She slides the pie out of the oven, the heat kisses her forearms. John will be excited for this pie, her thoughts drift. Not just the pie, she looks over her shoulder, the whole dinner. Today is the day they’re testing the TOP SECRET technology John has been on about for a while. It’s been in the work for years. Suzanne doesn’t quite understand, but she knows enough to be afraid of it. As much as this is a celebratory dinner for her husband — years of waiting, of work, all coming down to mere months, days, hours — it’s also a way for her to work on her nerves.
People like to say cooking is willy nilly, but it’s not. Suzanne knows just how procedural one needs to be to execute a full Sunday roast. Nothing can be amiss. Every step needs to be perfectly timed for perfect execution. Which is why when Suzanne goes to reach for her beloved can opener, the red one that John gave her for their first married Christmas, her heart seizes in her chest.
Instead of calming with the business of preparation, her nerves now spark inside her. Without thinking she walks to the phone. Suzanne lifts it off the receiver and uses her index finger to swirl the dial. John should be at the office already, but the testing isn’t scheduled for later in the day. The phone rings and rings. Well, she thinks to herself, this just won’t do. She calls back the main number and leaves a message with the receptionist.
Returning the phone to the cradle, Suzanne nods her head with determination before going to get her keys and her purse. They’re fortunate enough to have two cars, one that John lets her use for grocery shopping. She knows how to get to the nuclear power plant. She’s sure if she hurries she can get to him before he leaves for the testing site. Her dinner will not be ruined.
Her manicured nails are tapping against the wheel. Seconds pass. No one moves. Finally, the road opens up. Cars are moving, she’s moving. She’s not supposed to take the highways nor is she supposed to go faster than 25 miles an hour, but it’s an emergency! Suzanne angles her heel between the floor of the car and the pedal. Already she is moving faster. She needs that can opener.
Bright lights flash behind her. She looks in her review to see a police car. It’s Davey! Perhaps John got her message and sent his best friend as an escort. Suzanne takes her hands from the wheel and claps with glee. She’ll certainly get there on time now. She applies more weight to the pedal. The car roars as it speeds ahead.
Davey, in his police car, pulls up next to her waiving his arms. She smiles and waves back. She’ll have to have John invite him over for some pie. After they have their dinner of course. She likes Davey but this is for John, for her, for them. She glances down at her belly. Davey’s car zips away, probably clearing a path though there’s not much traffic anymore. Suzanne pushes forward. The car screams as they whiz down the road.
She sees Davey’s car a second too late. Suzanne jolts forward and bounces back as she hits the cop car. She isn’t sure why he was parked perpendicular to the road. In her rearview she sees Davey’s car swerving into the road trying to follow her. Davey seems okay, and she doesn’t have time to stop right now. He’ll catch up.
Suzanne lifts her foot off the pedal, flexes, and pushes back down. She’s really flying now. Already the entrance to the plant is insight. And what luck! The gate is still open. It’s starting to close, but she’s sure she can make it. Pushing down with all her might Suzanne giggles as the car speeds through the closing metal. Sparks fly and she hears something tumbling onto the road behind her.
John’s office is just on the other side of the building.
Maintaining her speed, she cuts around the men running out into the road. Probably not use to visitors. She wonders if Davey didn’t catch up fast enough. In the rearview it looks like his car is tangled in the gate. She is so close, she can almost hear John telling her exactly where he left it. He always knows where things are, where they go. It’s something Suzanne loves about him.
She loves everything about him. Even when he is wrong. She thinks of all the times he told her, reminded her, that it isn’t possible for them to have a baby. She knows that he is wrong. She can still hear her friend Madeline telling her “you didn’t get your period this month or last month either?! Our little ones will be such great friends!” Then she squealed like the pigs at the farm shows.
Dinner will be perfect: the test today, the roast. It will be a beautiful evening for them. John will be happy. Then Davey and Madeline can come for pie. They can all talk about their future children, and maybe John can tell them if his nuclear test went well.
Suzanne cuts the wheel. She is looking at the road again, her thoughts back in her mind, and is surprised at how close the brick wall was in front of her. She hears the side of the car scrape against it. Whoops!
