Today's story is one of separation, sex, and robotics, and seeks to answer one of the great age-old questions: If you could, would you—well, I don't want to spoil anything. Enjoy. -the Ed.
The Clara Doll arrived the night before I moved away.
I didn't look anything like the enthusiastic actors who unboxed Clara Dolls in commercials. The lid didn't pop off instantly like a gasp but came off slowly, as though it had claws.
The doll lay stiff in a vacuum-sealed bag surrounded by gray packing peanuts. The plastic material blurred her face, which was an exact copy of mine. Her familiar round bulb of a nose pressed against the inside.
When I had asked Parker if he would like me to buy him a Clara Doll before I moved away, he said yes too quickly. I suspected he thought he could get her to do sexual positions I didn't like, specifically the Farm Girl, which always made my leg cramp. The Farm Girl wasn't his favorite, though; his favorite was the Divorced Woman, which was me touching myself in the shower as if I were alone. I always had to close my eyes to pretend he wasn't inches away, breathing through his mouth, the hot water ricocheting off his skin onto mine.
After I told him I'd placed the order, he'd asked for the tracking number. I'd forwarded the confirmation email because I hadn't exactly resented his enthusiasm. I was the one who got to leave; he had to stay. Staying was worse. It meant learning to live with the absence.
"It's weird," Parker had said as we stood together in the kitchen and watched our phones communicate with one another, "that the name of the doll happens to be Clara. I'm getting a literal Clara Doll. A doll of Clara."
"Yeah," I'd answered, to let him know I'd heard him. It was a weird coincidence. I didn't know any other Claras.
A second email requested that I fill out the Online Body Survey to ensure the doll was as life-like as possible. My initial plan had been to diet for a week before I input my measurements, but I'd realized this would be a mistake—I should be the thinner one. I should surprise Parker by how neatly I fit in his arms when I visited over long weekends.
I drank two beers for dinner and carried the tape measure and tablet to the bedroom where I followed instructions and filled in blanks. Bust. Measure, then scroll. Distance between areolas. Measure, then scroll. Distance from fullest point of lower lip to top of belly button. Measure, then scroll. I chose a night when Parker was working late. Otherwise he would have insisted on helping.
Now I dug my nails into the Clara Doll logo on the plastic bag until it gaped open, stretching and smearing the slogan "Easiest Girlfriend Ever." The motion swayed her right, then left, then she fell still again. Her expression never changed as though she couldn't see me standing before her now. The commercial had explained that she wasn't supposed to move, only obediently hold the poses she was placed in.
I spotted the freckle on the lower lid of her left eye—my freckle. There was my scar above her lip, and her breasts slackened away from each other like mine always did.
I had thought I would want her hidden. I had thought I would put her in the entrance closet, where I'd imagined Parker would store her during my visits. But I was wrong. I couldn't let her out of my sight.
I placed her in a chair at the kitchen table and ate my lunch opposite her. It was nice not having to make conversation. Then I sat her on my bed as I resumed my packing.
My new office's dress code was business casual, but my crepe blouses and pencil skirts didn't leave the closet. Instead, I removed the cheap, itchy lingerie set I'd bought during my first sex store visit in college. I folded the bra in half so one cup spooned its twin. She watched my routine as though she knew what was next.
I wasn't finished packing but I lay myself down, placing myself behind her. My body went stiff as I examined her back. She didn't seem to dislike this.
I took a familiar shoulder in each hand and pulled her to me. I drew the covers up and over, breath inflating the comforter, molding it around our shape. Neither of us moved for what must have been hours because eventually the room fell dark.
I was the one to do it.
"I don't want to leave you," I whispered before I leaned in. I had never been so bold, but it felt right, warmth reuniting with warmth. Everything was easy, the pleasure coming without compromise.
Then, sudden like thunder, the comforter was gone. Cold stung our skin. Parker stood over us.
"Clara? What the fuck?" he shouted our name and pulled me back, ripping me in half, tearing me from my own lips.