By Benjamin Davis
As a kid, I couldn’t have predicted how our relationship would evolve. My father and I didn’t get along. He had a temper. Then my mom divorced him, he calmed down, and so I wanted to get him something nice for Christmas: An Amazon Echo Plus and a smart bulb. My girlfriend, Maggie, and I decided to stay with him at my childhood home where he’d been left, to watch him open it.
“Wow!” he said. He set it all up in the living room where there was now only a sofa, chair, table, and 72-inch flat-screen TV. He called out, “HEY ALEXA. CHANGE MY SMART BULB TO PUCE.”
And sure enough, it did.
“Wow!” he said, again.
And we were so happy because he was happy, and he hadn’t seemed very happy since mom left. She’d been the boss of the house. As with the pets and the children and the family friends and the neighbors, it is likely that if she’d still been living there, that smart bulb would inevitably have begun following her around, vying for her attention. But not anymore.
“Do you think it will do cerulean?”
“ALEXA! CHANGE MY SMART BULB TO CERULEAN.”
The next day, thirty-seven packages from Amazon arrived. There were smart bulbs for every room, smart plugs for every socket, smart speakers and refrigerators, doorbells, sinks, vacuum cleaners, and so on. By the evening everything was set up. My father told all of the devices to call him Bruce, even though his name is Henry.
By the time Maggie and I left, he’d trained all of his devices to respond to the command DARLING. And so, on the morning of our departure, we’d woken up to the sounds of him calling around the house, “DARLING, TURN ON THE OVEN. DARLING, MAKE IT SEVENTY-ONE-DEGREES. DARLING, PLAY SOME SOFT JAZZ. NO! SOFT JAZZ.”
Before going downstairs, Maggie turned and said to me, “You did a good job. Do you think he will be okay now?”
“I think so.”
And I thought so. But when we returned three months later for Easter, it was very clear that something was wrong. Again, we chose to stay with him. Mom understood.
My father didn’t meet us at the door. There was a little camera and when we rang the doorbell it played YMCA by The Village People. I heard my father’s voice. “Hey, guys! Come on in! DARLING, DOOR!”
Maggie covered her nose as we entered the kitchen. It stank and it was bright as hell with each light a different color, all warring across the linoleum floor. Green Day was playing, for some reason. We found my father in his bed. “Oh, God!” Maggie said. “I’m sorry—just, sorry.” She fled.
My father looked like a potato, a great big 600-pound potato with two little knots for eyes and clumps for lips and ears and, well, good lord, his nose might have been in there somewhere.
“You got what I ordered?” One of the clumps near what might have been his face vibrated and split like a wet scab.
“What? Pop, what the hell?”
“What? I’m not Jake.” I started to get dizzy with the colors, the noise, and the stink.
“Not you. I’m talking to Jake. DARLING, WINDOW!”
The window opened, letting in some fresh spring air.
A kid of about sixteen popped his head through the window.
He had one of those beards, that little patch of gnarly god-knows-what drooping off his chin. If dubstep were a man, that man would have beaten the hell out of this kid for being such a poser. He had an enormous smelly bag that he lifted in through the window and placed on the bed beside my father.
“Good boy, Jake, you’re one of the good ones,” he called. “DARLING, WINDOW.”
The window came down.
“I’ll be back,” I said. I ran for the front door and caught Jake as he was getting into a beat-up ‘95 Saturn with a spoiler and blue undercarriage lights. Not too far off from the car I drove at his age.
I grabbed him around the shoulders.
“Whoa, bro!” he said.
“What the hell is going on?”
I was having trouble keeping my breath, I was so angry. Maggie came up beside us; she put a hand on my shoulder.
“Is everything all right?” she asked.
I looked at her, then back to Jake.
“No! Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Jake, man,” Jake said.
“Sure, alright Jake, man, what are you doing at my father’s house?”
Jake looked back at the house and shrugged. “Just bringing food to old Bruce.”
“His name is Henry.”
“Not whatever, man, why are you bringing him food?”
“Uber eats what?”
“Nah dude, what are you—like fifty? UBER Eats. Food, bro.”
“What’s wrong?” Maggie cut in.
I turned to Maggie. “This kid’s been bringing my father food.” I turned back: “How often do you bring my father food?”
Jake stepped away from me and brushed his shirt and said, “Dude, like three times a day—that Bruce guy can eat.”
“Henry, his name is Henry.”
“Fuck off, yeah?”
Jake got in his crappy car and blasted dubstep on his way out of the driveway.
Maggie came and put her hand on my shoulder.
I looked back at the house and said nothing.
“Should we stay at your mom’s?”
“Yeah—fine, fuck it. I give up.”
“It isn’t giving up,” Maggie said.
“Stop, okay? Let’s just get our things and go.”
“Okay,” she said, her hand hovering just beside my arm, hesitant to touch me in the state I was in.
Benjamin Davis is the editor of a sexuality magazine and historical fiction writer for middle school textbooks. He spends most of his time trying not to mix up the two. His shorter works can be found in Maudlin House, Star 82 Review, 5×5, Cease, Cows.