Thankfully she sees the entrance closest to John’s office. She remembers him telling her about clearances. Since the car already isn’t the same as when she got in, Suzanne shrugs and puts one hand over her belly before driving into the doorway. This was much faster. She might even have time to bake a second pie if she keeps moving at this rate. She wonders what flavor she will do for the second pie.
She smiles as she opens the car door and steps out into the hallway. Loud footsteps carry down the corridor. The whispered voices are covered by the moving feet. She hears one that sounds like John’s voice. Suzanne stops moving and tunes into the strained voice of her husband.
“She called about the can opener?! This can opener?”
She can see imaginary John lifting the can opener with red handles, the ones he got for her for their first married Christmas into the air. Waiving it around. It is silly. Why would he have her can opener here? Suzanne knows this will be a story they will tell their friends, their children, down the road. Like when Lucy does something to get her and Ethel into shenanigans, and Ricky just rolls his eyes.
The voices and the pattering of feet have gone quiet. Suzanne has to hurry up if she’s going to reach them. She begins to walk as fast as ladylike, but she knows she won’t catch up this way. She breaks into a jog. It seems like the right balance.
Suzanne reaches the end of the hallway. It’s a dead end. She looks to her right and sees the EXIT door closing. She is so close. She jogs faster now. She is afraid of sweating. Her hand uncontrollably touches the spot above her brow, the same spot Lucy’s does when she is working hard or causing havoc.
She doesn’t know why Lucy does it, but Suzanne does it too. Every one loves Lucy.
Suzanne’s feet touch the blacktop, the door closes shutting out the sound of chaos behind her. Maybe other people are also trying to catch John and his group. She keeps jogging. It isn’t ladylike to yell, but she really needs that can opener, the one with the red handles that he got her for their first married Christmas. John and whoever he is with are getting into a white van — the kind with the step at the back doors. By the time Suzanne is close enough that they might hear her speak the van starts and begins to move.
She grabs onto the handle of the door and holds on tight as her pumps leave the floor. Her feet land on the platform as the van goes over a bump. Her grip is so tight she can feel the metal tense under the pressure of her hand. She figures they are going to the test site where she will see John when they get there. A group of army men barrel out of the EXIT that she and John took. She waves as the van peels out of the lot and onto the road.
It’s a bumpy trip altogether. She doesn’t remember the ride there being so bumpy, but she wasn’t going as fast as this van is. Maybe they are running late! While she knows that isn’t good for John, that will buy her more time to make her perfect dinner. A bug lands in her teeth as she smiles. It’s not enough to break her of this joy. It’s going to be perfect. Suzanne looks down at her belly, afraid to let go of the handle. It’s all going to be perfect.
They arrive at what Suzanne is certain is the testing site. She feels nervous, her fingers rub together. Tired from holding on, she is also scared about what this place is. What it all means. She makes a face and her whole body shakes. If Lucy were here she would make that silly sound. Suzanne tries it, but it never sounds exactly the same. It doesn’t this time either.
Suzanne is standing behind the van. She hears the doors opening. They are rushing — she can tell by the sound of their movements. She touches her strained fingers to her hair, it is not as coiffed as it was when she left the house. Besides, there’s no way that John would bring the can opener with him to the actual test, assuming he even has it here. She will wait until they are further along and then she will poke around the inside of the van. Her eyes study the landscape as she waits.
The whole area is surrounded by large posts. She can feel the whispers of electricity between them. Wherever this is must be very secret. She looks around the van, in the near distance her husband and his co-workers are walking toward a large, strange structure. It looks to be in the middle of the posts. She wonders if they are all connected with the same electricity. She finds her husband in the group of men. The red handles of her can opener are in his hand! She can see it as clear as day despite the overcast.
She can no longer wait. She breaks out into a run. This is new for her and it feels strange, but she is going. One foot in front of another, the wind cutting the edge of her dress.
John yelps when she grabs the can opener from his hand.
“SUZANNE” he shouts!
