Rosie’s Adjustable Man

heads

Rosie knew what she wanted in a man. Trouble was, she wanted something different every day. The wealthier ladies could afford different models, but they had room to store them too.  She’d had to settle for a model with adjustable heads. The body stayed the same, but the personality changed. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.  Currently she had six different versions, but over thirty were available. Whenever she could afford it, she got a new head for her Adjustable Man.

Rosie’s house wasn’t tiny by any means. It was the standard allotment for Zeta-class citizens – three bedrooms and one large common area with dining/ kitchen/ living room, with movable panels to divide up the areas when necessary. This was a far cry from Gamma-class, with only two bedrooms and a living room but no kitchen. That was shared, communal style, with ten other Gammas.

Gammas tended to eat together in the common dining room. Slinking off to eat in their private apartments, hunched over a coffee table while sitting on a stiff sofa, was possible but frowned upon. Nobody would say anything about it to the citizen who did it, but then they simply wouldn’t say anything at all to them for a few days afterwards.

It wasn’t planned that way. It wasn’t a rule. It was more like a habit, or tradition. Not sharing time with your fellow citizens meant you wanted to be alone, so they gave each other space at those times. But, if a citizen was absent more than about four times a month and wasn’t on a scheduled trip for their task-group, then subtle and not-so-subtle inquiries were made. Some were to the citizen’s family. Some were to the Overseers. Perhaps s/he was ill? Perhaps therapy needed to be assigned? Perhaps s/he needed to be reclassified? Sometimes that particular area’s citizen class wasn’t a good fit for that citizen’s style of life. Never would they ask a Gamma-class citizen themselves if anything was wrong. That wasn’t thinkable, not for that class. It was only once you were promoted to Zeta-class that you were even considered to have enough spirit to have an opinion.

Rosie had opinions all the time, and felt that everyone needed to hear them. The Overseer channeled this into encouraging her to write an online blog, where she felt that she was being heard for a change. She thought she was making a difference. She was wrong. Nobody read her writing. The numbers on the statistics were a ruse from the Overseer to get her to keep writing and thus keep her out of the way. The comments were supplied by workers in his office.  It kept her placated and maintained order. It didn’t do to have citizens thinking too much. It upset the social fabric.

She was so opinionated that no man wanted to spend time with her, and so insecure that she didn’t want to spend time with herself. Fortunately for her, she was not alone in this. Plenty of women had been told “You think too much” by men, and rather than stop thinking, or at least out loud, they decided to get an Adjustable Man. He could be modified in any way imaginable, providing you had the resources.

It was easy these days to pick up a used version, have the memory wiped, and start from scratch. Or, you could custom build one online and have it shipped to you, ready to cook, mow the yard, and be pleasant to take on a visit with your friends. No more awkward times like when your man suddenly started talking about less-than-polite topics around your best friends or coworkers. No more attitude about doing housework or it being “woman’s work”. No, the days of men thinking their contribution to the family ended as soon as they left their workplace ended around the time women realized they didn’t have to have children, and thus didn’t have to stay home to raise them.

Adjustable Women were in the works for those women who wanted to work outside of the home after having children. There were never enough reliable or affordable childcare providers – never had been. Come to think of it, the same was true for eldercare. Nobody wanted to take care of the very young or the very old for very long, even if they weren’t related to them. Those that did wanted a lot of money for it, or they had less than honorable reasons for seeking those jobs. But Adjustable Women were proving to be harder to make than Adjustable Men.

Rosie was trying to decide who she wanted as her partner to the dance tonight. It was almost as important as determining what dress to wear. Too formal? Too casual? She wished there was a guideline on the RSVP, like “black tie” or “blue jeans” but for partners. She’d hate to take a stuffy, know-it-all partner to a casual gathering, the same as she’d hate to take a sci-fi geek, able to name all Star Trek captains in order (and delineate their flaws and charms) to a company luncheon. How did early-century escorts do it?

She opted for the boring “Bob” version.  He was cute, but he didn’t talk much.  Her friends would understand, and the new people she was there to meet wouldn’t care.

