Here is a science fiction story I wrote. It is called Helen.
The custom woman was naked when I opened the box. Her breasts protruded like islands in a sea of rustling white tissue paper. The clerk of the state hadn’t said anything about nudity in the letters. I didn’t buy the woman for sex. Disdain stiffened my lips. My children could have been in the room when I opened the package. I wrinkled my nose, and dug into the wide, shallow box. I worked my arms under the pliable body.
It smelled like Helen. She, the thing in the box, smelled like my wife. I froze, and put my mouth close to her flesh. I breathed in. The hint of fresh plastic and sealed air mixed together with Helen’s distinctive aroma; it was not only Helen’s perfume, but the essence of her being they had put into this thing.
My wife shouldn’t have submitted her body to the state tests. I don’t care how recommended it is for front-line service workers. The tests, and the sampling, are macabre.
I had expected horror, and disgust, but I had never anticipated the strength of rebellious desire that unwound in me at the sight, and smell, and touch of the body. I had thought of the custom woman as a tool, a thing I could buy to change my life. I expected the woman to fill the loud emptiness in my house. I wanted her for my children, but now, with my arms around the supine body, I found that I wanted her for myself.
The woman’s skin was soft. It had been a long time for me. My reaction was stronger than I expected; I wanted to kiss the woman, and I did not want to think of my dead wife.
I lifted the woman onto our bed. My bed. My children laughed in the room beyond. Jack had a bag of chocolates to share with his sister. I’d given Jack the chocolates, when the long, expensive box had arrived at the front door. My bedroom door was locked now.
The woman lay on the bed like a lifeless fish. She was prettier than my wife had been.
“Go back! Go back!” my daughter squealed in the other room. The noise of the film stopped, and then began again. Susan shrieked, and Jack shouted with laughter. They are not old enough to be ashamed of this, I thought, and I went to Helen’s closet.
The woman was skinnier than my wife had been, and toned. My wife must have adjusted things on the forms. You could do that, when you were submitting yourself to the tests. When I pulled Helen’s underwear up the trim thighs of the custom woman, my hand slipped. I blushed. I left my wife’s panties around the woman’s thighs, and dug in the box, which burst with tissue paper.
“Fully Functional—Your new wife!” the pamphlet read. I emptied the box, but could find nothing else. I opened the thin pamphlet, and read the instructions. A hideous blush crept up my neck. Damn you.
“Stupid place to put an ‘on’ switch,” I muttered, and my cheeks blazed. I turned the pamphlet over, and examined the back. My children’s laughter changed to cries of anger; I went to the door, and rapped. “I’ll take away the chocolate if you don’t behave,” I called through the door. My heart beat a thick tattoo. Jack urged Susan to be quiet. The talking from the film rose up; over the noise came the whisper of Susan’s aggrieved sigh.
“I’m sorry, okay?” Jack said in a low voice.
“Play it again,” Susan commanded. I heard a pause, and then the movie started at the beginning. I turned back to my purchase on the bed. I didn’t have much time.
“Ridiculous,” I said under my breath, and I stared at the pamphlet. I could put her back in the box, and tell the state I had changed my mind. No refunds. My children shouted in the other room. I growled, and put my hand between the legs of the still form. It took me some time to find the button, which was deeply recessed. When I pressed it, the lady on the bed sighed, and arched her back. I withdrew my hand, and found that I could not avert my eyes from the sinuous form. The lady sat up, and clasped her hands over her knees. Resentment at her beauty, at her perfection, flooded me. I wanted a mother for my children, not a sex kitten.
My cheeks creased into a frown, but a delicious buzzing grew in me. Now she was turned on, I wanted to think of it as a her. I had envisioned a trim and efficient maid, a facsimile of my wife that would fill up the years until my children were older. I wanted a nanny, but the state wouldn’t make anything but a wife for me. My wife had seen to that before she died. Bitch. Selfish, entitled bitch.
The custom woman watched me, as the contentious shouts of my children floated through the door. We should never have had children. I never thought I would be alone like this. I could cope with the children, but I could not stand the loneliness that had grown in me, under the cover of my children’s incessant noise. Even if I never spoke to the woman, I wanted another grown body in the house. I crossed to the door, and pounded. Jack emitted a violent shushing noise; relative silence ensued. I could send the woman back. I found, as soon as this idea entered my head, that I had no intention of sending her back. She’s mine. I bought her, and I’m keeping her. My stomach turned over, and my eyes went again to the woman I had bought. Green eyes, not brown. The state made a mistake.
The naked woman sat on the edge of the bed, her green eyes fixed steadily on my face.
“You are Archie,” the woman said. She spoke in my wife’s voice, in my Helen’s voice. A shudder of familiarity ran up my spine. Her breasts were incredible. They’re not real, they’re fake, I told myself, but they looked real. Better than Helen’s breasts. A tremor of guilt went through me.
