TO HAVE AND TO HOLD • by Gay Degani

In the luminescent dusk of their subterranean entertainment pod, Jana tells her husband, “I wish Chloe loved me as much as she loves her dog.”

“What are you talking about?” Jim’s eyes never shift from their 142-inch holographic tank. They’re watching his favorite show: The Archaic Olympics, a particularly effective episode for the full 3-D experience, the one in which hairy men in kilts toss log poles.

“She’s so much kinder to Ronco than she is to me. A child shouldn’t love a pet more than a parent.”

“In case it’s slipped your mind, Jana, Chloe is thirty-three.”

“So? She’s still a daughter”

“What do you want? You want her to climb on your lap? Sing her lullabies?”

“That would be nice. I would like that.”

“That’s not going to happen.” Jim glances at Jana and notices the welling in her eyes. His tone softens. “It’s different with pets. You should know that.”

He snaps open the tiny bio-gel fridge hidden in the arm of his morpholounger and pulls out a micro-brew. Jana stares at her long, delicate fingers, her palms, her tiny wrists.

She says, “But Ronco’s not even real.”

Jim sips his beer and shakes his head. “You know that doesn’t matter, real or not real. In the old days, kids loved stuffed animals as if they were real. It’s no different now. Chloe loves Ronco, even if he is an animaloid.”

“But it’s not healthy. That dog is like a person to her. She takes him everywhere. She sleeps with him. She talks to him like he’s a human being.”

“Listen to yourself. Why are you so upset about this?”

She doesn’t answer and the room grows quiet. Except for the men grunting on the 3-D screen and Jim slurping his brew.

“You need help, Jana,” Jim says after a while. “Chloe’s a grown woman. She doesn’t need either of us much any more.” He puts down his beer, looks straight at her. “You’re acting a little” — here he rotates his hand back and forth — “coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs, you know?”

“That’s not fair.” She flicks on the slow-glo energy lights and puts herself between him and his Toshiba. “All I want, Jim, is some attention. From you. And from your daughter.”

“Move out of the way. I’m missing my show.”

“You’ve never understood me. And your daughter is just like you. You with your damn holographic tank and her with that damn dog.”

“Where’s this all coming from?” Jim folds the lounger back into its upright position and pulls himself to his feet. “Haven’t I been good to you? Put a roof over your head? Taken you on vacation? Let you run around with those friends of yours?”

Jana takes a step sideways, toward the stairs, but Jim clamps down on her arm. Brings her in close.  “I’m very disappointed in you.” he says, touching the back of her neck. She freezes.

He speaks to the air. “CALL.”

The omniphone answers in its melodic mechanical voice, “Yes, Jim?”

“Connect me to 3C.”

A whir of tiny notes sound, and another soothing voice comes on. “Constant Companions Corporation. How can we be of service?”

“I own a JANA-3S?” Jim says, never taking his eyes off Jana. “The one with the emotion upgrade? It’s not working out. Didn’t you launch a new 4S?”

Gay Degani has published in journals and anthologies including The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008 and TWO (2009). Her stories online can be read at Smokelong Quarterly, The Battered Suitcase, Night Train, 10 Flash, Emprise Review, as well as other publications. Pomegranate Stories is a collection of eight stories by Gay. She is the editor of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles and blogs at Words in Place.

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