Even amidst a future where infinite cruelty is perpetrated on automated sex workers, somehow, there may prove room for small human kindnesses—or at least kindnesses to humans. -the Ed.
The man leaves and the monitor reads: one heartbeat, my own. The globe is still darkened. And my own world, for these few minutes, will align with the rest of the world, agreeing on night.
The man’s scent is still trapped with me, here. His oniony sweat, the gel he uses to stiffen his hair, and the mint from the bowl of mints that sit by the door on a small table. I offer the mints to all of them. It’s programmed, this offering, like all of my offerings.
The globe’s rounded walls are still fogged. No one walking amid the globes that fill the old parkland can see in. Not now.
These moments are mine. Fogged, dark. My body is reconstituting itself. I feel the needling of pain. The pain is real. It’s part of my programming. No one wants a posey girl to be a faker – not in pain mode, not in pleasure mode.
The process relies on nanobiotechnology, which I do not understand. I only know that there is a rush of fresh blood cells that know what to do, a stickiness of platelets. I am being resealed. I am being made new.
I close my eyes.
My pulpy center blushes, warm and flush with youth.
It has been called a flower. And I imagine the petals being handstitched back into a bud.
It has been called a fruit for the way it bursts.
And, too soon, the monitor beeps. Enough time has passed for the reconstitution to be complete.
I stand up and change the stained sheet. We are given white sheets so that the blood stands out, bright and red.
I always try to see a shape in the stain. This one: a mask. Holes cut for eyes. But there are no eyes.
I shove the sheet through the disposal slot and take a fresh sheet from the compartment under the bed. I stretch it taut.
The globe begins to glow, again. The fog – made of a fine cakey mist – clears. My skin takes on the pink hue of the lights.
Our globes are color-coded. I reside in a row of pink globes. So the men know our variety.
Slow music begins to play. They used to play songs with lyrics but that proved unhealthy for the posey girls. Some said it was dangerous. We were poisoned.
I dance the way I have been taught – to sway my hips and touch myself as if I am myself and the man touching me. As if I am teaching him how to touch. But I have never taught a man anything.
It’s a slow night. Through the globes plastic walls, I have a view of so many colored globes. And if I let my gaze go empty, unfocused, my eyes tear. And the globes look like baubles, rising then floating.
Then I blink and they pop back into place.
A man has stopped in front of my globe. He twirls his finger. I turn a slow circle. He raises his hand and I move to the rounded wall and press my breasts into the plastic. It gives. He touches me through the plastic.
But, as I am programmed to do, I pull away and dip my head and blush. My hand covers my mouth as I smile. I am shy. I am the good girl.
This isn’t what he wants. He steps back and moves on, leaving the pinks and moving to the violets.
A few moments later a cluster of men walk down our row, shoving each other, talking loudly. One stops and sings, his face held up to the sky. They pass by me and stop at the globe two down from mine. One man shoves another into the globe, and he bounces back and falls on his rump. He pretends to howl, and the others start singing again.
I’m worried that this will be the end of the night. I will not have been busy enough. My rating will drop, and I’ll get behind. I don’t want to get too far behind. I have heard what happens to posey girls who get too far behind.
Time passes. I don’t dance. No one is here to see me dance. And I don’t have to dance if no one is here. I have to stand at the window. But I don’t have to move. I wait for a long time.
Finally, a male android is escorting a young man in a school jacket. And I start to sway and touch myself.
The young man’s jacket is velvety. A dark blue. With a red crest – a lion. I know this jacket. Boys who call themselves the lions.
But this young man has a swollen eye, purpled and oily with ointment. It’s so puffed it’s almost completely shut. His upper body tilts to one side, as if his ribs have been bruised and he’s trying to keep them tight.
The android and the young man pause at each globe, respectfully.
When they get to my globe, I look at the young man. I look into his eyes – one open, one nearly closed. And I see that he’s afraid. I put my fingers to the plastic, lightly, so they make no impression. I wait for some instruction. And I feel sorrow. The boy has been through something that he hasn’t shaken.
I am programmed to want to take care of men. I am programmed to say things like, Are you okay? What can I do? What do you need? You can tell me… They pay by the minute not by the act.
The young man says something to the android. And they approach the kiosk attached to the side door of my globe to begin payment.
A bell rings. The mist hisses, fogging the plastic. I’m veiled again. It feels good, this veil.
And then the door opens.
The young man steps inside.
It always surprises me, the way they become real. How I can feel their heat, their vibrations, their energy. They are palpable before I touch them, before they touch me. They fill the space.
“Do you want a mint?” I ask, pointing to the bowl, and then, as if I have already been too bold, I smile shyly and tilt my head.
