“You’re a machine, you know,” Evie said as she leaned her hip against my desk. “Surely, you need sustenance like us mere mortals?”
Today she smelt like lavender soap with a faint trace of printer ink.
Forcing my eyes from the spreadsheet to meet hers, I set my face to benign smiling mode.
“Oh, I’m nearly done, Evie.”
A light laugh was flagged in my temporal lobe, but I stored that for later. Continuing to display the smile, I finished entering data, offering eye-contact at ten second intervals as previously coded into my special ‘Evie’ program. Hard wired to complete, I always found it difficult to stop once my clogs were turning well in a cycle. The satisfying rhythm of rolling patterns and looping channels hummed through me like a warm pulse.
Evie smelt very good, as usual. My olfactory bulb went into overdrive, flushing my limbic system with Evie recollections: Evie spilling coffee in the staffroom when she laughed at one of Carl’s apparent jokes, Evie flicking shiny brown hair, her skin smelling slightly of salt and sweat, at the staff picnic, and Evie, on my first day at the office, smiling at me in the staff meeting, and smelling like breath mint and sandalwood. Now, a year and a half later, I could scent Evie from the street. As soon as I walked through the big glass doors downstairs, I knew if she was at work already. Mostly, all I smelt was the same everyday mix of everybody else’s deodorant, hairspray, sweat, perfume, and coffee, but on the rare occasion that Evie beat me into the office, my nostrils tingled with the overwhelming allure of her scent.
She was right, though. I would need recharging soon. My synapses were starting to glitch. My left eyelid twitched, and my right pointer finger was starting to lock. I didn’t want to risk getting stuck in a half hour eyebrow raise, or fixed grin, like I did at last year’s Christmas party. Unfortunately, the set grin just encouraged Carl to continue telling boring, long-winded anecdotes, his gestures, and volume increasing with each drink. And Evie laughing, resting her palm on his forearm every now and then. But many people were so drunk that night, they assumed I was off my face too. Which wasn’t exactly incorrect, but certainly not in the way they thought.
Now, Evie hoisted her handbag over her shoulder, straightened up and sighed. She had stopped smiling and I liked to see her smile. Sparks fizzed in my head when Evie smiled. It gave me a random sudden charge, difficult to find outside of a battery, or lightning strike. When I realised, she was smiling less and less at me, and giving all her smiles to Carl I knew I had to act.
And it was pretty simple. A quick system hack, a few keyboard strokes, and he was easily transferred to head office. I mean, I gave the man a promotion, so I logged it under humanitarian acts and beneficial actions. Cyb Organisation never questioned it, and I actually received bonus charge points for productivity, so I feel I problem solved appropriately. I was worried initially because Evie was quiet for the next few weeks and hardly smiled at all. The sudden shortage of Evie smiles did lower my energy reserves significantly during the day, so I used up most of my extra charge points in that time.
Evie was getting ready to leave for lunch. I quickly switched to a full eye contact setting. A message popped up, use that stored laugh. Then another, recalibrate.
“Ok, Evie, I’m coming now. I can finish later,” I laughed lightly, standing up a little too fast.
That’s when I realised my charge was critically low. A careless calculation error. There was no way I would get through lunch without a quick top up. Switch to furrowed brow and pleading eyes.
“Can you give me just a few minutes?” I asked.
Evie rolled her big, brown eyes.
“Oh, hurry up, then, Hal. I’ve only got an hour and I’m hungry.”
Stumbling to the bathroom, I made it to the cubicle in a fast-building sweat. With trembling fingers, I grabbed my reserve battery from my pocket, pulled up my shirt, and attached the wire into the portal just below my left armpit. An instant surge coursed through me. A five-minute charge wouldn’t last the day. I would still need a full recharge, but Evie’s smiles would get me through lunch.
Kate Maxwell is yet another teacher with writing aspirations. She’s been published and awarded in many Australian and International literary magazines. Kate’s interests include film, wine, and sleeping. Her first poetry anthology will be published with Interactive Publications, Brisbane in 2021. She can be found at https://kateswritingplace.com/publications/