That’s Enough, Ricardo

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.”
“What?”
“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.”

A Glass of Port

NYC Midnight flash fiction, round three
genre: action / adventure location: the middle of the ocean object: gavel

A Glass of Port

On her fifth Porto night, Sylvie is at a bar called The Auction House overlooking the river Douro. Every table is fitted with granite gavels and wooden blocks for attracting the servers’ attention. Well into the evening, Sylvie hammers the block, “More port! A round for my friends!” Liz, a fellow Canadian, shakes her head. “C’mon Liz! Just say yes! It’s an adventure!” When the waiter brings the wine, Sylvie decides to buy a replica gavel for thirty euro. She holds her weighty souvenir aloft to be admired.
The table hosts tourists from America, Holland, Australia and some locals. Using Google Maps, they measure the distance between their homes though Google won’t measure across water. The American hollers, “Show me by boat for godssake! Show me the miles walking – I’m gonna walk on water!” and they all laugh.
Damari says with only a hint of Portuguese accent, “I don’t use this Google for my wayfinding. I need only the stars.”
“Stars?” blurts Sylvie. “I don’t remember what stars look like. In London, Dublin, Madrid and now Porto. The sky is lit, all night.”
Damari assures her, “The stars are there, beautiful. Come down river to the ocean in my boat. I’ll show you the stars.”
“Tonight?” breathes Sylvie.
“If you dare.”
Overhearing, Liz objects but Sylvie crows, “Say yes to life Liz! We’re adventuring!”
“To adventure!” calls Damari, pounding Sylvie’s gavel and ordering another round. After the final toasts, the group departs and Damari walks the women to their hotel, then waits outside.
While Sylvie changes shoes, Liz insists she share her location on Google Maps. “Download the map of Porto and the whole damned ocean. You have five hours Sylvie, then I’m sending help. I’m serious.” Liz and Sylvie both work with addicts. They understand risk prevention.
“Maps won’t work on the ocean!” protests Sylvie.
“GPS will. It’s all you need,” answers Liz, setting it up.
Sylvie takes Damari’s arm to traverse the slick, cobblestone decline past centuries-old churches and decoratively tiled, derelict houses. At the Douro, past the Rabelo boats with their barrels lies Damari’s cabin cruiser; he assists her aboard. Taking out sherry glasses, he decants the port.
Making small talk with flirtatious glances, Damari deftly manoeuvres the boat downriver. Sylvie notes the stern is covered with cushions and blankets. “Do you sleep out here?” she asks.
“Occasionally,” Damari replies. “There’s a cabin, but it’s mostly storage.” Sylvie moves to look. “No, stay here with me,” insists Damari. “It’s a mess under there.”
Once they reach the ocean, away from the lights of Porto, Damari kills the motor and they behold the stars – all the heavens revealed to them. Overwhelmed, Sylvie shivers; Damari wraps his arms around her.
Breaking their embrace too soon, Damari offers a refreshment. “More port,” he suggests, “or if you’d rather, perhaps cocaine?”
“What?!” she exclaims. “Damari. I’m an addictions counsellor. I’ve seen what drugs do. I would never risk that.”
“I had no idea of your noble profession,” he refills their glasses. “Please forgive my oversight.” He kisses her, instantly forgiven, and leads her to the comfortable warmth of the blankets. Their kisses intensify. Sylvie sighs thinking, “It’s an adventure” and succumbs to his seduction.
Some time later she is tracing waves on his chest, breathing his scent intermingled with that of the sea. He kisses her forehead, saying he needs to attend to the navigation. He rises, strides across the deck and returns with more wine. She thanks him and looks overboard. Ocean spray mists her face and she pulls back laughing, losing her grasp on her glass. It disappears into the waves.
Not wanting to disturb Damari, she quietly pours herself a fresh glass then reclines, regarding the constellations. Soon the rocking boat lulls her to sleep.
She’s awakened by his voice; he’s on the radio, “… few hours from the drop, fully loaded. Short ton of the purest shit you’ve never tried! Yeah, alone – I have this tourist for company but she won’t know. I gave her a sleeping concoction.” His laugh holds none of the charm she’d admired at The Auction House.
Sylvie figures if she pretends to be asleep she’ll be safe. But what if this cocaine is enroute to Canadian streets? Does it even matter? If it leaves this boat, it will destroy lives. She pulls out her phone and opens Google Maps. The screen is all ocean blue; her GPS dot in the middle.
Feigning drowsiness she murmurs, “It’s been almost five hours! Are we headed back?”
He turns quickly, obviously surprised to see her awake. Into the radio he says, “I have an issue, await my signal.” Then he turns to her, all charm. “Feeling rested, sleepyhead?” He crosses to the bed and kisses her. He’s attempted to drug her. He has a boatload of cocaine. Yet his lips are soft and warm. She sighs, yielding to his kiss; he chuckles. Pulling away with a shy smile, she returns her phone to her purse. Content, Damari turns to stand, “I better make sure this barge is headed for home.”
She forces a giggle in reply and pulls the gavel from her purse while his back is turned. Swinging it hard she makes contact with his head. The granite bounces off his skull, vibrating in her hand. Damari grunts, lurches forward and spins to see her kneeling naked on the cushions, brandishing the gavel. He lunges at her and Sylvie swings again, this time clocking his temple with all her might. The sound of bone and flesh giving way sickens her. The weapon slides from her hand and she watches Damari crumple to the ground, his eyes astonished, then angry, then finally closed.
Sylvie shakily pulls on her clothes, averting her eyes from the pooling blood. Sitting waiting, she ponders adventure. Sometimes saying yes to life, she realizes, means saying no to risk. Dawn breaks with welcome brilliance. Seeing a police boat’s flashing lights approach, Sylvie gives thanks for cautious girlfriends and GPS.

