For months, every midnight her spirit would rise out of Lake Michigan and float before my penthouse window. I wanted to reach out and pull her into the safety of my arms–she was my beloved wife after all. Except sometimes I felt she wasn’t real, only a being coming from the mists of my imagination. And other times I felt she was too real, her tears studding her high cheek-boned face. What I know now it that her otherworldly beauty has left its tragic stamp on my soul.
I’m the only legitimate son of a billionaire, a hard man who left his fortune to his illegitimate heirs. He constantly accused my mother of marrying him for money, until she finally walked out, taking me—their only child– and leaving her wedding ring on their nightstand. He never recovered and stalked her till the day she died.
My mother believed I’d make money like my father but never lose my inheritance from her, a tender heart. So I grew wealthy because I understood how to make a profit and keep it, just like my father, and on the way I married my distant cousin Angelica, beautiful but mute; she spoke with her luminous green eyes. On our wedding day I gave her a gift of emerald earrings, two perfect emeralds, and yet her soulful eyes outshone them.
In the beginning of our marriage, I would wake her with the sound of her name, only I would sing it, and she would smile at my off-key voice. But one morning she didn’t smile and I noticed her eyes were a dewy green. Why was she so sad? I soon realized her only desire was to have our children, and whatever she wanted, I wanted. When we discovered we couldn’t have any, she was devastated. “We’ll adopt,” I said, and began our search.
One of my clients lost his wife in childbirth and then committed suicide. We took their unfortunate child in and raised him. He was ill formed; one side of his face didn’t match the other. His body too was lopsided, giving him a slight limp. We named him Adam, the prototype of man, because to my dear wife, he was ideal. Whenever his disabilities were mentioned, she seemed shocked because, of course, she had forgotten about them. And I knew they only made her love him more.
Adam didn’t speak until he was three; his first word was “Mama.” From then on I knew I was second in Angelica’s fickle heart. At first I didn’t mind, but whenever a conflict arose between my son and me, she’d always resolve it in his favor. Our birthdays were close together, but she only concerned herself with Adam’s as if mine were an afterthought. One Christmas she gave us matching sweaters. We opened our gifts at the same time, and all the while she waited for Adam’s smile. She didn’t even notice mine.
As for Adam, he adored her. I tried my best to become a part of his life. I’d been a strong basketball player in school and loved all sports, so I wanted Adam to have the opportunity to develop his body as much as possible. Unfortunately, the older Adam became, the more pronounced his limp, so the more he shied away from sports. At the same time, I took him to specialist after specialist and for that he resented me. Angelica had been more discreet. She’d written doctors and discussed Adam’s problem, saving Adam the humiliation of seeing them.
The prognosis was always the same though: his limp would worsen until in later life he’d need a wheelchair. Naturally, drastic surgeries were possible with no guarantees of success, but Adam adamantly refused them to my face.
However, Adam had a creative streak and loved everything about electronics, an area I myself excelled in. He spent hours in his suite, turning his sitting room into a laboratory—inventing holograms, video games, then an ingenious robotics program. One day, I knocked on his laboratory door and a three foot high robot opened it: she looked like a metallic version of Angelica. Her daughter perhaps. Adam’s sister perhaps.
“Sir,” she said, “do you seek entry?” I chuckled at her formality. Then she said, “Cut the belly breath, dude. In or out?” This I found not so funny. I asked Adam her name; he said, “Eve.”
At first glance, Eve was clearly a robot, but since she joined us at the dinner table every night, she became a person to us. More than a barking dog or a mimicking bird, she had conversations with us, conversations programed by Adam. Needless to say, she often voiced views opposed to mine. However, after our verbal battles, which I didn’t always win, I’d look at Angelica and her eyes would glow so beautifully that it was worth having my pride stomped on to see them. She was happy, happy for the sounds and gestures and emotions, the ideas and the stimulation and simulation of life. She would glow for me, too, lovingly and sympathetically, especially when Adam programed Eve with columns of up-to-the minute statistics so I could barely stammer back a defense.
My only legitimate criticism, if it could be called that, concerned Eve’s manners. Adam insisted she eat—which did make her seem more real—and he devised a receptacle in her mouth to catch the food which he would empty out later. However, she handled her utensils poorly. Adam struggled with programming her use of a knife and fork and then grew bored with the problem. So every night, after putting her napkin in her lap, Eve would eat soup since she could handle a spoon quite adeptly. She could also pick up a roll or a glass of water and of course she could eat Adam’s favorite food, ice cream. She’d end by wiping her mouth and leaving the soiled napkin on the table. Yes, it was easy to forget she wasn’t our daughter, but despite the marbled material Adam used for her eyes, they were never as green as Angelica’s, never remotely loving, and never even curious. Only cold and impenetrable. Still, her whole persona was so real, I’d never thought of her eyes as lifeless.
