A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action by Sarah Masters

The new laws would make anyone shudder. ‘Home carers mandatory for over 75s,’ Petra read. She pictured a bulky figure in a plastic apron force-feeding her cabbage. She read on: ‘human shortages…. hmmm, maybe not a bulky person. Hybrid and robot carers… failure to have … hmmm.’ She tried to see herself brandishing a placard, but remembered that prison wasn’t where she wanted to end her days. Then she picked up her phone and tapped out a call.

‘I’ll have to what?’ said Jenny. ‘Sorry, this bus is noisy.’

‘Have a carer. Everyone over 75,’ Petra said. ‘It’s meant to keep us out of hospital. Where are you off to?’

‘Just around,’ said Jenny. ‘I like the scenery. But what if I don’t want a carer?’

‘Tough,’ said Petra. ‘You there, Carol?’

‘I miss travel,’ said Carol. ‘I miss catching the bus to the office.’

‘I miss driving the bus,’ said Jenny. ‘Let’s be practical. What about a plug-in thingy?’

‘A Domrob?’ said Petra. ‘They just give you pills. You lose your appetite, your whatnot and before you know it, it’s curtains.’

‘You’ve got curtains?’ said Carol.

‘Or a hybrid,’ said Jenny, who read a lot of sci-fi. ‘They’re robot carers that look like people.’

‘Sounds creepy,’ said Carol, who preferred romcoms.

‘And expensive,’ said Petra. ‘All those years I paid into my pension, and it barely covers my sofa rental.’

‘You’ve got a sofa?’ said Carol. ‘I’m sleeping in the bathroom till my hip operation.’

‘You’ve got a bathroom?’ Jenny replied. ‘I dream of a bathroom!’

The friends laughed, and then stopped.


‘Happy birthday,’ Carol and Jenny quavered, more or less in tune, when they reconvened a week later. ‘Welcome to 75 years young.’

Petra waved at their dear faces, these friends who had formed a tight bond when others had made families and they had not. ‘We can celebrate later,’ she told them. ‘Business first. Are we ready for this?’

She waited for the thumbs-up, and typed in the long number on her laptop.

A chatbox flashed: Welcome to robot carer support.

Petra tapped out a question.

New customers are entitled to a discount on hybrids.

‘Ask what we get,’ Carol said.

The answer filled most of the screen. Cooking, cleaning, tidying. Not too scary if you overlooked the parts about personal hygiene.

‘And can we share a robot, I mean a hybrid?’ Jenny asked. ‘Three different households?’

Petra typed the question.


The friends beamed – they might have bumped fists if this had been their thing, but it wasn’t.

Next was a section on personalised needs. Petra read the question three times, glanced over her shoulder and leaned into the camera. ‘Personalised needs,’ she repeated. ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’

Jenny fanned herself with her hand. ‘I might be.’

‘What do you mean,’ asked Carol.

Petra hovered her cursor over the term personalised needs.

And as one, Petra, Jenny and Carol gazed into space.


On the first week of their new care plan, the hybrid carer was at Carol’s front door at 9am sharp. It was fully assembled, which was a pleasant surprise, as Carol hadn’t fancied opening a box and wasn’t much good with a screwdriver any longer.

The hybrid was Carol’s height, had two almost-arms, stood on two almost-feet, and was clad in a black t-shirt and combat trousers. ‘Do you have a name?’ Carol asked. The hybrid looked at her with surprisingly large, surprisingly human eyes in its tinny face. ‘Oh that’s right, you were cheaper without audio,’ Carol corrected. ‘Never mind, come in. I think I’ll call you Keanu. You look like a Keanu, all dressed in black.’

Carol had been researching hybrid carers. Flexibility was their key strength, and it was flexibility that appealed to Carol. Specifically, her own flexibility. After the basic chores had been accomplished, she patted the seat next to her. ‘Now, Keanu. This is what I want, and this is how I want it.’ She mimed the action. ‘Just here. And here. Understand?’ She eased herself into a lying position.

Keanu the hybrid was efficient, firm, and inventive – as far as its programs allowed. Its hybrid hands were pleasantly warm and soft. Carol kept her eyes closed and pictured herself as the heroine, while Keanu worked his magic.

‘How was it?’ Jenny asked later.

‘Five stars,’ said Carol. ‘It was just like Keanu the actor was there in the flesh giving me a massage.’ She shivered at the memory of him kneading her back and buttocks. Already her hip felt better.

‘My turn next,’ said Petra.

Petra, like Carol, was interested in flexibility. The hybrid she opened the door to looked much more human than she had expected, and more attractive too. Were those eyelashes? She was intrigued. She led it into the hall, pointed out the practical jobs she wanted, and told it to come into the living room afterwards.

‘I’m going to call you Anais Nin,’ she said. ‘You know, the essayist?’ She waved a hand towards her stuffed bookshelves. The hybrid blinked. ‘No, you probably don’t,’ said Petra. ‘She wrote erotica. Like me.’

Petra took hold of the hybrid’s wrists and turned them this way and that. She pressed its almost-fingers. She whispered her request before she remembered she didn’t need to whisper. She unbuttoned her blouse slowly, placed one of the hybrid’s almost-hands over her breasts, and breathed out a long, long breath.

‘And?’ asked Jenny at the end of that day.

‘Well, it seems I’m not too old,’ said Petra.

‘Too old for what?’ asked Carol, but Petra just winked.

And then it was Jenny’s day.

Jenny contemplated the hybrid standing in her kitchen. It didn’t look particularly human, but it had a kind face. The hybrid’s eyes stared back at Jenny, black and unfathomable.

‘Show me what you can do.’ Jenny said.

She squinted as the hybrid flexed the joints in its arms and its legs. Her eyes widened as it bent and stretched. She thought about Carol and Petra’s demands, and knew they weren’t for her. She remembered the feeling of amazement as a child when her brother’s robot transformed from a warrior into a tank, an animal, a bus. Its name had been Ultra. She closed her eyes and evoked the squeak of leather, the smell of petrol, the wind in her hair. That’s what she wanted. At last Jenny opened her eyes.

‘I’m going to call you Ultra,’ she said to the hybrid. ‘How about that?’

She reached for a pad of paper and waited for the hybrid to compute her request. Was that a yes? It was.

And that’s how Jenny spent her first care day riding the London streets on the back of a motorbike called Ultra, the wind streaming through her thick white hair.

Maybe having a carer wasn’t so bad after all.

Sarah Masters lives in York and teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages. Her tiny stories have appeared in Full House Literary, Flashflood, Shooter Flash, Pure Slush, and Chewin’ The Fat. @serreyjma