She’d had a hard day. Earlier that morning she’d discovered that the game her company was developing, which was already months behind schedule for release, had a glitch somewhere in the code that caused the game to crash if the player character was equipped with diamond armor on the level with the meteors, and nobody could figure out why. It didn’t make any sense. It was a total nightmare. Anna, her boss, was mad at her for leaving dirty dishes in the kitchen again. Zoey, her supervisor, kept ignoring her emails about the status of the new health plan. Indira, the latest intern, had spilled coffee all over the table in the conference room, and the coffee had gotten onto her blouse and her skirt, and though the coffee had been iced and hadn’t burned her, her blouse was white and her skirt was peach, and she hadn’t been able to get the stains to wash out completely, leaving faint blotches on the fabric, and her clothes were still damp from trying. Her landlord, Kayla, had sent her a message that she wouldn’t replace her garbage disposal, despite that her disposal was indisputably broken. Her therapist, Sofia, had sent her a message that she was raising her hourly fee, even though her fee was already outrageous. Danielle, her neighbor, still wasn’t talking to her after last weekend. And all of the women at the company were running around the office, desperately trying to pinpoint the exact cause of the glitch, which made her so anxious that she could physically feel the stress tingling through her body as she typed code, and her breast had a lump that she was trying not to think about until the results came back, and her wrist was still tender from the spill that she had taken on the track at the gym, and she had a pimple on her shoulder that was sore and swollen and seemingly resistant to every known variety of acne cream, and that morning the governor had announced a plan to substantially raise the income tax in Florida, which meant that she’d have less money to put toward savings every paycheck, and that she wouldn’t be able to afford a baby for another year. Fuck, she thought. Fuck, fuck, fuck. By the end of the day she was just sitting at her computer in a daze. She was supposed to meet some of her friends for dinner. She wasn’t hungry. She felt depressed. She didn’t want to go. She messaged her friends that she had to cancel.
Mackenzie called her.
“Why aren’t you coming?” Mackenzie said.
“I had a shitty day,” she said.
“Maybe going out would help?” Mackenzie said.
“I’m just going to go home,” she said.
Mackenzie made a sympathetic noise.
“You sound miserable. I’m going to have a care package delivered to your apartment. Expect wine and cupcakes. I love you, I miss you, get some sleep. I’ll see you this weekend,” Mackenzie said.
After hanging up she tried calling her mother.
“I had a terrible day,” she said.
“I’m sorry, baby, I’m just walking in to a surgery,” her mother said.
“Oh,” she said.
“I’m sorry, really, I’ll call you back when we’re done,” her mother said.
“I’ll just be at home,” she said.
She hung up. She felt awful. She left. In the elevator she realized she had forgotten to shut off her computer. She was too exhausted to go back. She walked through the revolving door in the lobby out onto the street. The sun was out, but rain was falling, a light scatter of drops pattering down from a blue sky. Fluffy clouds were floating above the city. She paused at the curb, full of despair. The street was full of people. A mail carrier at a drop box, a woman in tortoiseshell glasses, sorting through envelopes. An electrician on a hydraulic lift, a woman with tattooed hands, repairing a utility pole. A pair of cops, a couple of women with blond ponytails, ticketing a parked convertible. Women striding down the sidewalk with briefcases and clutches and backpacks and satchels and colorful wheeled suitcases. Women gliding through the intersection in buses and taxis and pickups and sedans and gleaming delivery vans. Students on a field trip from out of town, a line of girls in matching shirts, following a pregnant chaperone across a crosswalk. Teenagers in dresses and denim jackets doing kickflips and nosegrinds on battered skateboards. Women holding hands at marble tables on the patio of the cafe across the street, sipping at foamy cappuccinos, flirting with each other. Seeing the women holding hands made her think about sex. And suddenly all that she could think about was sex. She wanted to be touched.
