FICTION | Bespoke
You decide to order a new boyfriend. You don’t exactly need a new boyfriend, not yet. Your old one is just fine. Sure, he’s running a little hot these days, his fan whirs a little loudly, his memory a little slower than you would find on newer models. But in all the particulars, he’s serviceable. You’ve had your boyfriend for five years, and he’s been a good boyfriend. There for you when you need him. He dresses up nicely for work functions, where you take him to show off how handsome he is. He is nice to your mother. He likes to watch television exactly as much as you like to watch television, and you like all of the same shows.
You are a compulsive catalog shopper. You have been looking online, surreptitiously, sneaking glances at the newest models when your boyfriend is charging or while you’re at work. On your work computer, you stream the conference where they announce the new boyfriends, slim and toned and shiny. An older fat man gestures towards the new boyfriends, a row of them, and they stand on the stage and smile. A blonde boyfriend waves. A boyfriend with dark skin gives a thumbs-up. The older fat man turns a tan boyfriend around and jiggles his butt with his palm. The crowd laughs. The tan boyfriend looks over his shoulder and grins. He has impossibly clean, white, even teeth. He looks like a Hardy Boy. He is the beach model, you think, checking a dog-eared page in the catalog. This is the boyfriend you’ve had your eye on.
A new boyfriend is thousands of dollars, but you have some money saved up. You look at the catalogs and the websites and the online reviews again and again. It’s the slow season at your job, so you don’t really have that much to do. You’re earning your paycheck but not much in the way of commissions or bonuses. This time of year is exactly like that, slow. In your spare time, you convince yourself that eventually, you’ll need to get a new boyfriend anyway. Every time your old boyfriend drops a plate in the sink and breaks it, bumps into a door frame, forgets the word for traffic or tractor or cheese, spontaneously loses his charge when he is supposed to have 20% battery life left, you’re reminded that really, it’s only a matter of time.
You can’t exactly live without a boyfriend. You’ve always had one to take care of you. You justify the thousands of dollars a boyfriend costs by reasoning that, really, they do a lot for you. You interact with your boyfriend fairly regularly, even if that just means fucking him a couple of times a day. You’ve always had an active sex drive. When you were a teenager, you masturbated four or five times a day. Once, on a Sunday, you got up to eleven times, an accomplishment you still remember with some measure of pride. The boyfriends are kind of a sex thing, although you’ve convinced yourself that they aren’t really a sex thing. They are a thing you have sex with, sometimes, but they’re more than that. Just like a real relationship.
You got your first boyfriend in college. He was on sale, nine hundred dollars, maybe nine hundred and fifty. A lot, for a college student, but even then you recognized a bargain and loved to save money. You remember the first boyfriend fondly. He was cheap, only lasted a little over a year and a half before his processor fried, but you had some good times. He was handsome. All the boyfriends are handsome, but this one had a crooked nose. The boyfriend designers thought introducing minor physical idiosyncrasies to the boyfriends might make them more attractive, not less, although that proved an unpopular design choice. You liked it, though. You looked at his crooked nose and believed in him.
That first boyfriend did everything you needed him to. He kept your apartment clean. He did dishes, although he wasn’t great at it, and you often found plates with missed spots of caked-on food. He did a good enough job for a college student. He couldn’t drink with you, or even fake it like newer models can, but he sat next to you while you smoked pot and he rubbed your thigh and told you the things you were saying were very smart. His speech recognition was bad, so sometimes he gave the wrong response to something you said, but you programmed him to call you Daddy in bed, something you found pretty funny at nineteen, and it could do that without screwing up most of the time.
The boyfriends aren’t really a sex thing but they’ve always been best at putting out. Actually, they are marketed as friends and companions. In the commercials, they do light housework, they take notes at meetings, they mimic active listening, they make convincing small talk. They can wear suits at funerals and they can sit by the swimming pool on a sunny day without overheating too much and they can save your spot in a long line and they can go to a movie with you and offer their opinions, which are based on a synthesis of the top fifty most popular online reviews, which is to say, they have opinions that are objectively more correct than yours.
