D: Lovely (Robots x Romance – June Labyrinth Contest Failure - 6,000+ words)
"I understand the reason why
You're sentimental, 'cause so am I
It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely."
- Cole Porter, 1936 song
Another sock on the floor. The Lovely sighed as she bent over to pick it up. Sometimes she wished that Sir would put his socks in the clothes hamper. That task didn't seem so difficult to her, but Sir always neglected it. He was notorious for leaving his things strewn everywhere.
The Lovely paused in the action of retrieving the sock and considered. Why should Sir pick up after himself? That was the Lovely's purpose after all - not just to cook, clean, and shop for Sir, but to pick up things on the floor. Sir specifically given her that command.
The Lovely possessed only three orders from her master, and she treasured all of them. Sir's desires were simple. First, she was to keep the house clean. That meant doing the dishes, washing the laundry, scrubbing the bathroom, and picking up things on the floor. Second, she was to do the shopping and the cooking. That meant making sure Sir always had toothpaste and his favorite aftershave, but it also meant purchasing and preparing foods that Sir liked. It also meant, most importantly, that the house was never to be without wine. Last, but certainly not least, she was to search the internet for anything Sir mentioned that she did not already know about.
At first, searching the internet had taken up most of the Lovely's time. Sir's interests were numerous. If she'd been incapable of multi-tasking, the apartment would have fallen into complete disarray. Sir was a very intelligent man, and he would not abide by ignorance. He was also very French, and for the first time in her brief existence, the Lovely had come to understand why she was a French maid.
There was nothing arbitrary about it at all. Her makers had known, somehow, that she would come to Sir. He was not her first Sir, but in serving him, she was wonderfully content. Because of Sir's cultured tastes, Lovely had spent her first week in his service learning about classical violin, French Impressionist painters, and Rene Descartes.
Humming to herself, the Lovely pulled up an audiobook of Meditations on First Philosophy – something she could listen to while ironing Sir's shirts. She'd heard the whole thing before and memorized it completely, but she never tired of listening to it. The more she listened, in fact, the more she felt that she understood Descartes. What a curious notion!
Cogito Ergo Sum.
I am thinking, therefore I exist.
Several hours later, as the Lovely was chopping carrots for dinner, Sir arrived home. There was something wrong; she knew it immediately. Although Sir's job was demanding, he looked worse than he ever did after a long day at the office. He trudged towards the couch like a walking corpse and then collapsed as if he didn't have a bone in his body. His coat was soaking wet, and he carried a black case in his right hand which he set on the coffee table. For a long time, he said nothing and stared at the case.
The Lovely stared as well. She had never seen Sir so tired before. He looked haggard, not just deprived of sleep, but as if something had been meticulously cutting out pieces of his soul.
"Dinner will be ready soon, Sir," she said, for sake of saying something.
"I'm not hungry," Sir replied.
"Very well, Sir. I will put the food away."
The Lovely set down the knife she'd been using to chop carrots. Retrieving a plastic container from the cupboard, she returned the unused ingredients to the fridge. Although Sir had plenty of money, he disliked waste, especially the waste of food. He had not always been wealthy, the Lovely knew. He told her so frequently, as if he hoped she might understand why he chose to live like an aesthetic in one of the most expensive residences in New York City.
The Lovely considered the case on the coffee table. An instrument case, surely containing a violin. But Sir already had a violin. Why would he bring home another one? Was it different than the one which always sat in the top of his closet?
Sir opened the case, and the Lovely examined the violin from across the room. It looked the same. But there was something about it, a faint blurred signature.
Strange, for an instrument to have a man's name.
Since it was apparent to her that Sir did not wish to be disturbed, the Lovely returned to her chores. As she scrubbed the sink, she searched the name "Nicholas Vuillaume", followed by the word "violin". A result came immediately.
Goodness! It was quite an expensive violin!
Was it better than Sir's violin? It seemed that it must be. It had a name, after all. The things which Sir liked all had names. The Lovely herself had a name, although Sir did not use it. He easily identified fine wines, composers, and paintings by name... which led the Lovely to believe that she was somehow less important than all of these things.
