Topography of Meringue (Laurie N Meynig)
“I do not understand it.”
“Kissing?” The muscles of her face pull to the sides. She is smiling at me. She is amused by me.
“Yes. The pushing of lips together and the touching of tongues. I do not understand it.”
Her voice goes up and down—the poetic subroutines I have programmed for myself provide the term “dances”—because she is laughing at me. I do not take offense. This response is not uncommon from humans. They find me funny.
“It ain’t exactly something that can be explained properly. Not the way computers explain things,” she says, replenishing the receptacle of paper napkins in front of me. “Kissing is a physical thing. It’s about desire.”
“I do not understand desire.”
There is a cup of hot coffee in my hands. I cannot drink it—I do not have the hardware upgrade necessary to process organic materials. Shelly the Waitress does not mind. Her shifts at the diner occur Thursdays through Tuesdays between 8pm and 1am. Few humans will engage in casual dialogue with an Organic Replicant like myself. Interactions with Shelly educate me, and she behaves around me as she does with other patrons of the diner. It is an average place and I appear average while I am here.
Six months, three weeks and five days have passed since my first encounter at the diner. My visits have averaged four point six times per week. They are famous for their pies. A neon sign in the window declares that. Twenty-seven varieties of fruit, cream, custard and other pies. I have not ordered a slice as it would be wasteful.
Shelly is often stationed near the pies during her shift and I have come to associate the two ideas in my memory banks. Particularly the lemon meringues. Each night the white topping of the pies are a culinary equivalent of mathematical fractals. It is fascinating to track changes in something that, in theory, is the same entity. Like Shelly.
“You know,” she says, leaning on the counter in front of me, “for an artificial intelligence, they kind of built you more on the artificial side than the intelligent one.”
“I understand kissing is part of the human mating process. The research I have done indicates people enjoy kissing, despite it being extraneous to copulation.”
Humans are uncomfortable discussing their sexuality openly. Shelly looks around the diner, the capillaries of her cheeks releasing blood under the skin. The hour is late and few people remain in the diner. This is not the first time we have discussed the sexual instincts of humans, though her reaction now is different from previous occurrences. Why?
“It’s not just the kissing,” she says to me, lowering the tone of her voice. “It’s about what follows. It’s like a doorway to intimacy.”
“A doorway?” English is an inefficient language. I am not sure why humans continue to use it. The necessity of metaphor, simile, and allegory to explain ideas is subjective and leaves room for error.
“Yeah,” she says, nodding her head. “Like, a kiss—just a peck, lips barely touching—is a knock on that door.” She taps her knuckles against the countertop. “And if the door is opened, a whole slew of possibilities chase after it. A deep, passionate kiss is something more. Maybe throw in a little petting, and you find yourself in the entryway. If things go well, you tumble right into the bedroom. It’s not just the kiss we like.”
As she explains the idea, her eyes stray and unfocus the way humans do when they recall memories, and her core temperature increases half a degree. Her voice changes as she talks, filled with an emotion I do not recognize. The sound of it prompts me to reevaluate my assessment of metaphor. “It is the potential that excites you?”
“Yes and no.”
The last of the customers complete their transactions and I wait as she accepts their payment. There are eight minutes left before the diner is closed for business. I always remain until closing time. Tonight, Shelly turns off the neon ‘Open’ sign early and locks the door, though I am still inside.
I remove the appropriate currency notes from my wallet and place them on the counter. “I am sorry. My internal clock seems to be malfunctioning.”
Shelly sits at the stool next to me, placing a hand on my arm, and squeezes. I do not move, unsure of this type of interaction. Shelly has never touched me like this before.
“What’s all this sex talk about, Servo?”
Servo is the name Shelly decided for me, claiming my official designation—ORGREP3708-Q2—too cumbersome for daily use. I agree with her, though she will not tell me the logic behind her choice in nomenclature. My requests for information are frequently denied, I suspect because she finds my frustration with ignorance amusing.
