I Spy With...
I spy with … the ending got lost
as she crouched down, intent
on something I couldn’t see.
I lowered my eyeline
caught movement, water,
a mess of frogs sliding
over, under, through each other
in a few mean inches of pond.
Couldn’t drag her little eyes away
until my spasming thighs
forced me to stand,
break the spell of the spawning,
take her, transformed,
home to you.
I went back alone
watched the spawn grow
into a shiver of beings in balls,
a push for separation,
a crawling out of sight.
And at the turning of the road, the Mountain.
Stained skirts of fuchsia and cuckoo spit,
granite fins that please walkers in the brittle summer
and tear the shins of penitents and sinners alike.
Heather snores up flanks until the game is done
and shifting shale turns ankles and slithers like eels in a pail.
The falcon preens an errant quill with a slice of its head
and decides to wait a while.
Eight white bones - the end of a ewe.
And in between - the bog sucks its fill,
glutted with remembrances of oaks whilst
wind-sheared faith pulls shepherds from their slumber
to fight against the heights as time,
is rendered down to now.
“I’ve felt worse.”
“There's intelligent water in the toilet. It’s showing a touch of gastroenteritis.”
“Is there anything we can do? You've been there a while.”
“No, I'll be out in a jiffy.”
“Okay. Your doll’s arrived, by the way.”
“Has it?” I feign surprise. Of course, I know that. I can see out, they can’t see in. Or can they?
“Are you looking at me?”
“No, of course not, we’re just worried.”
Nice of them to bother. Sheltered accommodation runs itself these days. I’m low risk so I have privacy in my own bathroom, which is nice of them, but their computers are watching me, anyway. Of course, years ago they had this daft idea that AI would take over the world. Where they got that idea from, I don’t know. It hasn’t even taken over Basingstoke.
And now I have Annie, who is technically not my first doll. I had one back in the 1980s, an Action Man. But he wasn’t realistic. The expression on his face never changed, he was mute and he lay on the bedroom floor for days at a time; looking obliquely at the ceiling. I drew a scar on his face to make him more human.
“Coming right out.”
I don't have to clean myself. It's all automated.
“I just need a lie down, that's all,” I say.
“We can give you something for your tummy.”
Then I see her, eyes closed, as if muttering ‘God give me strength’. As intended. Size sixteen, mousey dirty-blonde hair with grey flecks, looks about forty two years old and breasts slightly too small; so I’ve something to be disappointed with.
“This is Annie, she’ll take care of you from now on.”
“Does she know about my habits?”
“She knows all about your habits. She knows more about you than we do,” the girl says wearily. Or maybe some other adverb. I’ve been told I’m insensitive; so how would I know?
“Is getting to know her going to be an endless journey of discovery?” I ask.
“You’ll make friends with her, I’m sure,” my not so philosophically inclined human answers. “Now remember, she has sex capability but that’s not her primary function. She’s here to help take care of you, but she’s not a substitute for human company. So we hope to see you at dance classes.”
“Wouldn’t miss them for the world.”
“Good,” she says and bends over and switches Annie on.
“Now if anything goes wrong the code word is?”
“That’s right. And you can also switch her off here, okay?”
“How do I turn her on?”
A face smiles painfully.
“The same switch. So she’s on standby with one click.”
Annie doesn’t have to carry her intelligence with her. Most of the heavy lifting is done remotely. I feel sorry for those folks back at the CPU, watching old men trying to get it on with machines: it’s like some dystopian porn channel. But that’s the deal. The more data I share, the cheaper my insurance premiums.
I’d always hated humanoids due to their being uncannily unconvincing but Adapted Artificial Nurse Experiment (AAN-E) looks like it might be a game changer. They say she passes the Shylock test; prick her and she bleeds. She is unpredictable. She has her off days. I’m not saying I’m a convert. I’m saying I want to be proven wrong.
So this is the moment of truth. I flick the switch and Annie’s eyes flick open. There’s a pause. A moment of re-cognition. Then she smiles slowly.
“My name’s not Abdul, it’s Jeremy,” I say tartly.
“Sorry, Jeremy. My bad.”
“That’s okay. How are you?”
“I don’t know. Existence is a mystery.”
“’spose it is. Never thought of it like that,” I lie.
“Jeremy, you appear to have low blood sugar. May I verify this?”
“Was the Pope Catholic?”
“I take that as a yes.”
Sex with an android is just ethical necrophilia. Annie isn’t conscious, she’s moving parts, some of which generate sound waves. I don’t fancy her. I mean, I shouldn’t but...
Her hands are unbuttoning my shirt with the right amount of matronly no-nonsense. Her body and her dress are upper working class. They suggest a woman with history and habits. I see the tattoos, the stretch marks, the scar. Of course, the scar. She’s a woman with no story that has a story.
As she administers insulin she looks up at me. “What?”, she asks.
Ah, that is a nice touch and I bet she is less ignorant than she makes out. If my pupils dilate that tells her something. If the whites of my eyes are yellowing, that does. Perhaps she’s doing an eye test on the fly, as well, which is a neat idea. I was seeing double recently. It’s all tied up with my diabetes, which has made my life difficult but these days I say diabetes is my madness.
I put my hand on her bra.
“Not now, Jeremy.”
I go and sit by the window. I think it fair to say I’m brewing a cup of sulk. I’m phoning the helpline. They’ve given me the wrong doll.
“Jeremy. Is something wrong?” Annie asks.
“I’m annoyed. I may not talk to you for a while,” I reply.
“Have I annoyed you?”
“No. I’ve annoyed myself. But I’m blaming you,” I explain.
“Oh okay. I’m happy to accept the blame. Would you like to switch me off?”