Because of Adam’s innovations, he was offered scholarships to prestigious universities, which he and his mother decided to visit. On February 13th, the night before the trip, Eve began to act strangely. She terrorized Angelica’s lapdog, Cherie, whom she’d always ignored before except when she pretended to playfully pull her tail. Later, Angelica found Eve in the kitchen feeding the already overfed pooch chicken bones. Angelica tried to scream, but naturally that only meant she opened her mouth wide and her face froze firmly in terror. That muteness of hers, which was so calming, turned against her. She ran through the fifteen rooms of our penthouse until she found Adam and me overseeing an electronic project I was working on in my laboratory. Adam thought my signals were disrupting his latest experiment and we were arguing about it. Sadly, we were too late to save Cherie. She choked to death.
Angelica was inconsolable. She pointed to the chicken bones and then looked for Eve but couldn’t find her. When we understood the sequence of events, the first thing Adam did was run to his room to troubleshoot Eve’s program. I followed him. “What’s wrong with your programing?”
“That’s what I need to find out,” he said, his face almost touching his computer screen.
“You know how much your mother loved that dog.”
“Of course, I do, Dad! And so did I. Cherie slept at the foot of my bed every night.”
“Because your mother was kind enough to let him when the poor little beast would have preferred to be with her.”
He turned away from his computer for a moment. “Dad, I need to concentrate to be able to fix Eve.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t. Look what’s she’s done. Your mother is traumatized.”
Continuing his frantic search for glitches, he said, “Mother loves Eve. She writes me notes calling Eve YGT, your greatest triumph. We’re planning on taking her with us to the universities to show her off.”
“Don’t tell them she’s a murderess! It won’t improve your chances of getting in,” I said.
Adam lowered his head. “When I finished programing Eve, I wanted her all to myself. She was my obsession. But later on I realized I had to let her go. So I gave her more freedom of choice.”
“No, Adam, you’re in control of her.”
“No, Dad, I feed her data but from that she makes her own decisions.”
“You’d better change that, son.”
He didn’t answer me, which meant he was going on with his experiment of letting Eve choose. I needed to soothe Angelica but not before giving Adam a sharp parting shot: “Your mother needs me now. It won’t be easy to calm her. I think she loved her lapdog even more than she loves you.”
He laughed. “No, Father. Of all those mother loves, she loves me most.”
When I finally consoled a scintilla of Angelica’s grief, I told her what Adam said. She clutched my hand, her eyes filled my heart with a warm, nurturing green glow. I knew she loved me most.
The following day, Angelica was too shaken to go with Adam, so I did. We decided not to take Eve. Adam believed he had fixed her but he didn’t want to take a chance on her actions, so he locked her in his laboratory.
As we flew from one university to the next, I realized Adam and I had never been closer or happier together. I was so proud of him when he played a video of Eve for the admission boards. Someone even commented on how beautiful his mother was since he filmed a dinner table sequence. He was accepted at all the universities—many of them begging him to join their science department and offering him money in the form of scholarships, grants, or full tuition. We were coming home triumphant.
On our final plane ride, Adam told me he wasn’t sure Eve could be fixed: “Whatever self-pitying feelings I had—I’d never be an athlete, I’d never have a girlfriend, whatever anger I had and revenge against fate must have subconsciously gone into my programming. I may have to rebuild her from scratch.”
“You feel guilty about Cherie, that’s all. But I know electronics, Adam, and cold intellect cuts through unstable emotions when you make a decision: how should she hold her spoon, should she sip her water or gulp it down, should she discuss politics with respect for her opponent or should she be arrogant and have a sarcastic edge? None of these considerations included luring the dog to her death.”
“That seems true, Dad, but the last thing Eve said to me when I locked her in the closet was that I didn’t need Cherie to protect myself as long as I had her.”
“Now I see what you mean. That jealousy and possessiveness must have come from you, son,” I said, not too tactfully.
Tears filled his eyes. “I swear I will never create another robot until I’ve made myself a better person.”
Even though I wanted to continue our discussion, I knew it was wiser to keep silent. Besides, nothing could eclipse the joy of homecoming for either of us.
