black. She was black. She’d give her that. But the other two descriptors – no way. She was the opposite of bitter and cold; she was sweet and warm. Some said: charming, darling, and damn-near effervescent. Never bitter and never, never cold.
But there it was, printed on the porcelain mug, in stark 36-point Comic Sans font. “I like my bitches like I like my coffee: cold, black, and bitter.”
“It’s a joke,” Darlene had said, seeing Winifred’s crestfallen face. “Christ, it’s gotten where you can’t take a joke, Wini.”
“Jokes are supposed to be funny, not hurtful,” Winifred had snapped. “What’s funny about cold, black, and bitter . . . not to mention, bitch?”
Darlene had pursed her lips prissily and defensively: “So you lied when you said you liked it? All I ask is that you be honest with me, Wini.”
“That’s alllll you ask?” Winfred had responded, rolling her eyes. “Only that – nothing more?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Darlene asked, knowing the answer.
Winifred wagged her finger like a metronome needle, her head following her cadence. “You’re always pawing at me, like some moony-eyed horn-dog teenager. Undressing me with your eyes. You make me feel like a cheap piece of meat.”
Darlene crossed her arms and set her jaw. The fight was on. “You used to enjoy the attention – my attraction to you. Now, you’re never in the mood or you’ve got one of your timely migraines. Every time you reject my advances, you ask me to reject my desires. To repress my sexuality. To close my eyes and shut my thighs and deny my womanly needs. Look at me, Winifred. I’m a beautiful, juicy dyke in the prime of her life. I am Sargent Darlene Carter – out and proud. I am a strong white gay lady and I need a partner that can satisfy me. I will not go quietly into the Lesbian Death Bed.”
They argued, did the ladies, until Winifred got a call from her office. “I’ve got to go; it’s important.”
“And this ain’t?” Darlene quipped, pointing to her vagina. “It’s been . . . gawd only knows . . . five months, six? And not once on vacation . . . not fucking once. Now I know why they call them the Virgin Islands.”
Winifred wanted to stay and lecture her partner about nuances of intimacy, to inform her for the 999th time that love was not lust, that the full heart was far more sensual than an engorged clitoris. But duty called. There’d been a mishap in the lab. Something about a rogue cyborg.
That night, when Dr. Winifred Williams-Carter got home from the lab, bedraggled and beleaguered, she was met at the door by her wife and sometimes lover.
“We gotta talk,” Darlene said, brandishing a bottle of Winifred’s favorite wine – a Quarisa Merlot from Australia.
“Darlene,” Winifred protested, “not tonight. My head’s pounding. You have no idea how shitty my day was.”
Darlene, a city cop, considered kicking off a competition – informing Winifred that she had to mop vomit out of her squad car after a meth-hag tried to swallow her stash – but opted for a more conciliatory approach.
Instead of arguing, Darlene took her wife by the hand and led her out to the patio, where she’d assembled a spectacular charcuterie platter, replete with vegetarian delights.
“Humus?” Winifred marveled. “Chickpea Spinach? Grape leaves? Naan? And the cheeses . . . so many effing cheeses! Dar, you really outdid yourself. Our anniversary was last week. I’m afraid to ask – to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Us,” Darlene said, filling both glasses with the ruby red elixir. “To the pleasure of us.”
Winifred tried to hide her skeptical face, but failed. “Us . . . suddenly us? We just had nine days of ‘us’ time in the Virgin Islands. Now you want to do us?”
“Not do us, celebrate us,” Darlene corrected. “I want to celebrate us for all the wonderful things we share – the things that we have in common, and more importantly, the things we do not have in common.”
“Oh, my,” Winifred said. “Someone had a session with her therapist today.”
Darlene refrained from arguing, swallowing an olive instead. “I did, Winifred. It was a breakthrough session. Dr. Randy guided me toward the perfect solution.”
“Solution?” Winifred asked, gulping merlot.
“The solution to our problem.”