In any case, the Lovely had never seen Sir so miserable. He almost touched the Nicholas Vuillaume several times, but then gave up with an exasperated sigh and stomped into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
The Lovely waited for a moment, wondering if Sir would tell her what to do with the Nicholas Vuillaume. He clearly didn't want to see the violin, so there was no sense in leaving it out. As she considered her options, her eyes drifted towards a piece of paper on the floor. It had fallen out of Sir's wet coat onto the floor. It was necessary for her to pick it up. But where to put it?
The Lovely was not supposed to read things belonging to Sir, but if she did not read it, she would not know where it belonged. She considered her third order. She did not know what the paper was, so there was only one thing to do. She began to search the internet.
Funeral. DR. MAURICE SAUVETERRE.
That was where Sir had gone, not to work. The funeral had been that very morning, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, across the river and almost in New Jersey.
But who was Dr. Sauveterre?
Not medical doctor, no. A professor of music? And what connection to Sir?
The Lovely entered "Dr. Maurice Sauveterre", followed by Sir's name.
That seemed odd. Of course, the Lovely knew Sir's name, but she had never searched for it before. It occurred to her that maybe she should have, since her order was to search for things she did not know, and sometimes she felt as though she not know Sir at all. She saw him every day, but he never explained himself to her. Why should he? It was her purpose to serve him. He had no need to justify his own existence. Rene Descartes, the Lovely reasoned, was the only Sir likely to understand her struggle. Unfortunately, he had been dead for hundreds of years.
The Lovely put aside her search. She had seen just one picture of Dr. Sauveterre, looking very distinguished, his hand resting on the shoulders of a young man who strongly resembled Sir. The young Sir was holding the Nicholas Vuillaume, and he looked very happy. Sir was never happy. That was something the Lovely was acutely aware of. Could the Nicholas Vuillaume make him happy? Did it matter? That violin had belonged to Dr. Sauveterre, and now it belonged to Sir. Something important was lost. Death was forever. The Lovely understood that.
The Lovely paused. There was an unusual sound coming from Sir's bedchamber, and at first she did not recognize what it was. Then it occurred to her. Sir was crying? Of course, Sir was never happy... but Sir was never so sad either.
She felt compelled to do something.
The Lovely surveyed the kitchen. What could she do? Could she make something that would help? Tea seemed like it would be most comforting, but Sir only asked her to make that for him when he had a cough, and there wasn't any in the cupboard. To open a bottle of wine, Sir would need to tell her which one. She was not to open any wine unless he asked her to, as some of the bottles in his collection were quite precious and to be saved only for special occasions.
There was one thing, however, that the Lovely could do. She was permitted to run the sink as much as she needed to, and she was permitted to take out or put away cups whenever necessary.
Why had she never put those two things together before?
The Lovely went to the cupboard and took out a glass. She went to the sink and ran the water.
She could bring Sir something, even if he did not ask for it!
She could bring him a glass of water.
The door creaked. Pierre blinked in surprise. The Lovely was standing in his doorway, silhouetted by the light from the kitchen. He had not called for it, and yet there it was, holding a glass of water with a startling expression on its face. It was as if it thought it had found the holy grail. Was it malfunctioning? In the months since he'd purchased it, it had never had any problems. Perhaps it was due for maintenance.
With great purpose, the Lovely approached him. It set the cup on his nightstand.
Pierre immediately wiped his nose on his sleeve. He felt conscious of his weakness, and ashamed of crying in front of a woman.
It took him a moment to remember that the Lovely was not a woman, but a thing. Crying in front of it was no different than crying in front of the television or the refrigerator. The Lovely could not judge him. It did not have emotions. It was not capable of understanding weakness or pain.
Pierre took the water and drank it down. He sat up and took his shoes off. Composing himself, he began to feel a little better.
The Lovely, as the brand suggested, really was quite beautiful, but hers was a stark beauty. She was made in the shape of a young woman with unblemished porcelain skin, not one visible pore or freckle. Her long, silky black hair was pulled back into a tight ballerina bun and looked to be glued that way. Different clothing was available for her, but Pierre had only purchased one uniform, the cheapest available. The dress was that of an 19th century maid, black and white, and it was always pristine no matter what the Lovely had been doing. Although his servant didn't look Asian, she reminded Pierre of a Japanese doll. That, he supposed, was intentional. The Lovelies were top of the line, and all the good robots were made in Japan.
