The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 18, No. 4

Maybe a Calamity

by Patrick Cline

It was, he doesn't know—Jaime was there, but—nice, sad, he thinks, and he was talking, it was working. And redwoods, yes, definitively, that deep copper fiber burning holes in the sky. And shit, was there a gun in his guitar case? Were the roads flooded? And then, like always, something's on fire somewhere in the world.
     Albert stretches, Albert opens his eyes. Albert glances at the clock and does a quick estimate, then pushes down the sheet and his boxers. He thinks about, um, boobs. Boobs, round, butt, legs, thighs, Jaime's face, Deirdre's butt, legs, round, boobs, homework, boobs, Kahlan the Confessor, red leather jumpsuit, Colin's mom, round, legs, boobs, legsthighscalvesthighsred—He pulls a tissue from behind the Wizard's First Rule, wipes off his stomach, and drops the mess with the rest. Back to the clock, no, no time. Albert prepares himself for the day.
     Robot Albert arises.
     He boots up slowly, powerfully. As his pistons extend, forged and oiled to peak performance, internal combustion of the finest petroleum generating his joules, as his cables flex with tensile optimization and his circuit boards crackle, as his reel-to-reel runs at frightening speed, he surveys the window above his dock. A chill on the world, borne aloft through the scream of siren, the screech of car horn. But upon inspection, the city remains paved, just a darker gray. Pajama pants stay on, then. Albert crams his jeans over the flannel, sniffs his shirt and replaces it.
     And then he pauses, this entity, and thinks, staring out, thinks, scratches himself, thinks, she's pretty, thinks, he's homeless, thinks, that is one fucked up car, no no no, thinks, I wish to holy fucking god it'd snowed harder, no, thinks, I can't do it no I can't do it Jesus fuck no can't Christ fuck no, no, thinks, I can do this.

Robot Albert emerges and all take notice, though they hide it carefully. He locks the door. They peer from the sides of their eyes, they laugh in flawless synchronicity to his passing, they make no space for his stride—wave after wave, talking, filling the whole sidewalk, wearing the same black-and-orange coats, the same tan boots—yes, they notice him. They see his precision movements: the positioning of his arms, the closure of his mouth as his intake valve continually accepts air, the low sweep of his eyes, calibrated by the perfect algorithm to absorb everything and confront nothing; and they compensate as sloppily as possible.
     Before he reaches the bus stop, he reviews the note his manufacturer has left—Make sure you eat before you leave. Have fun with Colin tonight! I'll see you in the morning. Love, Mom—and deposits it in the trash can, digging a hole in the waste sediment and covering his tracks. He is vigilant not to discard affection where it might be recovered, sowing the shreds of birthday cards throughout the city, because he is very thoughtful. He processes the world fully.

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