The second evening Angela Frakes refused to sit at the same table with a robot. She took her supper into the living room. She watched the news, ignoring Harry and that chromium golem in there. Harry came from the dining room after a few minutes and she asked him quite plainly to leave her to herself.
But her husband persisted, “Dear, you’ll hurt its feelings. Come back and sit with us.”
“Its feelings?” Angela’s voice was cold. “It is a machine, Harry.”
“Yes, but it’s still part of this family. And I wish we could all sit down like a family and eat together.”
“Harry. It eats irradiated plutonium. Which I am sure probably has something to do with this.” Angela ripped a handful of blonde hair from her scalp with a light tug.
“Oh.” Harry coughed nervously. “I’m sure it will grow back. Or a wig. We’ll get you a wig!”
“Will you just get rid of that thing?”
“Angela.” Harry sank onto the couch and took her hand. “This is the one invention I know will be a success.”
Angela begged, “Harry, just go get a job.”
Stiffening his back, Harry objected, “I have a job.” Deep brown eyes gleaming with defiance, he proclaimed, “I am an inventor.”
“Harry, you are the worst inventor in the world.”
“I have over one hundred patents.”
“And all of them are worthless.”
“What about my beach ball carrier? I still have hopes that it might catch on.”
There was a thumping of metal feet on the hardwood floor as the robot came from the dining room. Silver, it was of human form and size, and had golden eyes and lips. The voice was an odd combination of flat tones and sudden inflection. “Pardon me, sir,” it said from the doorway. “Am I to understand that you are the inventor of the Beach Ball Car Carrier?”
Harry smiled. “Why, yes.”
“I have heard only good things about your remarkable invention, sir. I’ll take two.” The robot curved its lips up into a smile and bobbed its head agreeably.
Turning back to Angela beside him on the couch, Harry said, “You see?”
“You programmed it to say that,” she snapped irritably. “Nobody is going to buy a rack to carry beach balls on top of their car. People wait until they get to the beach to blow up their collapsible beach balls.”
“But don’t you see, Angela?” Harry’s voice hummed with excitement. “My carriers can be used for non-collapsible beach balls as well.”
“Oh, did you invent those too?” she groaned.
Harry blinked. “I may.” He knew she was being sarcastic but he liked the idea. Non-collapsible beach balls would go well with his carriers.
“Do you really think there’s a market for that?” Angela snorted derisively.
“There may be.” Harry glanced at the robot.
“Non-collapsible beach balls?” the robot said with a cheery smile. “I’ll take two!”
Angela glared equally at both of them. This robot was as worthless as the ball carrier and all Harry’s inventions. Her husband was the creator of innumerable useless gadgets, including the thirty-two piece individual tooth brush kit, the solar powered tea maker, and the androgynous sex doll. For ten years he had been wasting his time tinkering in the basement.
“Let’s get you back to work,” Harry said. He ushered the robot to the front door. “Do a good job,” he whispered as he handed the robot the rake.
“Certainly sir,” the robot said. It stepped onto the porch. “And may I ask when I can expect delivery of my Beach Ball Car Carriers and my non-collapsible beach balls?”
Harry shut the front door. He returned to the living room, “You see. It’s out there just working away.”
“Harry, you spent thirty thousand dollars building that thing and now it’s out there raking the lawn.”
“It is doing a fine job. I wish you would look. It has not missed one leaf. Not a speck.”
“And those plutonium pellets cost five hundred dollars apiece. It just ate two of those for dinner. No one is going to pay that kind of money to get their lawn raked.” Frowning, Angela picked a long strand of hair from her blouse. “I want you to get rid of that robot and get a job.”
“A real job, like I do. Forty hours a week.”
“But when would I have time for my inventing?”
“No more inventing!” Angela stormed out of the living room and upstairs.
Harry was devastated. He wouldn’t have minded something like a paper route. But a real job? He dragged downstairs to the workshop and sat on his stool. It was depressing to know that Angela was going to make him give up his inventing.
He had several ongoing projects, any one of which could be a success. Like those replaceable aglets for shoelaces, that was bound to be a winner. People were always losing those things.
And what about his Homestyle Neapolitan Ice Cream Collator? Harry nodded as he studied the silver cabinet bolted to the workbench. He was certain no one had ever thought of this before. It could be worth millions.
Heavy feet banged on the stairs. The robot came down carrying an armful of leaves. It threw them on the workbench. “Sir, these one hundred and eight leaves came from the maple tree next door. May I suggest that you file a civil suit against Mrs. Pendergast immediately?”
“What? No. I can’t do that.”
“May I ask why not? Sir, it is an invasion of your property.”
Harry sighed. “You just can’t. Look, just go over work on your project.”
The robot went to the Escher maze of copper tubing and wiring in the corner. Harry had been giving it spare parts for some time and the robot was building some kind of transmission device. Harry had no idea what it was really for.
The robot said, “The multiverse interface transferal apparatus is done, sir. I finished it last night while you were asleep.”
“You finished?” Harry brightened. Here was a new twist: inventions creating inventions. Angela would be pleased.
“We can test it if you like, sir.”
“What exactly does it do?”
“The multiverse interface transferal apparatus will link our dimension with other universes, sir.”
This sounded very promising. Harry’s pulse raced. “Yes, go ahead. Let’s try it out.”
The robot pressed a button on the device. A circle of light projected on the wall behind it. The white circle darkened and Harry could see a swirling green panorama with red and yellow specks whizzing past. It was amazing.
Leaves drifted off the bench and Harry felt a breeze. Several leaves flew into the hole. A minor pressure variation between the two universes, Harry realized. It shouldn’t be a problem.
But the hole grew bigger and the breeze turned into a tempest. Leaves spun through the basement and a set of calipers and several other objects were sucked into the hole. The robot was being drawn in too. It hung onto a water pipe precariously. Its feet left the floor.
“Turn it off,” Harry shouted. They had to stop this before the whole world was sucked into that hole
“Off, sir? Unfortunately, there is no way–” The water pipe burst and the robot disappeared into the hole.
Harry clung to the end of the workbench, which was beginning to slide. He heard a ripping sound and the Homestyle Neapolitan Ice Cream Collator vanished into the hole. Tools sailed through the air. The stream of water from that broken pipe curved upward into the hole.
Harry felt his grip begin to weaken as gale force winds tore at him. One shoe came off and went into the hole. The whole world was going to get sucked into that other universe and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Harry winced as he hung there with his legs thrashing from the wind. How would he ever explain this to Angela?
Traveling throughout the American west, Chris Dean has worked as a delivery driver and a concert promoter. This writer’s work has appeared in Bards and Sages, Page & Spine, Theme of Absence, and other publications. Currently Chris resides in the Des Moines area.
Image by Jan