Sarah Elizabeth Marrs & Kate Lu

Kate Lu is a New York–born writer who now lives in Virginia. She has recently been published in the anthology Defying Gravity (Paycock Press), and we’re excited to feature “Circuits,” a short story that tells the tale of Bobby, an android who discovers humanity comes with a substantial price tag. For this artist spotlight, we asked Kate about writing, robots, and the meaning of life. We hope you enjoy “Circuits,” and Kate, as much as we do.

To read the interview, click here.

Kate Lu

        Bobby wonders if he’s strange. At night, in his cohort’s Warehouse, when most everyone else has gone into sleep mode for the night, he wanders among the rows of standing robots, their thin PolyFlex skins all a pale sheen in the scraps of moonlight that come in through the high windows near the curved, sheet-metal roof. He looks into their blank, flesh-colored faces, wondering if they dream, if they know what dreaming is. Bobby never sleeps; nighttime is the only time he has to study.
        He can’t say “think,” not in what he understands as being the truest sense of the word, because he knows that what he’s doing isn’t thinking. Thinking, his pre-programmed Encyclopedia tells him, requires a brain, a mass of organic tissue with cells specialized for problem-solving, for emoting. Bobby knows how to problem-solve; he can look at toothbrushes coming off the assembly line that are inconsistent in a million different ways, but still know that they are malformed, know that they should be tossed in the ovens behind him that melt down the plastic for recycling. But he can’t quite wrap his head around emoting, even though he tries.
        Sometimes, right before the other robots power down, Bobby watches them from behind one of the tall stacks of crates packed with toothbrushes, watches particularly for Calla, with her distinctive red markings which signal her rank as Unit Supervisor, as she stands next to Remy, bands of yellow around his neck, wrists, and ankles, a Troubleshooter—both classes of robots that will be phased out when Model Vs like Bobby gain the A.I. to replace them.

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James Fowler

        As Dodi Snipe is whacking her twin brother Momo over the head with a badminton racket, she suddenly finds herself staring at his belly button. That is, she is sunk down to her knees. Not kneeling, mind you, but standing knee-deep in a hole. Her brother doesn’t bother why, just takes advantage to get in a few good pops of his own.
        “Stop it, crudly,” she warns, using her dire-consequence tone, her fire-ants-in-the-sneakers tone, which Momo has been trained to observe.
        Once she has crawled out, they contemplate the hole together. There is nothing special about it particularly, beyond its instant appearance. As for its uses, different views can be taken. Momo is all for filling it with water and throwing in the neighbor’s cat. Dodi leans more toward a time capsule to be dug up in the distant future, say, five years. The ensuing argument over what items to include carries them indoors, where they drift off in forgetful play.
        Exiled from the house later that day, they find the hole much deeper and larger, big enough now to bury a cow. They have always wanted a proper swimming pool, and it looks as if the god of backyard holes is answering their prayers. So rather than tell their mother, who would just want it filled in, they poke the edges with sticks and bicker over the guest list to their pool parties. On the verge of reaching an agreement, they look up in time to see the rusty swing set topple headlong into what can now only be called a crater. It settles at the bottom with its legs sticking up road-kill-fashion.

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Susan White

        I’ve faked a lot of things in my life—knowledge, orgasms, heterosexuality, fidelity, interest—and the pretense has felt like swallowing dry leaves. But there is one thing I have derived nothing but joy from faking: clogging.
        My fast feet scuff, scoot, and stomp to the hillbilly downbeat. My upper body bounces; my chest burns. The back of my hair damp, I tap my toe forward then backward and strike with my full foot, alternate feet, again and again. And turn, lift up a leg, rotate my swinging foot, and stomp. My arms are bent and waist-high, away from my sides—as if icy waves smack my belly. I touch a heel with my opposite hand. Double-step to the beats in double-time, yanking my hamstrings, all the time picturing the strong-legged, gingham-clad, grinning men and women I’ve seen at fairs and on flatbed trucks in parades. And I’m off—free styling—stutter-scooting on one foot diagonally. Back to double-stepping to regain balance. Knees higher and higher, I fairly skip in place, arms doing tricks with an invisible jump rope. I swear to God, my legs move independently of my brain. Then the wind-down: toe, toe, heel, rock-back, toe, toe, heel. My feet slap the barroom floor to the final beats of the song. I walk back to my table of friends, watching their mouths move, but hearing nothing over my blood pumping from my heart to my head.
        You have to understand, I approach all other forms of dancing as I do my annual pap smear: cringing at my exposure, positive that I am disgusting. I feel sorry for anyone inspecting me. I can’t help but see most dancing as a means for flaunting sex appeal. I have never been able to dress or act the part of sexy. Not even on Halloween. While my friends dressed as sexy witches or Madonna, I was a green, pot-bellied Grinch or a hulking gorilla. Clogging—at least my style of clogging—is not about grace or seduction. It’s about enthusiasm and stamina.