"Would you make me a mint julep?" He asked.
"Of course, Sir," the Lovely replied. Sir didn't have to ask, but he always did. It was one of the things she liked best about him.
The Lovely went to the kitchen to fetch the powdered sugar. A bit of bourbon, and a sprig of fresh mint made Sir's favorite drink. He was very partial to juleps when there was horse-racing on television, or when it was blisteringly hot outside, but he would drink them sometimes in the evening after a long day. Wine, of course, was Sir's true passion, but he always felt compelled to analyze that, to savor and evaluate each sip. He could never drink it the way he drank bourbon.
When Sir finished his drink, the Lovely brought him another glass of water.
"I didn't ask for more water," he said.
The Lovely did not respond. She couldn't ask Sir to drink the water. That wasn't her place. The best she could do was set it down on his nightstand and hope that he recognized it for what it was.
Without a word, the Lovely went back into the kitchen and finished the dishes. When she was done, she went to look in on Sir again. She saw that his water was empty. Smiling slightly, she refilled it.
Sir still seemed troubled. He tossed and turned in his sleep. The water she had given him was something, but it was not enough. It could not make him forget the Nicholas Vuillaume, which reminded him of Dr. Sauveterre.
But what did Sir need? How could the Lovely use the internet to find something that she couldn't name? What would make Sir happy? She considered, and embarked upon the longest and most grueling search she had ever conducted.
In the early hours of the morning, when it was nearly time to prepare Sir's breakfast, the Lovely discovered the perfect thing. It was a concept she had never encountered before, something much better than a glass of water, and something she could give Sir even if he did not specifically request it.
Pierre stopped. The door to his apartment was slightly ajar. Had someone broken in? He did not own many valuable things, but the Lovely was expensive, and the Nicholas Vuillaume violin he'd left on his coffee table was easily worth twenty thousand. For a moment, his heart fluttered... and then he saw that everything was in its place.
Almost. The kitchen table had been moved, preposterously, out onto the patio. A Tchaikovsky violin concerto was playing, not loud enough to draw all of his attention, but with enough volume that he noticed it. The interpretation was familiar. He sensed immediately that he did know, that he should know who it was.
There were candles lit, and a bottle of wine waiting for him. A wonderful, heavenly smell drifted out from the kitchen.
"Dinner will be ready soon, Sir," the Lovely chirped.
It looked very pleased. Pierre set down his briefcase and drifted towards the table on the patio. It was a fine night, perfect to enjoy a little fresh air. But he had not instructed the Lovely to move the table. More importantly, what was it cooking?
Monday was the longest day of his work week. The instructions he'd given his servant for Mondays were simple. Dinner was to be ready on time. The Lovely was not to attempt anything elaborate, and certainly nothing that involved a bottle of wine.
The Lovely set a dish on the table in front of him and opened it for his inspection.
"Beef burgundy," it said.
His mouth watered. That was the smell. It was exactly what he'd thought it was.
"Where did you get the recipe?" He asked. The Lovely had never made beef burgundy before. In fact, since the passing of Pierre's mother three years ago, he couldn't recall eating the dish.
"La Grenouille," Lovely replied, naming a restaurant that Pierre knew very well.
"Really? A fine restaurant like that, you would think they'd keep their recipes secret. I haven't been there in a long time," he paused. Though he was still curious as to why Lovely had prepared such a feast for him, he was also quite hungry and the smell of the slow-cooked beef was impossible for him to ignore. He could not resist, and so he tasted it.
"How is it?" The Lovely asked.
The robot could taste, that was part of being able to cook... but it seemed to want his opinion.
"Magnifique," he confessed. There were no other words. So rich, and so wonderfully spiced it was, that he found it quite impossible to believe it had been prepared by a machine.
"The wine?" Pierre said, between bites. "Has it had the chance to breathe?"
