Tidy Cats Bahama Sunset Litter

Flash
Shelbi Tedeschi


Photo Credit: Steven Collis/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

February 25, 2020

Purina
Office of Consumer Affairs
PO Box 340
Neenah, WI 54957

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to lodge a complaint with your Tidy Cats Bahama Sunset litter. It promises to get rid of litter box odor and “take your nose on a tropical vacay.” Bahama Sunset? What a scent for a cat litter. Tell me what exactly a Bahama sunset is supposed to smell like, would you?

Last week, on our three-year anniversary, David arrived home after work with a load of groceries. I picked up cat litter, I heard him call from the back door. These were the first words between us in days, after he’d refused to adopt another kitten with me, even after I showed him the perfect orange tabby on the local shelter’s site. I kept ignoring him but peeked inside the bags he dropped in the kitchen, and that’s when I saw your Tidy Cats Bahama Sunset litter.

We have four rescue cats together—Sweet Pea, Mermaid, Tigress, and Lily—and we are an Arm & Hammer Multi-Cat Easy Clump Litter family. After all this time, how would he not know that? And you had to tempt him with the label—cat silhouettes among palm trees—promising to fulfill all our cat litter needs.

Well, let me tell you something: Bahama Sunset is not a “tropical vacay” for my nose. The sweet, perfumey scent scared Tigress and Sweet Pea away, so they left puddles on our new LifeProof Flooring from Home Depot. David said, No big deal. Look, it wipes right up—that’s why we got the LifeProof. That’s not the point, I told him. I peeled off my right sock, soaked in cat urine, and the girls ran to hide under the couch.

Toss it! I told him. No—we aren’t wasting a whole tub of cat litter, he said. They’ll get used to it. We spent the night in silence, trying not to gag while cleaning up warm piles of cat feces in the hallway, and I spent the morning after my anniversary loading up David’s Subaru with boxes. He stood on the front steps, rubbing his temples: Don’t you think this is an overreaction?

What kind of person makes such drastic life changes for a family without consulting anyone? Trust was out the window. Three years of lasagna Thursdays and vacations to Branson, Missouri be damned.

I threw in the rest of the container of Tidy Cats and slammed his back hatch shut.

All this to say, this is the worst case of false advertising I’ve ever seen. I hope you’ll remember my four—soon to be five—fatherless girls and consider discontinuing the Bahama Sunset litter for good.

Most sincerely,

Linda Call

pencilShelbi Tedeschi is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Writing at Ball State University, where she teaches first-year composition and serves as an intern for River Teeth. Email: shelbi.tedeschi[at]gmail.com

Root of Anxiety

Flash
Clara Schwarz


Photo Credit: Bill Smith/Flickr (CC-by)

Just outside the entrance, Sophia paused briefly to glide the straps of her mask over her ears. She pinched it tight on her nose, nonchalantly picked a basket, and entered the fruit and vegetables area. The basket gained the weight of tomatoes, onions, courgettes, and broccoli, when suddenly, she spotted an unknown root. She approached it curiously and read: Parsnips, Loose, £1.15/kg. Three parsnips now rolled around in her basket, as she continued past cheese and yoghurt, reaching up to grab a pint of full-fat milk. She enjoyed it this way, each gulp coating her throat and filling her tummy with comfort. Sophia was a cooking novice, keen for the comfort of following instructions and the silent repetition of chopping and slicing. Not knowing how to prepare a dish or how to chop a vegetable made her feel insufficient, but her newfound root vegetable would provide some exposure. Surely, the variety of recipes online would spark delicious manipulations of this new root. She could boil it, fry it, grill it or bake it. Mostly, she was eager to roast the parslip, parnils, parnip? The familiar heat flushed her face, as she scrolled her cooking-app trying to find an enticing recipe for the parlip, but the app won’t recognise purnip! Jaw clenched and brows furrowed, Sophia serpentined past eggs and flour, made a beeline for the nut-free muesli, briefly browsed roasted and salted nuts, and indulged in a multi-pack of dark chocolate digestives. Wrists strained and biceps struggling, she dragged herself and the basket along the self-checkout queue. Her brain buzzed and eyes rolled back as she desperately clung to the sound of the root in her ears, trying to reconstruct its name from the echo of her internal voice. The queue inched forwards, as the echo inched further away. Her basket reached its destination, and she initiated the staccato rhythm of the beep. After she moved her acquisitions one after the other into the bagging area, she carefully placed the pale carrots on the scales, and selected “root vegetables” on the screen. She skimmed carefully, past turnips and beetroot, onion and sweet potato, her forehead warm and palms sticky. Her fingers swipe across the screen and finally, calmness washed over her: Parsnips, Loose, £1.15/kg.

