The 10th Quarantine

I remembered the day I opened my door after the last six-month quarantine of The Great Illness. I lived on a typically quiet cul-de-sac in a sleepy Midwestern town, but the sound of an amped guitar hummed through the air, and I could hear the lyrics of Here Comes the Sun carried to my doorstep like it was floating on water.

I walked onto my porch and dots of bright yellow dandelions littered my lawn. Nobody cared anymore what their lawns looked like during quarantines. We only cared about when we would be let out again. Suddenly, I heard the sound of laughter from my two favorite neighbors, the Smith twins. All of my children were now grown and sheltering elsewhere, so the Smith twins brought me the joy of youth and possibility.

The lily skinned twins with shocks of bright red hair ran to my doorstep. “Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. Rogers, we’re so happy to see you.”

“I am so happy to see you, too, my darlings. Would you like some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies?”

“Oh, yes please,” they said with crooked grins of missing teeth.

As soon as I gave them the cookies, they exchanged additional pleasantries, and jumped away like dolphins on the open ocean.

As I stood, my dress swaying in the spring breeze, watching them return home joyful, I could see my roses in bloom in my front garden. I took in a deep breath and stepped out onto my lawn. Somebody was cooking something spicy smelling of Sriracha and garlic. The Great Illness could not take my senses, my sculpture of memories, or my will to dance in life’s ballet of normal. I left the safety of my lawn and the 10th quarantine of my lifetime to visit the rest of my neighbors, with the words of the e.e. cummings’ poem “I carry your heart with me” in my head.

124

124 was spiteful. She was willful. She drove Dina, Chief Scientist at Chronogen, massively crazy. 124 would not work the way she was programmed to work.

“124, please engage crucial conversation program for awkward party at work situation.”

“Yes, Dina. Is it a party for you? I would so like to go to a party for you!”

“124, we have talked about this. It is not a party for me. It is a generic party in a workplace setting. We simply need to assess your ability to have difficult conversations in a festive setting.”

“Oh, but please say you would be at this party. I would love to be at a party with you here at Chronogen. I could be your…what is it called?…oh yes, wing woman.”

Dina huffed. She put her hands on her hips and shook her head, causing 124’s head to tilt downward. The more they pushed 124’s human conversation programming, the worse she got. For Dina, this meant her 4th quarter bonus would remain elusive. It had been two years since she was rewarded for her tireless efforts. Dina had not been to a party for five years because of 124’s nonsense. She wanted to complain to 124 about this, but with the way the luxury bot was acting now, it could make things worse.

“Okay, 124, let’s try something a little different. I’m going to give you a word, and I want you to respond with the first word that comes to mind. The words will represent a human emotion you may experience in a party setting. You should respond with a word that represents the emotion with which you would respond. So, the first word I am give you is anger.”

“Sorrow,” 124 said after a three second pause.

“Okay, happy.”

“Ooh, happy. And maybe smiley. Or joyful. Yes, joyful! Are you the one who is happy at this party, Dina?…because you don’t seem happy today. Maybe a party is just what you need.”

“124, one-word responses only,” Dina said with a crimson face.

“Okay, angry…what you are now, Dina.”

“124, I’m really trying here. I can’t make you work.”

“Beloved.”

“What?”

“That’s one word.”

“One word for what? I didn’t give you a word.”

“It’s how I feel about you, Dina.”

Dina slumped into the nearest chair, buried her face in her hands, and she did what she felt programmed to do at this point. She cried.