“I have been studying your documentaries on the subject. The sexual act itself I understand. But kissing I do not.”
“Our documentaries?” Shelly said, blinking at me repeatedly. “Servo, have you been watching pornos?”
“Several of the websites I surveyed referred to the documentaries as porn or pornography. By definition: writings, pictures or films designed to elicit sexual excitement. It seemed appropriate for my research.”
“Servo, porno isn’t real.”
“It looked quite authentic to me.”
“Okay, it’s real. But it’s not real real.”
“Your double usage of the word ‘real’ indicates a different meaning.”
“Pornos are for entertainment. Real people having real sex, but it doesn’t mean it’s like actual life. They’re real like movies are real.”
“This data is new. Its addition sets back my research.”
Shelly has brought up a point I had not considered: the films’ intended audience. I had assumed them to be general educational videos.
“Why research it at all?” Shelly says, collecting the condiments from the tables. I follow her, carrying the bin to house the bottles. “There a special lady-robot you’re trying to woo? Or a manly robot?”
Technically, I am not a robot. Shelly knows this. Based on the inflection changes in her voice, I surmise she enjoys using the more recognizable term.
“I do not know any gendered robots,” I say, the incorrect categorization setting off my veracity protocols.
“Really?” Shelly takes the bin from me and walks into the diner’s kitchen. “I guess I just assumed y’all had boys and girls like us.”
“My line was designed with neutrality in mind. We are meant to be accessible and non-threatening to any human.”
“Would you mind closing the window shades, Servo?”
I twist the plastic wands and the blinds remove the parking lot from view. On most nights, I am not permitted to assist with the closing duties. Shelly joins me again in the dining area, her arms behind her back.
“Emilio and the boys have all checked out,” she says, frowning. “Could you get this for me, hon? I can’t quite seem to work it.”
She turns her back toward me, the thin straps of her apron twisted and contorted into a complicated knot. I work at the straps with meticulous care.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Shelly says.
I replay our recent conversation in my memory. “Yes. The point of my research. An attempt to better understand the behavior of humans.”
“You don’t really sound like you believe that.” She turns to face me, pulling the apron over her head.
“I am not capable of believing anything,” I say. “But you are not wrong. It is possible I have been too much exposed to fictions of artificial intelligence seeking to mimic human behavior.”
“So it’s not that you want to be like us. You’re just curious about us? About sex?”
“It is an experience I have never encountered before.”
Shelly smiles at me. “A virgin robot, huh?”
“I had not thought of myself in that sense. The term is applicable.”
“You come here a lot, Servo,” Shelly says.
Her comment is unexpected and her meaning uncertain. Humans do not predictably state facts without an ulterior motive.
“I enjoy the topography of your meringues.”
Shelly laughs and I cannot discern why my accounting of the pie would cause it. I wish that I could. Her laugh is different each time it occurs. I compare the recordings.
“If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard that one,” Shelly says, wiping at her eyes and then she kisses me.
It is my first kiss and I am not prepared for it. The framework of intimate contact with a human is not a probability I invested processing energies into. Her lips on mine are soft and pleasant, the sensation changing as she moves them against me. I do not know how to react. My subroutines provide possible responses, but I do not have time to analyze potential outcomes and determine the most positive choice.
Shelly pulls away from me and I am disappointed at the break in our connection. There was more data that could have been assessed.
“Knock, knock,” Shelly whispers, her cheeks pink again.
“The metaphorical knock, knock?”
“That would be the one.”
“I do not have genitalia.”
She laughs a giggle at me. “There’s more ways than one to get a lady where she needs to be.”
“I cannot provide your eggs fertilization. Our union would produce no offspring.”
“That’s a bad thing?”
“I do not know if I am pleasing to taste. There are other closing duties you need to perform. I have not had adequate time to—”
“Servo.” Shelly places her fingers against my mouth. “You haven’t been showing up for my shifts here because of the meringues. Well, not just them, anyway. You may be a robot, but I can tell when someone’s sweet on me.”
