I can't seem to delete the first time I saw her. It was at Costco, on a Sunday. She was trying to decide between name brand and store brand toilet paper. She went with Kirkland's. I felt a little spark when she turned to look at me. I could tell by her wink she felt it too. She asked if I wanted to grab a slice over at the food court. I don't really eat, but I said, "Sure, love to. I'm Bob, by the way."
"Cassandra," she said.
She laughed when I tried to eat the pizza, but it was that nice laugh, the one where a girl thinks you're cute. I was cute. She told me she was a nurse. I told her I worked in a factory. She told me she liked movies. I told her I liked her. She turned her head, her hair whipped. She smiled. A small grease fire ignited between my fingers, but I wasn't going to let that ruin my day. I doused my hand with her Dasani. The fire jumped off my hand onto the table. We managed to smother it with our napkins. We laughed. Everything felt right.
I helped download her items into the trunk of her car. A tag from a blouse she bought was hanging out. I tried to flip it back just as the lid slammed down. It didn't hurt. She opened the trunk back up. My left hand was next to the thirty-six pack of toilet paper. I picked it up with my right hand. Between the fire and the trunk lid, it was scrap. She apologized and started to cry. I told her it was fine. It was just a peripheral. I'd get a new one. She said it was my lucky day. I agreed.
She said her boss, Dr. Hans Derma, was performing some remarkable cutting-edge work. She said that, for a nominal fee, he could fit me with a new kind of hand. She was standing very close. Her breasts punched my frame. I said I'd see her doctor friend. She gave me his card with her phone number on back.
Next day, I went to her doctor. It was a success. My new hand only cost two thousand dollars. Cassandra visited me in the recovery room. She bent down and stuck my new finger in her mouth. My head jerked around for some reason. It was a completely new sensation. I liked it. She asked if I wanted to meet over at her place later. I told her tomorrow would be better. I had work that night.
All night at work, I thought about her, her mouth, about my finger, about my finger in her mouth. Ted kept yelling at me to keep up, but I couldn't multitask anymore. I wanted to feel. I wanted to feel that feeling again. When no one was looking, I walked over to Bridget, our twenty-ton hydraulic stamping press, and stuck my old hand through the gate just as she hammered down on a die. It didn't hurt. I grabbed my old right hand with my new left hand. I showed it to my boss. He was upset.
"Damn it, Bob! Have you glitched out? Do you know how much paperwork I have to fill out?"
He told me to walk down to maintenance. I told him I wanted a second opinion. I wanted a real doctor to have a look.
"Come on, Bob. We're a small company. Doctors? Can't we keep this hush-hush?"
"I don't know, boss," I said.
"What'll it take to make this hand thing go away? How much?"
"Two thousand dollars and the rest of the week off."
Next day, I went to Dr. Derma and had my other hand done. Cassandra was there in the recovery room again. She stuck one of my newest fingers in her mouth. My eyes flickered, my leg twitched. My head spun around.
"I get off in half an hour. Why don't you wait for me?" she said.
I sat in the waiting room scrolling through a ringed binder. It felt electric to the touch. Every page contained photos of sad people next to happy people. It said Before under the sad people and After under the happy people. These people seemed related somehow, but it was hard to tell for certain. I wanted to be one of the happy people, one of the After people.
"Let's go. You can ride with me," Cassandra said.
Her place was posh, very modern and finely furnished, much better than mine. She turned on some music, turned off the lights, and lit candles. She told me to have a seat on the couch. She poured wine. I took a sip. It went right through me. She didn't mind, she was getting a new one anyway, a couch that is. She unbuttoned her shirt, and we kissed. Then she wiggled off her pants and put my hands on her backside. It's what I always imagined kneading dough felt like. My new hands liked it. I liked it. I didn't want to stop.
"Where is it?" she asked.
"My what?" Cassandra seemed put off. I was cross-wired. I thought things were going well. I wasn't sure what was wrong.
"This relationship won't go very far, if you don't have a penis, Bob. You know, Dr. Derma might be able to help you with one." She put my finger in her mouth. My head spun around, twice. "A penis is the greatest thing a guy like you could ever have." She cupped my hands on her breasts.
"How much will it cost?"
"It's the most expensive part we have. Dr. Derma will probably charge a hundred thousand dollars. But baby, it's worth it." She grabbed my left hand and ran her tongue from the bottom of my palm to the tip of my middle finger. My head spun around, thrice. Whatever a penis was, I was going to get one.
A hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money for a factory worker like me. I thought about sticking both legs in Bridget at work, but I didn't want to go in and deal with my boss. Besides, I had the whole week off. I thought about walking in front of a taxi and suing. But that would have wrecked my new hands when I hit the pavement and took forever to settle. I needed a penis. I needed a better idea. And I needed it all right then. I sat on the steps outside my apartment building to process data.