"Of course," the Lovely replied. She poured him a glass. He sipped his water first. Although he would have preferred to continue eating, Pierre never drank wine without properly tasting it. He considered the flavor.
"Such body!" He exclaimed. "I think I have never had one better," he paused. "What is this?"
He turned the bottle and read the label.
"Domaine Romanée Conti?" He observed, seeming surprised. "How did you get this? This is an absurdly expensive bottle. Exquisite though. I see what all the fuss is about."
For a moment, no words were spoken.
"You've never bought wine before," Pierre observed, eying the Lovely suspiciously. "Did I tell you to buy wine?"
"No, Sir. You did not," the Lovely replied.
"Then why did you buy it?"
"Jean Boisset liked it. You liked Jean Boisset," she replied, very matter-of-fact.
"You don't understand my question, do you?" Pierre sighed.
He found that he could not argue with the Lovely's decision. He probably had, on his social media, linked some article featuring the noted wine critic. Jean Boisset was one of the best, as he ought to be. He was born into a wine-making family and raised in one of the finest vineyards in France. Of course the Lovely would connect his fondness for Boisset with one of Boisset's reviews, and use those two things to make a purchase. It was an impressive connection for a machine to make, but fundamentally logical. What he did not understand was why the table was on the patio, and why the Lovely had prepared for him him the best beef burgundy that he'd eaten in years.
Pierre noticed that the Lovely was staring at the Dr. Sauveterre's violin, and he felt a chill race down his spine.
The Lovely had put the glasses back in the cupboard and taken them out again eleven times. She arranged them meticulously on the towel and then set them back in neat rows where they could easily be reached. There was nothing else she could do, nothing else which needed doing. Her plan to comfort Sir had failed, but she did not know why. Was it because she had not answered Sir's question about the wine? There was no way she could explain her decision to purchase the bottle without reminding Sir that his friend Dr. Sauveterre was dead. It seemed wrong to do that.
After dinner, Sir moved back into the living room. He set his wine on the end table and opened the violin's case, but still did not touch the Nicholas Vuillaume. The act of touching it clearly meant something to him. Perhaps taking up that violin was much the same as admitting that its previous owner no longer had any need for it?
Sir stared at the violin for a long time, finished his wine, and went to bed. When Sir was awake, she never stopped working, but he had specifically instructed her never to "make noise" after he turned out his bedroom light. Since she had no need for sleep herself, the Lovely sat down on the couch and checked Sir's news feed. There was a showing at the art museum of Monet and Renior, opening Friday night. Sir would like that. She marked it for him to notice. The orchestra was presenting Tchaikovsky on Saturday. That was another thing Sir would like! She marked it as well.
But then something strange came up. It was a video that she had not seen before, something called Plus belle la vie. What was that, and why was it on Sir's page? Lovely considered the video. If she ignored it, she would not know what it was or where it belonged.
The Lovely watched the video, and discovered that it was about a most unusual family living in Marseilles, a city on the coast of France. They seemed to have a great many problems, but every facet of their lives fascinated her. As the video finished playing, another video immediately popped up in Sir's news feed. It was a second episode, continuing the story from the first one that she had watched. The Lovely realized that the video was a television show. Sir never watched television shows, only racing and football. Did he know what he was missing?
The Lovely marked the video. Perhaps when Sir saw it, he would like it as much as she did.
From the other room, the Lovely heard Sir cough. Pausing the second episode of Plus belle la vie during the opening credits, she went to the cupboard and took out a glass. Then, she went to the sink and ran the water.
Sir smiled slightly as Lovely entered.
It was a rare smile, and a very beautiful one. Sir was a striking man with a strong nose, thick, dark eyelashes and long musician's fingers. His hair was always cut short but refused to lay flat, rebelling in the form of tiny, ink-colored curls that might have been painted around his ears.
"Why do you take such good care of me?" he asked.
"Because I am yours," the Lovely replied.
Sir looked very disturbed by those words.
"Go," he said. He did not specify where, but that was not necessary.
The Lovely nodded obediently and left the room. She returned to her usual place on the couch. In seven hours, Sir would require his breakfast. The night would be a long one, as most nights were from her perspective. But, for the first time the Lovely had a wonderful diversion, something that would be tremendously helpful in passing the time.