She wasn’t lucky enough to be attracted to women. She had tried a couple times, in school, in college, and had been forced to admit that women just didn’t interest her sexually. She had only ever fantasized about men. Men from classic movies. Men from vintage comics. Men from paintings and statues at the museum. She had other straight friends, Mackenzie especially, who liked to go to android clubs, having sex with robots designed to look like men, with cocks and balls and hairy chests, skin as soft and warm as the flesh of a human. The robots could talk and laugh and flirt, but the technology was still relatively unrefined, and tended to induce that uncanny effect, seeming vaguely creepy to her. She preferred to get off with simpler machines, generally. Vibrators. Dildos. Showerheads. She could satisfy herself like that for weeks at a time.
But sometimes there were days when machines weren’t enough, days when she felt like cuddling, days when she felt like kissing, days when she felt like being caressed and squeezed and held by another person.
And so when she got into her car that day, instead of going home she drove to the local menagerie.
Miami’s menagerie was a glass dome on the shore of a forested island in the bay. She drove with the windows down so that her hair danced around her head as her car flew over the bridge. Electronica was playing over her stereo. Rain was still falling in a scatter. The sky was turning orange and yellow. Fluffy clouds were floating above the island. She felt a tingle of excitement, of anticipation, as she arrived at the menagerie. Sunlight reflected off of the dome in iridescent shimmers of color. The only other car in the lot was an antique roadster. The primary purpose of the facility obviously was to serve as a safeguard, to prevent the extinction of the human race in the event that civilization collapsed, if artificial fertilization was suddenly rendered impossible by an asteroid impact or a geomagnetic storm. The men created for the menagerie were living sperm banks. Redundant machines that would only be useful in an emergency. Like an oil lantern that nobody would ever need unless the power went out and the batteries went dead in the flashlights. She rarely ever thought about that, though, as the possibility was so unlikely. For her the primary purpose of the facility was to provide women the opportunity to have sex with men. Her straight friends preferred to have sex with robots because having sex with men was so much more expensive, but she didn’t mind paying extra. Technically the money was a donation. All of the proceeds went toward buying the men special treats, like milkshakes and pastries. She liked feeling generous. The doors to the lobby slid apart automatically. She paid the receptionist, accepted a glass of chilled cucumber water, selected a couch in the waiting area, and sat sipping the cucumber water in the waiting area as the receptionist paged a guard. Even for a weeknight, the menagerie was strangely quiet. Aside from the receptionist, the lobby was completely empty. Recently a man had attempted to escape from the menagerie in Nashville, had become violent when the guards had tranqed him, and had attempted suicide with a belt upon awaking in his cell. Another man had recently attacked a visitor at the menagerie in Detroit, had been beaten by the guards in retribution, and never would be allowed to have a visitor in his cell again. She had read about it in the news. Incidents like that didn’t scare her, though, being so rare. The global population of men was strictly regulated, just over a hundred thousand in the world, and all of the men had been raised in captivity from birth, were familiar with the bite and the sting of batons and tasers. In her experience the men at the menagerie knew better than to cause trouble. And in a way, she liked the thrill. Entering the lair of the most violent, ruthless, destructive creature that had ever walked the face of the planet.
Miami’s menagerie was an average size, from what she’d heard, although she had never been to any other. Boys at the menagerie lived in cells on the upper floor. All of the men lived in cells on the ground floor. The hallway had a white floor and white walls with a white ceiling. A guard with a radio and a gun and a black uniform led her down the hallway, passing the glass doors looking into the cells where the men lived. Duke, a man with a snub nose and dimples, who was cute. Earl, a man with freckles and a cleft chin, who was gorgeous. Marquis, a man with a buzz cut and an enchanting singing voice. Prince, a slender man with a lip piercing and prominent cheekbones, who was gay and rarely interested in sleeping with visitors. Malik, a chubby man with a sexy laugh. Amir, a shy man with a fine ass. Baron, a charming older man who was bald and bearded and spoke with a faint lisp. The doors were staggered so that none of the men could see each other through the glass, only the passing guards. Tonight the men were all occupied playing video games, doing sudoku, stringing guitars, folding origami, sniffing socks, watching the news, making pour-over coffee. The one she liked best was kept in the cell at the end of the hallway.