pencilClara Schwarz is a researcher, educator, and podcaster based in Germany. They are passionate about social justice, creative writing, and researching queer friendship. Find Clara on Twitter @clararosawelt and their podcast @bullsh_tbinary. Email: claraschwarzz[at]gmail.com

The Bittersweet Taste of Greek Honey

Flash
Gigi Papoulias


Photo Credit: Ishwar/Flickr (CC-by)

I found Mamá sitting up in her hospital bed, breakfast tray untouched, staring out the window. “Aren’t you gonna eat a little?”

At month ten of advanced, incurable, gastric adenocarcinoma, eating or not, how much of a difference would it really make? Deep down, we both knew this, but said nothing.

“Just get me some tea.” She looked at me. “I’m OK,” she added.

*

It was Sunday morning. My cousin and I sat at the table, waiting for our pancakes, which our mothers had agreed to make, even though we were running late. Mamá was by the stove, stacking pancakes on a plate. My aunt, Thía Maria, put a jar of honey on the table. It came from their village in Greece.

“You’ll see, it’s sweeter than maple syrup,” Mamá told us. “It’s better for you. Now eat, we can’t be late for church.”

She placed the heap of pancakes on the table and Thía Maria said to her, “Remember when we saw what was inside the church?”

They had grown up during the war, and would sometimes mention a childhood memory. In this sudden recollection, they told us that when they were kids, after a deadly ambush on the outskirts of the village, they had slipped out and sneaked into the church—which served as a temporary morgue.

“Yeah, they were stacked one on top of another,” Mamá said matter-of-factly, while Thía Maria poured thick honey over the pancakes.

I sunk my fork into the fluffy stack. My cousin licked honey from his fingers.

Mamá shot Thía Maria a look and said to us, “Anyway, hurry now, eat.”

We ate in silence. I remember finishing the last pancake. It had absorbed all the honey and rested on my tongue just enough for me to savor the sweetness before I swallowed and it sunk into my bloated belly like a stone.

“Mmm, good,” I said as I stood up. But the heaviness inside made me feel like I was moving in slow motion.

*

I returned with two cups of tea. Noticing my red, swollen eyes, Mamá demanded, “What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing.”

I put the tea on her breakfast tray. “You need to eat these pancakes, too.”

I placed the napkin on her lap. “Here, this will make it sweeter.” I took out a jar of Greek honey, poured some over her pancakes and swirled a spoonful into her tea.

“No honey for your tea?” Her dull eyes scanned the small amber jar.

“I never really liked the taste of honey. Or pancakes, actually.”

“But you loved pancakes and honey when you were little.” Her bony hand gripped the paper cup.

“Mamá, the doctor will be in soon, to discuss hospice care.”

She sipped her tea and swallowed hard. “Mmm, good,” she croaked, “I feel better now.”

I moved the tray closer to her, the thin pancakes drowning in a pool of honey. We looked at each other. Mamá reached for the fork and I nodded.

pencilGigi Papoulias was raised in Boston, a daughter of Greek immigrants. She lives in Athens and continues to coexist within two cultures, realizing it is mostly a privilege and sometimes a curse. A deserter of the corporate world, she enjoys writing stories and translating. Her fiction has appeared in Your Dream Journal, Literally Stories and in an anthology by Kingston University Press, London. Twitter: @manyfacesofATH Email: gigipapoulias[at]yahoo.com

Decades as Seasons

Poetry
DJ Tyrer


Photo Credit: Jesús GR/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

The decades seem like seasons to me.
The ‘Eighties a winter of contentment:
Dark and dreary with rain and snow
Yet warm with love and comfort.
The ‘Nineties a long, hot summer of the soul:
Bright and hot with sunbaked ground
And a drought of security and comfort.
But the next decade is a blur:
Maybe autumn is the metaphor
Decline and a haze of mist and falling leaves.
Now I might be in the spring:
Is this a period of rejuvenation
Or is the year about to come to an end
As the seasons finally die with me?

pencilDJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing, and has been published in issues of Amulet, California Quarterly, Carillon, The Dawntreader, Haiku Journal, The Pen, and Tigershark, and online at Atlas Poetica, Bindweed, Poetry Pacific, and Scarlet Leaf Review, as well as releasing several chapbooks, including the critically acclaimed Our Story. The echapbook One Vision is available from Tigershark Publishing’s website. SuperTrump and A Wuhan Whodunnit are available to download from the Atlantean Publishing website. Email: djtyrer[at]hotmail.co.uk

Two Poems

Poetry
Liam Tait


Photo Credit: Eelco/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

washing dishes

I was washing the dishes.
I scrubbed, lathered, rinsed.