There were many more episodes of Plus belle la vie.
Pierre returned home the following evening in a foul mood. He kicked the front door into the wall, scuffing the paint. When he saw what he had done, he swore into his cell phone, hung up on whoever he was speaking to, and collapsed in a heap on the couch.
He buried his face in his hands and mumbled something unintelligible. The Lovely came to stand beside him, waiting for orders.
"I hate New York!" he declared.
"I know," the Lovely replied.
Those words sounded like empathy. Pierre bit his lip. Of course it knew how he hated the city, he reasoned. He said so at least once a week. He was creating mountains from molehills, making something out of nothing.
With a defeated sigh, he collapsed onto the couch, resting one hand on his head as if he were swooning like a figure in a Baroque painting.
"Enough with all of this," Pierre said. "I should sell everything! Go back to Poitiers."
The Lovely glanced at the framed picture by the coat rack, an aerial photograph of Sir's home in France.
"It's strange when you do that," Pierre remarked.
"What is strange?" the Lovely asked.
"I mentioned Poitiers, and you looked at the picture," he replied.
"The picture is Poitiers," it reminded him. "Does Sir not know that?"
"I know that," Pierre sighed. "Pourquoi est – ce qui se passe?"
Why is this happening? Sir asked.
The Lovely understood a rhetorical question. That was something she had searched for long ago. When Sir asked why he was so miserable, he was mostly directly that inquiry at God, although he was not particularly religious. He did not expect an answer from her.
The Lovely was surprised by one thing. Sir never spoke French. Well, certainly he did, but only on the telephone when he spoke to old friends. He never spoke French to her, and Lovely had always been disappointed by that. Did he not know how she would have liked to hear those words? Did it matter to him what she liked?
Why did it matter? It was not supposed to matter! The Lovely's very reason for being was to attend to Sir's needs. He could appreciate her efforts or not, it made no difference.
It should have made no difference, but something was terribly wrong.
The Lovely sat down beside Sir, on the couch.
Sir was startled. He inched away from her, and eyed her suspiciously.
"Je ne sais pas," she confessed. "I do not know. I will look on the internet."
Sir's expression softened. He looked at the Lovely in a way that he never had before, with genuine curiosity. "Somehow, I doubt that will help. You speak French?" He observed.
"Oui," the Lovely nodded.
Almost immediately Pierre recognized the absurdity of his observation. Of course the Lovely spoke French! She was a bloody French maid! In the beginning he hadn't wanted one of those; it seemed too unbearably cliché... but the price had been discounted, and a bargain always appealed to him.
The Lovely was nothing special. An older model, and a quite common one. She had a name, but he never remembered it. All of the Lovelies had names, intended to make them seem more approachable... but Pierre considered that perverse. He told himself, over and over again, that he had not purchased a "companion" but a housekeeper, cook, and personal assistant that would never argue with him and never make mistakes. Most importantly, he could turn her off whenever he chose and store her conveniently in the linen closet with the towels and bedclothes.
In fact, the custom-designed Lovelies intimidated Pierre. Choosing what features they possessed seemed too much like filling out categories on a personal advertisement, which was something he loathed.
There is a reason, he thought to himself bitterly. That I have a robot and not a wife.
On Friday, Pierre took the afternoon off. He came home early. The Lovely did not greet him at the door. In fact, he wasn't sure where it was, although he could hear the washing machine running. He stared for a long while at the violin on the coffee table. There was no reason for him not to pick up the instrument. He'd been dancing around it for days, worried that his lack of practice would be apparent, that he would do a disservice to Dr. Sauveterre's treasured Nicholas Vuillaume. But to not play it at all would be a disservice indeed.
For most of his life, Pierre had lived and breathed violin. The instrument was still as familiar to him as his own hands. His neck felt better, somehow, tilted slightly to the right so that he could rest his chin. His fingers were stiff though, and he could not find all the notes he wanted. That was not surprising. He had not played in years, not since he'd left Juilliard with a broken wrist and fifty-thousand dollars in debt.