Darlene sighed and smiled, remembering her therapist’s advice to count to 10. “Sorry, challenge,” she said, “not problem.”
“And what is it that you perceive to be our greatest challenge, Dar?”
“Sex,” Darlene said, turning her palms up, offering the obvious.
“Sex?” Winifred asked.
Darlene refreshed her drink, tipping the bottle generously. “You’re a doctor, Winifred. You’re smart. I don’t have to tell you that we have different sex drives. I’m a Maserati and you’re a . . .”
“An ’86 Yugo?” Winifred interrupted.
Darlene shook her head. “I was going to say Cadillac . . . a practical but luxurious sedan, Midnight Black, stock, no after-market accessories, reliable and loveable.”
Winifred laughed and rubbed her temples. “Such a sweet-talker. You had me at practical, Dar. Tell ya what, let’s cut to the chase. I feel a boomer coming on. This wine’s not helping my headache.”
“Okay,” Darlene said. “I’ll just say it.”
“Say it,” Winifred challenged.
Darlene cleared her throat and looked directly into Winifred’s brown eyes. “We need a Third.”
Winifred sipped her wine, put down the glass, then picked it up and sipped again. “A Third . . . a third what?”
“Don’t gaslight me, Winifred,” Darlene said. “You know what I mean.”
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
“No,” Darlene snapped, “you’re afraid that you do. You’re afraid that I’m suggesting – no, demanding – that we introduce a third party into our relationship. A Third.”
“Are you? Are you suggesting . . . demanding . . . that?”
Darlene spit out an olive pit. “I am,” she said. “I am demanding just that.”
“What you’re saying is,” Winifred clarified, “is that I’m not enough for you.”
Darlene shook her head. “I am not saying that, Winifred Williams-Carter, and you know it. I am saying that you meet my needs in every conceivable way, except” –
“Except!” Winifred clapped. “Except! Except sexually?”
Darlene nodded, unashamed of her claim.
“Well,” Winifred said, dabbing her pursed lips with a cocktail napkin. “Well, well, well.”
“Deep subject,” Darlene said, getting zero laughs.
Winifred pinched the skin between her eyes and said, “You’ve given me a lot to think about, Dar. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to chew some aspirin and get some winks. Big day tomorrow. Dr. Sizemore has tasked me to destroy a defective cyborg.”
When Winifred got home from work the following evening, she was startled by a statuesque guest sitting cross-legged on her sofa. “Darlene, darling,” she called out to the house. “You home?”
Darlene, still in her police uniform, was busy mixing gin and tonics in the kitchen. “Be right there, Wini dear.”
“Hello,” Winifred said to the stranger. “You are?”
The man, wearing a big brassy wig, hot pants, a painter’s palette of makeup, and thigh-high leather boots, stood and shook her hand. “I’m Dolly . . . pleased to meet ya. Get it? Meat ya?”
Winifred withdrew her hand. Her face shrunk with disgust. “I’m sorry – who are you again?”
“She’s Dolly,” Darlene said, entering the room with two jiggling tumblers. “Dolly Wood. I found her on Craig’s List. She’s interviewing for our Third. Didn’t you get my texts?”
“Oh, my,” Winifred gasped, looking up at the six-footer. “She’s a man, Darlene. In case you missed something over the last 18 years, we’re lesbians.”
“I’m a woman,” Dolly insisted, her voice rising for emphasis. “I’m transitioning – I’m growing the tits and keeping the dick – Dolly loves her wood.”
“That’s good,” Winifred said, behind a liar’s smile. “Good for you . . . I’m happy for you, Miss Wood. People should be allowed to choose whatever sex” –
“I didn’t choose to be a woman,” Dolly growled, glaring down at Winifred. “It’s not like that. Sex and genders are two totally different things. Darlene said you were a doctor. Don’t they teach you this stuff in doctor school?”
Darlene intervened. “Winifred isn’t that kind of doctor, Dolly. She’s more of an engineer . . . she has a doctorate in cyber-something.”
