Cayenne poked a pudgy finger onto the tablet cradled atop her father’s thighs. “That one,” she said, the words whistling through the gap in her teeth.
Grayson pinched two fingers together to enlarge the image of a neon blue poodle with a white tipped nose. “Are you sure you don’t want an original? They’re much cheaper, they’re more active, and they’re softer to cuddle with since there isn’t any metal underneath.”
“Eww no. I don’t want to clean up poop. And don’t those need to be walked all the time? Plus the money you would spend on stinky food for it… Yuck.”
Cayenne gave her trademark head shake, signaling there was no changing her mind, and that was that. They would have to add another robot to the household.
Grayson dragged the product to his shopping cart, but then X’ed out the browser. As a seven-year-old he had begged his mother for a mutt from the local shelter. He had promised to fill the dog’s bowl and clean his messes and walk him down the block every single day, even if that meant missing spin-the-bottle sleepovers and baseball camp.
Raising Ferris, his Daschund-Boxer mix, had taught him responsibility. It taught him what it meant to care for another beating heart more than his own. It taught him from a young age that becoming a father would be in his future.
Thirty years after adopting that dog, while sitting on the sofa with the little girl who shared his freckled forehead and bumpy nose, he said, “A mechanical dog is going to need repairs. Adjusting one malfunction will cost more money than Purina would for a year. And if you potty train him you won’t need to worry about cleaning up after him. And the walks? The walks are part of the fun. You get to explore the neighborhood together. You get to watch him sniff and chase squirrels and jump in leaves. What’s the point in getting a dog otherwise?”
“All my friends have mechanicals.”
“Because their parents are lazy.” He threw up a hand the way he used to wave other drivers through intersections back before self-driving cars took over. “Fine. I’ll take care of him. Get an original and I’ll do all the work for you. You can just play.”
Her peach lips twisted. A look of disgust. Like she was an NYC business woman told to carry around a Walmart handbag instead of a Prada.
“You still don’t want it,” Grayson said. A statement, not a question.
“Real animals aren’t popular anymore. They’re for, like, homeless people.”
It was true. Bone-thin puppies and kittens littered the streets because no one wanted them, the same way children clogged up foster homes because parents chose mechanical babies instead. Babies that would never grow. Babies that could never die or leave home or marry the wrong man. Babies that would still be there, safe and sound at home, even if their father decided to go on a coke binge that night or leave the country for a week on a whim.
“You aren’t going to be able to bond with a fake dog like you’d be able to bond with an original,” Grayson said as his final argument. But he knew that was a lie. He knew because of the batteries humming inside of Cayenne’s stomach, the ones keeping her breathing, the ones making him a father when he didn’t have any right to be.