Hey Hey Ho Ho

(NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Short Story contest, thriller, pocket knife, picket line)

 

“Hey Hey Ho Ho, Malcor greed has got to go!” Kendra mouths the chant so nobody notices her lack of shouting. Her feet are hot in her boots and ache from walking endless circles. The picket sign makes her bra straps dig in. She rubs one weary shoulder; it isn’t even lunchtime. Despite the fatigue, Kendra appreciates the solidarity on the picket line;  it’s new and rousing, if overly loud.

Cars line up waiting to enter the plant. They open the barricade every half hour; the drivers honk and shake angry fists while waiting. Marching bodies around her spit out the word “scabs” like a curse but it’s actually only been management and press. Still, Kendra nods in vague agreement.

A lot needs to change at Malcorp. Kendra doesn’t fully understand what, but she could use a pay raise and for her asthma inhalers to be covered.

The asthma began about nine months after she started at Malcorp – occupational asthma the diagnosis. She coughs just thinking about it and pulls her puffer from her pocket, giving it the required vigorous shake. Nearby, Brad pulls out his own inhaler and raises it toward her. “Cheers,” he says, smiling. She returns the gesture, smiles shyly and looks away. She turns slightly to take her puff. Brad has smiled at her before.

Flushed from this exchange, Kendra slips into the rest area for a break. She grabs a donated muffin and cuts it with her pocket knife, saving half for later.

Lisa and Kelly, two women from her line, are also taking breaks. They exchange companionable nods. There’s no use trying to speak – the chants of ‘Hey hey, ho ho. Malcorp greed has got to go” would just drown them out. She doesn’t talk much in the cafeteria at work either, preferring to quietly read. She likes these co-workers though. She does actually like her job – or at least not hate it.

Anxious to rest her feet, she takes a seat and idly checks Twitter, scrolling the protest hashtags. Reports of increased asthma have bolstered support from the public. Kendra coughs, and checks email. Messages from the Union, messages from Malcorp – she swipes away each tedious email when one subject catches here eye – “Let’s break them today”

It’s to Kendra.Macpherson – she’s Kendra.McPherson. This happened once before – figuring it was someone in management, Kendra had been too nervous to report it and had discreetly deleted that message. This one though – maybe this one she should read.

“Let’s break them today.”

“Actors set. N and P to break down barricade. Security to jam cell reception. Actors instructed to cross picket. Security has pepper spray ready.”

Pepper spray? Are they expecting a riot? Kendra is filled with dread as she realizes they’re inciting a riot, just to shut it down. Her lungs can’t stand up to pepper spray. Brad can’t survive breathing in pepper spray – nor can an alleged 38% of her co-workers.

The crowd is now rallying by the platform “Hey Hey Ho Ho, Malcor greed has got to go!” How can she warn them? Should she forward the misdirected email to the union leader? Should she tweet a warning, #important #danger? She opens Twitter but there’s no service. She notices Brad look at his phone and shake it; Lisa holds hers up. There’s no reception. They’ve jammed the phones. It’s starting.

She rereads the message to see what’s next. The barricade breaking down. Actors posing as scabs. Riot. Pepper spray.

Kendra wants to shout but everyone is shouting and she was never very good at shouting. She eyes the platform with the microphone and steels herself to wade through the crowd.

With a terrifying crash a car smashes through the barricade, a piece of which slams into a worker. He falls within the frightened mass. Another car blasts through while Kendra fights against the surge of angered mob. She reaches the stage just as the “scabs” appear and she’s still the only one who knows they’re just actors. The platform is only three feet high but it might as well be fifty. Kendra shuts her eyes for a moment, fighting off hysteria, then climbs onto the stage. She waves her phone yelling “You need to read this! It’s important!” but no one hears. They brush her away, knocking the phone out of her hand.

The picketters and fake scabs shove each other and yell. Kendra sees the factory bay door open and can almost feel peppery death breathing down on her. In desperation she pulls out her pocket knife and screams. The rally leaders stop hollering to stare at her breathlessly wielding her little knife. Gravely she holds the knife to her neck and says “Give me that microphone.”

Attention to her action, like a silent ripple travelling through the crowd, washes over picketers and actors alike. A wave of faces turn toward her, riveted on the spectacle of their shy coworker holding a microphone in one hand and a knife to her own neck with the other.

Her vision blurring, her heart racing, her hands shaking – she breathes deeply and speaks into the microphone. “These are actors, not scabs! The only enemy is Malcorp Security! They’re coming right now, with pepper spray!” The listening crowd emits a collective gasp. “That’s right. They gave us asthma and now they’ll use it against us! There can be no riot!”

The rapt attention of the crowd might have bolstered another speaker but for Kendra it was too much. Stepping back, she finishes with a shaky “So just, yeah, stop…” and gently puts the microphone down.

Brad holds out his hand to assist Kendra’s descent from the platform. She makes herself look him right in the eyes and says, “Thank you, Brad.” Amazed by her newfound brazenness, she stumbles to the overturned barrier, takes a seat and eats the second half of her muffin.