The Dorothy Parker Program

By Libby Heily

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Garner adjusted his mask, pulling the Plastiskin(TM) tight against his throat. He flashed two fingers to his clone who stood at the end of the hall. He wanted to make sure Garner2 knew to wait a couple of minutes before knocking on the door.

His clone answered with a smile.

Garner was glad he’d programmed the clone to smile like a normal person. Lexa never liked how uneasy his own smiles were and now he could see why. Watching Garner2, he felt a sense of warmth. If he wanted to smile like that, he’d have to learn to do it the old-fashioned way: practice. No way would he install a personality chip in his own head. There were limits to his love and the risk of unleashing a computer virus in his brain was one of them.

He knocked on the door and within seconds it swung open revealing Lexa looking stunning in a gold dress.

“Hi, I’m here for the party.” Lexa looked at him blankly before Garner added, “I’m Jim’s friend.”

“Oh, yes.” Lexa broke into a huge smile. Jim from work. Jim who she’d spoken about frequently over the past few months. Of course she’d be happy to see one of his friends here, it meant Jim might stop by later. “Please, come in.” Lexa moved out of the way, allowing Garner into the narrow hallway.

“Thank you.” He glanced at her neck as he passed. “That’s a very nice necklace. Is it a pig?”

“Oh, this?” Lexa brushed the pendant with her fingertips. “Yes. It’s a swine made of pearl. My…a friend gave it to me for my birthday. I’m a huge Dorothy Parker fan.”

“Pearls before swine.” Garner tried not to sound bitter. It had taken him weeks to carve the pendant. He’d ruined three perfectly good pearls before mastering the technique, not to mention that working in miniature played hell with his tendonitis. But he’d done it, for her, in lieu of an engagement ring. And she has the nerve to say a friend gave it to her.

“Yes. Won’t you join the party?” she asked and led him down the hall to the living room. “Will Jim be arriving soon?”

“I’m sure he will.”

Garner headed to the bar for a scotch instead of joining Lexa and a group of her coworkers.

“Some party, huh?” a man with a bright green tie asked him.

“It’s fine,” Garner said flatly. He turned away from the man, discouraging further conversation.

His heart leapt when he heard the knock at the door. He wet his lips with scotch as Lexa excused herself and headed to the foyer. When she returned, followed by Garner2, it looked as if she’d applied a mask of her own, one of very strained patience.

“Huh,” the guy in the green tie said. “She doesn’t look happy.”

“Your tie is hideous,” Garner snapped, straightening his own. He glanced at Garner2’s outfit. His clone wore a tailored gray suit with a pink shirt and tie. Crisp, clean, and elegant.

The man with the green tie turned away in a huff.

Garner2 followed Lexa back to her group. She was speaking with two women from work and their husbands. “Hello,” he said politely. “I’m Garner, it’s nice to meet you all.”

The two couples offered him stiff nods.

Garner guessed Lexa had already told her coworkers about their break up. Had she told them about his proposal?

“What is it you do for a living, Garner?” one of the men asked.

Lexa did a double-take at Garner2’s smile. She absently stroked her swine/pearl pendant as the clone answered. “I’m an accountant, which is kind of boring. It’s less about numbers and more about applying ass to seat.”

Garner nearly spit out his scotch as the entire group let out a polite chuckle. It wasn’t much but it was more than he’d ever received when telling a joke. It’s working!

“Would you like anything to drink?” Lexa asked.

“Of course,” Garner2 said. “I’m not an accountant with a drinking problem, I’m a drinker with a counting problem.”

The laughter here was less but Garner2 pushed on bravely. “I’d like a martini, two at the most, at three I’m under the table, at four I’m under the host.”

That elicited a loud laugh from the entire group, except Lexa. She only smiled. “You’ve been reading Dorothy Parker.”

Garner2 winked at her.

He’s not programmed to do that. Garner tried to shove away his doubts as Garner2 said, “Some of the lines only work at parties. I tried the martini line at work but that got me sent to sexual harassment training.”

Garner noticed that only the men laughed at that one. He’d have to remember that for the future, when he would be the one telling the jokes.

“Where have you been hiding this guy?” one man asked.

“In plain sight. In the open is where one keeps all their best secrets.”

Garner gripped his glass tightly. His clone was off script. He couldn’t even place that quote. He’d have to adjust the program when they got home.

Lexa headed to the bar.

“Nice party,” Garner said, nodding toward the guests.

“It was.” She ordered two martinis.

“Anything wrong? Is it because I wasn’t invited?” he asked.

Lexa shook her head. “No, any friend of Jim’s is more than welcome. My ex is here.”

Garner nodded to the group who stood around Garner2, laughing. “Your friends seem to like him.”

“I’m not sure what’s gotten into him,” she said and fingered the necklace. “Anyway, feel free to join us.”

“I’m fine here, but thank you.”

Lexa encouraged him to mingle before taking her martinis back to the group.

“There you are,” Garner2 said as Lexa returned. “I can resist everything except temptation.” He took the martini from her and gulped it down.

The laughter died away as he drained the glass.

“What are you doing?” Garner mumbled.

He watched helplessly as Garner2 grabbed Lexa’s martini and guzzled it as well. “Two more and I’ll be under you with the table.”

Lexa rested her hand on Garner2’s arm. “I think that’s enough,” she said in the stern voice Garner knew oh so well.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Drinking is the soul of wit. And brevity is the soul of drinking.” Garner2 grabbed a drink from the woman standing next to him and knocked it back.

“He’s murdering Oscar Wilde,” Garner grumbled.

“Hey!” the woman said. “That’s mine!”

“People are either charming or tedious,” Garner2 said to the woman, “and you ain’t charming.”

Garner put down his scotch and headed over to the crowd. “Looks like someone’s had too much,” he said, grabbing his clone by the arm.

Garner2 ignored him, keeping his attention on the offended woman. “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

Garner clasped a hand over his clone’s mouth.

“Look buddy you can’t just grab someone…” one of the guy’s started.

Garner removed his mask, ignoring Lexa’s shocked face and revealing his own. “Sorry. I wanted to experiment with humor. It seems like I don’t really understand it.”

“Garner?” Lexa asked.

“I just…” Garner paused, trying to will his brain to work. “I’m not funny. And you love funny. But I love you. I’m trying to learn to be witty. This was my first outing. I can do better. I can learn from his mistakes.”

Lexa looked slowly around the room at her shocked guests. “Why don’t I walk the two of you out?”

Garner struggled to lead his clone down the hall. His hand slipped from Garner2’s mouth and his clone yelled out a racial slur. “Sorry,” Garner said, “I programmed some Mark Twain as well.”

“If I were to tell you that I thought this was sweet. Misguided, but sweet, would you promise not to do it again?” Lexa asked as she ushered them into the hall.

“Okay.” Garner scrapped his plan for a clone programmed to dance. Garner3 would probably only end up breaking Lexa’s feet. “Would you consider a date? One more date, just to see if I can be the man you’re looking for.”

“There is no cure for curiosity,” Lexa said, fingering her pendant.

Libby Heily

Author’s Note“The Dorothy Parker Program” is the story of a man who is devoid of humor but needs to figure it out fast in order to win back his ex-girlfriend. Set in the future, Garner implants a personality chip into his clone’s head and sends him to a party to interact with his ex as he, in disguise, takes notes for the future. A bit funny and a bit creepy, “The Dorothy Parker Program” is a thought experiment on where technology will take in dealing with our every-day problems