This week’s Nebula-nominated story comes from Helena Bell, who is also a poet. You might have figured that part out, though.
This is a list of the chores you will be expected to complete around the house when you are not eating the diseases out of my flesh; this is the corner of my room where you may stay when you are not working; do not look at me when you change the linens, when you must hold me in the bathroom, when you record in the notebook how many medications I have had that day, how many bowel movements, how the flesh of my mouth is raw and bleeding against the dentures I insist on wearing.
The pamphlets say you are the perfect scavenger: completely self contained, no digestion, no waste; they say I can hook you up to an outlet and you will power the whole house.
You may polish the silver if you are bored; you may also rearrange the furniture, wind the clocks, pull weeds from the garden; you may read in the library any book of your choosing; my husband claims you have no real consciousness, only an advanced and sophisticated set of pre-programmed responses, but I have seen your eyes open in the middle of the night; I have seen you stare out across the fields as if there is something there, calling you.
Cook my meals in butter, I will not eat them otherwise; do not speak to the neighbors; do not speak to my children, they are not yours; do not let anyone see you when I open the door for the mail; no, there is nothing for you, who even knows that you are here?
Help me to walk across this room; help me to wipe bacon grease from the skillet—do not think I do not see you trying to wash it with soap when I am done.
Help me to knit my granddaughter a sweater, she is my favorite and it is cold where she will be going; if you hold my hands so they are steady I will allow you to terrorize my Bridge club; I will teach you the rules: cover an honor with an honor; through strength and up to weakness.
Help me to pronounce atherosclerosis when I am speaking with the physician; remember the questions I must ask him; recite my list of medications when asked; if you would like, we may go early so that you may sit with me in the waiting room with all the others like you and me.
Do you see that one?; that is the way you will carry me when my other foot has gone down the black froth of your mouth.