The young man shrugs and then winces. The shrug has tugged on his bruised ribs. “I’m alright.” He looks at the mattress and then around the small space. Not at me.
“You look very handsome in your jacket,” I say.
“Thanks,” he says and he moves to the edge of the globe where I usually dance. “No one can see in, right?”
“Right.” I assume he’s a virgin. Virginity is one thing that I know very well.
“What’s it made of? The stuff that blocks the view?”
“I don’t know.”
“You probably shouldn’t breathe it,” he says. “It could be toxic.”
“I’m not worried about the future. I like being here with you, right now.” Sometimes words appear in my mind, and I say them. “Sit with me.”
I lower myself onto the bed so that I’m not sitting. I’m lying down, propped on one elbow.
But the young man takes me literally and he sits on the edge of the mattress, cordoned off, his elbows on his knees. “How long does this usually take?”
“As long as you want,” I tell him.
“I mean, really. Like how long does it take to do everything you’re supposed to do and leave?”
“You can pay for no less than fifteen minutes.” Now I’m worried that the young man isn’t interested in girls. He’s here to prove something. He will be unhappy. My ratings could fall again, sharply.
“What do you want? I want to give you what you want.”
“You can’t give me what I want,” he says.
“I want to make you happy,” I say.
He looks at me then for the first time since he stepped into the globe. “I picked you because I could tell you felt sorry for me. Let’s just keep it that way. I’ll sit here. You do whatever it is you do.”
“I don’t feel sorry for you,” I say. “Unless you want me to feel sorry for you. Are you okay? Tell me. You can tell me anything.”
“Move over at little,” he says.
I scoot to one side of the mattress and he falls back onto the pillow. He tugs at his tie. He keeps one shoe on the ground. “God, I hate this.”
“Do you hate me?”
“No, of course not.” He rolls to his side, facing me, both shoes on the bed, which is something we’re supposed to not allow, but I can’t bring that up now. “I hate why I’m here.”
“Why are you here?”
“My father told our boy to bring me.”
“Because my father thinks I’m weak.”
“You’re so strong,” I say, touching his arm through his velvety sleeve.
“Was I funny?”
“Can you tell me the truth?”
“I can tell you anything you want.”
“That’s not the question. I want to know if you can tell me the truth. If you’re allowed or able to.”
“I don’t know how to answer that.” My programming sometimes stalls. I want to be agreeable. I want to say what he wants to hear. But I cannot tell him the truth. “Don’t you like me?” I smile this very specific kind of smile. It’s very vulnerable and afraid.
“I do like you,” he says.
“Do you want to kiss me?”
He looks at my face. He looks at my eyes and my lips and my eyes again. “I want to be made new,” he says. “I know that’s what they do to you, here. They make you new.”
“Why do you want to be new?”
“Because I’m broken.”
“How were you broken?”
He lies back again. He crosses his arms on his chest. “How does it work?”
“Having sex?” I’m programmed to giggle every time I talk about sex and so I do.
“I know how sex goes,” he says. “How does it work for you?”
“In a girl the first time. Inside. Something ruptures. But mine grows back. Each time is the first time. Each time I’m new.”
“Does it hurt?”
I want to tell him, yes, that it does. But I say what I have to, “Sometimes pain is pleasure.”
A tear slips from his eye, across his temple. He wipes it away. “My father sent me here to fix me.”
“Did someone hurt you?”
“Yes,” he says, “someone hurt me.”
“Tell me,” I say.
“No. I won’t do that to you. I won’t do that to anyone. You don’t need to know. I fought, though. I think that’s important to say. I fought.”
Sometimes I’m supposed to fight because it is wanted. “I’m sure you’re a good fighter. You’re so tough and brave.”
He looks at me like he’s not sure if he should believe me or not. “What does it feel like when they first touch you,” he says, “through the plastic?”
It’s a numbed touch, like being a toy still in its wrapping. “It feels good,” I say.
He nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah.” And he looks broken, like he said. He looks very broken.
“Take care of me,” I say, even though I’m not supposed to. I should never be a burden. But the words appear.
He turns and looks at me again. A tear rolls over the bridge of his nose. “I thought you’d take of me,” he says.
I put my head on his chest, my ear cupped to his heart. “We can take care of each other.”
He puts his arms around me and he holds me. And I hold him.
And we stay like that, in the fogged globe, holding each other. The wind blows and the globe shudders a little. The white mist puffs loose, and its caked powder gently falls.
“It’s like snow,” he says, lifting his hand.
“Yes,” I say.
And we let it fall, a dusting of white.