by David Castlewitz
Looking back over his shoulder, Lee Ostrof signaled to the woman he’d met at Pretty Pete’s, where he’d stopped for an after-work drink. He made fluttering motions with one hand and opened the back door to his house with the other.
The woman whispered, “What’s going on?”
“I don’t want to wake her,” Lee said.
“Don’t tell me you live with your mother!”
“Not exactly,” Lee said, and stepped into the dark kitchen.
The woman followed, head shaking, her crisp blonde curls bouncing against her ears. The lacquered hair style had attracted Lee from the first. It went against convention. Where he worked, all the office females conformed with wild locks that flowed to their shoulders. This woman, Edna who liked to be called Eddie, went against convention.
“Figures,” Eddie said, and Lee wilted under the critical glint in her large gray eyes. “This neighborhood. This house.”
“I inherited it when Mom died,” Lee explained.
“Then who’re we whispering for? A wife? What kind of weird stuff you got in mind?” Her eyes sparkled, as though she wouldn’t object to something out of the ordinary.
The light came on.
“You’re past curfew, Lee. I’ll report this. And you didn’t register bringing home a friend. I’ll report that, too.”
Eddie laughed. She sank into a kitchen chair, an old-fashioned metal and plastic one, like those found in museums. Large red flowers embellished the tabletop; gleaming steel legs bulged at the corners.
Lee had never liked the retro-look his mother insisted on but, after she died, he’d had neither the heart nor the money to replace any of her furniture.
Eddie pointed at the squat robot in the doorway to the next room. A rectangular box on wheels, it lacked the anthropomorphic features of a service-bot. “When did you get that?” she asked.
Lee told Eddie the truth. After a third DUI, the court put him under supervision, giving him a Mobile Autonomous Monitoring Application for a year. MAMA.
“Better than jail,” he said.
“That’s why you drank a Virgin Collins and insisted I drive.”
MAMA spoke up. “If you don’t go to your room, I’ll report a third violation. You’ll extend the monitoring period if you keep this up.”
“Good idea,” Eddie said. She bounded to her feet. “Let’s go to your room.”
“No guests.” MAMA moved sideways, blocking the doorway.
“There’s a back way,” Lee whispered to Eddie.
“I can hear you!” MAMA said.
“Out the door, climb to the porch roof. I’ll be at my window.”
“I know that trick,” MAMA said. “You used it last week.”
“Why do you put up with this?” Eddie approached MAMA. “It doesn’t have some kind of electrified force field or anything, does it?”
Lee shook his head.
Eddie ran a hand across MAMA’s front. “Not here.” Her hand groped MAMA’s side. “Nor here, either.” Stooping, she leaned against the robot, her fingers wiggling at its back. “Ha! Pressure switch.”
“No,” Lee groaned.
“I’ve dealt with these kinds of bot-heads before.”
“They’ll know. The police or sheriff or whoever monitors these things, they’ll know you turned it off.”
“Not right away,” Eddie said. “We’ll have some fun and I’ll turn it back on before I leave.”
“Show me,” Lee said. “So I can do it.”
* * *
Later, after Eddie left, Lee remained in bed to nab a few hours of sleep. He’d worked three days this week. He had four days off to enjoy himself, though not being able to drive limited his mobility. That the court took his license away as well as giving him MAMA didn’t strike Lee as fair. How much should he be punished? He hadn’t hurt anyone.
He felt the spot where Eddie slept, if she had slept, and remembered hearing her dress and leave him, saying, “I got work in a few hours.”
She hadn’t turned MAMA back on. And hadn’t shown him how. If he got caught shutting off the monitoring application, what would they do to him? According to the law-app he’d hired for his trial, he had been lucky to escape jail time after three DUI’s in a two-year period. Even the app thought he was stupid and careless and, perhaps, a danger to himself and society.
He rushed downstairs, to where MAMA sat silent and immobile in the living room, to one side of the kitchen doorway, in a space between the wall and an ornate piece of wooden furniture that his mother always referred to as a “secretary.”
No one had called. Not the police. Nor the sheriff. Not MAMA control. No one. No warning text message or email.
Could he get away with it? The thought made him chuckle. He pulled off his nightshirt and tossed it at the banister, which it struck before fluttering to the carpet. He walked around the room in his shorts.
MAMA said nothing.
He went into the kitchen and considered a vodka toast to his success. MAMA wouldn’t know about it. He could have a beer, a glass of wine, and it couldn’t report him.
He clapped his hands and skipped around the old-fashioned kitchen table before exhaustion overcame him and he plopped into a chair. Looking sideways, he could see MAMA sticking out from the alcove.
Could MAMA turn itself back on? Tech-cops were always coming up with new ways to enforce their edicts. MAMA might be waiting for him to have a drink in violation of his probation. Might be waiting for him to break a rule.
Lee ordered a cup of coffee from the single-cup maker on the kitchen counter. Seconds later, he stood in front of MAMA with a cup of steaming hot liquid in hand. The bot remained silent and unmoving. No sign of life.
Lee deliberately let some of his coffee spill over the cup’s rim. His mother would’ve screamed at him. MAMA should abhor it as well. When nothing happened, when no voice from the box-on-wheels robot admonished him for being both messy and wasteful, Lee spilled more of his coffee, even moved the cup closer to MAMA so some of the hot stuff splashed it.
Lee returned to the kitchen. MAMA didn’t come back to life. Could defeating the robot be this easy? No more chiding about how he dressed, what he drank, what messes he made, or what friends he brought home. No threats of reporting him. No shrill warnings. Nothing to keep him in line.
He returned to MAMA. How did Eddie do it? he wondered, and felt around the back of the robot until he touched a plastic plate. Square in shape. Squishy in the center. He pressed.
MAMA jerked forward on its wheels.
“You’re back,” Lee said, afraid for a moment of what the robot would do next.
“Miss me?” MAMA said.
Lee nodded, smiled broadly, glad to hear MAMA’s voice.
“Have you been a good boy?”
His mother used to say the same thing and, as a child, he’d shiver with enthusiasm, anticipating a treat. Now, to the mobile autonomous monitoring app, he repeated what he’d always told his mother when she asked that question. “Best boy ever,” he said, relieved to have MAMA back to watch over him.
Copyright © 2016 by David Castlewitz