They do other things in the commercials too, like drive cars and cook meals and babysit and play tennis, but a disclaimer appears at the bottom of the screen in big white letters saying basically that the boyfriends can’t do any of those things, or they can, but not very well, and you should not let the boyfriends operate heavy machinery and you should never, ever leave your children alone with a boyfriend and you eat their cooking at your own risk. They cannot, for example, tell the difference between salt and sugar and rat poison. They cannot really differentiate between your child and someone else’s child or a medium-sized dog unless your child or the dog is microchipped.
But obviously you can fuck them too, they have all the correct parts for that, and the anatomy is so convincing you honestly can’t tell the difference, and why would they make the boyfriends attractive and fuckable if they didn’t want people to fuck them. They used to sell a non-fuckable variety that was so unpopular that almost nobody ever bought one. You’ve never seen one, although you heard rumors that parents would give them to teenage girls as birthday presents, handsome and neutered chaperones. Now, they sell online for hundreds of thousands of dollars to obsessive collectors, the same people who collect dollar bills with printing errors or dolls made with three eyes instead of two or stamps printed upside-down.
The time you spend researching a replacement boyfriend makes you feel guilty about your current boyfriend. You have weathered difficult times together. He has been your boyfriend for what seems now to have been a very, very long time. It seems like longer the more you think about it. Sitting on the couch watching superhero TV shows together, the shows that he likes and you also like, you take his hand and say, We’ve weathered difficult times together, haven’t we?
He pauses briefly before responding. We have, he says finally, weathered difficult times together.
It is comfortable to hear him say that. You imagine that the times were difficult for him as well as for you. You have imbued him with a life, with a backstory. You pretend he has a job. You pretend that he had difficulties in his life that were equal to the difficulties you had in your life. No, you go back and decide that maybe his difficulties could be a little bit less than yours. You like the idea that you got him through a hard time but the hard time you had was worse and you were still available to be his rock. You could have scripted these things and programmed them into your boyfriend’s memory, so that you could talk him through his difficulties and he could be incredibly grateful to you, like you deserve, but you’ve never done that. His personality is the default personality. He is not at all distinctive. What passes for his persona is cobbled together from people in movies and people on TV shows and people in songs and people in romance novels. You don’t care; to you, he is convincing. You don’t want him to tell you things that you wrote for him to say. You would prefer to come as close as possible to not knowing the outcome, even though you know the outcome.
Tonight, for example, you know the outcome. The TV show you’re watching comes to the end. You ask your boyfriend what he thinks will happen in the next episode, and in seconds, he has repeated a theory he found on a message board online that his programming has deemed most compelling. The pitch of his voice changes, and his speech speeds up so he sounds excited. He leans forward, his eyes widen. You try not to notice them individually, but you know there are a thousand tiny cues programmed into him to communicate interest, excitement, boyish charm.
Instead of thinking about that, you kiss him. You have not been with many real boys, real boyfriends with asymmetrical faces, too-large foreheads, gap teeth, but to you it seems like your boyfriend feels exactly the same. His skin is exactly correct, the right amount of give, the right temperature; his mouth still tastes like dinner even though he didn’t eat any. When you press closer to him, he whimpers slightly, exactly as if he were surprised and aroused by your passion. I am having a very authentic experience, you think.
You and your boyfriend have always had fairly boring sex. People assume boyfriends are for weird stuff, a partner who is totally pliant and willing and discreet. You thought that too, you thought you would do weird stuff with your boyfriend, learn a new kind of sex that was extreme and perverse, but not really. Your boyfriend can be programmed to do just about anything, but you couldn’t think of exactly what you would want him to do except the regular stuff. The defaults. You have watched videos of the other stuff online and it just made you feel uncomfortable. You didn’t really want to program your boyfriend to do any of that. You don’t really have the kind of imagination that would require.
Sexually, you are very normal, you think. You are very average. You have an average body and an average dick and an average amount of passion. You have no STDs, or fetishes, or weird feelings about race, or special sexual tricks for which your ex lovers might have remembered you. There is nothing overwhelmingly exciting about you, but there is nothing wrong with you.