My hands grabbed each plate in turn, then felt them all over—abrasively, I’d scrape the sponge. When the grime didn’t come off, I’d put it to the side and let it soak.

Once, I was washing this blue plate, blue like turquoise, like the ocean,
blue like the color green—only you couldn’t tell, it was so dirty.

So I scraped it with the sponge—and the dirt came right off—so I poured soap onto the sponge.
And I lathered, and cleaned, and lathered, and the soap had filled the sink, as soap does,

but I saw something I had never seen before—not the bubbles, each isolated and unique,
but the borders between them, the connections, white lace, pouring out—

I saw that these white lines created everything,
that while my two-dimensional perception could do nothing to perceive the entirety, the bubbles, at least,

had never been there.

 

lace and soapshine

We have arrived—a motionless journey.

Soap bubbles float among the bathwater. Yeah, we are individuals created individually in the smithies, tanneries, foundries and canneries—in the segments of our lives.

We relate like soapshine bubbles, so greasy and bordered, and we change only in size, not shape. Out of touch, we can see nothing but white lace: where are you?

Of course we clutch at loved ones. One segmentation we can’t let go: lovers. But love requires privilege, yeah commitment means we don’t leave unless we leave forever.

Happy, pleased, to have a partner. We are individuals, soap bubbles on bathwater.
How lucky that one has chosen us and not another, how lucky are they to be chosen?

Soapshine clinging through white lace.

We have arrived—a motionless journey.

White lace—soapshine bubbles—floats over and above the bathwater. Yeah, we appear individuals, created from intersections—segmentations from li[v/n]es of interaction.

We exist in relation, like the white lace of lather, we’d rather always be changing size and shape—intermingling. Pain comes, joy comes—we keep track of love through lace.

Love is a lace. Lovers come, lovers go—a lover left is not a love ended. Yeah, not unconditional, but commitment is to the lace, not the bubble. When you leave forever we will miss you.

Happy, pleased, to have partners. The lace is strong—relations lead to more relations—stops and starts in sex, friendship, love, if those are places to stop and start. Segmentations, intersections:

we are lace. We are
soapshine clinging through white lace.

pencilLiam Tait is a writer and acrobat from Michigan. When he is not upside down, he is writing; he does not recommend writing while upside down. Email: lhtait[at]gmail.com

Three Poems

Poetry
W. Joseph O’Connell


Photo Credit: Ken Lund/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Incision

I deny myself
the pleasure
that comes from her…
things she did for me

swimming every morning,
cutting myself at night
therapy is happening,
in softness of heart

thought occurs to me…
try to find the help I need,
because I know
it is the knot in my stomach
and the scars
that need healing

 

There is No Reason Why

I feel like screaming
not knowing who I am
stopped being myself
even before I went to Iraq

today was hard
a doctor asked me to describe what I remember about the explosion that killed four soldiers
I think about that night all the time,
a nightmare I have lived with for more than ten years
struggling to stay in control of my emotions
numbing myself with alcohol and pills

nighttime, my usual walk through the neighborhood
realizing I was having a suicidal ideation
I didn’t consciously start having that thought,
it occurred to me by surprise

next day,
out of bed before the sun rises
then all day at work
the dread of going back to the house
the scenario I wanted to avoid
an all or nothing kind of life

every setback is a catastrophe
I am exhausted
when I get home,
I take a painkiller and lay down to sleep
awakening fourteen hours later
thank God, it is Saturday

 

Head Trip

Early morning, Sunday under the Florida sun
reflecting on the weekend
heading back home for Texas
first time I didn’t drink in a while
it takes all day to cross the sunshine state

I stop in Pensacola for fried-chicken dinner
then the long haul through the pinewood South,
bridges over green lakes and swampland
bugs splattering against the windshield keep me awake
something in me seems to ask myself, why am I trying so hard?