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        I’m remembering some collages that my late mother-in-law made after a trip to Cuba in September 1941. She spoke of the trip frequently over the fifteen years I knew her. There was never anything linear or even particularly narrative about her conversational recollections, just bits and pieces. I learned early in our relationship not to ask too many questions—she never responded as I might hope but would lose her train of thought or take offense or jump past the subject altogether. Instead, I learned to listen, nod, and smile over the scotch and sodas she insisted upon. We were collaborators in a strange dance, at once mysterious and meaningful. In part, I was her best connection to a son she adored but who came so late into her life that she often found him difficult to comprehend. At times I think I was the reflection of her idiosyncratic self. Always, though, I was her friend, one more, even one last, in a long line of female friends she had collected over her eighty-plus years.

Collage: Drawing of Marion

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Elizabeth Genovise

        Midnight finds Mill stretched out on the couch in front of the living room window, her .22 perfectly balanced against her shoulder, the barrel of the rifle peeking out between two slats of the blinds she has been meaning to change for months.
        “Mill. For God’s sake.” Martin is standing behind her, half-asleep and wearing only his camouflage boxers, scattered tattoos, and the long scars that mark his arms and shoulders. “There’s nobody trying to get in here.”
        She is wearing a green silk teddy embroidered with leaves and she pulls back the bolt. “Like hell there isn’t. This is the third time, Martin. I know what I heard, and I know what I saw.”
        “That same shadow? How do you know it wasn’t just some dog?”
        Slowly her eyes float over the barrel to his, and he backs up a step, throwing up both hands. “OK. You know what, do what you feel you need to do.” He disappears into their bedroom, but a moment later, returns with a cartridge box—50 shells—and sets it gently on the floor beside the couch. On his way back to bed, he stops to look into Mill’s son’s room. She hears him touching things in there, knows the sound of Charles’ closet being opened. After what seems like a long pause, Martin goes back to bed.

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        Bodies retrieved from the water can only be beautiful to those who have loved them long enough to take those bodies for granted. And only then when enough time has passed so you’ve bartered with the universe—just a glimpse, please, no matter how awful. I looked at my husband Sean’s bloated, discolored face, twisted in the terror of hypothermic shock and suffocation—a face so unlike any he ever wore—but I saw the man I loved.
        I had been visiting my sister Jennie in Nashua the Friday night he fell through. Of course we spoke about Sean then. It didn’t seem substantial at the moment, just conversation, but I have to look back on that as the last time I talked about him without knowing he was gone. Like how the moon might feel when it looks down on us with memories of Pangaea, before the world exploded into what it is today.
        In hindsight I feel I should have had some sense of what was happening, but after dinner and a board game, and her husband’s incessant talk about politics, and a third glass of wine, I drifted off to sleep without giving Sean a second thought.

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Catherine Grow

        Pop figured the best time to catch the geese would be before dusk. He said those impudent devils would be full of Hazlett’s corn by then and settled near the pond: fat, content, and not inclined to move. “No, I do not need help!” he bristled at my initial offer of assistance. It was my thirteenth summer then—the summer when, want to or not, I was being pulled toward womanhood.
         “No, Hallie Jo, I do not need help,” Pop repeated, a tad bit more civil. “I can take care of this myself. Just leave me alone to do what needs doing.” He sighed loudly and looked as if the weight of the world was pressing down on his shoulders, as if he had too much to bear, though he’d always maintained that the Good Lord never gives a body more than can be handled.