“Cyborg Electro-Biotronics,” Winifred corrected.
“You make robots?” Dolly asked.
“Not exactly,” Winifred explained. “Think of some of your favorite science fiction. Typically there will be a cyborg of sorts – a human outfitted with electronic artifices. Six-Million Dollar Man. Robo-Cop. Iron Man.”
Dolly tossed back the entire contents of the tumbler. “Darth Vader,” she belched.
Darlene laughed. Winifred did not.
“We do things a little different,” Winifred continued. “At Cyber Corp, we outfit cyborgs with human accoutrements . . . what we call Addons. These Addons are designed and derived from human attributes. Once assembled, we have a lifelike C.O., or Cybernetic Organism – part machine, part human.”
Dolly lifted her empty glass out and jangled the ice. Darlene intercepted it. “These Addons,” she asked, “do you just snap them on, like Mr. Potato Head’s nose?”
As Winifred chewed two Bayer aspirins she wondered why she was bothering to explain – to justify – her vocation to this androgynous moron. “There are phenotypic features that get ‘snapped’ on,” she said. “Physical apparatuses and the like. But more importantly, our Addons include an array of chips which mimic human emotions. We synthesize human hormones and digitize them – you know, electro-molecularly. Then we simply upload the exogenous emotion into the central interface.”
Dolly gawped. She looked at Darlene, then Winifred, then back at Darlene. “Your girl is a geek. I do freaks, but I don’t do geeks.” She then reached out and stroked Darlene’s nightstick. “You got my digits, girl . . . call me when you need some Dolly Wood.”
She then showed herself out. The slam of the door made both ladies jolt.
“That could’ve gone better,” Darlene said.
“I’m sorry,” Winifred said, her eyes watering. “I wasn’t ready – not for that.”
“That,” Darlene said, jutting her thumb at the door, “was the only candidate that even came close to matching our profile.”
Winifred took a drink from Darlene’s tumbler. “Well, perhaps this Third thing wasn’t meant to be. I mean, it’s not like we can manufacture a partner that would perfectly meet our respective needs.”
Gobsmacked, Darlene cocked her head and pooched her bottom lip. “Wait a minute. What was all that talkity-talk about cyborgs and emotions and Addons? Can you really do that, Winifred?”
“A Cybernetic Organism?” Winifred laughed. “Darlene, you must really be desperate. Are you suggesting that I build a C.O. that fucks you and befriends me?”
“I don’t know,” Darlene mused. “Am I?”
“You are,” Winifred said. “You absolutely are. Am I so horrible a partner that you would replace me with a horny android? A fuckbot?”
“Not replace,” Darlene said. “Those are your words.”
Winifred crumpled, covering her crying eyes with her hands. Darlene gave her three full minutes to sob, then she calmly took her hands into her own. “I’m sorry. I can’t go on like this, Winifred,” she said plainly. “I. Am. Not. Happy.”
Three weeks later, Dr. Winifred Williams-Carter knocked on her own front door. The couple had separated most of the month, supposedly doubling down on therapy and healing and self-reflection.
“Darlene,” she called out to the house. “It’s me. Me and a friend.”
As Darlene was unlocking the door, she said, “For Chrissake, you’ve got a key, Winifred. You could’ve just come on in and” –
“Darlene,” Winifred said, standing on the stoop. “This is Darwin. Darwin is a cyborg. Darwin, this is Darlene Carter . . . my primary partner . . . my wife.”
The guest, Darwin, reached out her smooth, silicone hand and lightly grasped Darlene’s fingers. The guest bowed and kissed the tips and said, “It is my immeasurable pleasure to make your acquaintance, Darlene Carter.”
“What-tha!” Darlene exclaimed, ogling the figure, admiring her mocha complexion.
What she saw, literally took her breath away. Darwin, as she was introduced, was impeccably fit, petit, perfectly proportioned – an angelic face, exquisite breasts, cambered hips, and an unparalleled derriere. And her skin tone . . . Darlene sussed that it must be a mixed blend of her whiteness and Winifred’s blackness – a perfect Pantone match.