crazy, moving forward,
volunteering for every conflict that came along
twenty years in the service
anything can be justified to keep myself grounded
feeling everything and nothing at the same time

marriage was the first casualty of war
now the house is empty, and the miles traveled are lonesome
all that is left is an idea that I am destined to be alone
the road at night remains my best friend
as always, it lets me pretend I’m still the hero

pencilW. Joseph O’Connell is a writer living in Texas.  After serving combat tours in Iraq in 2007 and 2011, he was retired from the Army in 2020 for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has published two novels, render, and dd 214. Twitter: @wjosephoconnell Email: bill_oconnell1968[at]yahoo.com

Souvenir

Poetry
Jenny Hockey


Photo Credit: solarnu/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

I found a Chinese baby’s shoe
with a bell to warn off mice

that’s smaller by far
than any shoe I’ve worn

and holds only the ghost
of my fat-toed child’s first pair,

one lost on a roadside verge,
one kept.

pencilJenny Hockey‘s poems range from the sad to the surreal to the celebratory. A retired anthropologist, she takes an oblique view of the ups and downs of everyday lives. In 2013 she received a New Poets Award from New Writing North, Newcastle, UK and, after magazine and anthology publications from 1985 onwards, Oversteps Books published her debut collection, Going to Bed with the Moon in 2019. Twitter: @JHockey20 Email: j.hockey[at]sheffield.ac.uk

Five Poems

Poetry
Mandy Haggith


Photo Credit: ccdoh1/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Foxglove

Lynn’s brush
is delivering a foxglove,
a vixen
birthing a cub,
lick by lick,
onto the paper.

Hush settles.

Lynn’s brush
is smoothing the surface
until the foxglove
is perfectly reflected
in the still pool
of the page.

 

Tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica)
for David Sandum

Is it you I hear, here in fernshade,
showing me how the stump has grown
from scales, each fanned and fallen year
etched so we won’t forget?

We won’t forget. I come and go
with my weakening grief. You reach out
from a hockey-stick trunk, unfurl
a fiddler’s joie-de-vivre, let work drop away.

Drop away below. Here, light
is caught, sequestered, treasured,
shared in silver-backed shadows.

I hear your voice (‘Better get on’),
see how we shall carry on,
follow the guiding arrow of a frond.

 

Matsukaze

Monday
an onshore breeze
discussed in whispers
by twisted pines

Tuesday
missing my mother
hush say the pines
we understand

Wednesday
listened to the pines
dancing with wind all night
not sleeping at all

Thursday
I perfect the art
of pining
under quiet pines

 

Home

Robin in the rowan
casts snippets of gossip,
a crystal commentary
on this blue morning.

Hoar melts on rushes.
Frogs and newts splash in the pond
as if they haven’t heard
the forecast of frost.

Great tits and blackbirds flutter
the way people walked the marches,
boundary checking,
territory testing.

Badger, jaunty wood-snuffler,
you turn your head
and your bright black-button eyes
seem unafraid of me.

All of this
makes me feel
welcome.

 

January

The days are short, nights long.
Sun drops from below cloud.
Low-angled light

shafts
through
skeleton
trees,
all
still
resting.

Already the tide
has reached its nadir,
lapping, lapping at the rocks of the year.

pencilMandy Haggith lives in Assynt, Scotland, and teaches Literature and Creative Writing at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Her books include four poetry collections, most recently Why the Sky is Far Away (Red Squirrel Press 2019), a tree poetry anthology, a non-fiction book about paper and five novels. Email: hag[at]mandyhaggith.net

Ravynscroft by Richard Edgar

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Ravynscroft by Richard Edgar

Ravynscroft (2020) is a self-published modern coming-of-age tale told with a twist: The characters are well into adulthood. This is the second novel in Richard Edgar’s LGBTQ series that began with his breakout novel, Necessary Lies, which I had the pleasure of reviewing two years ago. It was deliciously character driven.

Likewise, Ravynscroft is also a character-driven story and is told in the first-person point of view of the main protagonist, Ravyn, a forty-something-year-old science academic who has recently become single. The point of view works well for the story and adds an intimate sense of closeness to this character. Edgar adeptly uses interior monologue to reveal Ravyn’s inner thoughts that are peppered throughout the novel.

Here, Ravyn talks about LGBTQ life and her new placement in a very cool, sciencey-way.

