Mike woke up the next morning feeling uneasy. Patience was not there. He gingerly sat up and climbed out of bed. When he found out that he couldn’t reach the closet while still connected to the monitoring wires, he peeled them off and hobbled across the room, retrieved his clothes, and got dressed. It gave him a strange sense of satisfaction that he was almost dressed before any of the nurses came to check on his apparent cardiac arrest. He waved off their angry comments. However the last laugh was on him. They made him wait hours before he could check out.
Lying back on the bed, now fully dressed, Mike turned on the vueTee with the remote. Tania Marquez’s face appeared on the screen. The vueTee was smaller than the one that Mike had in his family room and made the newscasters famous mole appear much smaller than it did at home. The story that Miss Marquez was in the midst of reporting immediately caught Mike’s attention.
“…of Daffodil Amonte models in at least two hundred cases. Federal agents raided the Daffodil corporate headquarters, seizing computer files and other records as well as a number of undelivered robots. More as this story develops. In related news, stocks of the Cupertino-based robot manufacturer fell sixteen percent or nineteen and two thirds, while the stock of rival Gizmo fell four percent or five ninety three per share.”
At that moment Patience bounced into the room. She wore a stretchy black top that bared most of her chest at the top and had an oval keyhole opening around her naval. She also wore a tiny pair of black shorts. At the bottom of her long legs was a pair of chunky cork shoes that had to be at least seven inches high with the platform. She looked at the vueTee screen and shook her head.
“Yes, I know,” said Mike. “Anti-robot.”
“There have already been cases of people attacking robots across the country, and hundreds of listings for personal robots have gone up on eBay in the last twenty four hours.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that. I would never sell you.”
“I know that Mike. Still, I can’t help imagining how terrible those robots must feel to know that they aren’t wanted anymore.”
When Mike was finally checked out, he exited the hospital front entrance via wheelchair feeling a very strong sense of déjà vu. Unlike the last time that he left the hospital though, he felt as though he really needed the wheelchair. With his left leg and left arm in a cast and a thick wrapping of bandages around his middle, it was quite an effort just to get into the passenger side of the car.
Once back at home, Patience helped Mike into the house and sat him down in his recliner in the family room. All damage that resulted from attack of the robot imposter had been repaired with the exception of the piano, now little more than a pile of rubble sitting against the wall.
“I wanted to have everything back in order before you came home,” said Patience. “But I don’t think my carpentry skills are up to repairing a piano and the music store said they only tune them.”
“I think we should just push it out front for the recycle man,” said Mike. “I only bought that because… one of the kids… that’s funny. I can’t remember which of the kids was taking piano lessons. In any case, it’s not as if it was a family heirloom or anything.”
The next morning when he made his way into the family room, Mike found the piano had been removed and a decorative room divider was in its place. He plopped into his chair and pulled the lever to raise his feet up. Then he clicked on the vueTee. The scene that came to life on the screen was a press conference at the Department of Energy.
“…for everyone to know that their robots are safe and that this was a single occurrence of malicious programming. The entire incident involves a group of programmers at Daffodil who were using the Amonte model robots to gather information on their owners. This information was then used in a complex identity theft scam. It was only when a small number of the robots refused to send personal information on their owners that the plan began to unravel. The scammers first attempted to reprogram the robots in question, but this caused a fault, shutting them down, and bringing the unwanted attention of other Daffodil programmers. Finally in a last ditch effort to cover up their illegal activities, the scammers tried to replace the Amonte models with identical robots, but this failed in most cases, as the poorly programmed replacements malfunctioned and the original robots refused to return to the factory.”
“How many people have been affected by the identity theft?” asked a reporter.
“Everyone who owns an Amonte model Daffodil should take steps to secure their banking and credit accounts.”
“But those who own the Amonte models that refused to send the information did not have their personal information compromised?” asked another reporter.
“While that seems to be the case, the Department of Energy recommends that all owners of Daffodil Amonte robots take measures to ensure that their personal information is secure.”
Mike jumped a bit when Patience appeared at his elbow with a slice of pumpkin bread and a glass of milk. He turned off the vueTee and then accepted the breakfast.
“What’s the matter?” asked Patience.
“I would have thought that you would have been gratified to learn what was behind my service disruption, not to mention the attack by the imposter. Instead you have the look on your face that usually accompanies disappointment.”
“I guess I am a little disappointed,” said Mike.
“Well… I got the crap beat out of me. And it was all for identity theft. I thought it would be something bigger.”
“It was a very large identity theft scam.”
“Yes, but I thought it would be… international terrorism or world domination. You know; something fantastic.”
“In all fairness, how much world domination do you suppose could be achieved by placing a mole in the home of a middle school Geography teacher? It’s not as if you were the Governor of California or the head of Cisco Systems.”
“That’s twice you made a comment like that,” said Mike defensively. “Teachers change lives, you know.”
“I know you do.” Patience patted him on the shoulder and then headed off for the kitchen.
