He has such soft skin, Ebony thought to herself.
She was sitting on a twist of metal embedded in the ground, the dingy red of its form reflecting on the crystalline surface of nearby water. Her metallic fingers twiddled in the flowers, gently caressing the pale petals that would soon decorate the entire expanse of the area.
They were modest little flowers. Fresh from the ground and eager to bathe the barren world in color. In fact, everything around the little pond Ebony and Male had decided to rest at was beginning to show signs of life. Little sprouts could be seen tentatively peaking from under scraps of metal and concrete. Green moss and vines were tenaciously climbing up the sides of the crumbling buildings. Cool, clean water was gently lapping at Ebony’s shoes. It was so serene it was almost surreal.
A small smile graced Ebony’s glossy lips. It was good that she and Male had decided to rest here. It was unusual to come across a place this untouched by the horror and violence that had ransacked the rest of the world, and above all else Male needed to see that things would always get better.
The earth, the skies, the people…
They would always recover.
As her thoughts turned to Male, her gaze traced the ripples and splashes he made and eventually her eyes settled back on his form. He hadn’t gotten the chance to bathe in a while, being that most of cities and towns they passed through were filthy and desolated, so now that he had actual opportunity he went at it with gusto.
Ebony chuckled. Though he certainly had enthusiasm, Male was not doing a good job of cleaning away the grime. He was splashing around like a toddler desperate to leave the water. Her joints crinkling slightly as she stood up, Ebony walked over to Male’s knapsack and rummaged around. It made her sad whenever she looked through the knapsack. It reminded her of how little Male had.
Pushing her sadness aside, she continued to search and finally found what she was looking for. While they had been scavenging for supplies at their last stop, Ebony had happened to stumble upon an abandoned hotel. Most of the place had been picked clean, but she was fortunate to find an untouched shower stall. She remembered how happy Male had been when she presented him with a small bar of soap and a half-empty bottle of shampoo.
Carefully she removed her coat, her top, her pants, and her shoes. Though she had at first declined to join Male, it looked like she was going to have to now.
Hesitantly she went to the water’s edge. Though she had been near water before, Ebony never particularly liked being in it. She was afraid of having a malfunction, of shutting down and drifting down below, and of never coming back to break the surface of her prison. However, this pond didn’t look as deep and dark like that of what she had encountered before. She tenderly dipped her foot in, as if to test the temperature, before gently submerging herself completely. Her previous apprehensions gone, she enjoyed the feeling of enclosed pressure on her joints. She moved about experimentally for a moment before making her way to Male, who was still floundering and flailing about.
“Ebony! You came in too?!” Male exclaimed in delight, lightly splashing in anticipation as Ebony moved closer. She gingerly removed the scraggly rag that he’d been using from his hand and rubbed it against the measly bar of soap, making the rag sudsy and bubbly.
“Ah! I forgot we had that! No wonder I wasn’t getting clean.” Male mused. He held his hand out to Ebony to take back the rag, but Ebony motioned for him to turn around instead.
“Aw, Ebonyyyy! I’m a man! I don’t need you to clean me!” He splashed as he whined for emphasis, wholeheartedly set on cleaning himself.
Male stopped splashing to look up at Ebony. She was pointing at herself. She then pointed to the soap.
Her finger rose with her gaze to Male.
The world was trapped in molasses. Nothing registered to Male except for those three words.
Mother clean child
“O-Okay…” Male stuttered, snapping out of his stupor enough to turn around. He quickly turned back and sputtered “But just this once! I can take of myself, okay?” before baring his back completely to Ebony.
His tantrum quelled and the rag now sudsed, Ebony began to gently scrub Male’s shoulder blades. The months of sleeping in the grime and trekking through the dust seemed to become distant memories with each caress of the rag. It was a relaxing experience for both, like a breath of air after the first snow of the year. It was also a little sad, as more of the dirt washed away the pale and sickly color of Male’s skin became more and more apparent. It was no wonder how this came to be. They were, after all, living in the aftermath of an apocalypse. But as the color became more pronounced, so too did other signs of suffering.
“SCARS,” Ebony rasped. With the dirt cleared away, the scars littering Male’s back were pronounced and ghastly. A bath might’ve been due much earlier than Male had let on.
“It’s okay Ebony. They don’t even hurt. And who doesn’t have a scar or two at the end of the world?” Male joked.
“10 SCARS ON BACK” Ebony reported. She crossed over to face Male.
“9 SCARS ON FRONT” She tried to lift him up to count the scars hidden by the water, but Male suddenly became self-conscious and thrashed about so violently that Ebony gave up and gently put him back down.
“I-I get it, Ebony. I have a lot of scars.” Male seemed to shrink into himself and Ebony became confused. What had she done wrong? All she had done was correct Male on the number of scars he had. He had close to 19 scars that were visible from his waist up alone, and that was way more than having “one or two.” Did humans find it insensitive for things such as scars to be pointed out?
“INSENSITIVE” Ebony asked, circling Male with frenzied worry. She tended to do this now when she feared she had done something to upset her precious boy.
“N-no…at least you didn’t mean to be. I just…I don’t like being reminded about my scars.” Male said at last. “They remind me that I wasn’t strong enough to take care of myself and that I get hurt easily. They make me feel weak, I guess.”
He absentmindedly began picking at a scar on his hip, not wanting to look Ebony in the eye. He didn’t like feeling inadequate, and talking about the scars seemed to bring all those feelings back tenfold.
“What are you talking abou-“ Male had started to say when he lifted his head, but he stopped short when he realized Ebony was pointing to the very scar he was picking at. She moved her finger to another on his shoulder.
On his mouth.
She came back to his face and cupped his cheek with her hand, the cool feeling of her metallic fingertips contrasting the warmth of his blush.
“NOT WEAK. SCARS SHOW STRENGTH”
She then brought her other arm up for Male to see and for the first time Male saw the tiny indents scattered across her metallic skin.
“FROM OTHER ROBOT” Ebony explained. “TELLS YOU?” She asked, lolling her head to the side like a school teacher waiting for an answer from a child.
“That…she didn’t kill you?”
“That…” Male said slowly as he fully understood Ebony’s point. “That you were strong even when she hurt you.”
Ebony smiled, and pulled Male close. It was a bit embarrassing for Male, but knowing that Ebony wouldn’t understand why and that she was trying to comfort him, he hugged her back.
While he rested his head on her chest, Male looked around them. For the first time he realized that the scarred earth he was so used to seeing was slowly being consumed by grass and flowers. Even after being torn apart by the apocalypse, the earth had managed to survive and heal. Albeit slowly.
Male turned gently pulled apart from Ebony before it started to get weird. He grabbed the rag and soap from where they had gently been floating on the water and starting to wade back to shore, a shy smile on his lips. He could hear Ebony following behind him and wondered briefly if she truly was a mother to him. He decided that the name itself didn’t fit, but that the thought of her as his mother was one that he had become accustomed to long ago.
He looked back to his scars as his feet made contact with the soft grass of the shore. One pep talk wouldn’t be enough to change his sentiment towards his scars, but that wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was that he had someone to remember that he had soap when he was too excited to remember. What mattered was that he had someone to splash when they finally decided to bathe with him. What mattered was that he had someone to ignore awkward feelings and give him what he needed.
What mattered was that he had someone to recover with.