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        Silently, she stood in the window of her grandmother’s bedroom and watched the grey river flow by. Through the lens of the telescope positioned in the window, Mia peered at the Buffalo skyline. Seagulls darted between the border of sky and water. Here it was Thanksgiving, but across the Niagara River it was Columbus Day. Mia’s eye darted back and forth, attempting to grasp the spirit of either holiday, which was notably lacking in the house.
        She spied her brother and their cousin Jacob across the street throwing stones into the river. Both boys were twelve and on the cusp of their teenage years. They were on the verge of losing their childhood softness and turning overnight into towering men-boys with booming voices, their faces red with pimples and an anxious sullen rebellion. Matt would quickly grow in and out of this phase, turning into a quiet giant, but Jacob would not.

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        For fifteen years, I spent practically every night and weekend at a Chicago dance or theater, improv or comedy performance. One night in 2003 as I walked up Belmont Avenue, a press kit tucked under my arm, I stopped in my tracks and said to myself, “I can’t do this anymore.” The weary proclamation had nothing to do with the show I had just seen, nor did it mean that I suddenly hated live performance. I was tired. I had my own stories to tell. I stopped reviewing theater.

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Daniel Pearlman

The artist, to my way of thinking, is a monstrosity, something outside nature.

Friday, April 6

        I appear to be guilty of a lapse in judgment. I should have consulted with Bethany before inviting my protégé to set himself up in the gatehouse. Long-unoccupied, high-ceilinged and sunny, it would give him far more suitable space, I assured him, with respect to both studio and living quarters, than that dank, overpriced hole of his in Brooklyn. And that’s not to mention the clean rural air of northern Jersey. And the safety from the kind of vandalism that had destroyed some earlier Lou Coctons. I invited Lou on a generous impulse—well, true, the Chilton Mazzia gallery does stand to gain an exclusive on every new piece of his—but I should not have expected Bethany to accept without question a decision I made on the spur of the moment. It was a sound business decision, but she was hardly going to react with enthusiasm to an arrangement that must impinge (no matter how little) upon the total privacy of our lives out here in the sticks.
        I can’t stop picturing the pain with which she greeted my tactless announcement. “For God’s sake, Chilton,” she chided, “we’ve been married for less than two years, and you invite a stranger to move in with us?” It is now barely five hours later and her reaction still hurts. Why am I so sensitive? It comes of a life perhaps overly dedicated to the things of the mind, to Art.

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1. How It Started

        Sara got a Chimpanion. Helen got a Chimpanion. But when Elsa Gartner got one I said to myself, “Well, that takes it!” Couldn’t hold out another minute. I jumped into the car, never mind my hair, or the bed not being made, and drove straight to Wally’s Department Store. $1,999.99, I could hardly believe it, a bargain sale price for a Chimpanion. I mean, I could barely afford it; but I could barely afford my house, my car, my credit card—you know, just add it to the pile. Raced home like a teenager, and struggled inside with the box—fifty or sixty pounds, it seemed, if it was an ounce. “My God,” I said to myself, setting it down, breathing hard. “My very own Chimpanion, at last.”
        Now, in case you haven’t heard—if you’ve been in India or living with Zulus, or something—I’ll explain about the whole Chimpanion thing. It wasn’t a fad, really (fads are dumb); it was just—a really great invention. The sort of thing everyone could use, that everyone needed. When I think of what my life was like BC (Before Chimpanions), I cry, practically—I mean, it was so tough. So ordinary. It was no life at all.
        Anyhow, Chimpanions (chimps + companions) were Electric Robot Friends—pets, you might call them, though they were so much more than pets. They could follow instructions, almost anything you could think of, like “wash the dishes” (you had to say it in a loud, even tone), even hard stuff like “get the groceries,” or “do my taxes.” It was like having your own private butler. By the end, my Chimpanion (it took a while to train him—they start out wild) could dress me, brush my hair, even paint my toenails, which saved heaps of time. It was pretty sweet. But “all good things . . .,” as they say. We’re AC (After Chimpanions) now, and life is murder. It all happened so quickly; I hope I remember all the details, the important stuff anyway. Here goes.

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In which is related an interview with Nathan Vogt by William Sidney Parker treating upon their decades-long argument and in which they did not get grumpy. This time.

SID: I just don't like Dylan. Let's just, let’s just put it like that. I don't like Dylan.

NATHAN: Ok, so, so you’re just

SID: And it’s not

NATHAN: so you’re just

SID: and it’s not

NATHAN: so you’re just laying it down. You're just throwing down the gauntlet.

SID: Right. But.

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