The Influencing Machine

by Jennifer Maloney

        Like a rubber band, she stretches and snaps. A grind of teeth. She twists, she squeezes. Moves closer, like a dying star, getting brighter and hotter. Her gleam seems to ping off my skin.
     	Rippled jaw, wound tight. “How’s it going, huh?” she vibrates. “We getting there?” Instinctively I back away, then stop myself. She mustn’t notice. I turn my face to my task.
    	“Uh-huh,” I murmur affirmatively. 
     	“Nice. Good. Ok,” she purrs. Hovers, waiting. The clockwork behind her eyes ticks. Calculates. She slides into the other room. 
    	 I bend over the small table. Try to give a good impression; hunch my shoulders, squint. It isn’t difficult, given the immense heat and light she gives off, even from another room. 
     	None of this is her fault. None of it is mine, either. All the media, online, on screen, shrieks the same news: Infection. Disease. We are caught, as in a tide, a wave no one on earth has discovered how to surf. We are all just treading water until, inevitably, we are pulled under. Some of us surface, but we are changed. Mutated. 
    	This morning as I swam from the depths of sleep, I saw the sun gild her hair, her skin.
        Then heard a click. A whirr. 
     	And my heart, which was still just flesh, sank. In the ocean of the night, my love had drowned. What had floated up? What bobbed before me now? Just…machinery.
    	 She buzzes back into the room with me. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she hums. “I couldn’t stand it alone. The anticipation…just too much.” I nod and grimace like a jack o’ lantern. She takes it for a smile.
    	The little mechanism on the table is working. Symbols, colors, spread across its small window, while beneath the skin-like covering of her temple, a wriggling, fluid-filled vessel beats a quick, blue march. As though it is a pulsing vein. As though she has a heart, and it is pounding.
     	What a marvel.
     	Suddenly she squeals, like a belt has frayed deep inside her works. She spins and clicks and whizzes with what could pass for joy. Her arms, pincers, grasp my biceps and her lips, smooth and oiled, pull back from her mouth parts grotesquely. “Positive!” wheeze the bellows where the lungs belong, “we’re going to be parents!” Her body begins to whirl like a helicopter, but I grab her tight. Pull her close. Feel the electricity sizzle as my fingers search desperately for the correct spot…the button…and when I find it, press. Hard. Wait for the click. Wait, for the whirring to cease. 
  	She slumps in my arms.
        I have turned her—it—off. 
        My vision fills with electric snow. 


    	 The police believe I snapped. “No history of violence. It’s like a switch flipped in his head,” but I haven’t any switches. I am not infected. I am not the machinery. Are they?

Jennifer Maloney is a writer based in Rochester, NY. She is the co-editor of Moving Images: Poetry Inspired by Film (Before Your Quiet Eyes Publishing, 2021). Find her poetry and fiction in Panoply Zine, Ghost City Press, Litro Magazine, and many other literary magazines and journals. Jennifer is a parent, a partner, and a very lucky friend, and she remains grateful, for all of it, every day.