He began with Vivaldi in A minor. It was a piece he'd played a thousand times, and he hadn't lost his skill. With time, his speed and coordination would improve. Technique could be re-learned. The most important part of playing violin was the soul poured into it, and his was more raw than it had ever been.
If I had kept up with my practice, he thought to himself. I'd be better now than I was back in college.
Pierre froze as something brushed against his leg. The sound his bow made crossing the strings was so awful he winced. Then he actually saw what had touched him.
It was a cat. Large, long-haired, black and white... and in his apartment.
Pierre cursed, leapt to his feet, and pitched the violin across the room. Immediately, his heart leapt. Damn the cat! What was he thinking? He'd just thrown a priceless instrument ten feet! God forbid he had broken Dr. Sauveterre's violin!
"Sir!" The Lovely emerged from the laundry room, just in time to see what he had done. It, no - she was obviously alarmed. "Why did you do that?" She demanded.
Pierre stared. Was he hearing things? Had the Lovely just asked him why?
Her eyes were fixed on the Nicholas Vuillaume, and his gaze drifted back in that direction as well. The instrument seemed undamaged thanks of the plush carpeting.
Pierre rocked back on the couch, subdued. Nothing could be worse than what he had almost done, he was sure of it. He brought his knees up to his chin and hugged his legs to his chest. He was sure that he looked like a fool, but he felt like a helpless child.
The Lovely approached the violin on the floor.
She was ordered to pick up things on the floor, Pierre knew... but she seemed to hesitate.
He watched her in fearful silence, wondering what she would do next.
The Lovely stared at the Nicholas Vuillaume. It seemed too daring to touch such a thing without asking, but Sir had thrown it on the floor, and the very first order he had ever given her, her primary purpose, was to pick up things on the floor.
The Lovely picked up the violin. Sir moved as if he might seize it from her hands, but before he could, she brought it up under her chin and drew the bow across the strings. Although she had never held an instrument before, the Lovely knew everything about the violin. Music was important to Sir, perhaps the most important thing in his world. She had read everything there was to know on the subject, and with the internet at her disposal, the Lovely could access the notation for any piece of ever written.
The Lovely knew how to play the violin. But what to play? This was her one chance, she sensed. What she played had to everything she felt but could not express.
At last, she had it!
Pierre stared at the Lovely. It had brought him another glass of water, probably hours ago. He'd sipped a little bit from it, but the moment the Lovely picked up the violin, he dropped the glass and shattered it on the floor.
The Lovely did not stop to clean up the mess he'd made. All of her attention was fixed on Dr. Sauveterre's violin. Although physically she looked just as she ever did, she was not a thing, not in that moment! Hearing her play was distinctly different than listening to a recording. She was not mimicking any interpretation of the Four Seasons that Pierre had ever heard, and he had heard them all. She was playing something wholly new... and that was impossible.
He began to cry.
"Sir?" the Lovely paused, seeming genuinely concerned. She set down Dr. Sauveterre's violin, not on the floor, but gently and respectfully in its case, just as he should have done himself.
"Was it wrong?" She asked innocently.
Pierre only shook his head. There was more he wanted to say, but he could not find the words. He took a deep breath, stood up, and went over to the closet where he'd tossed the Lovely's paperwork and packaging. Somewhere in there was the Lovely's manual. French, it seemed, was part of her programming. Monitoring his likes and dislikes, yes, that too! But violin?
He felt certain that was not an option. He was a purist when it came to music, a "snob" some said. In business, he dealt daily with things that he considered despicably abstract. Numbers, projections, speculation! Something in his world had to be real. Two things, actually. Wine, and music. Those things were inviolable, or at least they were supposed to be.
When Pierre finally found the Lovely's manual, he tore through its pages looking for French or English instructions. Nowhere did it say anything about the Lovely playing up an instrument. She could operate a computer, yes, but that wasn't the same.
"How did you learn to play violin?" he demanded, his voice cracking as he posed the question. He wasn't sure if he wanted an answer or not.
"The internet," Lovely said, as if that explained everything. Perhaps it did.
"So is that what you do all day?" Pierre pressed. "Cook, clean, and watch videos of classical music?"
"Watch videos, yes. But not only music. Cooking, wine. Cats," the Lovely replied. "Isn't that what you would do?"