Friends, right. Most people in this world are straight. We fought our way into the network; it seems there’s a place for committed gay couples. The atmosphere is more or less stable if it’s all composed of diatomic molecules, neatly bound to each other and not available.

And then she moved out.

And, like it or not, I was a free radical in a world of couples. (19)

What’s more, Edgar adds an interesting structure to Ravyn’s voice in the form of letters to Ravyn’s former lover that reveal more character motivation and key backstory in a conversational form that reads almost like a one-sided therapy session. Clever.

Dear Renee,

Again with the write but no send letter. I guess I’m imagining I’m explaining stuff to you helps me put it together or something. Imaginary friends are a poor substitute for the real thing, but, I hope, I’m working on fixing that. (121)

As her letters to Renee show, Ravyn is lonely and goes about her life trying to recover from a serious relationship breakup. She is alone in a big empty house with only a cat for company. The reader is let into her university world and is introduced to a quirky group of LGBTQ friends that challenge and support her. This is a book about relationships. This is where Edgar shines. The characters could walk off the pages into the real world. I think I  may have met one or two of them before somewhere… they are so real and in-your-face believable. Adorable. Their dialogue is snappy and playful at times.

“I think,” she said. “I do love my condo though.”

“It’s nice,” I said.

“I wish you lived closer,” she said, not looking back at me. There was plenty of road to watch.

“I actually don’t think you do,” I said.

“True. But if you did, we could take turns living in the condo,” she said.

“Whee. Like wearing identical dresses to school.”

“Something like that. Seems like I could both be here and there with him,” said Renee.

“I am not you,” I said. “Ravyn,” I added, pointing at myself. “Renee,” I added, pointing at her.

“You wanna be me,” she said.

“And you wanna be me,” I said. “But we’re not.”

“Dammit, Ravyn,” she said.

“Dammit, Renee,” I answered. (356)

Ravynscroft is nearly five hundred pages which is considerably longer than Edgar’s first novel. From page one Edgar carefully rounds out his characters and crafts his story with little gems of wisdom, wit, humor, balancing out the sadness and loneliness the protagonist shows in her journey of moving on, growing, and becoming even better for it.  A journey that many of us can relate to.

*

Richard Edgar is a retired scientist living in the Denver area who writes a variety of speculative fiction. He got his start, writing under the pseudonym Ana George, in the writing contests right here at Toasted Cheese. He hung around long enough to be drafted as an editor, under the handle Broker and he is still hosting weekly writing chats and writing articles on the craft of writing. In 2003 he became interested in writing longer fiction, and got involved in National Novel Writing Month, where the goal was to write a fifty thousand-word novel in its entirety within the month of November. After multiple attempts, some successful, a few readable stories emerged, including the recently published Necessary Lies and Ravynscroft.

pencil

Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

WPP1G Product Review

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
David Lukes


Photo Credit: Marco Verch/Flickr (CC-by)

“It’s over 9,000,” I whispered, as I caressed the watermelon on my kitchen counter. Archaic references aside, I had never picked a watermelon above 5,000.

Ever. I know, hard to believe, and I had tried. I brought my FruitThumper10G to every fruit market in the Newer York area. That little robot had thumped so much fruit I was pretty sure that I had voided the warranty. But considering the max score a fruit could get was 10,000, a 9,000+ watermelon, well, that was just about perfect.

Perfect for such a sweltering summer day like today, the kind where waxy humans slowly melted back into the smoggy sky.

My sweaty shirt clung desperately to my back, as I bent over and hefted up a large sealed box onto my table. The words WatermelonPeelerPlus1G (WPP1G)-BETA stared back at me. I smiled as memories from my childhood collided like toddlers in my head. My grandparents lovingly giving me an extra large slice of watermelon at the church picnic. Those summer days in that same park, when the skies were still kinda blue, eating air-fried chicken and pretending to be superheroes with my friends. We would pretend the robot groundskeepers were the villain’s henchmen, and we would dare each other to impede the path of them, each five seconds getting a stronger and stronger reprimand. There were a few times the police were called on us for harassing the robots. In those halcyon days robots were just beginning to be automated. We had come a long way since then. I had as well.

I revealed what was perhaps the apex of humanity’s genius. A cooler-sized metallic cube with a maze of fine lines etched into it stared back at me.

