When the Metal Fails
by John Burgman
About John Burgman
John Burgman is the author of Why We Climb. His writing appears in Esquire.com, The Rumpus, Portland Review, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere.
The three of us—me, my wife, and Kendra—stand by the bed and grieve over another failed offspring. My wife really thought this one would work, thought the doctor of Artificial—OBGYN had found a workable way to match our DNA with the robotic agent this time.
“Well, the two of you can try again,” says Kendra, who has been my wife’s best friend since college. Kendra has a child of her own—an actual child—so she doesn’t truly know what it’s like to put all of your money and hopes into a little cyborg.
“This shit’s expensive,” I say. I’m being unnecessarily spiteful to Kendra, taking my disappointment out on her.
“I’m just saying—,” Kendra says. She unfolds her arms and then reaches down a hand to the precious, lifeless cyborg on the bed. She caresses its cheek.
I turn to my wife. “Honey, if you want to try again, we can order another metallic agent.”
“Yeah,” my wife says. “If we can’t afford it, we can ask my folks for a loan.”
When my wife and I were first married, her parents bought us a house in Brownsburg and a brand new Hyundai Sonata. Her parents are loaded, and they said they’d gladly help pay for a cyborg-insemination—all my wife and I would have to do is ask.
I reach for my wife’s hand. Just like adulthood itself, I’m not sure if we were supposed to experience parenthood this way—trying repeatedly to construct a child, failing repeatedly, grieving repeatedly. My wife also seems to know that we’re running out of options. She squeezes my hand and I feel the tension of her sadness.
Kendra glances at both of us, then tilts her head, indicating that she’s going to leave.
This baby cyborg was strong, and all initial indications were positive. We brought it home from the hospital last week and powered it with the best battery the Artificial—OBGYN could prescribe. The cyborg expressed a healthy infant appetite and a normal sleep cycle; my wife even programmed it to cry unpredictably in the middle of the night—just like the conduct of an actual child. But then its circuitry started freezing up and its consciousness started crashing on a daily basis. My wife and I hoped it was just a fixable glitch, but we also feared the worst.
We say goodbye to Kendra. She sticks her hands in her jacket pocket and jangles her car keys in a strange way that communicates sympathy. She is going home to her real child, and my wife and I now have to deconstruct ours. Life—both actual and artificial—isn’t fair.
I pick up our cyborg’s small body and stare at its smooth skin, an alarming tinge of blue. It reminds me of a storm cloud, soft but upsetting.
My wife was the one who realized the little cyborg was suffocating. We were sitting in the living room, piecing together its crib when the baby’s internal battery began to beep. The baby cried, then coughed in diminutive bursts as it struggled for a deep breath.
The explanation from the technicians was that its immune system began rejecting its metallic organs, same as the last time. And a diagnosis of our precious child’s internal hardware later revealed that our baby had just begun processing colors, just begun to see the brightness of world.
I gently place the cyborg’s body back on the bed and step away, trying not to think about which of its little limbs we’ll have to disassemble first.