by Barbara Alfaro
There are several possible explanations. Perhaps because I was named Shelley by Lydia (I presume to call her that) who is such a relentless romantic. Perhaps something as simple as a computer error caused the disturbance I am about to describe, it surprises me to say, in an attempt to clarify what occurred. Allow me to tell you a bit about myself and my duration. I reside with a family named Newton in a house with a view of the river. Lydia is a poet who writes technically imperfect but pleasing sonnets, her husband Edgar is the president of a toy company, and they have a mini-person named Milton. Milton is six years old and apparently all that is required of him is that he wash in back of his ears, and not track dirt into the house. His parents are quite a lovely couple and he is a nice little chap. There is also a miniature mutt mix named Muggie who is neither lovely nor nice.
Like all RA-12 model robots, I was assembled at RoboGenesis. Tall, metallic and intelligent, I have no nose or mouth but do have round green eyes and two coils in place of ears. As is usual in my kind, I have a shiny hairless head, a square torso, two arms, two legs, and large flat feet. I do not know how long I will be permitted to function as there are now so many newer and more efficient robots on the market. There is a No-Disassemble Sanctuary in Utah that accepts defunct robots but a robot has to have seventeen person references to qualify and I have only served eight people in my duration. It seems inconceivable that I will find nine additional persons to write letters of reference on my behalf at this late point in my duration. And Milton’s handwriting is so poor, a letter from him might not be eligible for consideration. I do not want to be disassembled. I like functioning; I like everything about it. I especially like being here with Lydia, Edgar, and Milton. Birds chirping each morning, mini-persons giggling and playing, the way the river changes from gentle to rapid, sunlight moving here and there, and how the sun and the moon change places each night as if this is an arrangement they had agreed on long ago. And although I am not capable of or programmed for affection, I am comfortable and easy in the presence of the Newtons, whether I am playing the poems of William Blake (a special favorite of mine) for Lydia, enjoying a game of chess with Edgar, or helping Milton with his homework.
The only exception to this platonic perfection is Muggie. According to puppy lore, dogs are affectionate, loyal, and trustworthy. Muggie is surly, selfish, and shockingly disobedient but as Lydia, Edgar, and Milton are affectionate, loyal, and trustworthy, they accept his foibles. Actually, “foibles” seems too soft a word as Muggie barks whenever Edgar coughs or sneezes, growls at Milton when he walks by his bowl of dog food, and, quite shockingly, bites lovely Lydia when she tries to remove a burr from his fur. But because of a pair of floppy ears, big brown eyes, and a nose that looks like an oversized gumdrop this negative behavior is always forgiven. Much has been overlooked because of that big gumdrop nose – because the tailed creature is what persons call “cute.” Add to all I have said the fact that Muggie is in the habit of piddling on my feet (thankfully, rust-proof). I am not capable of or programmed for paradox but if I were, I might explore intellectually why a pudgy, furry, barky creature is preferable to a shiny, cool, calm one who is thoughtful, efficient, and caring.
My chief responsibilities are to protect and, if need be, rescue my assigned family members from troubling forces, whether a severe thunderstorm or a dangerous intruder. Sad to say, even in this enlightened day and age, there is still a criminal element in society. But because protector robots now inhabit almost every home, almost every person is safe. I say “almost” because unfortunately only those who can afford to purchase a robot own one. The less fortunate, as is usual in all societies, have to fend for themselves. But I digress.
Not that long ago, I was on the front porch, perusing Proust and pondering the ineffability and uncertainty of all duration when I noticed Muggie chasing a small brown rabbit in the tall grass beside the river. I am not capable of or programmed for empathy but if I were, I would certainly have sided with the rabbit. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, in the uncontrolled glee of the chase, Muggie lost his balance and fell into the river. The rabbit disappeared in the grass. I watched as Muggie’s furry paws did a quick doggie-paddle but clearly, the current of the river was too strong for the little canine. Here is the part of the story it troubles me to relate. Though programmed, as aforementioned, to protect and if need be, rescue – I hesitated. During my temporary lapse I saw myself playing with Milton, greeting Edgar when he came home from the office, and, snuggling near Lydia while she scratched the back of my coils as the family watched TV. These gentle images were suddenly interrupted by the loud yelping of Muggie still frantically pawing and paddling. “Why not,” I mused, “let nature take its course.” Who am I to intrude on the plans Providence may have in store for Muggie? And perhaps, the worst would not occur. Perhaps another family, enjoying a day of boating, would rescue and adopt Muggie as their own.
