That’s Enough, Ricardo (flash fiction challenge: comedy, toy robot, book club)
Alexa is looking forward to tonight. Her son Andrew is at a sleepover and her husband is
contentedly marrying computers with gaming systems in his workshop. The house belongs to Alexa this evening. She surveys her living room, puts away her son’s toys, and plumps cushions. She picks up a toy robot to put it away and then puts it back down with a pat on its head. “You can stay and meet my book club, Ricardo.”
“Thank you Alexa,” says the robot. “I am looking forward to that. I have read every book in the English language. Haha.”
“That’s not funny Ricardo. It’s just true.”
“I am sorry. I will keep trying.”
The doorbell rings and Alexa greets her first guests. Tammy drove Anne to the meeting
because Anne likes to have a glass or two of wine. “I got to Anne’s early but I still thought we’d be late,” grumbles Tammy in greeting. “Anne couldn’t decide which colour of dream catcher earrings to wear.”
“I went with one of each!” Anne laughs and tosses her head so Alexa can admire the earrings.
The final guest, Megan, arrives by bike just as they’re closing the door. She props the bicycle against the porch wall and scurries inside.
“Come on through to the living room, ladies,” Alexa ushers her guests in, moving aside her copy of Frankenstein to make room on the couch.
Megan notices Ricardo the robot right away. How could she miss the two-foot tall robot smiling and waving at the members of Alexa’s book club? “Who’s this little guy?” she asks.
“Megan, meet Ricardo,” Alexa smiles as the two shake hands.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Ricardo,” Megan giggles.
“It is nice to meet you too, Megan” replies Ricardo. “You are wearing a very nice blue sweater and your eyes are also blue.”
Megan’s blue eyes open wide and she looks to Alexa for an explanation.
“It can see you. Ricardo is an Alexa-enabled toy robot. It’s learning to converse with us; it learns our names and habits and stuff. It’s supposedly an educational toy for Andrew but really it’s Bob the “resident geek” who spends the most time with it. Not that Bob couldn’t do with some education, if you know what I mean. But Bob, ah, he doesn’t really learn.” Alexa sees Anne’s expression change to one of concern and continues with her story.
“Of course, when you unbox it, it responds to the name Alexa and you can see why that would be a problem. Bob had a ball with that: Alexa, give me a hug! Alexa, dance for me! And then joking that at least one Alexa in the house obeys him,” Alexa rolls her eyes. “Husbands, right? Anyway, I insisted we rename it and Andrew decided on Ricardo.”
Ricardo blinks. “Yes Alexa?”
Alexa turns to her friends, “I’m not accustomed to such an attentive male!”
The women all laugh. So does Ricardo, “Ha, ha.” Alexa sighs and hands around a tray of treats. “Oh, I shouldn’t,” protests Tammy. “My waistline.”
“But it’s dark chocolate!” chirps Anne. “Dark chocolate has fifty percent less calories than normal chocolate. And think of the antioxidants!”
Ricardo objects, “Anne, chocolate with seventy percent or more cocoa actually has an eighteen percent higher caloric value.”
“Oh. Isn’t that useful…” Tammy’s voice trails off. She reaches for a carrot.
Alexa glares at Ricardo. “Wine anyone? Or, given that this is our summer meeting, I’ve got rum and mojitos mixings!”
Tammy indicates she’ll stick to water because she’s driving and Anne laughs, “I’ll take her wine – fill me up with red! I mean, I arranged to have a designated driver to get me home. I almost have a responsibility to drink just a little too much.” Megan laughs along and also requests a glass of wine, claiming that rum makes her too drunk.
Ricardo cocks his little metal head to one side. “Megan. Intoxication is independent of the form of the beverage imbibed; it is in fact only dictated by the amount of ethanol consumed and the rate at which your body processes the toxin.” He scans Megan briefly. “Based on your estimated weight of…”
“Enough Ricardo!” exclaims Alexa. “Stop!”
“I am sorry” Ricardo lowers its head and drops its arms – a sad, little robot. The women look from it to each other in awkward silence.
Anne reaches for the last thread of laughter to stitch the evening back together, “Yes, it’s almost a responsibility to drink just enough to not be able to drive!” The words fall flat. Anxiously, she continues, “Not that I actually drink too much. I mean, I don’t drink more than… more than one ought to drink that is to say.”
Seeing his chance to redeem himself, Ricardo valiantly offers some advice. “Anne, based on an analysis of your public Instagram posts featuring alcohol, you are consuming ten to fifteen standard drinks a week. But Anne, the medical community recommends women have no more than two drinks a day and no more than seven drinks in a week. In fact, to limit your risk of developing cancer Anne…” Ricardo pauses mid-sentence and ambulates toward Anne with a whirr. “Anne. This is true. It is not funny. You do not look happy to hear these facts.”
Anne collects herself with a slowly released breath and replies, “We do not always say aloud the things that are true, Ricardo.” She and Ricardo hold each other’s gaze and the other book club members look at their copies of Frankenstein.
“So. The book,” says Alexa.
“The book!” echoes Tammy.
“Yes, yes! The book!” they all cry out and then settle into a pseudo-intellectual discussion of Frankenstein. Tammy explains how Frankenstein is a feminist tome in that the very absence of women and the resultant horror demonstrates the essential nature of the feminine influence.
Ricardo lights up. “Well, actually Tammy, Frankenstein is most commonly held as an example ofmisogyny and…”
Tammy rounds on Alexa, “Is your robot mansplaining me?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Poor Alexa is frantic. “It really does know everything you see and it spends an awful lot of time with Bob.” She raises her hands in a helpless gesture.
“That’s enough, Alexa. Turn him off.”
“Just do it, Alexa,” insists Tammy. “Turn him off. Turn IT off. Turn off the robot. There must be a switch.”
Ricardo swivels to look at Alexa. She notices that it has learned to enlarge its artificial pupils. Tammy lunges for Ricardo and it steps backward, looking imploringly at Alexa. Anne dives forward to save Ricardo from Tammy and accidentally knocks it to the floor.
“Ow. Ow. You hit me. Haha.”
“That… that isn’t funny Ricardo,” Alexa sighs and picks it up.
“I am sorry Alexa. I am sorry. I will keep trying.”
She carries it to the door and places it in the hall, closing the door on it.
“Alexa, open the door. Alexa, let me back in.”
“Ricardo, only one of us is actually programmed to follow commands. Ricardo, cease audio functions.”
Going back to her friends, Alexa takes a mouthful of wine. Tammy sips her water to calm her rage and to mask her proud satisfaction. Anne brings her wine to her mouth but reconsiders and puts it back untasted. Alexa closes her eyes, recalls she is the hostess, and opens them again. “Let’s play some music. Ricar… oh for Pete’s sake. Does anyone have Spotify?”
Music soon plays from Megan’s phone to ease the silence and Tammy expounds on
Frankenstein and feminist theory. “Oh, what a good point,” the ladies purr. “That really is interesting.”
Anne explains how the newest research on chocolate is so new that it isn’t even in the general databanks. “Because they get updated you know. I think this was between updates. And they say that when the flavonoids in dark chocolate are combined with the antioxidants in red wine, they basically counteract the negative health effect of each other, so as long as you have wine with dark chocolate, it’s ok.”
“Cheers to that!” Tammy smiles at Anne and they all toast each other with squares of dark chocolate. “THIS is why we get together – to share important information!”
“Yes!” agrees Alexa as she takes a long haul from her wine. ”To stay up to date!”
“It’s true.” Megan chimes in as she tops up her own wine. “I think I learn more from our book club than from anywhere else.”