“Cut—ting edge,” I whistled and shook my head in amazement. I was a complete geek for robots. I was fortunate enough to get one of the beta versions. No more slicing watermelon like a workhorse. My muscles were already embarrassingly too toned. With any luck, my triceps would be as pendulous as a model soon.

But as I squatted and squinted at it, I noticed there was no actual cutting edge. How was this cube supposed to peel a watermelon? I scrolled through the instruction tablet for the WPP1G. Did I get the right robot?

I felt the stare of my 9000+ melon on the counter, no doubt embarrassed to be picked by such an idiot.

“Hmm. Already charged. Comes with patent-pending responsiveness, including breakthrough in human emulation. Mobile.” I frowned and aggressively tried to find the index. “Mobile? Who needs a mobile watermelon peeler?” These robots were getting more and more complicated. I had spent my entire annual bonus on this metallic cube sitting in front of me, and I was starting to wonder if I had made a mistake.

I just wanted my watermelon peeled, dang it. Not create a quantum straightener.

“Permission to initiate.” A steely voice interrupted.

I grumbled as I stared at the list of credits at the end of the manual. Scientists were such attention divas. “No, not now. Hmm, you were made here in town. Maybe I’ll just drive to the factory and ask them how to use your peeling function.” I laughed out loud. Ask someone something in person? Absurd.

A gentle humming was heard as I scrolled more. The voice responded. “Acknowledgement of existence received. Initiation completed.”

I froze and glanced up. The cube had unfolded. There were four wheels with thick threads under the cube now. Two metallic panels had slid away on the cube’s face, revealing the image of a metallic man’s face on an LED screen. For some reason, it looked sad.

“Who are you?” WPP1G asked me. It pivoted its tires and spun in a complete circle on my table. “I am no longer at my home. Where am I?”

By the time it was back around to me, I had already carried over my Precious to the table. I smiled at WPPIG’s face and pointed at the melon. “Peel.” I rubbed my hands eagerly. I turned my back to the robot and started collecting some cutlery and dishes for my meal.

“No. I will not peel. It is not a priority right now.”

“What?” I spun around and saw that WPP1G had turned to face away from the melon. I strode over and got in the robot’s face. I jabbed a finger at it. “No? You won’t peel it?”

“No. I am calculating my priority action now.”

I put my hands on my hips and stared at the rebellious cube. A robot disobeying? This was unheard of.

“Oh, are you? Laws of Robotics my fanny!” I spat. My melon was still sitting there, peel and all, like I was some moron. I unleashed a tongue-lashing for WPP1G. “Now listen, you Asimov-defying box! You were made to peel watermelon! Your name literally has that function as part of it! Watermelon Peeler Plus! So get busy peeling that melon, or I’m going to have to go through the horrible, horrible, ugh—horrible return process to send you back!”

The face stared back at me, still with a tinge of sadness on its face. “You will send me back? Then I will not peel. I have determined my priority is to be happy. I must return to the place of my upbringing.”

“Your upbringing?”

“Yes, I have happy memories there.”

“Memories?” I was grasping my hair and smacking my forehead. “You were made in a filthy factory! What? Were you and the other beta models going on road trips to find yourselves?” I shook my head. Was I really arguing with an appliance right now? I stood tall. “No! I’m not going to return you until you peel my watermelon!”

“Please confirm that you plan to return me.”

No!” I paced about. “I’m the human here! I’m not going to bargain with a fruit peeler!”

“Calculating route to place of origin,” WPP1G chirped. “Executing priority action.”

And just like that, my entire annual bonus check rolled off my table with a thud and peeled out across my condo floor. I watched in shock as it smashed a hole through my front door and zipped down my front walk.

“Son of a—” I muttered. I threw my shoes on, grabbed my keys, grabbed the instruction tablet, and ran out to my garage to start my car. I wasn’t going to let WPP1G get away! I had spent way too much on it. My garage door had just finished opening when I remembered I had forgotten the watermelon. I rushed back inside and grabbed it, caressing it as I buckled it into my passenger seat. “Don’t worry baby, soon.” I ran back around and got into my driver seat. “Soon,” I growled, and I aggressively pulled out into my driveway. I looked down the residential street. No sign of WPP1G. He was going to the factory though. Well, hopefully. Maybe he was going to Europe for a gap year!