It was dark when we landed and a subzero cold front had gripped the city. But we were warm hearted, Adam and I, as we rode the elevator to the fiftieth floor, each preparing to outrun the other to be first to tell Angelica about our phenomenal success.
When we entered the apartment, we could hear the wind howling and see our breath, it was so cold. We could feel terror. I ran to the living room–the lights automatically flicked on. There, in front of me, was a huge broken window. I was afraid to look out. Adam hobbled over, faster than I’d ever seen, and looked down. He fell to the floor. I finally looked down too. There on the frozen lake below was Angelica. Without a word, I pulled Adam to his feet and we searched for Eve. When we found her hiding in the laboratory closet, her prison where she’d cleverly broken the lock, we ripped her to pieces, our anger was so great, our strength so superhuman.
Adam and I became even closer with our shared trauma, our nightmares, our vision of Eve pushing Angelica through the window. The police asked us if perhaps Angelica had committed suicide, but we showed them her eyes that Eve had spooned out and left in Cherie’s water dish.
After Adam left for college in the late summer, Angelica began to appear outside the windows at midnight, rigid in her fluttering kimono, her eye sockets black holes rimmed in blood. I knew she was looking for her eyes, but somehow I couldn’t let them go. They were all I had of her and the part of her I loved the most. I froze them in a white Limoges cup and clung to the seconds I could see her floating before me. When Adam returned at Christmas, he gave me a robot he’d devised at the university in the shape of a dog standing on its hind legs. He called it Butler but it looked like a replica of Cherie. “He’ll do everything to make you comfortable, Dad. Lay out your clothes, help you get dressed, cook and serve your favorite meals, offer you a warm cup of tea at bedtime. Oh, and let you win some of the arguments.” I laughed. “He sounds made for me.”
Adam told me how he was meditating every day, ignoring the strange looks he’d receive from fellow students who mocked his irregular features and limp, and laughing at the cruel comments from professors who envied his creative intellect. Then he said he had some good friends and even one or two of the co-eds showed an interest in him.
Because of Adam’s disclosures, I told him about his mother’s apparition on the day he was returning to the university and he was devastated. I didn’t tell him I thought she wanted her eyes back or that I’d kept them.
When he returned to the university, I was comforted by Butler. Adam had programed him with enough material for conversation so that he seemed almost like a friend. And yet, though these conversations were never adversarial as the ones with Eve were meant to be, Butler had a strange gift of predicting the future. I don’t know where it came from because Adam, his programmer, didn’t have it. Out of his dog jowls would come predictions about what certain of my clients would do. I began to believe him because everything he told me came true.
Then one midnight in February, Valentine’s Eve of the day we brought home Cherie, I waited by the window for my lost love but she didn’t come. I couldn’t believe she’d stopped her midnight skywalks, so I ran to the balcony off the library and stepped into the dark, damp cold. The moon was hidden but I felt a sting of light. There by the balcony off Adam’s bedroom, she lingered. Butler came out and with extreme dexterity reached up to her face and placed her eyes back in their sockets. With that, Angelica disappeared.
I raced to Adam’s room, ready to reprimand Butler for stealing my eyes—or her eyes, but when I opened the door, I saw my defrosting cup, only it wasn’t empty as I’d expected: a pair of emerald earrings winked back. I looked at Butler in shock and began to berate him, but he defended himself. “I saw her last night,” he said, “and realized she wanted her eyes.”
“You stole those eyes from me,” I yelled. Those eyes were mine!” In a voice compassionate without being judgmental he said: “When you travel through eternity, you’ll be without your eyes, so you’ll never be able to find her.”
At first I was crushed by this groundless curse. But it dug deeply into my heart. Every time I thought about those emerald earrings, I wasn’t sure if Angelica was reprimanding me or severing our relationship forever. I was so distraught that one night I asked Butler how he interpreted her giving back the earrings. “When you gave them to her, they meant something. Now they are worthless,” he said and left it at that.
But I know she loves me; she’ll forgive me for keeping her eyes to myself; she left me the earrings as a comfort since I wouldn’t have her eyes. And I have a plan which I’ll never tell Adam, or let slip to Butler for that matter. When I’m finally there, in that otherworldly realm, even if I’m blind, I’ll find her. I’ll sing out “Angelica” off key, and she’ll come smiling back to me.
Chloe Bolan has had short stories, poems, and a play published. She is currently revising a science fiction novel, Down the Stars, and finishing a novella. She has won awards for her plays and recently had a production of a one-act, “Blizzard.” She teaches visa students at UOTP and tutors at Truman City College.