I give the thought consideration. My opinions regarding Shelly are currently unprocessed. Each completion of a day cycle with her I notate more data required before formulating a conclusion. Given current events, I address them.
“Most humans do not see me. To them, I am an appliance. Technology designed for their convenience. In many ways, they are correct. Some humans fear or hate me. You are Shelly with me. Just Shelly so that I can be just Servo. I value our interactions.”
Shelly’s eyes saturate with tears. Humans cry for many reasons. Have I said something to upset her?
She is kissing me again. I do not fully understand why, though it indicates she is not distressed. Shelly wraps her arms around my shoulders and clutches the base of my head. Our hips press against each other as her kisses move down the column of my neck.
“I am unsure of what to do,” I admit to her.
“Most people are, their first time,” she says, smiling against my neck. “What do you want to do? What are you curious about?”
I reach my hand toward her face, careful with the amount of pressure I apply. When my humanoid form was designed, it was done so with a focus on symmetry and clean lines. The uneven elements of Shelly’s face are entirely new to me. I trace the edge of her jaw as her lips return to mine. Shelly’s skin is softer than seems safe. Not a firm silicone covering that would be more protective.
I run my palms down the length of her back, slowly, to ensure I do not harm her and to provide Shelly the opportunity to terminate our interaction. As my fingers pass over the band of her bra, my sensors detect an increase in her heart rate. I trace the lines of it along her shoulders and across her back and she smiles into our kiss.
“You promise you won’t tell anyone we did it in the diner?” Shelly asks, resting her hands on my backside. There is hesitation in her voice and I do not want her to feel embarrassment.
“At the conclusion of this day’s timeframe, I will encrypt these files in my memory bank at the highest security level.”
Shelly stares at me as two point five seconds pass. “I’m gonna guess that’s your version of a pinky swear.”
She pulls my hand toward her and I do not prevent it. Shelly is as fascinated by my fabricated skin as I am by her naturalism. This is as new and wondrous for her as it is for me. The realization invalidates several of the negative outcomes provided by my probability matrix.
She takes my fingers in her mouth, teeth drag along my skin, her tongue following. Pain followed by soothing. I had not realized my programming could experience this. The stimulation tests the processing power of my sensors. I understand Shelly has stepped through her metaphorical doorway and we are now in the entry. I endeavor to perform satisfactorily.
With my unoccupied hand, I cup her breast. As I press my thumb into the firm bud at the apex, Shelly moans into my palm. The vibration of her lips resonates through me. Her reaction is more than I expect and I want to find others.
“May I remove your shirt?”
Shelly smiles at me as I reach for the top of her blouse. I slide each plastic disc through its buttonhole, careful not damage the garment. Shelly runs her hands along my forearms and shoulders; not to stop me, but to urge me onward. The skin under her shirt is dark and freckled, but a lighter shade around her breasts. I caress the places where her torso dips and swells in ways mine does not. Her breathing is uneven and her heart beats erratically. I remove my hands.
“If I am causing you physical distress or you are uncomfortable—”
“Servo, I appreciate your concern, but please stop talking. Touch me.”
“You are aroused,” I say, running my fingertips over her firm nipples pressing against the fabric of her bra. Shelly gasps and grips my arms.
“Ain’t that much of a surprise.”
I enable my poetic subroutines to be the primary narrator in recording the night’s events. It seems appropriate. “It is…pleasing to me.”
Her smile is kind and her fingers deftly twist the clasp of her bra, the garment falling open to reveal her. “Pleases me, too.”
My internal clock is tracking the length of time that passes between us. I minimize its recording to a background function. The elapse of nanoseconds is not an appropriate measure for this moment. It does not belong with this data: the millimeters of dilation in Shelly’s eyes as I connect with her flesh, the degrees of temperature her skin rises under my hand, and the rapidity of her heartbeats.
