Author : Glen Luke Flanagan
Click, whir, grind. Melvin’s movements were always accompanied by this sequence of sounds. His jeweled clockwork joints moved with a decidedly inhuman precision, but his troubled face wore the mask of a truly desperate man.
“What is love?” he asked, while his golden fingers tapped nervously on the crystal casing of his knee. “This is the question that has been troubling me. It haunts all my waking moments, yet I cannot bring myself to wind down until I understand the answer.”
As if afraid that he would power down just by mentioning the matter, Melvin’s hands strayed underneath the casing on his back and began to wind himself up frenetically.
Delicate human hands came to rest on his crystal knees, and soft blue eyes found his mechanical ones. A gentle, melodic voice found its way through his tension, and soothed him.
“It’s alright, Melvin. As the first of your kind, it’s natural you should have these questions. We’ll find the answer together, I promise you.”
Dr. Lucy Malone always knew how to sooth him. Melvin relaxed with what almost looked like a deep sigh, but of course it was not, because he did not breathe. Dr. Malone smiled at him, patting his knee comfortingly.
“Same time again tomorrow, Melvin?”
She knew the answer would be yes, if only because the Institute of Strange Intelligences required these counseling sessions, but she always gave him the courtesy of treating him like any other patient. He nodded, and shook her hand.
Tucked away in a comfy little apartment provided by the Institute, Melvin poured over the classic human texts on love. Byron, Shakespeare, Solomon. But they all seemed to deal with the symptoms, rather than the crux of the matter.
Finally, Melvin gave up on his research, and spent the night in meditation, his gears and cylinders whirring quietly in the darkness.
Over the next several sessions, Melvin and Lucy discussed his problem. She described her personal experiences with love, and he tried to put these in context by comparing them to what he had read. Inevitably, there were discrepancies, which confused him and amused her. But eventually, he began to look forward to the sessions for the conversations themselves, rather than as an opportunity to sate his curiosity.
Then one day, he came in to find a stranger in the therapist’s chair. In many ways, she was like Lucy – tall, blonde, and soft-spoken. But she was not Lucy, Melvin felt that with every fiber of his being. Her eyes did not linger in the same ways hers did, nor did her touch have the same tender sympathy. She shook his hand with a crisp air of professionalism.
“Dr. Malone was in an accident,” she said. “She didn’t survive the resulting operation. I’m sorry, Melvin. I’ll be working with you from now on.”
Melvin sat quietly on the soft leather couch, processing. The new doctor watched him for several minutes, and finally reached to touch his knee lightly.
“Melvin? Is everything alright?”
Finally, he raised his head, and looked at her with sorrowful metal-and-glass eyes.
“I know what love is,” he said. “And I wish that I did not.”
In his own apartment, a curtain opened to let in sad silver moonlight, Melvin sat in reverie. The past weeks flashed through his mind, each moment with her as vivid as if he were seeing it again for the first time.
As the night crept on, the clicking and humming of his gears began to slow, but he made no move to wind himself up. After a while, there was only silence.