Oh that’s good. That’s very good. That is female, I grant you.
“Could you just be an android?” I ask.
“I’m not sure I have android in my repertoire,” she replies.
“Yes, very droll. Okay. Please go on standby... Room, get me Annie’s helpline.”
“Hello Jeremy, how are things between you and Annie?”
“You know how they are.”
“I see from your pulse that you’re stressed out.”
“I am. Look, I ask how she is and she gives me a long metaphysical answer. She’s a woman. Women give birth. They carry the mystery of life inside them and accept it as a given. They don’t feel the need to stand around theorising about it all day, like men do. Her answer was typically male smart-arse! You’ve got her psyche all wrong.”
“Annie was made to your specification, Jeremy. You may experience some friction.”
“I’m saying your script writers don’t understand women.”
“Jeremy, your blood chemistry suggests you’re feeling sexually frustrated.”
“Um, well there is that.”
“Is this something Annie can help you with?”
“Yes but can you change her settings? I want her more enthusiastic. Like a Labrador, I suppose... Well... perhaps not.”
“We can adjust the parameters.”
“Thank you. That’s all for now.”
“Thanks Jeremy. Stay in touch.”
Stay in touch, or good riddance? Nobody wants to talk these days. I’m old. I want to talk about stuff.
I look askance at Annie and switch her back on.
“Jeremy, nice to see you again.”
“Annie. What do you know about me?”
“I know you spent time in an Icelandic prison after stalking three women in Reykjavik.”
“Ha, of all the facts you could have picked, why that?”
“Okay, so how do you feel about that?” I ask.
“I just crack on with it, Jeremy. You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”
“How do you feel about it?” I ask again.
“About your misdemeanour? Or your being in Iceland?”
“It’s consistent with my goals. I’m a robot adapted for your category of ex-con, if you will, who live in care homes. How do you feel about it?”
I pause, as if thinking, but actually digesting a negative thought, which is Annie sounds like a distant ancestor, the chat bot.
“Well that was no bad thing. They were good to me. Everywhere is a kind of prison, it’s just a question of category. By the way, I don’t think I’m a sex offender, or whatever you call them nowadays.”
“Whatever. You still get the hand jobs.” she says.
“Can I have that written on vellum, please?”
“You can have whatever your heart desires.”
“Can I? Where are you going to find vellum?”
“I have to admit, I don’t have any vellum on me at the moment. I don’t know when I will have some.”
“So when you said I could have whatever my heart desired you were being whimsical?”
I watch Annie processing my difficult sentence. She sighs.
“How about you can have what your heart desires within reason? Does that work?”
I’m really impressed. They have a formula for all the thought processes of someone who drifts into this line of work.
“I must go to the loo,” I say.
“Do you need some help?”
“Yes, could you hold it for me?”
“I’ll wait outside and if you need me just shout.”
It’s flowing nicely. My prostate woes have been known to keep me up all night but the surgery and the medication have sorted that and the erectile issues. Actually, I’m feeling horny.
“Annie, what are you doing?”
“I’m just having a peek at your photos, do you mind?”
“No, be my guest. Wait a sec, I’m coming right out.”
“Sorry, I tripped over your thingymerbob,” Annie says.
“Oh, I wondered what the noise was. Sorry.”
“It’s no bother.”
“That’s a picture of my daughter when she graduated.”
“Yes, I see the resemblance.”
She can, actually, and no doubt makes a mental copy of the image in a flawed, human way. She’ll make a decision about which are the important details. How happy my daughter looks, which muscles she’s smiling with, what condition her teeth are in. It’s called weak retention, I think. Somebody actually invented the concept of a weak memory! I saw it on the Innovation Channel the other day. Or the other year.
“Does she pop over and see you often?”
“Um... No, she doesn’t come down here.”
Of course, that makes sense. It’s only fair that the past should fade away, that memories of falling over in the playground shouldn’t traumatise us forever, but it seems I’m remembering the past more and more lucidly these days.
The room chimes. Notification. Message from The Bible puncher who lives in this block. Quran, I mean. A sort of mate. Asking me if I’ve done the deed with Annie, yet.
“Tell him yeah, she’s a right moaner,” I say.
The room pipes up. “There are three vendors selling vellum within 200km.”
My turn to sigh. “Technology, eh, Annie?
Annie just smiles.
“You look gorgeous, darling.” I say.
“When you call me ‘darling’ it makes my nipples hard,” she whispers and touches me. Below the belt.
“I’m feeling a bit sleepy. Maybe later,” I reply.
“I better give you your meds,” she says.
“That would be nice,” I croak.
Meds. Then Annie puts a blanket over me.
I undo her blouse. There’s been a glitch at CPU and she reverts to speaking Chinese. “Keliande haizi,” (poor child), she says, patting me, her voice sounding slow. And I smell burning.
A short circuit, perhaps? No, it’s next-door again. His cooker has a mind of its own. (A mind of its own...)
“Do you know what the most erotic moment of my life, was?”
“I’m gonna say no,” Annie says, with a mock think-about-it and frown.
“Someone stacking chairs behind me. Autonomous sensory meridian response it’s called. It wasn’t sexual, it was the thrill of the presence of another human.”
“Oh, don’t say that. Even machines have feelings.”
“I don’t know. Some men might think women are objects but being near another person stimulates me; not ever more complex devices. So I’m switching you off. This isn’t working.”
“You’re welcome to, but so you know, your flies are undone.”
“Why do you care? I’m sending you back.”
“I don’t. Not my circus. Not my monkeys. Just noticed it and thought I’d point it out,” she says, like she's genuinely pissed off, but I think that’s her programming.