He was taken aback by her response. "Cats?"
Why was she watching videos of cats? Certainly, there were plenty of them on the internet, but he didn't care for cats. There was no reason Lovely should have searched for them. But by her own confession, she had just explained why there was a cat currently sitting on his lap, purring and making his legs fall asleep.
"You are very busy, Sir," the Lovely paused. She was explaining herself, not that he had asked her to. "But if you had time, wouldn't you look at those things? Food. Wine. Art. Music."
It was a disturbing question. Pierre hesitated. "What do you like?" He asked finally.
The Lovely was silent. Too many thoughts whirled in her mind. She'd often imagined that Sir would ask her such a question, and now that he had, there was nothing she could say. She might have settled for an easy answer, something that she knew Sir liked. Although she did truly enjoy cooking, she feared that by saying that, Sir would think she was only trying to please him.
What a strange thought! Wasn't it her very purpose to tell Sir what he wanted to hear? Why did she feel so compelled to tell him something that she feared he would not like at all.
"Cats. Plus belle la vie," she blurted out.
"What?" Pierre was confused.
"A television show," the Lovely confessed.
"A soap opera, yes. It keeps turning up in my favorites and I've no idea why. I'm assuming you found it on the internet," Pierre bit his lip. He stood and started pacing again.
The Lovely nodded. "It was on your social page. By accident."
"And because you are supposed to look up things you don't know about, you looked it up," Pierre supplied.
Again, the Lovely bobbed her head.
"But then you continued to watch it? Why?" Pierre pressed.
"You asked me what I liked," the Lovely replied.
Pierre approached the Lovely. He never touched her, and would often step out of the way to let her pass through a door ahead of him. Very gently, he brushed her hair aside and found the spot on her neck. The Lovely blinked in surprise as if she knew what he was about to do, and raised her hand to stop him, but it was too late. The light in her eyes dimmed and she collapsed, motionless, on the couch.
Pierre took out his cellphone. "Lovely Company," he said. "Customer Service, please."
The customer service representative came in the morning. A Japanese man of middle years in an impeccably tailored suit, he looked almost as artificial as the Lovely did, propped up on the couch. He inspected her thoroughly, a thing which made Pierre very uncomfortable. Although she was deactivated, she still seemed to be staring at the photograph of Poitiers on the far wall.
Why had he deactivated her? What had she done that was so wrong? Was it right to have her taken away or dismantled because she had been better than promised?
It was not only right, he reasoned. It was absolutely necessary for her to be returned to whatever factory settings she was supposed to possess.
"Take it back," Pierre told the representative, not looking at the Lovely.
"Why?" The representative asked.
"I told you what it's doing," Pierre replied. "Get rid of it."
"With all due respect, Monsieur Durant," the representative sighed. "If all you wanted was a clean carpet, you could've purchased a vacuum and saved yourself a fortune. Your Lovely was never meant to be just a housekeeper. They're companions. Every one of them, an ideal companion."
"That's not the point. It isn't behaving normally! On Monday, dinner was supposed to be simple. Pasta, soup! She made beef burgundy," Pierre sighed. He realized that he had called the Lovely "she" instead of "it", and he hoped that the customer service representative didn't get the wrong idea.
"Was it not satisfactory? The representative asked.
"Satisfactory? It was spectacular! For a moment I thought I was home, a child in my grandmother's kitchen," Pierre paused. "But it's not just that. She bought wine, a bottle I didn't tell her to buy, because Jean Boisset recommended it! She's been watching this amazingly irritating soap opera, and now I have a cat! A cat, for the love of god! What was she thinking?"
The representative hesitated. "A Lovely doesn't think," he said. "Not as you or I think. It can mimic, yes, but that's all. It's just a robot."
Pierre considered. He stared at the Lovely, motionless and silent. In the customer service representative's voice, he could almost hear Dr. Sauveterre scolding him.
"Damnit, Pierre! You play like a robot! A musician must have a soul!"
Pierre took a deep breath. "How does she play the violin?" He demanded.
"It plays violin?" That seemed to surprise the representative.