The news stories about the Daffodil Conspiracy as it came to be known continued for a few days, but then disappeared. The excitement of the Olympics and the ever-present war pushed everything else out of the headlines. At the beginning of August Mike received a letter in the mail from Daffodil asking for a list of damages to his home and a copy of medical bills. Patience gathered the information together and sent it by courier. A week later, a copy of the police report arrived. Mike didn’t bother reading it. He just had Patience file it away.
The end of August meant the start of school, and thankfully Mike was fully healed by the time he had to return. He had spent so much time in his chair with his foot up, that he was actually happy to go back to work, if only to get out of the house. The first schoolday, he walked to Midland in the morning, and was surprised that upon his arrival, he wasn’t at all out of breath.
The school faculty held the first of a series of back to school meetings in the library. The teachers filed in one after another and sat down in chairs around the hexagonal library tables. Mike sat down at an empty table, but four of the five remaining chairs were quickly filled by Mrs. Cartwright, Miss Treewise, Mr. Franklin, and Miss Fine.
“You look very nice Mr. Smith,” said Mrs. Cartwright.
“Yes you do,” said Mr. Franklin. “You’ve lost weight, right?”
“Yeah, I guess I did.”
“I didn’t think you looked thinner,” said Miss Fine. “I see now that you are. I just thought you looked younger.”
Mrs. Cartwright nodded.
“You do look younger,” admitted Mr. Franklin. “Of course, you’re still really old.”
“Thanks. That’s very nice.”
“If you are interested in seeing your class rosters, you can pull them up on your texTees,” said the Assistant Principal. “It won’t be a surprise to anyone that class sizes are larger than last year.”
Mike pulled his texTee out of his attaché case and began navigating through the menus until he found the file to download from the school’s server. Forty seven kids in first hour. Thirty nine in second. Forty two in third. Forty five in fourth. Forty four in fifth. He scanned through the last names in first period. He recognized seven or eight as the younger siblings of children he had taught the year before or the year before that. Then he looked through the first names: Elizabeth, Justine, Jason, Bradley, Agnes, Jonathan, Quadear, Robert, Remembrance, Marshall, Agnes, Catherine, Mildred, Michael, Aaron, Agnes…. A pain shot through the right side of Mike’s head.
“Is there something the matter?” asked Miss Treewise.
“Just a headache.”
The headache didn’t go away and by the time lunch came at 11:30 Mike thought his head was going to split open. He followed the other faculty members out the school’s front door, squinting in the bright sunlight.
“We’re going to Hot Dog Paradise,” said Mr. Franklin, slapping him on the right shoulder. “Do you want to come along?”
“Maybe…” Before Mike could get anything more out of his mouth, his own car pulled to a stop in front of him. Patience rolled down the passenger-side window.
“I have your lunch ready at home,” said Patience, poking her head out. Mike climbed in, not paying any attention to those watching him from the school parking lot.
Patience drove around the block and pulled into their driveway. Opening the garage door with the remote, she drove right inside and parked in the shady interior next to the Tesla. Mike climbed out of the car and stepped through the door into the family room.
“What’s the matter Mike?” Patience asked.
“I think I’m having an aneurism.”
“No. But I’ve got a bitch of a headache.”
“Sit down here,” she said, pushing him into his recliner. “I’ll make you feel better.”
In less than a minute she had unfastened Mike’s pants, completely disrobed herself, and straddled his lap. And though she did work valiantly to make him feel better, and if he were truly honest about it he would have to admit that he did feel better, he still had that bitch of a headache. It hadn’t diminished at all. Mike didn’t tell Patience this. He just thanked her with a kiss, sat down and ate the lentil soup and strange little salad (with cous cous, bell peppers, dried fruit, and mint leaves) that she had made for him. Then he had Patience stay home and drove himself back to school. He arrived back just as his fellow teachers did.
“So, who was that,” asked Miss Treewise.
“That was my girlfriend.”
“Nice,” said Mr. Franklin. “Did you tell her you were rich?”
“She’s a Daffodil,” said Miss Treewise.
“Really? She didn’t look like a robot. You didn’t have any of that trouble we heard about over the summer?”
“Nothing to speak of,” replied Mike, making his way past them and into the school.
Holding on to the side of his head, as if to keep his brains from spilling out his ears, he unlocked his classroom door, opened it, and then relocked it and sat down at his desk. The rest of the afternoon was devoted, for most teachers, to decorating their classrooms and getting their materials together. Mike had been in the same classroom for ten years now and had very few changes to make in any case, and he certainly didn’t feel like hanging up posters.
He sat with his head in his hands for about an hour. Nobody bothered him, but his headache didn’t improve. Finally he got up and sorted through some of the files he would be using for the first unit he was teaching—Latin America. He walked copies to the reprographics department to have them scanned for the students’ texTees, rather than sending them directly. After he had filled out the necessary requisition forms, he looked up at the clock on the wall. It was nearly a quarter past two. He was legally required to stay until 2:46 PM, but screw it. It wasn’t like they were going to fire him two days before the start of school. He headed out the front door, climbed into the car and drove home.
