'For The Want Of A Robot' by T. L. Sherwood
In the checkout line, Chelsea longed for a robot, a proxy, some entity to do the waiting for her. While she may not trust an android to pick out lemons or decide if she was in the mood for chicken on any given night, once she chose her groceries, why not hand off the rest of the task? She was sure one could place her groceries on the belt with minimal damage. It could be programmed to deal with blank-eyed clerks, counter their banal chatter, and swipe a credit card on her behalf. An android to haul up the bags to her apartment would be great, too. Oh, how she’d relish those few extra minutes to . . .
What? Start the water to boil? Double-check the pillboxes; make sure her mother had taken the tablets intended for that day in the correct dosages? Call the bank, check her dwindling account balance, and — just for fun — see how insurmountably high her student loan debt had become in the seven years since graduating summa cum laude?
The checkout lane light started to blink. Chelsea shifted her weight from one foot to the other and mused on how silly it was. As if the clerk were Commissioner Gordon and the languid manager was a superhero prepared to tackle the computer’s problem. When the plump man arrived, Chelsea watched him stab his key into the register, enter a few keystrokes then saunter back to customer service like he’d just saved the world. He wasn’t even good at his job. Chelsea had seen female store managers do the same task quicker — and they wore heels.
Finally, it was her turn. The clerk opened her reusable bag with a flourish and began scanning. “Eat any dragonflies today?” he asked.
Chelsea considered the question for three seconds before blurting out, “What did you say?”
“Did you find everything okay today?”
“Oh. Yes. Of course.”
He smiled at her. “Just off work are ya?’ Chelsea nodded while hunting through her purse for her loyalty card. “I want you to rip off my clothes.”
She waited for him to wink or snigger. “Excuse me?”
“The store next door? It’s going to close.”
Chelsea inhaled, wavering on how to proceed. “I thought you said — ”
“You know, I took care of my Mom toward her end, too. Hardest work there is.”
“Well, yes, I guess — ”
“You’re downplaying it. I know.”
“How would you know?”
“I live downstairs from you, Miss Lyon.”
Did he? “Oh.”
“Was thinking you might need to blow off some steam.”
Chelsea hadn’t noticed him before, not that she had time to scrutinize her neighbors. She would have noticed him though; wouldn’t she? Chelsea bit her lip. Should she try to arrange it? If not to make love, at least get laid? Wasn’t that the reason humans were put on this planet? She glanced at her watch. If only there was time . . .