MY FATHER'S ROBOT
By Toshiya Kamei
Content Warnings: Death.
My father changed his will shortly before his death, leaving all his property to some stranger he’d recently met. Prior to this, the seeds of distrust grew between us for a reason that still eludes me, and we were estranged. His abrupt death robbed us of a final chance to patch things up. I wonder what came between us, what altered his attitude toward me. Besides unresolved resentment, the only thing he bequeathed me was his out-of-date, malfunctioning robot, not much else.
In the living room, my father’s robot squeaks and beams a holographic video into open air. In it, I’m a smiling toddler on a swing in a nondescript grey park. The air hardly stirs. Overhead, the cicadas buzz incessantly. The sunlight bounces off the faded jungle gym as it heats the ground. Hang on, son! my father’s younger self shouts and pushes my swing. His resemblance to my current self startles me. In the video, I tense up before letting myself go, and my swing flies higher and higher.
My wife comes in and sits beside me on the couch. She softly places her hand on my shoulder as if to comfort me. I take her hand and give it a gentle squeeze. Suddenly, the robot whirls out of the living room.
‘What were you watching?’
‘Scenes from Dad’s life. As if a camera was a constant presence. Somehow, these recordings got loaded into the robot. I can’t get rid of it,’ I whisper when I’m sure the robot is out of earshot. ‘It’s the only keepsake he left me.’
‘It’s okay, honey.’ She caresses my hair.
Before I was born, the robot came into my parents’ lives as a housewarming gift from a family friend. It was constantly present throughout my childhood. One of my earliest memories involves playing hide-and-seek with it. After I left home for college, I didn’t give the robot much thought. When my stepmother died decades later, it kept my father company. He thought it was more useful than a dog. The robot cooked him three meals a day and accompanied him during his daily strolls in the botanical garden nearby. In the evening, my father played chess with it.
Now, at random times, the robot projects random scenes from my father’s life. Now that he’s gone, it’s the keeper of his memory and nothing more. It serves no other purpose.
The robot whirls back. It shakes, and another feed begins. My father, older than he was in the previous video, paces around the living room of the house I grew up in. In one corner of the room, the piano no one touches is enshrined with accumulated trinkets. Pictures of frozen smiles. Sun-faded postcards. A crooked quilt. A tilting lamp shade. Memories pile up like dust motes on top of a cabinet. He raises his voice and yells at someone out of view. I can’t make out his words. A woman’s cry pierces the air. It’s my mother. The voice fades, and the picture goes black. A dead silence settles over them.
My wife and I gaze at each other. Her eyes darken, horror stirring in their depths.
‘It’s not like him. He never acted like that.’
‘Do we know for sure what we’re watching is real?’ she asks, frowning. ‘How reliable is it?’
I look at her then, see the concern clouding her eyes, but I can’t answer. My head is jumbled. Fractured. My wife kisses between my brows, over my cheeks, down to my lips, but I can’t respond in any human way. We share breath for a moment, eyes shut against the world, but all I know is my mother’s scream. I shiver.
‘Maybe,’ my wife says, voice soft, ‘you should be content with your memories of him.’
‘I don’t know.’ I cover my face with my hands. My wife rubs my shoulders to comfort me.
In the afternoon, I drive to the park alone. The swings are still there. Rust hugs the links. Dead leaves skitter across the cracked blacktop. I step out, and the sound of the car door shutting behind me momentarily breaks the empty silence draping over the park. No birds sing. No children laugh. I recall my father’s fury. My mother’s cry still grips my heart. Then the silence. A seed of doubt sprouts in my gut. No, her death was an accident. Everyone said it was. I shake my head to drive away the thought.
The small seat of the nearest swing squeaks from my touch. A single raindrop falls from the clear, cloudless sky. Two drops, then three, then four. Drops fall on the metal surface before disappearing. When the world blurs too much, I finally wipe my eyes.
Night falls. We go to bed.
‘Honey, I’ll get rid of it,’ I whisper to my wife lying next to me. ‘The first thing in the morning.’
I roll over and kiss my wife goodnight.
In the morning, I go downstairs and around to the foyer. A breeze blows through my hair, and I watch the flowers in the vase atop the cabinet sway. Out of reflex, my eyes dart to the front door. It’s ajar.
‘I thought I locked it last night.’
I step inside the living room, and I notice the robot is gone.
Toshiya Kamei writes short fiction.