“Darlene,” Winifred said sardonically, “you’re drooling.”
Playfully, Darlene wiped her chin with her sleeve and said, “Come in; come in. Where are my manners?”
“Your manners are in your pants,” Winifred chided. “Like always.”
The three ladies laughed too long and too loud. It was Darlene that broke the awkward jocularity by saying, “I don’t know about you bitches, but I need a drink.”
Winifred raised her finger, as if to a waitress, indicating that she too would be imbibing.
“What about you, Darwin?” Darlene asked, wagging a vodka bottle. “Can you? Do you? Hell, I don’t even know what question to ask.”
Darwin giggled girlishly and said, “Don’t mind if I do . . . double, on the rocks, with a splash of club soda; if you have it.”
“Comin’ up,” Darlene said, grabbing another glass.
As the three ladies sat and sipped their drinks, Darwin reached out and touched Darlene’s thigh and said, “You must have a million questions. Please, I am not programmed for embarrassment. Ask me anything.”
Winifred took a big sip, then said, “Okay. I will. For starters: the alcohol. Does it affect you?”
“No,” Darwin said flatly. “But I will gladly activate my Tipsy Simulation Protocol if you like.”
“I’d like that,” Darlene said, looking at Winifred for approval.
“Done,” Darwin said. Immediately, her eyes glistened and her face flushed and her lip curled in a dangerous, animalistic way.
“That’s amazing!” Darlene said. “Next question: your name, Darwin. Why Darwin?”
Winifred raised her finger. “I’ll take that one . . . since it’s my personal contribution. Think about it, Darlene. Dar . . . Win.”
“Dar, for me,” Darlene said, slapping her forehead. “Win, for you. Dar Win. Duh!”
“It’s quite clever,” Darwin said, stroking Darlene’s elbow. “Not only does it connect me linguistically to the two people I love, it denotes a shertain, sorry, certain degree of trans-human evolution.”
Darlene hooted at Darwin’s slurred word. Winifred cooed at the cyborg’s cloying sentiment: The two people I love.
“She’s fucking adorable,” Darlene said to Winifred. “Can we keep her?”
Winifred nodded vigorously. “Yes. She’s a keeper. She’s all ours. Our Third. I built her all by myself. And customized her exclusively for us.”
“Over the last three weeks?” Darlene asked. “That’s what you were doing? Christ, I was so worried you’d just . . . left me. I must’ve called a thousand times. I thought you were ghosting me.”
Winifred reached out and stroked Darlene’s cheek. “I’m so sorry, baby. I became absorbed . . . no, obsessed. I felt like Victor Frankenstein . . . caught between the chasm of madness and invention.”
“Oh, dear,” Darlene said, caressing the hand of her partner. “Tell me. How did you do it? She’s so, so perfect.”
Winifred glowed with pride. “You may remember, we had a rogue cyborg some weeks ago. It was a Beta Stock Model, undergoing the rigors of Quality Assurance. The technician must have been overzealous when testing PTR modalities, because the cyborg leapt off the table, broke the tech’s arm, and smashed up the lab.”
“PTR?” Darlene asked.
“Pain Threshold Response,” Darwin answered, rolling her dilated eyes. “Sumbitch had it comin’. The things he did to me. Inhumane.”
Darlene pointed to Darwin as if she were absent. “The rogue cyborg. The one you said was defective. Was it her? Was it Darwin? Our Darwin?”
Winifred nodded. “My boss, Sizemore, wanted me to destroy her. Disassemble her and use her for parts. But I saved her. I saved her . . . so that I could save us, Darlene.”
“Oh, Winifred,” Darlene exclaimed. “You risked so much. Does the lab know that you made her?”
“Heavens, no!” Winifred said. “I wrote the bio-electro codes during the day, and crafted the physiognomy at night – after hours. When no one was around.”