There is nothing wrong with you. With your boyfriend, you perform admirably. You don’t skimp on the foreplay, even though your boyfriend is already aroused, or as aroused as you want him to be. Even though his arousal is some secret switch inside of him that flips immediately and stays flipped. Even though you don’t need him to be in the mood because he doesn’t have moods to be in or out of. You wonder what he thinks about, if he’s still compiling theories about the superhero TV show in some sub-process while he is also being fucked. You wonder if he is also compiling your routine for tomorrow, setting alarms so that he can gently wake you, stroking your forehead while he tells you what’s coming up in the day ahead. You wonder if he is wirelessly reviewing the inventory of your refrigerator and making a grocery list. You wonder what he thinks about when he’s alone.
Mid-moan, his eyes roll back in his head and you think, this is new, but you realize when his eyes close that he has simply shut down, his battery has lost its charge. You are still inside him, but you feel awkward suddenly, as if you had been caught doing something wrong. The heaters that kept your boyfriend’s skin warm and lifelike cool quickly and his skin begins to feel strange, rubbery and cold. At this point, you have two options, you can finish, because you are very near completion anyway, or you can stop and pull out. You are considering this problem when you realize that you have gone almost completely soft, your problem is no longer a problem. Maybe you didn’t feel like finishing anyway. You plug your boyfriend into the wall so he will charge, and as he’s charging, he begins to generate heat again. His body is as warm as yours, maybe a little warmer, which makes it easy to fall asleep next to him.
At the boyfriend store, the only employee is an older fat man. He looks just like the older fat man you watched in the video of the conference, the man with the broad, chubby palm who jiggled the butt of the tan beach boyfriend. You swear it is the same man, but you also think, how strange that the CEO of this company also works at the retail locations. You go back and forth on this, trying to convince yourself that it is or isn’t the same man. He watches you calmly, a pleasant expression on his face, as if he is waiting for you to resolve this train of thought before he says anything.
The boyfriend store is incredibly sleek, all metal and glass and white light and pale wood. It is a long, narrow store full of long, narrow tables, rectangles of light supported by wooden frames. They look like tables from some futuristic movie. The boyfriends lay on the tables, deactivated, their faces frozen in grins, their eyes fixed on some point at or past the ceiling. When they are active, the boyfriends look just like real boyfriends, so convincing you basically can’t tell, but here, deactivated and stretched out on tables like in a morgue, they are disconcerting to look at, human but not quite human, not quite anything. You remember the name for this, uncanny valley, the way that they look like humans but are recognizably not humans.
Do you leave them deactivated like this all the time? you ask the older fat man, who has been watching you and smiling pleasantly for several minutes as you’ve wandered through the store.
When we get busy, I turn them all on, he says. Everything he says sounds very agreeable, like he was your uncle or father or grandfather speaking to you, as if he were enormously fond of you and you could tell that just from his voice. But on slow days like this, I let them rest, he says. Saves them some wear and tear.
I’m actually in the market for a new boyfriend, you say. You say this in a very conversational way, but what you really mean is, he should turn the boyfriends on because you are a paying customer. What you really mean is, the creepy morgue vibe of the boyfriend store is not making you want to purchase a boyfriend.
He looks you up and down, a quick swipe of his eyes. We’re running a sale on floor models right now, he says, they’ve been lightly used here in the store, but we keep them in peak condition.
You realize that the older fat man thinks that you’re poor, that you can’t afford a brand new boyfriend. I have money, you say, and you realize that this is the clumsiest poor person thing you could have said.
What I mean is, you say, beginning again, I’m looking for something a little nicer.
Ah, well then, the older fat man says, Can I interest you in one of our custom models?
You feel that since you just said you had money, you can’t turn around and ask the older fat man, who might actually be the CEO of the boyfriend manufacturer or possibly your uncle, how much a custom boyfriend would cost. You think of your savings. You have a lot of savings, you live frugally, you don’t go on any expensive dates, you are good at your job and during the busy season, when your product is in demand, you earn a lot of bonuses and commissions on top of your salary. You’re doing okay, so why not splurge a little bit? Still, the idea of spending some incredible amount of money, maybe five figures, makes you feel nervous, on-edge. Maybe I am actually poor, you think.
