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Baxter

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My cousin Bettina turned to Baxter and said, “Why don’t you get us a couple of beers. And some cheese and crackers would be nice too.” As Baxter moved toward the kitchen, she added, “And don’t forget to get me a glass for my beer.”

Once Baxter was out of sight, she turned to me. “You shouldn’t have done the dishes after lunch.”

“It just seemed right,” I said. “After all, Baxter made the lunch.”

She sighed. “For God’s sake, Jimmy,” she said. “Baxter is a robot. He’s supposed to be doing things like that.”

“It doesn’t seem fair for him to have to do all the work.”

“Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, you’re letting that robot take advantage of you. I noticed you ate all your brussels sprouts without complaining. I know you always hated brussels sprouts.”

“Baxter says they’re good for me.”

Bettina put her hand on my cheek. “Jimmy, you’re a sweet guy, but you’ve got to grow some balls and stop letting that robot tell you what to do.”

“He’s almost like family. He’s been with me for almost twenty years.”

Bettina snorted and looked out the window at the light rain falling on the lawn.

“I noticed about six boxes of Pop-Tarts in the cabinet. When did you start eating them?”

“I don’t eat them.”

“But Baxter bought them, and you can’t say ‘no’ to him.”

“I don’t want to hurt Baxter’s feelings.”

“He’s a robot, Jimmy.”

At that point Baxter came back into the living room with the beer and cheese.

Bettina picked up one of the beers and twirled it in her hand. “My glass, Baxter,” she said.

When he went back to the kitchen, Bettina said, “And the time he bought you all those pastel shirts.”

“I admit they weren’t the kind of shirts I usually wear.”

“I guess to hell they weren’t. You looked liked a nance. I bet you still have them someplace.”

“Yes, I’d throw them out, but I don’t want…”

“I know. You don’t want to hurt Baxter’s feelings.”

It probably sounds silly to worry about a robot’s feelings, but I had had Baxter for a long time and had done a lot of maintenance over time. I had had his SSD replaced at one time and even his CPU. Every few years a new operating system came out, and I had always updated to the newest system. About five years ago the new system had a big increase in artificial intelligence. After that Baxter was smarter than I was. I didn’t mind listening to his advice and letting him make decisions for me once in a while.

The latest operating system had come with a factor that made the robots more empathetic to human beings. That factor was still experimental and needed some work, but I figured, no one is perfect. In truth, I didn’t think of Baxter as a machine or even as a servant, but as a friend or companion, and that’s the way I treated him.

I remember one time, however, when he went too far.  I had been unhappy with my job and complaining about my boss for several weeks. Baxter took it on himself to email my boss to say that the company should be treating me better. When I went to work the next day, my boss confronted me with the email. “Well, you won’t have to worry about being mistreated here anymore. You’re fired.”

I was furious with Baxter, but he reassured me that with my ability, I would be able to get a much better job in no time. In fact he helped me find a new job which is much better than the old one.  So it turned out all right in the end.

After Bettina left, I went to the kitchen to see what was for dinner. Baxter was sitting at the kitchen table working a crossword puzzle. He looked me and said, “You  better change your clothes. You’re taking Marybeth Whitney out to dinner at the Tip Top.”

Marybeth was a neighbor about my age. She was single and a nice enough person, but I had no interest in dating her.

“What do you mean?” I demanded. “How come I’m taking her out to dinner?”

“I arranged it for you. You’re 37 years old. It’s about time you got married. Married men live longer than single men. Besides, I’ve noticed that she has eyes for you.”

“You can call her and tell her anything you want, but I am not going to go on a date with her.”

I wondered if I would be able to get one of the old operating systems for Baxter, one of the ones made before the robots got so smart.

 

End

 

My stories have appeared in Mountain Laurel, Northern New England Review, Short-Story.Me, Commuter lit, and Kennebec among others.

 

 

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