Announcing Arc’s new competition winner Romie Stott

26 Nov

“A Robot Walks Into A Bar and Says…” wins our third Arc/Tomorrow Project short story competition. It is a hard story to precis: a tale of robot love, teledildonic sex, Turing tests and the maddening wobbliness of human desire.  In the telling, it is anything but predictable: a wholly convincing account of an impossible, nonsensical, utterly genuine love affair.

Our winner, Romie Stott, is currently the poetry editor of SF and fantasy magazine Strange Horizons. She has had short stories published by Superficial Flesh, Toasted Cake, and in the anthology She Nailed a Stake Through His Head. As filmmaker she has shown work at the Dallas Museum of Art, ICA London, the British National Gallery, and various festivals.

“A Robot Walks Into A Bar and Says…” appears in Arc 1.4 #foreveralonedrone. You can also read the story in full here, or scroll down for a short extract.

When I met David, I was working as a bouncer at a trance club downtown – a high-end place where before the muscle manhandles them to the curb, big spenders get a polite request from a smiling girl who wonders if they’d rather move to a private room. Unlike the bar staff, I don’t get tips, and like the rest of the bouncers, I spend most of the evening scanning the crowd for trouble. I just do it in a slinky dress while holding a shirley temple. It’s not a great job, but it lets me double dip – at the same time as I watch for assholes, I keep a lookout for new trends, which I report to another boss. Remember the headbands that were popular last year, the ones with shapes cut out of them? I’m one of the people who spotted that back when a few college kids were hand-making theirs.

Meanwhile, I’m doing a third job as a shill making small talk about the product of the week, whether it’s berry-flavored vodka or an “underground” new single. On a good day, I feel like a double agent, like the membrane through which cool percolates. Other times, I think it’s pretty sick. But by stacking jobs, I only have to work fifteen hours a week, which leaves me time for my music. Not that I use my free time to work on my music. I mostly watch movies. And spend most of my paycheck on drinks and clothes. Keeps the bosses happy.

The first thing I noticed about David was his hands, the way he handled objects. It’s obvious, really – hands, sex – it’s like saying he had beautiful eyes (which he did, though I didn’t look at them until later). Most people, when they approach the bar, do one of two things. Either they push to the front, cat-call the bartender, and wave a lot of cash around, or they hesitate, meek and uncomfortable, talk too softy for their order to be made out, and wait until the last minute to fumble through a stack of credit cards. David, by contrast, was still, but still in a way that had weight behind it. He waited like a man who was completely aware of the crowds and flashing lights, but completely separate from them. When he pulled out his wallet, his movements were economical. Deliberate. As though he knew precisely where every bill rested – its unique texture and particular history, its level of appropriateness to the task, and the exact amount of force required to tease it free of its brothers.

The way I describe it, it sounds fussy. It wasn’t. There is something thrilling and frightening about a man who knows exactly what he’s doing. It should make him seem safe. It does the opposite. I was seized with a strong compulsion to knit a stiff yarn dress and let him unravel it from around me – thread popping as knots pull loose line after line; a reverse dot matrix printer; a laser un-writing a green and black computer screen; a cartoon character gnawing a cob of corn. I watched him back to his table, or what became his table, in a small dark corner with a good vantage – the kind of spot appreciated by regulars, but rarely noticed by newcomers. He didn’t look like he was waiting for anyone, but who would know? Over the next half hour, he made brief small talk with a few sorority girls on the prowl, his expression indicating an interest that was polite but not eager. Between conversations, which he never instigated, he sipped his drink at a leisurely rate, posture comfortable and alert. When someone at the next table had trouble with a disposable lighter, he fixed it.

He was perfect. That’s when it clicked. I sat down across from him.

“You’re a robot, aren’t you,” I said.

Read all our winning entries here.

Click here for details of our new competition!

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