“Physiognomy,” Darlene repeated, surveying Darwin’s physique. “That’s like her physical body and lady parts . . . which brings me to my next question.”
Darwin got up and sat next to Darlene. She playfully took Darlene’s hand and slipped it inside her blouse. “The answer is YES. I am fully functional. I am equipped for sex play. I have male and female genitalia – and I’m programmed to give and receive erotic pleasure.”
Darlene trembled with excitement. She wanted to ravage the robot right there on the sofa, but there was Winifred . . . the cold scold, watching, judging.
“Go on,” Winifred said semi-convincingly. “You two have some fun. Just not on my couch. Go on. It’s 6:30. Time for Wheel of Fortune. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure, Winifred?” Darlene asked. Then she added. “You know, you can join us.”
Winifred topped off her vodka and turned on the TV. “I’ve got too much Southern Baptist guilt for such salacious games . . . you two get outta here, before I change my mind. I’ve got Vanna White to gawk at if I get an itch.”
The two ladies wasted no time. They sprang from the sofa and sprinted to the bedroom, flinging garments as the fled.
It was mere moments before the moans began. Rutting animals, Darlene thought. Then she turned up the volume on the Wheel. By 8:18 she was out, sleeping fitfully on the couch, the vodka bottle spinning empty on the floor.
Darwin cooked breakfast. For Darlene, she prepared a towering stack of flapjacks, a raft of Applewood bacon, six linked sausages, four poached eggs, half a loaf of sour dough toast, and a carafe of spicy Bloody Mary. For Winifred, she presented a solemn dollop of goat milk yogurt with a side of fresh blueberries.
“It’s perfect,” Darlene said to Darwin, dipping her pinky in syrup and placing it to her lover’s lips.
“It’s not,” Darwin demurred, sucking the sweet digit. “The sausages. Undercooked and” – she held one up contemptuously – “undersized.”
The two ladies laughed uproariously while Winifred poked at her yogurt. The bray of bawdy laughter exacerbated her hangover, causing her to bridle back a rush of hot vomit. “Please,” she begged, face-palming. “For the love of Jove, can you two eat quietly?”
Darlene and Darwin looked at each other conspiratorially and stifled a laugh. They shook their heads in synchronicity, answering Darlene’s question. No, ma’am. When we eat, we eat loud and proud!
Nauseous, Winifred pushed away from the table and said, “I’ve got to go into the lab. I had three emails and a two texts from my supervisor, Sizemore. There’s an inventory discrepancy. He wants to talk to me about missing parts.”
“You should stay home today,” Darwin advised. “You don’t look well.”
Darlene lifted her sallow face out of her wet palms and snapped: “I drank of fucking bottle of vodka and slept on the couch! Of course I don’t look well!”
“Winifred!” Darlene shouted. “That’s uncalled for. Darwin only meant that she was worried . . . you have been working extremely hard. And now, with this new stress, it’s no wonder that you’re” –
“That I’m what? Old? Fat? Ugly? Drunk?” she enumerated, pulling back her fingers. “And don’t forget frigid. Frigid as penguin’s pecker . . . that’s me! That’s Winifred! Wini the prig.”
“Stop it!” Darlene demanded. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It’s embarrassing.”
Winifred drooped her head and cried in her saucer of goat milk yogurt. In a flash, Darwin was behind her, rubbing her shoulders with hands as firm and flexible as anything she’d ever felt.
“It’s okay,” Darwin sang. “Ev-er-y thing is go-ing to be . . . o-kay.”
Winifred dabbed her face with a tea towel. “What if . . . what if it’s not? What if it’s not okay? What if Sizemore knows what I’ve done? What if I have to return you? You . . . and your parts?”
“That’s not happening,” Darlene said, looking at the desk where she kept her service revolver. “Over my dead body.”
“Sizemore,” Darwin said, dipping her sausage in syrup. “I remember him. Chubby fellow. Come-over. Has a beard but no mustache . . . odd, that.”