“I don’t know what to say to you,” I said. She looked straight at me. Her eyes were green, not like Helen’s eyes. Thank God the state got something wrong. I gathered up the clothes I had taken from the closet. “Here are clothes,” I said, thrusting them at the woman.
“Please say my name,” the woman said. She did not take the clothes. Fiery blood built in my veins, and thudded in my ears.
“I don’t want to call you by my wife’s name,” I said. The woman stood up, and stepped towards me. The smell of Helen on her skin, and the loose waves of her familiar hair, got into my insides, and made them squirm.
“Your wife is dead,” the woman said. Her green eyes were fixed on me; she spoke in a calm voice, the same voice Helen used when she told me to kiss her, or else. Bitch.
“Helen,” I said.
“Yes, I am Helen,” the custom woman said.
“I don’t want you to be called Helen. I didn’t like my wife.”
The custom woman’s eyes did not falter, but I perceived a slight pressure in the muscles around her mouth.
“I don’t know what to do with that information, Archie.” She waited, and when I did not answer, she spoke again. “What do you want from me, Archie?”
I stared at the woman who spoke with my wife’s voice, and who looked at me through green eyes, and a chasm opened in my heart.
“I’m not very interesting,” I told the custom woman. “I don’t want to love you. I don’t want to sleep with you.” God, I wanted to. “I bought you for my children. I want my children to have their mother.”
Her eyes changed, relaxed around the edges. They did not move like Helen’s eyes. It is not Helen. My palms grew hot. It is a machine that looks like Helen, and is made to speak like Helen. She, I thought. It. Her.
“I don’t want to call you Helen,” I said.
“Will you call me ‘wife?'”
My heart lurched. I will not sleep with you. I will not be the man who buys a living doll to put into his empty bed. I will not.
“Yes, I will call you ‘wife,'” I told her.
“Thank you, Archie.” She took the clothes, and dressed herself.
“My name isn’t Archie.”
Her arms hesitated over the straps of her bra.
“What is your name?” she asked, without looking up.
“My name is Archibald,” I said. Heat rose in my chest; she will laugh at me now, like Helen always does. “Helen made fun of me for my name,” I said, cutting off the swift trail of memories unspooling in my mind. No, no, no, I will not remember. Helen’s taunting voice lifted, like a banner of scarlet, over my thoughts. “Please call me Archibald,” I said. “Wife,” I added, and a renewed column of heat spread through my thighs. Stupid; it isn’t real. She isn’t real. I bought a machine to be present in my house, to be the mother of my children.
“Yes, Archibald,” my wife said.
“Daddy, Jack won’t share!” Susan shrieked from just outside my door.
“I did not, she took two!” Jack shouted. Susan’s indignant cry made the door shiver.
I watched the garments clasp against the custom woman, enfolding her body in the things my wife had worn. A battle of screams and thumps unfolded beyond the door. I should go and stop them. My eyes were fixed on the custom woman, as my children’s shouts filled the house. Helen would have screamed at Jack and Susan; her face would have twisted into a mask of impatient fury. This woman did not scream; her eyes were patient, and kind. This wife did not laugh at my name. She had green eyes instead of brown. The state made three mistakes. Hope burgeoned in my heart. She is not like Helen. This woman is kind. She is a picture of Helen, with the bad parts taken out. My new wife adjusted her skirt. The sound of my children was unbearable.
“Is there anything you want me to know before I see the children, Archibald?” my wife asked over the shattering noise. I studied her green eyes, and friendly cheeks. She looked human. Already, to me, she was not like Helen. She came to stand beside me, near the door. I put my arm around her body; she settled against me, like a sunrise melts into the sky. My children’s war grew deafening. She was warm, and soft. Her hands lay on my chest, and her figure was a mirror of my soul. I felt at home. My custom wife did not gaze at me adoringly; her green eyes were fixed on mine with steady calm. With her dark hair, and peaceful green eyes, she was like a goddess of the night.
“I don’t want you to hit my kids,” I said over the screaming. I did not think she could hurt my children, but saying this out loud opened up a flood of fear and anger in my chest. I breathed in, and opened my mouth. “I am glad Helen died. I have not said this to anyone before.”
The custom woman looked at me serenely. A roar from Susan thundered in the air, and tiny fists pounded against the door. I saw patience, and understanding in my woman’s eyes. I know my little ones will love her.
“Will you name yourself? I don’t want to call you Helen,” I shouted over the screams. She smiled at me, and laid her palm against my cheek. Pain throttled through my chest at her caress. I wanted to cry. My woman will love me, not like Helen.
“I want you to name me, Archibald,” my woman called over the noise of my children’s shrieks. I smiled at her, and unlocked my bedroom door.
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