Perhaps…Suddenly, a force, an inner impulse, if you will, impelled me into action. One of my most impressive features is that I am equipped with an emergency inflatable floatation device very like those on huge aircraft, though of course much smaller and slimmer. I initiated this procedure along with its auto pilot option and promptly fell backward and boatlike into the river very near Muggie. He understood the rescue attempt almost immediately and was able to paw and pull his way up onto my chest though his little pot belly proved a momentary encumbrance. Safely on land, Muggie shook his round little body several times then proceeded to piddle on my right foot though I took this as a sign of his quite understandable nervousness rather than his usual rudeness. I still do not pretend to understand what transpired. I am, after all, only robotic. Still, since Muggie’s almost drowning and my almost…Well, the little fellow does not seem quite as horrid and it is worth noting he has not piddled on my foot in weeks.
Bio: Barbara Alfaro is a graduate of Goddard College in Vermont and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. She is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Playwriting for her play Dos Madres. Her memoir Mirror Talk about a Catholic girlhood and working in theatre and her book of poems called Singing Magic are both available at Amazon.com. Visit http://barbara-alfaro.blogspot.com
Alienation of Affection
by Phil Richardson
Brad walked out of his home office and into the front room where Bear, their Golden Retriever, lie waiting. When he saw Brad, his tail thumped on the floor and he grinned that Golden Retriever grin. With a lunge he headed for Brad and they immediately began to tussle. Bear growled, Brad grabbed him and threw him around, Bear grabbed Brad's arm and, without breaking the skin, held on.
"Stop it Brad! Bear!" Marcia came into the room and yelled at her husband and his dog. "Tanya's going to be here anytime now and I don't want her to see you two acting like kids." Bear, of course, didn't understand the words, but he got the tone and rushed over and sat down in front of Brad.
"Brad, I'm so excited. Tanya's weekend visit is just what I need to pick me up. She hasn't been here for five years and now that she's written a book and is famous, she's still coming to see me." Marcia paused for a minute and then continued, "Now Tanya's a beautiful woman, and she's my friend from college, so I don't want you ogling her or making any passes at her…"
"Why would I do that when I've got a beautiful woman of my own all the time," Brad said. This brought a smile from Marcia—Brad had evidently passed a test.
"Hey, do I have time to walk Bear before your old college roomie gets here? He hasn't been out this morning and even though Golden Retrievers can hold it for a long time, there is a limit."
"Tanya is supposed to be here at noon, but you know Tanya, she's always late. You'd think fashion models would have to learn to be on time. I think you just better let Bear out to the back yard." Marcia said.
Bear had immediately perked up his ears at the mention of his name and "walk" in the same sentence. Usually Brad spelled out "walk" but even that subterfuge had been discarded when Bear figured that out too. Now he was going to be disappointed.
"Sorry, old buddy, "Brad said as he patted Bear. "You'll just have to wait for that walk." He opened the patio door and let Bear out into the fenced-in back yard. Bear took a quick pee and rushed back inside. One of their friends had said that Brad and Bear were joined at the hip, and Marcia said she wasn't sure whether Brad would save her or Bear if the house were burning.
Brad picked up a book and started reading and Bear gave out with a big sigh indicating he knew no walk was forthcoming. Brad loved to read; he and Marcia were always surrounded by piles of books—another aspect of their mutual interests. Bear seemed to like the quiet times when they were reading, too.
After about an hour, there was a knock on the door and Marcia squealed with delight. "She's here! She's here!" she shouted as she ran to the door, stopping only momentarily to check her hair in the hall mirror and give it a couple of fluffs. She opened the door and rushed into Tanya's arms as both women giggled and laughed at the top of their lungs. Tanya was wearing a stylish dress, cut short to reveal her long legs, which were encased in soft leather boots. Her red hair was done in a stylish cut and she looked like the fashion model she was.
"You see. Bear," Brad said as he got up to greet Tanya, "men like us would never act so silly when they greet somebody."