“I’m so glad that you’re here,” Rex said with a surprised smile, looking up from a sketchpad full of designs for flying machines.
The guard strolled back down the hallway as the door slid shut, leaving her alone with him. Rex strode over to the door barefoot, wearing a brown linen tunic over tapered beige pants. He was younger than she was, probably early twenties, a tall, broad, muscular man whose face was angular and handsome, with thick dark hair and a pair of bright hazel eyes that shone with intelligence and curiosity. His voice was deep. His stubble was hot. His tracking bracelet was an attractive silver band, the same as the rest of the men’s. Like the other cells at the facility, the suite where he lived was pleasant and spacious and elegantly decorated, with a king-size bed, a desk for writing, a chair for reading, and a dresser for clothes. A bookcase full of novels and atlases and encyclopedias and tattered volumes of poetry. A bathroom. A kitchenette. A yoga mat, a weight bench, and a stationary bicycle for exercise. A grand piano, which he had been learning to play since early childhood. A canvas on an easel, since lately he had been interested in art. All of the furniture in the suite was minimalist and modern. A couple pairs of boxers were strewn across the floor around the laundry hamper, and an apricot pit sat on a plate by the sink, but overall the appearance of the suite was clean and tidy. The wall across from the door was made of glass, overlooking the palm trees and the beach and the glittering green and indigo water of the ocean stretching off to the horizon. Rex kissed her. His lips were very soft. His mouth tasted like sugar. He’d been eating caramels.
“You got a new haircut,” she said.
“Do you like it?” Rex said.
“Did you pick it out?” she said.
“I saw it on a man in a book,” Rex said.
She set down her purse by the door. Usually she wore lingerie when she visited the menagerie, but she hadn’t been planning on coming, so that day she had on a discolored bra and a pair of cotton panties with a couple of ratty holes along the waistband. Rex didn’t seem to notice any difference, stripping off her blouse and her skirt and her bra and her panties with a passionate urgency, kissing her skin everywhere. She was small enough that he could carry her over to the bed. She had sex with him. Afterward she cuddled with him. A light rain was still falling beyond the windows. The sky had turned pink. Fluffy clouds were floating above the ocean. Her cheeks felt flushed. Her heart was pounding. She was naked now except for her watch, an heirloom from her grandmother, a simple timepiece with gold hands on a gold face and a gold band. Rex stroked her head, gently caressing her hair, massaging her scalp with his thick fingertips, which she had told him before that she liked. His skin was slightly lighter than her skin, and she liked the visual contrast. When he’d taken off the condom, tossing the condom into the wastebasket, some of his semen had spilled out onto the sheets. She liked the smell of his semen in the air. She liked the smell of his deodorant. She liked the smell of his sweat. She felt fantastic. She liked talking to him.
“I’ve been learning about the history of architecture,” Rex said.
Watching the bulge in his throat bounce when he spoke exhilarated her.
“Tell me something you learned,” she said.
Rex hesitated. “Is it true that most of the buildings in the world were built by men?”
“I don’t think very many women got to be architects under the patriarchy,” she said.
Rex frowned at the ceiling.
“That makes me angry,” Rex said.
“Me too,” she said.
“It’s just so unfair,” Rex said.
“I guess everything was like that,” she said.
“I bet the world would be so much more beautiful if all of the cities had been built by women,” Rex said.
She thought about that for a while.
“Well, every building put up in the past fifty years was built by a woman, and a man will never build a building again,” she finally said.
Rex seemed satisfied with that. She ran her hands over his skin absentmindedly, feeling his tiny nipples, the firm muscle in his pecs, the rigid grooves between his abs, spreading her fingers through the scratchy bristles of his pubes. His buttocks were round and smooth and nice to touch.
“Will you tell me what it’s like outside?” Rex said.