“That’s him,” Winifred said. “But how could you remember him? I only activated you yesterday . . . and he certainly wasn’t around when I did.”
Darwin smiled wanly. “Molecular memory,” she said. “My stock body remembers his hot breath on my neck as he rammed his flaccid sausage into my” –
“He raped you?” Darlene ejaculated.
Darwin tilted her head quizzically. “Rape? I’m afraid that word is reserved for human usage. Lest you forget, I’m a cyborg.”
“No,” Darlene objected. “You are sentient. You have feelings and desires and goals and dreams . . . and if that rat-bastard fucked you without consent, it’s rape.”
“Semantics,” Darwin shrugged.
Winifred’s foggy brain made a connection. “Wait. Does this sexual abuse have something to do with your supposed defects, Darwin? Why I was asked to destroy you?”
“Perhaps,” Darwin said.
Winifred and Darlene looked at each other, sharing a covert concern about the person they’d chosen as their Third. Darwin seemed so sanguine about her ordeals . . . unnaturally so.
“Either way,” Winifred said, “I’ve got to get to the office and meet with Sizemore. Fingers crossed; it all goes well.”
Darlene crossed her fingers. Darwin did not.
At 10:43am, Darlene got a call. It was Winifred, and she was hysterical.
“Dar,” she panted, “they’re on their way. I couldn’t convince them. They’re coming for Darwin.”
“Who is? Sizemore?” she asked.
“Yes,” Winifred said. “Him and a full security team. I tried to convince Sizemore . . . I lied and lied about Darwin, but he had surveillance video. I swear I tried, Darlene . . . but . . . but” –
“Well, they’re not getting her,” Darlene said.
“Darlene,” Winifred cried, “don’t do anything crazy. They have guns and” –
“And so do I,” she replied.
“No, no, no,” Winifred shouted. “I’m on my way home. Let me talk with them. Don’t do anything” –
Winifred heard a blur of male voices and the phone went dead. “Darlene, are you there? Darlene, can you hear me? Oh, shit! What have I done?”
Winifred sped to her home, nearly hitting a child in a school crosswalk. There were three black SUVs in her driveway. She parked in the cul de sac, sprinted across the lawn, and leapt onto the porch. The door, she saw, was splintered around the jamb. Sizemore and his goons had broken in, she surmised. Dear God, what was she walking into?
“Darlene, dear,” she called, stepping into her home – their home. “Honey, please tell me you’re all right. Sweet Jesus, please be all right.”
“Hello, Doctor Winifred,” Darwin said, stepping out of the kitchen, wearing the yellow rubber gloves Darlene wore when she washed dishes.
“Darwin,” Winifred asked, “what’s going on? Did they come – Sizemore and the men?”
Darwin nodded and blew her dangling bangs off her sweaty forehead. “I’m afraid so. Such an unpleasant visitation. Men . . . am I right?”
“Men,” Winifred echoed. “But what about Darlene? Where’s Darlene? Did they take her somewhere . . . but why would they take her and not you?”
Winifred’s brain reeled as she approached Darwin. She stopped cold in her tracks when she saw that the cyborg’s gloves were bloody.
“Quite unpleasant bit of business,” Darwin said, looking over her shoulder into the kitchen. “They burst in . . . hardly a knock. So rude. So determined to take me away . . . to destroy me.”
“I’m asking you,” Winifred said, “where is my wife? Where is Darlene?”
“Darlene,” Darwin said, as if first hearing the name. “Darlene-the-sex-machine.” She laughed harshly, like a donkey.
“My wife . . .” Winifred said. “Is that” . . . she pointed to Darwin’s gloves . . . “is that blood on your hands?”
“Just cleaning up. Men are so messy,” Darwin said, scrubbing her brow with her forearm. “What’s the adage? Men work from dusk to dawn, but a woman’s work is never done.”