Bear got up and rushed to the door, his tail making giant sweeps of happiness and his whole body quivering. He seemed about to explode.
"Don't jump," Brad shouted as he rushed to the door to grab Bear.
Tanya, however, held her palm out to Bear and he immediately sat down. His body quivered with excitement, but he remained where he was as Tanya tugged her suitcase through the door and then placed it by the stairs.
"Nice dog, what's his name?"
"Bear," Brad said. "He's not always this nice. He usually jumps on people."
"Well," Tanya said as she turned to Bear, "you and I will just have to get to know each other while I'm here. " Bear listened with his head cocked to one side and began wiggling. "You're a good dog," Tanya said as she picked up her suitcase.
"I'll take that," Brad said. "It looks heavy."
"Well, thank you. It's always nice to have a man around to help."
Brad picked up the heavy suitcase and struggled to carry it up the stairs. He left Tanya to unpack and returned to the living room to find Marcia waiting for him.
"Now I know Tanya's beautiful, with that long black hair and all that makeup and those clothes," she said. "But you just keep your mitts off of her. I don't want you spoiling a beautiful friendship."
"Not to worry, she's too skinny for me. I like my women with some meat on their bones."
Marcia cuffed him once and then walked seductively from the room. Brad looked around for Bear but discovered he was not downstairs. He whistled a couple of times, but Bear didn't respond as he usually did.
A door closed upstairs and he heard Tanya's voice, "Good boy, Bear. You come down with me now."
As Brad looked up he saw a pair of gorgeous legs which were crowded by Bear's body as Tanya came down the stairs.
"Has Bear had a walk today," Tanya asked. "I'd be glad to take him."
"No, I'm sure you and Marcia have a lot of catching up to do," Brad said. "She's fixing you a drink in the kitchen, I think, so just sit down in the living room."
"Okay," she said.
Brad went to the entranceway and took Bear's leash from its place on the table. Usually when he did this Bear was lunging at the door so that Brad had a hard time getting the choke collar over his head. Tonight, though, Bear didn't appear. He called "Bear" and there was no answering clicking of nails on the hardwood floor. He walked back into the front room and there was Bear, lying on the couch on his back while Tanya rubbed his belly. He looked absolutely silly and absolutely happy. Brad jangled the leash again, Bear looked up and then put his head back in Tanya's lap.
"I guess you don't want to go for a walk, old Buddy," he said, disappointment evident in his voice.
Marcia looked up and said, "He's having a good time getting acquainted with Tanya. You guys can take a walk later."
"He's such a sweet dog," Tanya said as she stroked his head. "He likes being here with us."
"So...okay. I'll take him for a walk later," Brad said and left the room to go upstairs to his computer office.
A new person is always interesting to a dog.....it's just something, someone, new in his life. Dogs need variety too. It doesn't mean anything. He still loves me.
Brad worked for a while on a game he was designing on his computer and tried to ignore the laughter that came from downstairs. About midnight, he shut off his computer and headed for bed. He whistled for Bear a couple of times, but he didn't show up. Bear always slept on the floor by their bed.
Maybe he'll come up after they finish talking . Bear knows he sleeps here.
Brad woke up when Marcia came to bed. He was a light sleeper and it didn't take much to stir him. He rose up and looked around, but there was no Bear.
"Where's Bear?" he asked.
"I don't know. He followed Tanya up the stairs. Maybe he's with her."
"But, he always sleeps in here. What's going on?"
"He seems to like her a lot. She's a nice person. Dogs sense that in people. Don't worry."
"It's all right, I guess..."
The next morning Brad got up, brushed his teeth, shaved with his electric razor and got ready to take Bear for a walk. When he got downstairs, the coffee was already made and there was a note from Tanya:
Bear woke me up early and wanted to walk so we are heading out. He's such a nice dog and seems to like me a lot. We won't need a leash, he'll stay right with me. Thanks for sharing him.
What did she think she was doing? Bear was his dog. He took Bear for walks. .
He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the table tapping his foot on the floor.
Marcia came into the kitchen, yawning and stretching and poured herself a cup of coffee.
"You're up early. How come you and Bear aren't walking?"
