The Perfect Wife Page 1

Author: J.P. Delaney

Genres: Thriller , Mystery


You’re having that dream again, the one where you and Tim are in Jaipur for Diwali. Everywhere you look, every doorway and window, there are lanterns and candles, firecrackers and fairy lights. Courtyards have become flickering pools of flame, their entrances surrounded by intricate designs of colored rice paste. Drums and cymbals throb and sizzle. Surrendering to the din and confusion, you surge with the crowd through a market, the stallholders urging platters of sweets on you from every side. On an impulse you stop at a stall where a woman decorates skin with beautiful Hindi patterns, the smell of sandalwood from her brushes mingling with the acrid, savory cordite from the firecrackers and the aroma of kaaju, roasting cashew nuts. As she paints you, deft and quick, a cluster of young men dance past, their faces painted blue, their muscular torsos bare, then come back, dancing just for you, their expressions deadly serious. And then, the final touch, she paints a bindi on your forehead, right between your eyes, telling you how the scarlet dot marks you out as married, a woman with all the knowledge of the world. “But I’m not,” you protest, almost pulling away, fearful you’re going to offend some local sensibility, and then you hear Tim’s laugh and see the box he produces from his pocket and even before he goes down on one knee, right here in the midst of all this noise and mayhem, you know this is it, he’s really going to do it, and your heart overflows.

“Abbie Cullen,” he begins, “ever since you erupted into my life, I’ve known we have to be together.”

And then you’re waking up.

Every part of you hurts. Your eyes are the worst, the bright lights searing into your skull, the ache in your brain connecting with the stiffness in your neck, soreness all the way down your spine.

Machines beep and whir. A hospital? Were you in an accident? You try to move your arms. They’re stiff—you can barely bend your elbows. Painfully, you reach up and touch your face.

Bandages encase your neck. You must have been in an accident of some kind, but you can’t remember it. That happens, you tell yourself groggily. People come around from crashes not remembering the impact, or even having been in a car. The important thing is, you’re alive.

Was Tim in the car as well? Was he driving? What about Danny?

At the thought that Danny or Tim might have been killed you almost gasp, but you can’t. Some change in the beeping machine, though, has alerted a nurse. A blue hospital uniform, a woman’s waist, passes at eye level, adjusting something, but it hurts too much to look up at her.

“She’s up and running,” she murmurs.

“Thank God,” Tim’s voice says. So he’s alive, after all. And right here, by your bedside. Relief floods through you.

Then his face appears, looking down at you. He’s wearing what he always wears: black jeans, a plain gray T-shirt, and a white baseball cap. But his face is gaunt, the lines deeper than you’ve ever seen them before.

“Abbie,” he says. “Abbie.” His eyes glisten with tears, which fills you with alarm. Tim never cries.

“Where am I?” Your voice is hoarse.

“You’re safe.”

“Was there an accident? Is Danny okay?”

“Danny’s fine. Rest now. I’ll explain later.”

“Have I had surgery?”

“Later. I promise. When you’re stronger.”

“I’m stronger now.” It’s true: Already the pain is receding, the fog and grogginess clearing from your head.

“It’s incredible,” he says, not to you but the nurse. “Amazing. It’s her.”

“I was dreaming,” you say. “About when you proposed. It was so vivid.” That’ll be the anesthetic, you realize. It makes things richer. Like that line from that play. What was it? For a moment the words elude you but then, with an almost painful effort, a clunk, you remember.

I cried to dream again.

Again Tim’s eyes fill with tears.

“Don’t be sad,” you tell him. “I’m alive. That’s all that matters, isn’t it? We’re all three of us alive.”

“I’m not sad,” he says, smiling through his tears. “I’m happy. People cry when they’re happy, too.”

You knew that, of course. But even through the pain and the drugs you can tell those aren’t everything’s-going-to-be-all-right-now tears. Have you lost your legs? You try to move your feet and feel them—slowly, stiffly—responding under the blanket. Thank God.

Tim seems to come to a decision.

“There’s something I have to explain, my love,” he says, taking your hand in his. “Something very difficult, but you need to know right away. That wasn’t a dream. It was an upload.”


Your first thought is that you’re hallucinating—that this, not the dream about him proposing, is the bit that isn’t real. How can it be? What he’s saying to you now—a stream of technical stuff about mind files and neural nets—simply makes no sense.

“I don’t understand. Are you saying something happened to my brain?”

Tim shakes his head. “I’m saying you’re artificial. Intelligent, conscious…but man-made.”

“But I’m fine,” you insist, baffled. “Look, I’ll tell you three random things about myself. My favorite meal is salade Ni?oise. I was angry for weeks last year because my favorite cashmere jacket got eaten by moths. I go swimming almost every day—” You stop. Your voice, instead of reflecting your rising panic, is coming out in a dull, croaky monotone. A Stephen Hawking voice.

“The damage to that jacket was six years ago,” Tim says. “I kept it, though. I’ve kept all your things.”

You stare at him, trying to get your head around this.

“I guess I’m not doing this very well.” He pulls a piece of paper from his pocket. “Here—I wrote this for our investors. Maybe it’ll help.”


Q: What is a cobot?

A: Cobot is short for “companion robot.” Studies with prototypes suggest the presence of a cobot may alleviate the loss of a loved one, providing solace, company, and emotional support in the aftermath of bereavement.

Q: How will cobots differ from other forms of artificial intelligence?

A: Cobots have been specifically designed to be empathetic.

Q: Will each cobot be unique?

A: Each cobot will be customized to closely replicate the physical appearance of the loved one. Social media records, texts, and other documents will be aggregated to create a “neural file” reflecting their unique traits and personality.

There’s more, much more, but you can’t focus. You let the sheet fall from your hand. Only Tim could possibly imagine that a list of factual questions and answers could help at a time like this.

“This is what you do,” you remember. “You design artificial intelligence. But that’s something to do with customer service—chatbots—”

“That’s right,” he interrupts. “I was working on that side of it. But that was five years ago—your memories are all five years out of date. After I lost you, I realized bereavement was the bigger need. It’s taken all this time to get you to this stage.”

His words take a moment to sink in. Bereavement. You’ve just realized what he’s trying to tell you.

“You’re saying I died.” You stare up at him. “You’re saying the real me died—what? Five years ago. And you’ve somehow brought me back like this.”

He doesn’t reply.

You feel a mixture of emotions. Disbelief, obviously. But also horror at the thought of his grief, at what he must have been through. At least you were spared that.

Cobots have been specifically designed to be empathetic…

And Danny. You’ve missed five whole years of his life.

At the thought of Danny, a familiar sadness washes over you. A sadness you firmly put to one side. And that, too—both the sadness, and the putting-aside—feels so normal, so ordinary, that it can’t be anything except your own, individual emotion.

Can it?

“Can I move?” you say, trying to sit up.

“Yes. It’ll feel stiff at first. Careful—”

You’ve just attempted to swing your legs onto the floor. They go in different directions, weak as a baby’s. He’s caught you just in time.

“One foot, then the other,” he adds. “Shift your weight to each in turn. That’s better.” He holds your elbow to steady you as you head for the mirror.

Each cobot will be customized to closely replicate the physical appearance of the loved one…


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