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by Sarah Campbell

Morgan couldn’t stand another minute in that room. He’d been sitting in the uncomfortable lobby chair for half an hour now. Tipping his head back, he tapped his foot on the hospital floor. 

Clattering pencils suddenly broke the monotony. Startled, his eyes focused on the girl sitting across from him. She squirmed under his attention and quickly started retrieving the pencils.  

He rolled his eyes, sighed, then shifted in his seat. There was nothing else to do.  

As the girl finished gathering the pencils, he observed her bouncy ponytail and bright eyes. He guessed she was around twelve.

She snuck a glance at him before stretching her arm down between the seats to reach the last pencil. Glancing again as she sat back up, she lifted her sketchbook and pulled her feet up onto the seat. 

Glancing once more, she opened her mouth.

He interrupted. 

“What are you drawing?”  

She glanced to her sketchbook and back. Then it registered. “Oh. Um, nothing yet.”

He scoffed. “Okay… well, what were you going to draw?”

“That’s what I meant; I haven’t thought of anything yet.” 

He nodded knowingly. She was probably just embarrassed to admit she was drawing something silly, like fairies. 

“Mm, a cyborg would be fun!”

He blinked. “What?” Last time he checked, most girls couldn’t care less about robots. “Why a cyborg?”

She grinned a challenge. “Why not a cyborg?”   

He almost smiled. “So you like cyborgs then?”  

“Of course I do. They’re cool.”

He slumped. He had suspected her interest was a fleeting one. Still, he nodded. “That’s true. They’re definitely cool.”

Her head popped up. “You like them too?” 

“Of course!” He paused. “Why do you seem surprised?” 

She looked away. “I don’t know…” Her face was growing pink. “I thought you would think they were silly.” 

His eyebrows shot up. “Actually, I’m a robotic engineer.” 

She gasped and leaned forward. “So you build real life robots?” 

“Sort of.” He beamed. “Others build them, but I design them.” 

“Oh! So like… what do they do?” 

“Eh, that depends… The one I’m working on—well, was working on—is a drone that can autonomously evade projectiles or circumvent obstacles.”   

The girl was silent for a moment. He realized he had probably confused her. 

“So… if I threw something at it? It would be able to dodge? All by itself?”

A surprised smile grew on his face. “Yes, exactly! Also, if on a mission something unexpectedly got in the way, it could bypass it without getting lost.” 

The girl snorted. “I never thought robots could get lost! But I guess that makes sense.” 

“Yeah, they become useless if they can’t adapt to the unexpected.” 

She giggled. “That’s how people are sometimes…”  

He snickered. “You know what? That’s actually very true.” He scoffed. “My dad, for example, seemed to believe marriage was the solution to everything, but when it wouldn’t work he would just quit and try again.” 

She looked at him quizzically. “But that doesn’t make sense. If it’s not working, shouldn’t you try something different?”

“Exactly!” He threw her an imaginary fish. “That’s what I kept telling him. He got married a grand total of seven times before he gave up.” 

Her jaw dropped. “Seven times?”

He nodded. “It was ridiculous. The only things women are good for anyway are having children and distracting people from what’s important.”

“Um… what?”

He threw his hands up. “Look, I’ve had eight mothers in my lifetime and they all managed to do nothing but disappoint. That’s a broader data sample than most people have and every other women I’ve met has only supported my hypothesis.” 

The girl’s face went from shock to outrage as he spoke. He didn’t care. It was how most people responded.  

“I-if girls are so awful then why are you even talking to me?”  

He shrugged. “Boredom.”

The girl shrunk back. He waited for an insult, but she started scratching in her sketchbook.  

He studied her, then put his chin in his palm. Why were people so sensitive? She could still think what she wanted. 

Then there was a sniffle. He looked up to see tears running down her face. Now he’d done it.  

“Hey…”

“Shut up.”

He gaped indignantly.  

She took no notice, so he sat back with a huff. He would leave her to her cyborg.

Then the sound of pencil on paper stopped.  

He eyed her warily. 

She took a deep breath. “So you think the bad relationship you had with your parents gives you the right to judge every woman ever?”

“No… It’s that, plus almost fifty years of experience backed up by my personal research. Yes, research.” He stopped for a breath before barreling on. “Society has been gradually falling apart and it’s no coincidence. Divorce and walk-out dads have become fairly normal as self-centered wives drive their husbands away, leaving children with inadequate parents. And what is society but grown-up children? Women are shaping it and they’re doing a terrible job. And that’s only one of many examples of how they’re screwing everything up. You want more?”

“No, I don’t want—” She growled in frustration. “No one’s perfect! If you hate people that make lots of mistakes, then you hate everyone, not just women.”

“Mm, that’s a good point. But I’m not saying women have no good qualities or that I hate them for their imperfections. I don’t even hate them! I just find them annoying and think they get in the way far more than they help. Society would be better off if they participated as little as possible.”

“Oh really?” Her voice sounded dangerous. “Because my mom left and we’re a million times worse off without her! She thought she was useless and only got in the way. She thought we’d be better off, like you said, but we’re not!” She was crying again, and this time her nose was running too. She wiped her face on her sleeve. Morgan tossed her the tissue box that had been sitting on the table next to him. She blew her nose.

Leaning back, she calmed a bit. “You’re an idiot. But I’m going to be different. I’m gonna grow up and do things right ‘cause I already know what not to do.” She blew her nose again and went back to drawing. 

He shook his head. Of course he didn’t agree. The grass was always greener on the other side, after all. If she actually had a mother in her home, she’d probably wish her gone. Improvement is always easier said than done.

But at the same time, he understood. 

“It’s not like I don’t know how you feel.”

She opened her mouth to argue, but he didn’t let her.

“Honest. My birth mom committed suicide when I was a kid and I was pretty devastated then.”

Her face softened.

He sighed. “Women aren’t completely unlovable or anything… They just—Ah, never mind.”  

He stared at the clock, then glanced at the girl. She had gone back to her drawing, her face screwed up in thought. 

“Hey.”

Her head popped up.

“What’s your name?”

She blinked. “My name? Oh, Mona.”

He nodded. “Okay, Mona. Well, you made a big claim and I doubt you’ll follow through with it.” He taunted her. “Do you want to take it back?” 

She looked livid. “What? No way! You—”

“In that case…” He smiled faintly. “I hope you prove me wrong.” 

She inhaled sharply. “Really?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Yes. Really.”

Her face lit up. “Then I promise: I will.”

“Good.” He looked away and clenched his fists. He didn’t need her trying to turn this all mushy.

Changing the subject, he moaned, “When will Marco be here? One would think a good friend would hurry to pick up their sick pal from the hospital, you know? I’m probably going to die in this chair, waiting for him.” 

Curiosity flickered across Mona’s face and once again she opened her mouth to be interrupted.

“Mr. Bentley?” A red-headed nurse peeked through the doorway.

“What’s up?”

“Oh, good, you’re still here.” He stepped into the room. “You forgot to sign one of your forms.”

He sighed. “Alright.” As he stood up, he looked at Mona. “Welp, thanks for the chat.”

“Oh wait!” She made a few small marks in her sketchbook, then tore out the whole page and handed it to him with a sly grin. “Take this!”

His mouth curled into a smile as he took her drawing of a cyborg. He noticed it was a female and laughed. It was fairly well-drawn for a 12-year-old.

“Thanks, I appreciate it.” He grinned. “But I might not be able to keep this for long. Are you sure you want me to have it?”

Confusion crossed her face, but she bobbed her head. “Yes! Definitely!”

“Thanks again.” He beamed.

“See ya.”

He waved goodbye.

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