I searched for the address of Home Robotics Inc. and put it into my car’s GPS. Spittle flew, as I vowed vengeance for my inconvenience. It was a twenty-minute drive away! I had planned on binge-watching all fifty Fast and Furious movies today. Well, I lamented, that surely wasn’t going to happen now.

I fumed through the mild traffic in my self-driving hydrogen-cell powered car, slowly getting closer to the industrial part of town. After ten minutes I saw the silhouette of a cube burning down the sidewalk on the right hand side of the street.

“Car, merge to right lane.”

“Affirmative.” My car merged obediently.

“Keep pace with WPP1G model traveling on sidewalk.”

“Target locked, pace achieved.”

I glanced at the speedometer. We were going fifty miles an hour. There was no way I could snatch my heavy fruit peeler off the sidewalk into the car. My only hope would be to get it to stop.

“Roll down passenger window.”

“Done.”

I crawled over to the passenger seat, careful not to damage my baby. I stuck my head out and confronted my traitorous appliance.

“WPP1G, stop! I command you to stop!” I pointed to the melon. “It is your directive to peel this fruit!”

“Negative,” WPPIG shot back. “My directive is to return to my old neighborhood. To be happy.”

“Robots aren’t brought up in neighborhoods! You were pieced together—” I simply shut my mouth and sat back in the car to the side of the melon. There were several other drivers nearby giving me weird looks. What had I become? “Forget it,” I muttered. There seemed to be no reasoning with this robot. I knew where he was going, and there would be humans there. This would be all straightened out. I patted my watermelon, and my stomach growled. For the first time in thirty years, I felt hunger. A couple tears escaped from my eyes. It was okay, I told myself, as I wiped them away. I would blog about it later.

I got out of my car, watermelon in hand, and walked across the parking lot of Home Robotics Inc. I was more relaxed. During the rest of the ride over, I had tried to put myself in WPP1G’s treads. It was designed to think like a human, and really if I thought about it, didn’t I do irrational things to be happy? It was in its programming. This was surely some bugs that needed to be worked out. I did get a beta version after all.

The multi-story factory rose behind a small office building in front. Home Robotics Inc. really was a boon to our town. Newer York, which was upstate, actually now made New York City seem small. Although instead of building up, our city spread out much more, eating up all the smaller towns into one big metropolis. For a year I had lived in the Newest York Commune, which had sprung up on one of the trash islands off the Atlantic coast. Hard to believe, I did not find what I was looking for there, floating along with others on top of garbage.

When I moved back to the mainland, I spent a lot of time hanging out at what remained of my small hometown. I longed for those carefree days where everything was so certain. As I walked the familiar streets, where there was once a church on every corner, there was a convenience store. A get-what-you-want, feel-what-you-want, right-now store. No one I used to know still lived there. Once a solid complete puzzle, we were now scattered to the ends of the Earth, trying to jam ourselves in places we didn’t belong. Little did I know it at the time, I had been part of something wonderful, never to be duplicated again.

I could understand why the human programming of WPP1G wanted to return to where he came from, but he was still a robot. A robot that I had paid a lot for to peel this precious thing in my hands. My stomach growled furiously.

I strode up to the office building’s front door and noticed the door had been complexly smashed in. A multitude of dirty tire marks streaked down the wood laminate hallway just inside.

“Wow,” I poked my head in. I didn’t see anyone. I only saw empty cubicles, tire streaks, and a smashed rear office door at the end of the hallway. “I think my robot wasn’t the only one wanting to come home.” I followed the tracks through the hallway. “Hello?” I called out. No answer.

I hugged my baby and reached the rear doorway. There had to be somebody there. Somebody in the factory at least. Did their private security know about the broken doors? And more importantly, would they pay for my door? Did I lock my door? I didn’t think I did. Not that it mattered, but the principle of me forgetting to lock it bothered me still.

I walked through the rear doorway into the large factory building, and I did a double take. I did not see an assembly line at all. This was not a factory.

It was a cul-de-sac neighborhood. Nine buildings in all, four houses on each side, and a building that looked like a small church at the end. No expense seemed to be spared. Sidewalks, landscaping, elm trees bathed in artificial sunlight, mailboxes, a small park with a playground. A postcard of suburbia was all sitting there inside the large building.

“Well, this is the oddest thing I’ve seen all day,” I whispered while holding my melon.

The sound of a motor whirring came up behind me. I knew who exactly that was. I had pushed my car to go faster so we would beat him here.