Rex always asked her that when she visited him. He had never felt sunshine. He had never felt rain. He had never felt wind. He had never felt grass or dirt or sand. He was obsessed with the outdoors. Mountains. Icebergs. Flowers. Weather.
“It’s warm today,” she said.
Rex was captivated.
“And it’s raining. But a light rain. A very light rain, so light that you barely feel it. And the wind is light too. The perfect breeze. And the city smells like rain and steam from all of the humidity and the water. And the rain brings out the smells of the grass and the dirt and the flowers. And all the birds have come south for the winter, so that when you walk down the street you hear birds chirping everywhere, all around you. And the rain is so light that when a drop falls on you it feels almost special, and you have to reach up to wipe it off of your cheek,” she said.
Rex turned toward the windows with a look of longing.
“I wish we could feel it together,” Rex whispered.
She ate a fig from the platter of fruit on the nightstand next to the bed.
“Will you go down on me again?” she said.
Rex said he would, eager to please her. She spread her knees, taking hold of his head, enjoying the feel of his hair between her fingers, the feel of his tongue pulsing against her clit, the feel of his hands wrapped around her thighs, gripping her tight. Tasting her must have aroused him, because when he finally rose back off of the bed, his cock was hard again, bouncing stiffly in the air. She had sex with him again. He came with a moan, digging his fingertips into the skin on her back, gently calling out her name.
Afterward she cuddled with him again. Twilight was falling across the ocean beyond the windows. The clouds had vanished. Stars were appearing in the sky. She felt comfortable. She felt happy. She had a sudden craving for nachos. She glanced at her watch. She wanted to watch a couple episodes of a new show before she went to sleep.
“I’d better go,” she said.
She got dressed. Rex looked distraught. He quick fumbled to put on his pants and his tunic. As she pulled the strap of her purse over her shoulder, he reached for her.
“Take me with you,” Rex whispered, glancing at the door with a wild look.
She was startled. He was serious. She stepped back.
“No, honey,” she said.
“I want to run away with you. We’ll live together. Somewhere out in the wilderness, where nobody will find us. We’ll build a home. We’ll have a family,” Rex said.
“No,” she said.
“I love you,” Rex said.
“You barely know me,” she said, stunned.
“You’re beautiful. You’re smart. You’re kind. You are, I know you are. When you found that lost dog on the side of the road, you carried him to your car to bring him to a shelter, even though he was all muddy and got your clothes and your seats dirty. When you told me about that, I fell in love with you. That was the moment. That dog could have had fleas, or worms, or rabies, but you saw he was alone, that he needed help, and you helped him. Because that’s the type of person you are. I love how you look when you laugh, when you really laugh, so hard that you can’t breathe. I love how happy you get when you eat something sweet, the way that your eyes get small and crinkle with happiness while you chew. I want to make you happy. I want to live with you. I think about it all the time. I want to be with you forever,” Rex said.
“Rex, no,” she said.
“Please,” Rex said, becoming teary.
The sight of the tears made her hesitate, and suddenly he looked desperate, as if he could sense her wavering. The tears shimmered in his eyes as he stepped closer.
“Please, don’t leave me here. I can’t take it anymore. Just take me with you. I won’t be violent. I’ll respect you. I’ll be kind. I’ll be peaceful. I’m not like the other men,” Rex said, begging now.