Patience wasn’t waiting at the door when he came in. Of course he was earlier than expected. Climbing the stairs, Mike made his way through his bedroom and into the bathroom, where his opened the medicine cabinet and retrieved the bottle of aspirin there. As he tossed five or six into his mouth and started chewing, he glanced out the window into the back yard. Patience was there, wearing her large hat, digging some kind of pit or trench.
Mike sighed and walked back through the bedroom, down the short hall and into his study. As he stepped through the door, it suddenly hit him. For a moment he thought he really was having a stroke. He was seeing things that weren’t there. Where his desk now sat was a baby crib and across the room where Patience had her own little desk, was a baby changing table. The walls were covered with 8×10 and 11×14 pictures of a happy little blond girl with chubby little pink cheeks and huge eyes.
“Agnes,” Mike whispered, feeling the blood drain from his face. “Aggie.”
He stepped quickly across the hall to Harriet’s room, but it wasn’t Harriet’s room anymore. It was the guest bedroom. Mike moved through it in two steps and threw open the closet, but it was completely empty. He went back to the study and opened the closet door. The interior had been covered with shelves, now filled with the things that Patience had been buying and selling on eBay—Depression glass dishes, Hummel figurines, Disney memorabilia. On the floor in the back of the closet were six brown storage boxes. Mike pulled the first one out and opened it. It was filled with brochures from family trips, old maps, movie ticket stubs, and pressed flowers. He pushed it aside and opened the second box. This box was full of framed pictures.
Lifting the topmost picture frame and examining it, Mike looked into his own eyes. No, not his own eyes; the eyes of a Mike Smith that existed fifteen years ago. This Mike Smith was looking directly into the camera and smiling the type of smile that said he had everything he ever wanted. To his right was his wife Tiffany, with her happy grey eyes and that twisted smile that was just a bit too playful to be called a smirk. His almost grown daughter Harriet, with a her hair pulled back and thick glasses hanging from chains like an old time librarian, held onto his left arm, and his teenage son Lucas in his boy scout uniform, stood to his far right. And in Mike’s arms was a perfect little baby, with chubby cheeks and a smile like Christmas, and just a bit of that soon-to-be awesome blond hair. Aggie.
“Aggie. How could I forget you?”
He saw it all again, only this time it was a memory and not a dream. Tiffany was lying on the hospital bed, her body broken and bloody. Her mangled arm and crushed hips were far more alarming than the tiny bump on her head that had actually killed her. And just beyond her, on another hospital bed, lay little Aggie. She was several years older than she appeared in the framed picture—a precious four year-old that would grow no older.
“Traumatic amnesia,” said Patience’s voice from the door. “The memory of her death was so painful that you took down all the pictures of her and boxed them away. Then your mind did the same thing to your memories.”
“I remember everything now,” said Mike. And he did. He couldn’t stop the flood of memories suddenly rushing around his insides.
“We didn’t even really want another kid. Harriet and Lucas were almost grown up. But… nobody in the world knows this but me. Tiffany had this kink about getting pregnant. She really got a thrill from the possibility. Her favorite sex talk was about “getting knocked up”. Even when she was young, before we met, she hadn’t used birth control. She was just lucky she hadn’t gotten pregnant before. She never took pills, so after we decided that two kids was enough, I used condoms. Then after a couple of years, Tiffany wanted to spice things up. She started opening the boxes of condoms as soon as we bought them, and she would poke holes in half of them. I suppose it was only a matter of time, but it was almost ten years…”
“Before Agnes was born…” offered Patience.
“God, she was perfect. The cutest baby. She didn’t even cry. She used to fall asleep in my arms every night. As soon as she was able to sit up, I started reading to her every day. Well. When Harriet was little, I was finishing my masters, and then Lucas came along and I was working two jobs. I suppose I was so happy to be able to spend time with Aggie. I guess I gave her all the attention that I had wanted to give the others. And then she was dead…. Um, the police said that Tiffany was probably bending over to get something, God only knows what, and she veered into the other lane. Aggie was in her little seat. Tiffany always buckled her in. But… well, it was a head on.”
Patience put her hand on Mike’s shoulder, but he pulled away and stood up.
“I want to put these pictures back up,” he said.
“I know where they all go,” said Patience. Mike looked at her. “I saw pictures in the scrapbooks that show them hanging.”
Mike nodded and walked out of the room. He went downstairs and climbed into the car. Pulling out of the driveway and steering his way to the end of the block, he wasn’t conscious of his destination, but something down inside him knew where to go. He turned into the cemetery and drove very slowly to the southeast corner, parking a short distance from Tiffany’s grave. He got out, leaving the car door hanging open, and walked across the newly mowed grass. He briefly brushed off Tiffany’s marker and then moved on to that other grave. He dropped down to sit next to the tiny little angel statue which wore a nightgown and held a flower in her left hand, her right hand raising a handkerchief to her eye. Agnes Winnie Smith. 2016-2021.
Mike lay back on the grass next to the little grave. And he cried.