The yellow robot with the treadmill wheels and plaintive eyes is running… rolling…? whatever, away from the bad guys. They’re shooting at him while the robot’s human girlfriend – if that’s what she is, it’s all a bit weird – yells at them to stop. Ellie and Sam are glued to it – their Granny bought it for them on video cassette – while you slouch on the sofa behind your paper, grunting angrily every time you read a headline you don’t like.
‘No disassemble,’ squeals the robot.
‘Get me a beer,’ you say, waving your empty can in my direction without looking up and, although I want to argue, say no, tell you to get your own beer your lazy fucking tub of lard in a cardigan, why the hell are you even drinking at one in the afternoon, I don’t because, well, that’s just not what I do. I bite my tongue. I’ve been doing that more and more over the last few months. A woman should be a peacekeeper, my Auntie once told me, but it seems to me that a woman has to be an infinite number of things just to get by while a man can be anything he likes, although in your case what you like to be is an arsehole.
I come back from the kitchen with a can for you and plop myself back down on the chair, legs crossed at the ankles.
Explosions and yelling from the telly.
You’re getting jowly, Kev. Your hair is thinning. There’s hair sprouting from your ears. That wouldn’t matter, of course, if you were still the man I married back in the mid-seventies. You used to be so kind. You’d give me your coat in cold weather. You’d help the old lady next door to your Mum with her shopping. You stayed out all night trying to find my poor old dog when she ran away. But that’s all gone. It’s only been 11 or 12 years, but there’s nothing left of who you used to be. It might be work. It might be parenthood. It might be me. I don’t know. But something’s made you bury your soul deep inside yourself and smother it in concrete.
‘NO DISASSEMBLE JOHNNY 5!’
You’ve barricaded yourself away, from me, from the kids, from life, but the biggest problem is that you’ve forced me to do the same. With every argument, every snide comment, every dirty look, I’ve pushed my feelings deeper and deeper and just accepted it. I used to be fun. I used to love life. Not any more. I’ve had to forget who I really am just to survive.
‘Not this beer, dumbo,’ you say. ‘This is the good stuff I’m saving for Christmas. Can’t you get anything right?’
Something inside me breaks. You can only whittle away at a piece of wood for so long before what’s left snaps in two. I look at the television and the robot is staring straight back. He tilts his head sympathetically. No disassemble Joanne Evans.
I shouldn’t have to live like this. I could just go, with the kids, back to Mum’s. I could get a job, then a flat, or even another house. A different house, a nicer one than this. I can change everything. I don’t know why it’s taken a robot to make me finally get that, but I can only thank him for it. I can be me again. I feel the straitjacket fall from my shoulders.
‘Kev?’ I say.
He grunts again.
‘Go fuck yourself.’
The kids’ heads spin from the screen towards me. Kev’s jaw drops, but before he can say anything, I stand.
‘Come on Ellie, Sam, grab your coats. We’re going to Granny’s.’ They love their Granny, so there’s no resistance there.
As we leave the room, Kev too stupefied to be coherent, I hear the robot yell, ‘Johnny 5 is… ALIVE!’
And, for the first time in years, so am I. My body is tingling and, although I’m a little bit scared I’m mostly excited and there’s a grin splashed all over my face.
I slam the door behind us.
Joanne Evans is alive.
David Cook’s stories have appeared in Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, Riggwelter Press and many more. He’s a Pushcart Prize and Best of the net nominee. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter. Say hi on Twitter @davidcook100 to exchange memes of Short Circuit.