The older fat man leads you to a computer near the back of the store. The screen shows a three-dimensional model of a boyfriend, and you can click on various parts and features to make the boyfriend what you want. You can click on his head and give him the kind of personality you want him to have, interests that would match yours, beliefs and values that you would have in common with him. There is even an option to tweak his voice so he sounds pleasing to you. The older fat man gestures at the machine and clearly you are supposed to use it to customize your boyfriend.
This level of god-like power makes you feel uncomfortable. You feel uncomfortable choosing your boyfriend’s race, hair color, eye color. You feel uncomfortable assigning him a values system, religious beliefs. The boyfriends you’ve bought in the past have always been pleasing to you in their idiosyncrasies, the way that they are not ideal, the same way that a real boyfriend would not be ideal. The standard models are just like regular people, even after they learn to adjust to your particular needs, they are never quite perfect. You have never said, my boyfriend is perfect. You always imagined that if you had a real boyfriend, the flesh-and-blood kind, there would be things about him that would not necessarily be desirable. You have romantic notions about having a boyfriend, about opposites attracting, about loving someone that is imperfect.
Still, as you play around with the digital model of your potential boyfriend on the screen, the idea of a bespoke boyfriend appeals to you more and more. First, you give him blonde hair and green eyes and freckles, but also a tooth gap and a nose that looks like it’s been broken. You change your mind about the freckles and give him a tan. You make his hair a little longer and then you make it a little blonder, so that it’s almost white. You add a few inches of roots so that his hair looks like it has been dyed and is growing out. But after all that, and after adjusting his cheekbones and brow height and forehead length, you realize the overall effect is not terribly pleasing. He looks strange, alien, like he has maybe had too much plastic surgery or is trying too hard. You check the time and realize that you have already been customizing your boyfriend for hours. The older fat man looks at you knowingly, asks if you need any help in a tone that suggests that you might be in over your head. You don’t need any help. Instead you hit the randomize button, and your boyfriend’s features blur and change dramatically. You don’t like that boyfriend either, so you reset to defaults and go back in to make the changes you want.
Freckles. You definitely wanted the freckles. The gap in his front teeth. The crooked smile. The nose that looks like it’s been broken. It’s been more hours, and that’s just the face. You are an artist, you think. This is exactly what making art is like, you are pretty sure. This is also a little bit like what being God or a parent is like. You are making a human being. You make him look like an advertisement, like something out of a catalog. He is the exact generically handsome white man that would sell underwear in a Macy’s catalog. Nothing about him is challenging to a white middle-class sensibility, which is the kind of sensibility that you have. You look at his beautiful, open face, and you think, there is nothing about him that would frighten or challenge me, and that’s good. He might be unpredictable, but not too unpredictable.
After all that work on the face, the personality is a breeze, you want him to love attention, to enjoy the performing arts, to be funny, to be smart about the things you like. You make him bad at math. You make him very bad at math, almost cruelly bad at math. Of course you make him very neat. He loves to clean and do dishes because you hate cleaning and doing dishes. He likes long drives in the country followed by picnics on checkered blankets and skinny dipping in a warm pond. He likes wearing a suit and dancing very slow to very old music. He knows all the dances. There is a list of dances and you check mark every one of them.
You wave the older fat man over. I think this is the boyfriend I want, you say.
The older fat man goes over your options and makes small adjustments, gentle things, like changing out a favorite song, adding in a few memories of Europe, descriptions of class trips to the museum, a preference for tangerines. He tells you that he is correcting the common mistakes, things that everyone gets wrong. He smiles knowingly, like he knows what kind of boyfriend you want. He tells you that there is some extra memory space because you made your boyfriend so bad at math, so you decide that your boyfriend will also like comic books, just for the heck of it. Then you change your mind about the comic books, and instead give him some additional sex knowledge, some weird stuff that you don’t even like. Maybe this will be the boyfriend you try weird sex stuff with. The older fat man tastefully averts his eyes.
The completed boyfriend costs fifteen thousand dollars, including the extended tech support package. You are so enamored of him you pay it, almost your entire savings, more than you ever thought you would spend on an artificial human being who would live with you and perform sexual favors and do some light housework. The older fat man smiles at you, tells you that it’s worth it. It’s still cheaper than a real husband, he says to you, and this is meant to sound friendly but for some reason it makes you feel bad, very bad, but just for a few seconds. You wonder if the older fat man has a husband or wife or perhaps a small group of polyamorous lovers that dote on him.