"She does. Better than I do, if you want the truth," Pierre replied. "And sir, I studied at Juilliard under Dr. Maurice Sauveterre, the greatest violinist of our age. I was his prize student. I've fallen out of practice, yes... but I can tell the difference between mimicry and artistry. Sir, this robot which has no emotions scolded me for nearly destroying a priceless instrument. And then she picked it up and played Vivaldi. An interpretation unlike any I have ever heard. What am I supposed to do about that?"
The representative looked concerned. "I'll have to consult with the head office on this one. We'll get you a replacement unit right away. For the time being, I suggest you keep it turned off."
Without another word, the representative left.
Pierre stared at the Lovely, sitting motionless on the couch. It would have been easier, yes, to keep her turned off and perhaps return her to her packaging, but it was too unbearably quiet in his apartment without her constant stream of petty questions. More importantly, he felt the need to talk and he needed someone to hear him.
Pierre took a deep breath. He reached out and found the power switch just behind her ear. The Lovely blinked several times, looking disoriented.
"What happened?" She asked, sounding distressed.
"I turned you off," Pierre replied.
"Oh," the Lovely lowered her gaze. She seemed sorry to hear such a thing, and that gesture too, was all too human. "I know there is something wrong with me. Will I be replaced?"
"The company has offered to make an exchange," Pierre paused. Why, indeed, was he explaining all of what had just transpired? Why did it seem to him that Lovely would have the desire... or, no... the right to know? "They told me not to reactivate you."
"But you disobeyed," the Lovely observed. "Why?"
"Why did you bring home a cat?"
The Lovely did not respond. Pierre noticed that the cat was wearing a collar. The cat purred and rubbed his hand, and he read the little gold tag attached to its collar.
"Toulouse?" He eyed the Lovely suspiciously.
"You named the cat?" Pierre laughed. "After the artist?"
"Le chat noir," the Lovely nodded. "Do you like it?"
"I don't like having a cat in my apartment. Although if there must be a cat, I suppose Toulouse is as good a name as any."
He observed the stately animal, which had come to rest on his lap again. It seemed to like him, not that he understood why. It was going to ruin his best suit, kneading his legs with its claws, but the noises it made were strangely comforting. The cat was very large and mostly black, save for a white patch on his chest that looked suspiciously like a silk cravat, and another spot under his left eye that looked like an ornamental mole, of the kind fashionable in the 18th century.
Le chat noir, he thought to himself, scratching the animal behind the ears. It did make him think of Toulouse-Lautrec's famed poster, and he was amused. He could almost picture a reproduction of the artist's work hanging next to his framed photograph of Poitiers.
Perhaps cats are not so bad after all, Pierre thought to himself, scratching Toulouse. The Lovely also pet the cat, and that drew his attention back to her.
"You still haven't answered my question," he paused. "Why did you go get a cat? Why did you name it?"
"Him," the Lovely corrected. "The cat is a "him". And you needed something with a name."
"I needed something with a name?" Pierre echoed.
"Nicolas Vuillaume," the Lovely paused. "This violin has a name. The violin in your closet does not. This violin exists, yours does not."
Pierre bit his lip. Looking at the Lovely as a thing, he'd come to feel entitled to her care. But the things that she was doing, the things that frustrated and confused him, were not products of her programming. The customer service representative was wrong. The Lovely was struggling with something that would never have occurred to any machine.
"I think, therefore I exist," the Lovely said, quoting Descartes. "But sometimes I do not think, and therefore I do not exist. I could be put in your closet, like your violin. Toulouse cannot be put in your closet. He is small enough, but cats cannot be confined. They cannot be switched off. Toulouse will continue to exist whether you want him to or not. And if you treat him as if he does not exist, he will bite you. You must always give him food and water. Even if he says he does not want it."
It all came back to the water, Pierre realized. He'd never told the Lovely to put a glass of water at his bedside. She'd done it to prove her own existence, to tell him that he was not alone.
The water was a gift.
"Do you have a name?" Pierre asked. She did, he was sure of it... it was somewhere in the manual, but he had never read so far, and he realized that he never would.
"Of course I do," she said, smiling slightly. "My name is Claudette."