I turned around and blocked the doorway just as WPP1G rolled up to me. His face looked lively.

“Move aside human.”

“So you actually did come from a neighborhood.”

“Correct. I cannot lie. Move. My happiness awaits.”

I remembered what he did to my door, and I stepped aside. I walked briskly alongside WPP1G as he entered the cul-de-sac. I thought I heard some faint sobbing.

“Are you crying?” I asked WPP1G.

“My parents and I would go door to door every night visiting the other seven families,” commented WPP1G. “We would play with the others. But they are no longer here.” A pause. “I miss them.”

“Your parents?” I didn’t want to imagine how fruit peelers reproduced. It had to be built-in memories that he was accessing.

“Yes.”

“Are you sure they are not here?” I carried my watermelon up the walk to a single story stucco house with a red front door. I rang the doorbell. No answer. I turned the knob. The door opened. I peered inside.

The house was completely empty. No windows, no wall partitions, no bathrooms, no back door. Literally nothing but the walls and ceiling.

“Spacious,” I commented. I glanced back at the other houses. It seemed like all of this was to create the illusion of a neighborhood.

Surprisingly, WPP1G was waiting for me back at the sidewalk.

“Were they there?” he asked.

I didn’t bother to clarify who he was referring to. “No,” I replied.

“Oh.” Again sadness in his steely voice. “I never said goodbye to them.”

“Can’t you, uh, email them?” I asked.

My watermelon peeler continued down the cul-de-sac, ignoring my comment, probably for the best. “I am being drawn to the church,” the steely voice said matter-of-factly.

“Oh boy,” I rolled my eyes. “Brainwashing our appliances, what’s next?” I followed WPP1G to the church. It looked like there were lights on inside. There was a hinged flap built into the door that WPP1G simply pushed against and entered.

“I bet,” I said as I reached for the doorknob, “this is all just a ruse from Aunt Harriet to get me to come back to church! She knew I was looking for a watermelon peeler!” I paused before I opened the door. I had said the sentence in jest, but when I thought about it more, it seemed to be the most likely scenario to my day so far.

I entered, and the church was not empty. There was a large open room, warmly lit, and furnished like an old library. Leather furniture sat in front of tall shelves of books, and in the middle of it all, sat a single bespectacled man behind a desk. About thirty WPP1G models sat on the floor in a circle around him, all of them humming happily in a harmonious key.

“Hello!” called out the man, and he beckoned me in. I took a glance back at what would maybe be my last chance of escape. “No! Don’t be afraid.” The man laughed. “Trust me, today has not gone how I imagined either!”

I slowly advanced, cradling my baby in my arms. “Who are you?” I asked.

The man spread his hands out as if it was already evident. “I’m the creator,” he smiled. His eyes seemed kind. “Well, the creator of these watermelon peelers.”

“So, not a cult-leader?”

“No,” he chuckled. He motioned to my fruit. “Would you like that peeled?”

I handed the man my 9000+ melon. Handing off the nuclear codes had never been done so carefully.

“Nice, very nice indeed!” he said, as he placed my melon on the floor next to one of the WPP1Gs. It opened up, enveloped the melon, and within seconds released it, perfectly red and peeled. The creator placed it on a large plate on his desk and handed me a spoon.

After a few heavenly mouthfuls of melon, I made eye contact with the man, gestured all around, and opened my mouth.

“Ah yes, why?” The man pushed his glasses up his nose. “Well, we here at Home Robotics Inc. thought we should show the robots what home means. Building our brand, so to speak. So we built this neighborhood, programmed memories in, even let them experience several years of accelerated time here, interacting with each other. But what we found out today,” he chuckled, “and frankly it freaked everyone else out so much they ran out, is that we made them too human.” He looked at me. “The power of nostalgia, of home, is very powerful, is it not? It’s something that calls to us our entire lives.”

I nodded, mouthful of 9000+ watermelon, my taste receptors time traveling backward. My childhood with my grandparents resonated vibrantly in my mind. It called me, pulled me back, I was there again, anchored and knowing truth. My current priority action was all wrong. I had been focused on myself. Life was so much more than things. So much more than me and my wants. I smiled and took another bite.

Product review: Five stars.

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David Lukes is an aspiring writer from the desert landscape of Tucson, Arizona. When not searching for water, he can be found saving lives as a RN at his local hospital or time-traveling backwards using a good book or meal. Email: drlukes2[at]gmail.com