“Girl In Pieces” — Cathy Ulrich

robot

This girl at school shows up with a robot arm one day. We all turn to look at her new arm, shiny and whirring. She picks up our dropped pencils with her robot arm, our discarded textbooks.
She says: I think you dropped this.
Before she had a robot arm, she wasn’t the kind of girl anybody noticed. Didn’t sit in the front of the classroom or the back, or even right in the middle. Didn’t know all the answers or none of them. Had a nervous little mouth, puckered pink lips. One of the Kristens or the Kaylees, we thought.
Your robot arm is very nice, we tell her. Daven from the wrestling squad tries to get her number, has a thing for damaged girls.
My parents don’t want me dating, says the girl with the robot arm. She closes her locker, her metal fingers scraping against it like silverware rattling together.
She says: Thanks, though. Really.
After a few days, the girl with the robot arm shows up with a new mechanical leg, breaks the school record for the 100 yard dash in gym class. Her new arm and leg are both on the same side, leaving her lopsided, sloping to the ground.
What’s up with the robot leg? we ask, but the girl doesn’t say, holds the love letter Daven from the wrestling squad had slipped into her locker between two fingers like it’s some filthy thing. We notice she has used her human hand to touch it.
What’s this? she says, and crumples it up.
I don’t want love, she says.
She is more robot than person when she comes back to school. Glares at the freshmen who get too close. They scatter, like maybe lasers will come out of her eyes. We all hope lasers will come out of her eyes, but they never do.
There are flowers delivered to her homeroom, calla lilies, we think, purple as a bruise.
She doesn’t show anyone the note that came with them. There are flowers delivered to all her classrooms, and she leaves them sitting on the teachers’ desks when the bell rings.
I don’t want these, she says. I don’t want any of it.
The girl with the robot arm—arms now, we remind ourselves, arms and legs and torso and side of the face—doesn’t come back to school for a week. Daven from the wrestling squad slumps against his locker, picks at his lunch.
Dying, he says. Dying of love.
We hear her when she comes back. She is the clatter of metal on linoleum, the creaking of machinery. She is cold and stiff and perfect. There could be parts of her that aren’t robot that we can’t see: her heart, her lungs, a kidney, a toe.
Daven from the wrestling squad is waiting at her locker, hadn’t died of love after all,
while she was gone. He says hello. The robot girl says hello, says: I have something for you. Opens her backpack, pulls out pieces of herself, her old self, fingers, wrist, elbow, knee.
Ah, he says. They look just like doll parts.
The robot girl tips her head up and down.
Yes, she says. I thought so too.

 

 

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Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including jmww, The Molotov Cocktail, and Noble/Gas Quarterly. She is a fiction editor at Atlas and Alice.

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