Shelly unbuttons my shirt to my waist. The diner is quiet except for Shelly’s gasping. Each time I move my hand to a new area of her, an array of physical reactions occur. She moans, her breathing quickens or stops, and an involuntary shiver runs through her. The effects are fascinating to study.
“Servo,” Shelly says, her lips against my collar bone. “Servo, I want you to touch me.”
“Am I not?”
She laughs and rests her head on my chest. “So much for pillow talk.”
“Oh. Vocal foreplay. Would you like me to engage in some? I conducted an informal survey of the most popular phrases.”
“Did you?” Shelly says, sliding her pink polyester skirt up her thighs. “Alright, hit me with them.”
“If I said you had a beautiful body,” I say, following the journey of the fabric with my fingertips, “would you hold it against me?”
Shelly stops, a centimeter of patterned cotton visible. “That ain’t pillow talk. That’s a cheesy pick-up line.”
“I know,” I say, pulling the hem out of the way. “But I liked it.”
There are cartoon panda bears on her underwear, each with a different expression. I press my thumb over the panda with hearts where its eyes should be. Shelly leans her head to the side and her heart skips a beat.
I know the process to sexually stimulate a female. I studied it. Like most of my studies, it did little to prepare me for the joy of personal experience.
Shelly leads us to the red leather stools at the counter, lowers herself onto one and hooks her legs around mine. There is an unfocused quality to her eyes. Her lips part and her breasts heave with her breathing. I keep my gaze fixed to her face as my fingers navigate her panties. The skin is softer here. The fine curls of hair give way and I press my fingers through the outer lips and into the slick folds of skin underneath. Shelly gasps, her eyes squeezed shut, as she clutches the counter behind her.
I stroke circles over her clitoris; eight thousand nerve endings that make her gasp and moan. I do not enter her until she asks it of me, her voice little more than high-pitched gasps. There is thrusting and pumping, yes, but it is her face that interests me. Physical sensation overwhelms her and more expressions than I recognize pass across her face. I catalogue each one to study later.
“Servo,” she breathes. “Oh God, yes.”
I increase my speed and bring my lips to Shelly’s nipple. Her eyes open wide, connecting with mine as she reaches her orgasm. It is like nothing I have seen and it is beautiful. Some part of Shelly—something I have no definition for—leaves her for an eternity of moments. Her muscles constrict around my fingers as though pulling me further in, to be a part of her. Gradually, she returns to herself and I slow my movements to a stop, resting in her warmth.
Grinning, she presses her mouth to mine. The kiss is changed. There is an enthusiasm about it. Joy and gratitude conveyed through the meeting of lips. To know that I inspired these emotions in her—not as a requirement of my programming, but as a choice of my own—it is an unrepeatable experience. An event that is unique to Shelly and me. I will never delete this memory.
“I think my understanding of kissing has improved,” I say. “Did I perform well?”
“You got a reason to think otherwise?”
“You did not scream and thrash about or loudly proclaim my sexual prowess. In many of the films—”
“Servo,” she says, her smile turning into the type that indicates I have done something amusing. “Let’s not ruin this.”
“Could we repeat this?”
“Well…” She winks at me. “Give me a few minutes to reset the biology here and I’ll see what I can do.”
“Tomorrow also?” I settle my hands at her hips, caressing the skin with my thumbs. “I have more techniques I would like to try.”
She grins and her hand traces irregular patterns on my chest. “You sure you won’t get bored with little, old human me?”
The unpredictability of insecurity can be difficult to account for in determining speech choices. I give my response due consideration.
“Each time I am with you it is a new experience.”
“And you do love your unique data, don’t you?”
I smile for her. “There is not enough time in either human or robot life span to experience all the possibilities our time together would generate. I…believe it is worth the attempt.”
She pulls me close, kissing me in a first of many new ways. “Let’s get started, then.”