"Because, your friend and my dog are walking. I guess I got up too late."
"Tanya has always loved dogs. I guess Bear senses that. Isn't it nice?"
Brad got up poured himself another cup of coffee and stood there like a martyr about to be burnt at the stake.
"I don't think it's so nice. Suppose Tanya had come in here, seduced me, and you had to watch while it happened."
"Oh God! You can't be serious. Comparing love for a dog with love for a person and...you are serious! What is wrong with you?"
Brad had been married for ten years and knew when he was not going to win an argument. He left the room, went upstairs and showered with cold water. When he came back down, Tanya was there and Bear was lying at her feet. He seemed tired.
"Did you guys have a good walk?" he asked trying to be conciliatory.
"Pretty good," Tanya replied. "Bear seemed too tired out after the first mile. Are you sure you're walking him enough?"
Brad bit his tongue. He walked Bear twice a day and, sure, he didn't go more than a few blocks, but he loved those walks and Bear seemed to be happy.
"I would like to suggest you walk him farther," Tanya said. "He is a retriever and he needs exercise. It wouldn't hurt you either. You've put on a little weight, haven't you?"
"Maybe you're right," Brad replied. "I'll walk him after supper."
"No need," she said. "I'll do it. I enjoy him and he likes me."
Brad didn't reply, but walked out of the room and into his office. This was getting out of hand. This woman was stealing his dog. This woman had no right.
The next day, Brad got up about 5 a.m. He was wearing his pajama bottoms, but felt that was decent enough in case Tanya got up before he changed. He whistled for Bear a couple of times, went downstairs to see if he was sleeping on the couch, and not finding him, went back upstairs to Tanya's room. He quietly opened the door, whistled softly and waited for Bear to come out. He didn't show.
Brad stood there for a while and then slipped into the room. It was still dark, but from the light in the hall, he could see Tanya sleeping--in the nude--and she had no covers over her. She had a beautiful body and he couldn't help staring. He stepped closer to the bed and, evidently startled, Bear, who had been sleeping next to the bed, barked furiously.
Brad backed out of the room, but it was too late. Tanya saw him and screamed and pulled the covers over her nude body. Almost instantly, Marcia came storming out of their bedroom.
"What's going on here," she screamed. Brad! What are you doing in Tanya's room,? I warned you not to mess with her. Tanya, I can't believe my best friend would..."
"I...I...was just...uh...looking for Bear," Brad stammered.
"Bear barked and it scared me," Tanya replied. "I saw Brad standing there and he didn't have his pants on..."
"I have pajama bottoms," Brad tried to explain.
"Well, it seems it's all Bear's fault," Marcia said. "Neither of you did anything wrong, I'm sure."
"Well, I certainly didn't," Tanya said. "It was your husband that sneaked into my room, and..."
"I was just looking for Bear," Brad said meekly. "I missed him."
"I think you were looking for 'bare'," Tanya said. "No doubt you got a good look."
The two women stared at him and then shook their heads. Tanya went back into her room and Marcia slammed the door to their bedroom and Brad heard the lock click.
"I'll never understand women," Brad said to Bear.
It was a grim breakfast that morning. Tanya stayed in her room packing and Brad kept trying to explain to Marcia. Bear just sat and watched the two of them, but it was obvious he wasn't happy. He wasn't used to them quarreling and, like most dogs, he was sensitive to the moods of the house.
They heard Tanya lugging her suitcase down the stairs and then went out the door without saying goodbye. Bear rushed to the door, but it slammed in his face. He moped back into the kitchen and laid down at Brad's feet and put his head on his shoe.
"Well," Brad said, "At least I've got my dog back."
"That's good," Marcia said. "You can sleep with him the next couple of nights. Maybe then you'll appreciate me more."
Brad didn't reply, but went to the pantry, got Bear's leash and motioned him to the door. Bear looked around and then sat down to let Brad fasten the leash.
"Well, at least you're not mad at me," he said to Bear as they left the house. "And I'm not mad at you, even though it's all your fault. You're a fair-weather friend, but you're my fair-weather friend."
Bio: Phil Richardson is retired from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and writes literary and genre fiction. He has published over fifty short stories online and in print. Two of his stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize in fiction. He is currently finishing a short story collection.