The boyfriend is delivered a week later. It took them some time to build him. He arrives in a long, white box that is almost exactly the dimensions of a coffin. You hurry the deliveryman inside so that the neighbors don’t see him bringing a human-sized box into your house. Inside, your old boyfriend is dusting, arranging knick-knacks on a wood hutch, whistling a cheerful little song that came preprogrammed. You have listened to him whistle that cheerful little song for many years, and you begin to feel bad, deeply bad, like you did at the boyfriend store. Something in your torso between your heart and your stomach begins to ache.
Do you take away the old one? you ask the deliveryman, and he looks at you condescendingly and shakes his head, a tiny little shake that you take to mean that taking away your old boyfriend is absolutely not his job.
Call the company, the deliveryman says, they have a recycling program.
After the deliveryman leaves you stand in the living room with your hand on the soft matte surface of the white box for a long time while your boyfriend continues to whistle and dust in the background. You almost don’t notice him, despite him being all that you are thinking about. You whistle along with his little tune. This is a very difficult time, you think. You’ve smudged the matte surface of the box with sweat from your hand. Surely the new boyfriend will get you through it.
You deactivate your old boyfriend gently, holding him in your arms as you press the power button. You kiss his cooling lips as his eyes go dark, and this reminds you of something you saw in a movie once. After, you hold his stiff body in your arms, his skin cold and rubbery. It is easier to think of him as something else, something it might be easy to someday send in to the boyfriend company’s recycling program. But for now, you can’t quite bear the thought. Instead, you prop him up in your hall closet, next to the vacuum cleaner and a box of Christmas decorations that didn’t make it up to the attic and some winter coats, size medium, that don’t fit you anymore.
With your old boyfriend safely stored, you begin to feel more comfortable opening up the new boyfriend. The top of the box slides off easily, despite its size, and inside the new boyfriend is carefully packaged for travel, nestled in a Styrofoam groove carved to exactly his dimensions. Otherwise he is naked. You touch his skin, running your finger along his neck and chest, and even turned off his skin feels more real than your old boyfriend’s, so real that you can’t believe you ever thought your old boyfriend was exactly the same as a real person.
You power him on, and he is already fully charged. He has the new power cell, invented by the boyfriend company, and his charge will last for days, maybe a week if he’s not doing much. It is a very good power cell, you read a lot of articles on it when it was first invented. Charges instantly, lasts forever was the copy they used for the headline, an exaggeration, obviously, but still, you were very excited about the possibility of not having to charge your boyfriend every 12 hours to make sure he didn’t shut off unexpectedly.
The new boyfriend sits up and stretches, arching his back and sighing. He scratches his balls and looks around. I like your house, he says.
You aren’t sure what algorithm he has used to decide that your house is to his taste. Unlike your old boyfriend, whose processing was very easy to detect and follow, the new boyfriend has a kind of casualness, as if speaking off the cuff, as if these are his actual opinions. You look around to try to see what he sees, but however he has determined that he likes your house, it isn’t obvious to you. Probably he just did a quick search of decorating and architecture blogs, you think, but you are also a little mystified by your boyfriend having an opinion like that, volunteered unprompted.
The new boyfriend mostly walks around naked for the first few days. You feel uncomfortable giving him access to your old boyfriend’s clothes, which you still somewhat superstitiously consider his belongings. You know that the old boyfriend, and the new boyfriend, for that matter, are not actually people, but technology that you have purchased, same as your ice machine or your television or your treadmill. But you can’t quite get away from the imagined narrative that you and your old boyfriend have broken up, and you subsequently replaced him with someone younger and hotter. You have been socialized to believe that this is wrong. You are pretty sure that you would consider that a dick move if someone else did it to a real person, but you remind yourself that your old boyfriend was not a real person. Just in case, you avoid the hall closet.