She wonders why he is shouting at her. She hasn’t gotten into any hi-jinx, she just needed her can opener.
“Hello John,” she says. “I needed my can opener for dinner. This is the one you gave me for our first married Christmas together. I couldn’t make dinner without it.”
She smiles at him. He is not smiling back.
“That’s great, but I need it right now.”
“You’re working,” she explains. “I need it for cooking you the perfect dinner.”
His coworkers are staring at her. They seem afraid. She feels the confusion move her face around.
“Honey,” he starts very slowly. It’s the same voice he used to tell her they couldn’t have children. Suzanne doesn’t like it, but she can wait until later to tell him he was wrong. “That isn’t a can opener.”
“Yes it is. It’s the one —”
“I got you for our first married Christmas. Yes, except it’s not a can opener.”
John looks like a caged animal trying to find its way out of a situation.
“I don’t understand. I’ve used it a thousand times.”
She feels her face pull. She knows she is unhappy, but hates that she is showing it. She doesn’t want to embarrass John.
“I know. It’s also a very important part of the technology. The one we’ve been working on. We had to keep it safe. Hidden. So we — I — made it into a can opener so you would keep it safe. Now, we need it for the test.”
“You lied to me?”
“No, sweetheart. I just didn’t want you to know. If someone found out that you had it they might try to hurt you.”
“Oh,” Suzanne says. She processes the information quickly. She can understand where John came from, even though she believes him to be wrong. “Why a can opener?”
“Well, one side will run the test. The other is the real key to run the real detonation.”
A small gasp escapes her. She feels like she is in one of those movies that John loves to watch about science and aliens and technology. She does not like those movies. She prefers her sitcoms. She prefers laughter. So she laughs.
“You’re okay now, Suzanne? I can have the can opener back?”
“I suppose so,” she says. “When you’re done, you will give it to me though? I need it to make the perfect dinner tonight. It’s going to be celebratory for your successful test and my good news.”
John looks at her differently now. He is happy that she is going to give him back the can opener, the one he got her for their first married Christmas together. He is interested in her good news.
“Do you want me to tell you now?”
She is excited. She feels it in her body, on her face. This will make his co-workers relax too. They still seem uneasy behind him.
“Of course,” John says.
He is moving closer to her. Reaching for the can opener.
“I don’t have my period. We’re pregnant!”
John’s face doesn’t move. Neither does any other part of him. Behind him one of his co-workers blurts out, “robots can’t be pregnant.” Someone else chuckles.
Suzanne tilts her head to the side. Robots? They have spent too much time near nuclear technology.
“Suzanne,” John says. “The can opener.” He extends his hand out further.
“But my good news? Our dinner? The baby. . .”
Someone lunges at Suzanne. She can’t see who it is before she throws them to the ground. She feels the anger vibrating stronger than the electrical currents.
“Suzanne,” John says again.
“So it’s true?”
Information is running through her so quickly, but she is quick to understand. Of course she is quick to understand. It all makes sense now.
“I’m not your wife. Or a mother. The same way this isn’t a can opener. I’m just a robot?”
Silence stretches out before them. Suzanne looks around, her attention had been so focused on John she is only now seeing the groups of army men surrounding her. The little blue dots dancing around her chest. She looks deeper into John’s eyes. He starts to close them, but in mili-seconds, she is before him holding them open. The can opener dangling next to his face.
He once told her to be careful staring into people’s eyes, especially his. For however long she has been in this form, programmed this way, she has avoided it. Now she is staring.
“I love you,” she says as she kicks him in the knee. She can hear the bones shatter as she is running away. She is moving at full speed toward the tower. They can’t shoot her fast enough. She knows from John’s mind that all she has to do is jam one of these handles into the slot ahead and the universe will cease to exist. The same way her womb will never be full or John will never fully love her.
As she inserts the handle into the hole the currents from the fence come alive. She can feel the energy as it pulls through her body. In the far distance she hears the screams of men. She twists the metal part, the one she’s twisted so many times to open cans of vegetables, of sauce, of juice. At the end of the rotation the world goes silent, before her system shuts down she hears the deafening sound of the end.