 

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Wander (short story)

He’d been walking a long time. Days? Weeks? Years? It no longer mattered what time it was. It was today, always today. He had nowhere particular he had to be. He wore no watch, carried no day planner. His calendar was free.
He walked away from it all some years back and had just kept walking. When would this walk be over? He’d not planned on starting it, so perhaps it would end the same way.
It started suddenly. Just like with spring tulips, it seemingly occurred all at once. Only a careful observer could have seen that change had been coming a long time.
It happened suddenly for him, that was for sure. One day he gathered up a duffel bag’s worth of possessions, put on his shoes and her all-weather coat, and walked outside. He never thought he’d make it past the yard, but he did. Then he thought for sure she’d stop him when he got to the end of the street, but she didn’t. Every step further from that house his fear grew smaller and his excitement grew larger.
The thought of leaving never crossed his mind all those years. Not like he was happy being there, mind you. It was just that he didn’t know he had a choice. It was just like Hagar and the well. She was suffering and all along what she needed was right there and she couldn’t see it.
He walked three blocks fueled on fear and excitement before he started to wonder where he was headed. It was strange to feel so much at the same time after a lifetime of not feeling at all. Perhaps once he had felt something? Surely he had. He couldn’t remember.
At the edge of the neighborhood he decided to try to feel, but not too much. Best to start with something simple, like a direction. Which way? Straight? Right? Left? Turning around and going back was right out, he knew that. Just thinking about that made his stomach get smaller and tighter and fluttery. That felt like “no” most emphatically. This was new to him, this learning that his body was a sense organ, tallying pros and cons and providing the result. It was like learning another language to figure out what it was saying. Why trust his brain to tell him what to do, when he could use his entire body? His stomach loosened when he faced right. Okay, that way.
He didn’t know where that way led, but that was true no matter which way he went. He’d never been allowed out of the house. Never been given a map of the city, or of anywhere for that matter. There was no television in the house either, and certainly not a computer. He had no idea that there was a whole world outside of the house, and that was how she planned it.
He was lucky she’d even spoken to him, or he’d never have picked up the language. She didn’t at first, but he overheard snippets of words and sentences when she’d have her boyfriend of the month over to spend the night. Sometimes one of them would try to talk to him, try to make friends with him as a way of placating her. Perhaps he thought he could stay longer if he turned out to be father material? The way to a woman’s heart is through her child, right? Those that tried could have saved themselves the trouble. Once she realized they just wanted free room and board she cut them loose and changed the locks again.
All these years later, his body told him more than just how he felt. The rain was coming soon. His nose told him this. The hairs on his arm said it was going to be a long quiet soak. His big toe told him the mist he was in would pick up, grow just enough to be annoying and cut down on visibility in about 20 minutes. That was enough time to find a restaurant to wait it out.
Another wanderer had taught him the tricks of the trade. Look for a restaurant that is a little busy, but not overly so. If it wasn’t busy enough he’d stick out. Then the employees or customers would notice. If he was lucky, one of them would gently wake him when he dozed. If not, a cop would be called to do that chore. Sometimes he’d simply be asked to leave. Sometimes he’d be told to never come back. On the other hand, if the restaurant was too busy, a customer might sit too close to him and spot that he didn’t quite fit. Perhaps they’d notice his less-than-fresh aroma, or notice that he only had a soda in front of him, or they’d spot his duffel bag. The goal was not to be noticed.
A soda bought you a table for at least an hour. Keep it refilled and it looked like you just got there. Plus, the sugar and caffeine didn’t hurt. It was great to get refills – you could have a two-liter’s worth of pop for pocket change. If you felt like it you could even take the cup with you for next time. If the restaurant was busy enough they’d never even notice you’d not bought anything from them.
Actual sleeping required some skill and a prop. Find a flip phone on the side of the road or at a local thrift store, hold it open in your hand, and you could slouch down and make it appear you were checking texts while you dozed. People rarely looked long enough to notice your fingers weren’t moving. Most folks had been taught it was rude to stare.
If you were homeless for longer than a month you started to become invisible. People just didn’t want to look at you, to see you. They were afraid you’d catch their eye and say something like “Excuse me sir? Can you spare some change?” They didn’t want to hear whatever story you made up to convince them (or yourself) of your worthiness. It was easier to pretend you didn’t exist. It was a little lie they told themselves.
He was through with lies. They were too hard to keep up with, too hard to justify. They grew and grew, one lie leading to another, becoming a tangle like weeds or rope. Before you knew it you were lost or tripped up. He decided it was best to tell the truth, but not too much of it. Too much talk spoils everything.
He carried as little money as possible, same as everything else. It all weighed him down. Everything took up space, either in his bag or in his head. Traveling light was about more than having an extra pair of socks or a small bottle of shampoo.
The rain was almost over. Time to go.