I noticed people getting money from an ATM across the street. I watched all day. I counted forty seven transactions totaling two thousand three hundred fifty dollars. There were ATM's all over town. I had an idea.
When it fell dark, I went around the neighborhood kicking in ATM after ATM and taking all the money out. I had over three hundred twenty thousand dollars before midnight. I had enough for three penises, and hopefully some new feet. Those ATM's are solid.
I went to Dr. Derma the next day. Cassandra waved to me from behind the counter. I waved back. I showed her the stack of dollars. She smiled. Dr. Derma was standing next to her. He smiled too.
"What can I do for you today, Bob?" Dr. Derma asked.
"I want three penises, and some feet, if they aren't too much."
"Whoa, hold on there, Bob. You only need one penis. That's it. And new feet are not a problem. Fifteen hundred per."
"Okay. One penis you say. So, what else can I get for all this money?" I asked.
"Cassandra, tell Evelyn to cancel the rest of the day. Bob, here, is getting the Works. Now Bob. I'm going to have to shut you down for a while, okay?" Dr. Derma said.
When I came back online, I had two new feet, and two new legs, and two new arms connected to my two new hands. I had washboard abs and some strange appendage below them, where my new legs came together. I had a chest and a back, pecs and a neck. I had glutes. I saw a face in the mirror on the wall. It was my face. I touched it. I looked like an After happy person. I was an After happy person. I could hear a thumping noise in my new chest. Ba-dum Ba-dum. That, I guessed, was what After happy people sounded like.
Cassandra came in, "Oh, Bob, look at you. You look fantastic!"
"Thank you. I am wondering what that is though." I pointed at the strange appendage.
"Well Bob, that's your new penis. Let me show you how it works." She locked the door and took off her clothes. The ba-dum ba-dum started thumping faster in my chest. I felt it in my head, my legs, my glutes. Ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum. I felt a surge, and then…
When I rebooted, Dr. Derma was looking at me. "Now, Bob, you need to take it easy for a few days while your chassis integrates all these new upgrades. You just twisted your neck right off, but I fixed it, no charge. You've been very good client. Great, in fact. Maybe next time we give you some hair. Women really like the hair, Bob. Now put these clothes on, okay?"
"Okay." The clothes felt awkward and burned my new skin.
I waved to Cassandra as I left the office. She smiled and looked down at a file. I was cross-wired again. I couldn't recall what happened. At home, I took the clothes off, sat down to defrag, and stared at the appendage between my legs. I began to think the penis thing wasn't as great as Cassandra said it was.
I turned on the TV. The news was on. The top story was about a droid that kicked in nine ATM's and stolen the money. A city wide droid hunt was on. I was scared. They disassemble and melt rogue droids. I didn't know what to do. I tried to call Cassandra, but she wouldn't answer her phone. I looked out the window to see if the police were coming. They were crossing the street. I was feeling that surge again, and then I noticed my reflection in the glass. It was of After Bob. Before Bob kicked in the ATM's, not After Bob.
There was a knock at the door. I opened it.
"May I help you, officers?"
"Were looking for a droid named Bob," the man said.
"My name is Bob. But clearly, I'm not the droid you're looking for."
"No, I guess you're not. And buddy, you know you should really put on shorts before you open the door, okay?"
After Bob had a new start. After Bob went to bed happy.
Cassandra didn't return my calls for three days. I watched outside her apartment one night, as she took some other droid inside. The ba-dum ba-dum in my chest hurt. Life was pretty tough after that. I quit going to work, quit going out, quit talking to my friends. It took a couple weeks for it all to compile. Then one morning I partitioned the hurt and decided to move on, get a new job, and meet new people.
I took a sales position at a Men's Wearhouse. They offered an employee discount on clothes tailored to fit my new body. I liked the way I looked. Tilly, from my bank, liked the way I looked too. I asked her out while depositing the first check from my new job. We've been dating for two months now.
I took Tilly to the Olive Garden one night last week. It's what couples do. The wine ran right through her. We laughed. I saw Cassandra several tables over with Ted, from the factory. They were laughing too. Ted had a new hand. Cassandra put his finger in her mouth. Ted's head spun around, twice. I got upset, so I asked Tilly if we could leave.
The next morning, Tilly and I were in bed. I flipped on the TV, to the news. Her head was on my chest, her hand in my shorts. The news ran cuts of grainy surveillance footage showing some droid kicking in a Redbox and a couple Coke machines. I told Tilly her hand was hurting me.
"Are you complaining?" she asked.
"I'm just saying."
"You know, I'll get a hand job if you get circumcised."
"Hey, I didn't say it hurt that much."
BIO: John Hair is a husband, a father, and a worker of wood. On Fridays, he plays cards with the voices in his head. They stack the deck and always win. It’s okay. He likes to keep them happy, so he can write.