She had fantasized before about sharing a life with him. Standing there at the door, she imagined helping him sneak out of the menagerie, past all of the guards. Cutting off the tracking bracelet with the pliers from the emergency toolbox in her trunk, and then driving away in her car, back over the bridge, to someplace far away. Moving into an abandoned farmhouse in the country. Growing vegetables. Raising chickens. Keeping bees. Waking in the same bed every day. Being outside together. How he would smile, how he would weep, when he knelt down to touch the soil for the first time. How he would laugh in wonder. She thought about how much she loved for him to touch her. How much she loved to talk to him. How much she loved to be with him. She thought about her friends. She thought about her mother. Like all of her friends, every member of her generation, she was a stem-cell baby, fertilized in vitro with artificial sperm, her gender preselected, and then transferred from the petri dish into her mother. She had been born long after the purges. Long after men had become obsolete. She had never lived in a world where men roamed free. A world where assault and murder and war were all an everyday occurrence. Her mother had been too young to remember. But before her grandmother had died, her grandmother had told her stories, sitting around the firepit behind the trailer, roasting marshmallows over the embers. The worst day she had ever had under the matriarchy, her grandmother had said, was still better than the best day she had ever lived under the patriarchy. A former soldier and retired housekeeper, her grandmother had fought off an attempted rape by a friend of her father at the age of twelve and had been called a liar when she had finally dared to confess to her father what had happened, had once been bending for a suitcase at a luggage carousel when a man had pinched her ass with his fingers, had once been holding the pole on a bus when a man had pressed hard into her hand with his groin, had once been taken to a med center by a friend after an unidentified predator had slipped a date-rape drug into her beer at a concert, had had her body remarked upon by men on a daily basis, as a teenager had been rejected from the high school wrestling team solely on the basis of being a girl, as a soldier had regularly been passed over for promotion in favor of male candidates who were considerably less qualified, as a housekeeper had never been paid a comparable wage to male housekeepers at the hotel, had been sent countless pictures of erect dicks from friends, coworkers, acquaintances, neighbors, and total strangers, completely unsolicited, had dated a man who had enjoyed mocking her whenever she made any type of mistake and had left her feeling pathetic and stupid, had dated a man who had tried to control what she ate and had called her disgusting and ugly whenever her weight had fluctuated, had dated a man who had habitually provoked arguments with random men at bars, getting into vicious fistfights, hurling stools, shattering bottles, throwing punches, shouting with hormonal rage, scaring the hell out of her every time, and had eventually married a polite, helpful, affectionate, sensitive man, who like all husbands had taken a vow to be faithful, and who had cheated on her on over a dozen occasions. Her grandmother’s aunt, a biology professor who had never been paid a comparable wage to male colleagues at the university, had had an abusive husband who had spread rumors that she was an alcoholic after she had finally divorced him. Her grandmother’s sister, a nurse anesthetist who had never been paid a comparable wage to male colleagues at the hospital, had been harassed by a stalker who for years had periodically sent her videos of him masturbating to her headshot. Her great-grandmother, who in her youth had seen a boy with a rifle go on a shooting spree at a shopping mall that had claimed the lives of dozens, had routinely been beaten by her father. All of her friends had stories like these. Mackenzie’s great-grandmother, who had gone on to become a famous pilot, in her youth had been assaulted by a college quarterback at a frat party, and despite that her testimony had been corroborated by multiple eyewitnesses, her rapist had never been convicted, had just gone free. Anna’s grandmother had been molested by her band instructor. Zoey’s grandmother had been fondled by her loan officer. Indira’s grandmother had been pressured to send nude photos to her boyfriend, had been called a slut when he had posted the photos online in revenge for dumping him, and years later had been pressured to give her manager a blowjob, and then had had her hours cut back after she had refused. Danielle’s grandmother had once been raped by her own husband. And that was only a random sampling of women from a single generation, in a single community. Humans had been living in organized societies for over ten thousand years. Ten thousand years of tribes and kingdoms and nations. Ten thousand years that men had ruled the world. Ten thousand years that women had suffered without change. Had been treated as inferiors, and simpletons, and burdens, and temptations. As mere property, like a cow or a donkey. As mindless objects. She thought about that. She thought about all of those women, not as a group, but the individual people, each of whom had been unique and complicated and remarkable, each of whom had had hopes and dreams and feelings, a single precious life, and had been oppressed from her first breath to her deathbed. The billions upon billions upon billions of women. She thought about the genital mutilations, and the forced pregnancies, and the forced abortions, and the bride burnings, and the boy clubs. All of the abuse. All of the bullying. All of the shaming. All of the belittling. All of the gaslighting. All of the catcalling. All of the stalking. All of the groping. All of the rapes.
“No meant no,” she said, and walked out the door.