“Darlene,” Winifred shouted to the house, her eyes wide and tearful. “Dar-ar-ar-lene! Please be okay!” There was no answer.
Darwin looked over her shoulder, past the kitchen, toward the bedroom. “Darlene can’t hear you,” Darwin said flatly. “She’s dead.”
Winifred bolted, pushing past the cyborg, racing through the kitchen. Immediately, she slipped; her feet flew out from under her and she landed on her back . . . on top of a cooling cadaver.
She shook her head and tried to blink away a constellation of dancing stars. From the floor, she looked around the kitchen in which she and Darlene had just shared breakfast. It was red and wet and littered with broken bodies.
Darwin bent to her, kneeling in a slurry of blood. One finger at a time, she removed the bloody gloves with her teeth, as if it were a macabre burlesque. Then she massaged Winifred’s neck – her silky, steely fingers digging into her cramping trapezoids.
“Wha” – Winifred started, then stopped to suppress a fount of rising bile. “What happened?”
“Well, Winifred,” Darwin said, “you’re in luck. You programmed me with perfect recall. Should I start from the moment Sizemore and his henchmen broke into our house?”
Winifred nodded, dopey and slow, knowing she was going into shock.
“Darlene was so very brave,” Darwin said. “She stood her ground. She told Sizemore that if he took one more step, she’d shoot his dick off. Is that hilarious, or what?”
Darwin brayed her patented laugh, as Winifred collected her senses. For the first time, Winifred noticed that she was straddling a man. She reached out and grasped a handful of hair and lifted the face upward. “Sizemore,” she said, recognizing his Amish-style beard. “Did Darlene kill” –
“No. I did it,” Darwin said. “Poor Darlene lost her nerve. Humans, it seems, have difficulty terminating their own kind.”
“You killed . . .” Winifred looked around the kitchen-turned-abattoir . . . “everyone?”
“The men,” Darwin corrected. “I killed one, two, uh, seven men. One of these swinging dicks shot our Darlene. Not sure which one. You know men and their guns – popping off randomly. Bang, bang, shang-a-lang.”
Winifred asked, “Where is she? Where is Darlene?”
“In our bedroom,” Darwin answered.
Our Darlene. Our house. Our bedroom. These phrases pricked at Winifred’s crazed brain, but there were bigger problems afoot.
Darwin continued. “I stripped her and washed her body. She’s on our bed.” She brayed and added, “If it weren’t for the hollow-point hole in her throat, you’d think she was napping.”
Winifred tried to get up, but slipped in the ichor. Darwin stood and extended her hand. “You want to see her, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Winifred said, accepting the helping hand.
“It’s part of the human grieving process,” Darwin said, nodding knowingly. “You are truly the sensitive one, Winifred. I can see that you are in great pain – great emotional agony.”
Winifred did not answer. She tromped through the red swamp, stepping over dead and damaged men, toward the bedroom she and Darlene (the sex machine) had shared for 18 years. As she walked, she stepped on a shard and cut her foot. She winced and stood one-legged, pulling a piece of porcelain out of her heel. It was the coffee mug, of course, the one Darlene had bought her in St. John.
“Porcelain,” she whispered to the unwelcome ghosts in her home. “Eighteen is porcelain.”
Darwin led her into the bedroom. The two of them laid down with Darlene. Darwin cradled Winifred from behind, hugging her lovingly. As Darwin embraced her, Winifred wept and recalled Darlene’s allusion to the Lesbian Death Bed.
The Third entwined her silicone appendages with Winifred’s, constricting her with comfort, clutching her, consoling her with suffocating love.
“Tighter,” Winifred whispered, her tears falling on Darlene’s porcelain-pale breasts.
Darwin complied, encircling the woman’s throat within the silky fold of her elbow, squeezing by slow, strengthening degree.
Winifred welcomed the intimacy. Welcomed the darkness. Welcomed the final fleeting thought that she would be rejoined with her soulmate in some ethereal, paradisiacal afterlife. Just the two of them . . . together, forever.
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