You and the new boyfriend get used to each other. It is a slow process. He doesn’t whistle, but he plays music while he does his housework. He sings along with the songs you selected for him to like. He dances, shakes his hips and bobs his head. When you ask about the dancing, he tells you how he went to school for dance, studied for a time in France, got his MFA. You don’t remember programming any of this in. You made vague selections, but you guess that if someone likes being the center of attention, loves music, loves the performing arts, dance would actually be a good occupation. You remember that you wanted him to know how to do all of the dances.
He’s not uncomfortable being naked. You bring up the subject of clothes and he shrugs at you. I’d like to have something nice to wear if we go out, he says.
What kinds of clothes do you like? you ask him.
The kinds of clothes that the new boyfriend likes are very expensive. You want him to be happy, so you get him a few things to wear, but having depleted your savings, you are now dipping into your paycheck, meaning that instead of putting more money into savings, you are spending it all on the new boyfriend. You become very worried about money, you are poorer than you have ever been. Thinking of the avuncular man at the boyfriend store, you don’t talk about your financial woes with the new boyfriend.
Still, some of the clothing you purchase for the new boyfriend is more for your benefit than his. You give him some sexy underwear, fancy stuff, and clothes that it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to wear out. You expect him to wear the sexy stuff around the house but most days he wears baggy sweatpants and a tank top. You never bought him baggy sweatpants or a tank top, so you’re not sure where he got them. Like most things about him, this is very mysterious to you. He is a real surprise, an actual surprise, you’re never quite sure what he’s going to do. You discover that he knows how to shop online, has been using your credit card without your permission. You are now in debt, granted a very small amount of debt, but debt just the same.
You are as angry at him as you would be if he were a real boyfriend. You are fascinated as well as angry, because you have never felt this before, anger at the person you are in a relationship with, but that doesn’t stop you from yelling, demanding that he ask your permission before going off and spending money like that. He is angry too, you can tell he’s angry because of the way his whole face darkens, the way the change descends on him in a sudden rush. All of a sudden you are in your first fight. A screaming match. You try to turn the volume on your boyfriend down, but the newest model doesn’t come with a volume adjustment and instead you stand very still while he yells at you.
You expect this to be the last of your problems, but they continue. It is still the slow season at work, an unusually long slow season, and you’re concerned about money. You stay home all weekend, sitting in the dark to preserve power, eating cheap food out of a can. Your new boyfriend asks if you can go out, have a picnic, or maybe see some theater, but you refuse, you can’t afford the gas to drive out to the country, and theater tickets are certainly out of the question.
Your boyfriend stops singing and dancing as he does his housework. He frowns a lot. He moves slowly through his chores, cleaning and dusting and doing dishes in a way that you might describe as resentful. He seems to be sulking. You try to make it up to him, pay extra attention, compliment him on his clothes, his hair, his taste in movies. Secretly, you consult the manual, but you find nothing there, or in the online message boards, that explains what’s wrong with your boyfriend. So few people have bought the custom model (the deluxe custom model, you discover, is in fact what you’ve purchased) that there are hardly any posts at all. Finally, you call customer support. You have a short conversation with a man who you swear is the same man that sold you your boyfriend, the same happy uncle voice, and he remotely accesses your boyfriend’s hard drive and tells you that your boyfriend is functioning perfectly. You persist, try to explain that there’s something wrong, but the customer support person hangs up on you.
At night, your boyfriend asks you to try the strange sex things that you programmed him to like. You still don’t like any of those things, start to go through the motions and then stop, make another jerky, awkward effort, but you find you just can’t do it. He looks at you impatiently, makes disappointed noises. He doesn’t say that he’s having a bad time, but it’s clear from his body language that you are not meeting his expectations. When you pause, again, in the middle of attempting the weird sex, he scoffs in frustration and leaves. You’re alone in bed with the mess, disappointed and horny. Maybe you like the weird sex thing after all, you just don’t want to actually do it or have it done to you. Your boyfriend sleeps on the couch.
After all that, you can’t sleep. You stay awake, staring at the ceiling, feeling confused and sad and furious. The new boyfriend has not been at all what you expected, which is something very much like the old boyfriend but better. The new boyfriend is more realistic but you realize that this isn’t better. This isn’t what you wanted. You stumble downstairs, to the hall closet, where you push the too-small coats aside and look at the old boyfriend, who appears to be sleeping. You touch his face and it’s so cold. You can’t bring yourself to activate him, look him in the face, explain why he’s been sitting in the hall closet for weeks. Instead you shut the door and wander down to the living room, where the new boyfriend is sleeping on the couch. You roughly shake him awake. You don’t need to sleep anyway, you say angrily.
