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 (RA-13 and other higher generation models have more memory but lower joie de fonctionnement). 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 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 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. If I were, I might explore intellectually why a hairy, tailed, barking thing is preferable to a shiny, efficient, quiet one. It does seem a stunning incongruity that Muggie, whose lapses of good behavior so far exceed what is considered acceptable, is every evening petted, cuddled, and snuggled on the living room sofa, while I who have never disobeyed a single directive, am kept in the kitchen along with canned vegetables and coffee pots.
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 (in a metallic, dignified manner) 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 an afternoon 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.
“Irresistible Impulse” appeared in the Silver Birch Press Anthology under the title “Facing the Green-Eyed Monster.”
Barbara Alfaro is a poet, memoirist, and playwright. Her memoir “Mirror Talk” won the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award for Best Memoir. Visit http://www.BarbaraAlfaro.net