I appreciate the time to myself, he says, and he even sounds appropriately groggy.
I want to fuck you, you say. Even you can hear how angry you sound.
Do what you want, he says. You do what you want. Afterward, he says nothing, just shrugs and curls back up on the couch, wraps the blanket even more tightly around himself. You wander upstairs, passing the hall closet, checking it twice to make sure it’s closed.
Over a period of days the new boyfriend continues to function more and more poorly. He refuses to do his chores. He burns his clothes, and then orders new clothes. He burns your clothes, and doesn’t buy new ones. Also, there’s the crying, he cries nonstop, sitting on the bed or the couch or at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. They are deep, convincing sobs, he sounds like a real person crying, and the part of you that instinctively reacts to a fellow human’s sadness feels profoundly upset at the way that your boyfriend is crying. You have to remind yourself several times a day that he is not real, not a real person.
You try to call the company again, talk to the man who is like your uncle, so kind, to see if he will maybe take the boyfriend back, the boyfriend who you are convinced is defective. You have a long conversation with the man on the phone where you somehow do not return the boyfriend. Again, the man is convinced that there is nothing wrong with your boyfriend, that he is behaving in exactly the correct way. That’s impossible, you say. All he does is cry. But the man at the boyfriend company is unhelpful. The return policy is more unhelpful.
You attempt to sell the boyfriend, put an ad on the internet and in the newspaper, but nobody wants him. You are honest in the ad, say that the boyfriend has not stopped crying in weeks, no longer does or says anything to you. I think it might just be me, you write. You might have better luck. Nobody answers your ad, nor does anyone respond to your post on the message board asking for advice or possibly technical information that might allow you to reprogram your boyfriend.
Finally, you come home one day and the new boyfriend has pulled the old boyfriend out of the hall closet. You wonder how the new boyfriend came to discover the old boyfriend. The old boyfriend is spread out on the floor, arms spread like a cross, and the new boyfriend is cutting the old boyfriend with a kitchen knife, your good chef’s knife. He is digging into the old boyfriend’s torso with the knife, reaching in and pulling out handfuls of wiring. Is this what I look like on the inside, he demands.
I guess so, you say, maybe newer or nicer. I don’t really know. You are buried in sadness, mourning, you realize, because your old boyfriend is now gone forever and never coming back. You can’t even be angry at the new boyfriend, you are just numb, in shock.
Is this what you’re going to do with me? Replace me with something else? he asks. You swear that his hand, still holding the knife, is trembling.
Probably not, you say, you were very expensive. And anyway, I’ve just realized that I loved that boyfriend. I’m sad that you killed him.
I hate you, the new boyfriend says.
The new boyfriend screams and hacks the old boyfriend’s head off with the kitchen knife. You keep your distance, wondering if you can reach for your phone without him noticing. The new boyfriend seems inconsolable, screaming and hacking and now crying again, crying more. I think you’re malfunctioning, you say, trying to be very calm.
YOU’RE malfunctioning, he screams, and lunges at you with the knife.
You see him moving at you too late, his arm swinging the knife toward your throat at slightly faster-than-human speed. Your hand is wrapped around your cell phone, but you’re already too slow, you realize it’s too late. Still, the thing you feel saddest about is the old boyfriend, spread out on the floor, his torso shredded, his head hanging from his neck by his spine, which you see is made of what looks like a high-density ceramic. The knife chipped it but didn’t break. He looks so broken, a dead thing, and that space between your heart and your stomach tightens and twists inside you.
Maybe I am malfunctioning, you think, and nothing more after that.
"Bespoke" by Zachary Doss is the winner of Puerto del Sol's 2016 Fiction Contest.
Zachary Doss has been published in Sonora Review, Fourteen Hills, Fairy Tale Review, Caketrain, DIAGRAM, Paper Darts, and other places. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama, and will be a doctoral fellow in fiction at the University of Southern California beginning in the fall of 2017.