The Nature Of Hope
By Carl Kopman
ARE YOU ONE, TOO
Okay, so there is a robot in this story, even two. And several poems, a tale of terror as well, but I don’t want to give away too much. Oh, and old jokes. So if you don’t like funny, or not funny, erotic sci-fi terror poems, then it might be best to un-zoom and return to this isolation we have so long endured.
And that reminds me of an old joke.
The punch line is, “Are you one, too?”
I don’t remember the setup but my late wife and I would laugh over and over again.
“Are you one?”
“ Maybe,” I would say, “Why, are you one, too?”
The joke had something to do with being gay or black or goyim. Judith and I were raised to the sensibilities of Milton Berle and Amos and Andy, and so, not knowing any better, we laughed. And were it not for Jackie Robinson, I wonder if we wouldn’t still be laughing.
Are you one?
Are you one, too?
These days I have time for pondering.
My late wife would say I dwelled in dynamic ambivalence. She’d joke when we were young and getting to know each other that I was like a ping pong ball ping ponging on both sides of everything. I drove her crazy she would scream in her ranting, after menopause; before shock treatment.
She was never really herself after that.
And only a few poems remain reminding me of when we were younger.
These are such lonely times.
It might have been different if my real life wife had just said, “Yes,” instead of, “No, not on your life,” when I asked her over double shots of Jameson’s if she’d appear in my novel. I begged in whining after tones, “Pleeeeeease,” but a, “No,” was all I got. I bribed, “I’ll knock fifteen pounds off your body, ten years off your age, make you a blond, if you like…whatever you want.”
We danced around like that. She’d raised her eyebrows, she smiled but an emphatic, “No!” is what she said. And, to my, “Why not?” I was met with her, “Do you think I would want to traipse around in an Apocalyptic Fear Monger Farce so you can say all the things you were too chicken shit to say when you had the chance in real life? I’d rather be dead!” she laughed, and I said, “I’ll take that as a firm no,” and she said , “What you write about is okay but,” and I said, “but what?” and she said, “But I’m a private person and I don’t want you writing about me,” and I nodded and said, “I understand .” But all that stuck in my head was the woman I love saying, “I’d rather be dead.”
Then dead you will be, I thought.
And that’s when I called up Judith from another story and asked her to be my late wife again. I liked Judith. She was shorter and rounder than my real life wife and younger, and blond.
“Okay, but this time don’t be so controlling,” she said looking at me with a scolding eye. “And no more menopause, I find it too grueling.”
I loved that she was Jewish. My parents would be pleased were they still around.
My late wife, Judith was already living in my mind, when she stepped into the early desolate dawn of my apocalyptic novel. A Bezos Dronebot was hovering above Sequester Camp 238, slowly depositing a large box onto the lawn before zipping west, barely skimming the barbed wire surrounding the complex.
“ What the hell have you gotten me into, Jake?” Judith asked, shifting her round bottom onto my temporal lobe.
“I’m not sure myself, It’s early in the story but just keeping ahead of reality is gonna be a chore.”
“ Can you at least catch me up?” she asks.
“ There are two robots,” I begin. “The tall one opening the box on the lawn, that’s an Androgyny Two: an Alibaba Robo-Pal, Constant Caregiver Conversationalist Behavior Moderator and Personal Observer Model. Damn thing is always by my side.
“It’s important you know Pandemic Two turned all Republicans into Democrats but before you could say hooray or Jackie Robinson, the virus mutated, worming its way through the amygdala and hippo campus and limbic system of the whole human race eliminating not only all Democrats but half the world’s population as well. That all fear and desire was also eliminated was of little solace though it might have contributed to the ease with which SP500 Consortium was able to gain control over every country on earth. They were the supply chain. Without them, we would not survive. Without Androgyny Two we would never survive.
Judith began pacing along my frontal lobe stumbling on the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex slamming into my hippocampus. I was getting anxious about time. I knew I was expecting someone but couldn’t remember who or why.
“Hey, be careful,” I snapped at her.
“ Sorry, tell me more,” she said, her gentle voice and small hands massaging my adrenal axis.
I felt calmer. “Okay, so the second Robot, the one delivered in the box, is a refurbished Androgyny One Tesla Model Amazon Authorized Pre-Consortium Post Pandemic All Purpose Bodily Fluid Simulator And Sperm Collector.
They were made mandatory by SP500 decree B-4, “ wherein and wherefore….virus now attaches itself to pollen……in addition to clorox inhalation respirators… activated plastic bubble wrap…. bee stings… contagion…. constant blood light levels and sperm counts must be analyzed and maintained….Let’s Make The World Great Again…!”
“ Jeez, Jake, that’s bleak,” my late wife said.
“ Yeah, I know, but I’m looking for it to get better. I put Hope in the title of the story. We’ll have to see.”
“Don’t let it get carried away. Okay? Anything else?” she asked.
“ Not really, a few details I want to take care of….maybe add a dog.”
“ I think I’m going to turn in then, Jake, its been a long day.” She yawned. I felt her snuggle down into my hypothalamus drifting into a dreamy voice. “ When you came for me I was marooned on a desert Island with the man of my dreams…the sand was warm…the ocean blue, and the sun hung in the sky like a….” was the last my late wife said before she dissolved into the folds of my cerebral cortex.
I was still at my desk when I hear my grandson at the door to my studio. He carries a bag full of lemons and a bright shiny smile.
“Wanna make some lemonade, Oompa,” he asks.
I am so glad to see him.
“ Let me just finish this last piece up,” I say turning to the computer.
He enters the studio, immediately taking a seat at the piano. “What’s it about?” he asks.
“Apocalypse,” I say gravely.
“Zombies?” he asks. His eyes widen, his hands play three zombie horror chords as he speaks.
“ Nah…But there are some pretty cool robots..so far,” I say.
“What’s it called?”
“Let me read you the title,” I say. “ The Nature Of Hope: A Macabre Ballet Of Mechanical Movement Robots And The Glory Of Ancient Macedonia In Modern Pandemic Times.” And then I read the first few paragraphs watching his eyes glaze over in response.
“ That’s got a lotta big words…but I think I like it,” he says.
“ I want to place a little girl in the story. A grand daughter named Hope. Someone for me to love and the robots to nurture,” I say.
“I like that,” my grandson says. “but a granddaughter… that doesn’t make sense.”
“Why not…?” I ask.
“ Well… you always tell me we should write what we know about and you know about boys… like a 9 year old grand son… you know what he’s like…you know me… so you should put him in the story.”
My grandson was beaming, proud of the logic he had constructed.
“You don’t mind? He might be brat…or be a picky eater… or argue like a jerk sometimes…or even cry when he doesn’t get his way with the robots?”
“But he’ll be nice, right!”
“Yea… he’ll be like you if that’s okay…. Oh, but his name has to be Hope. That’s essential to the story…. I promised someone.”
“I can handle being called Hope,” he says.
“ There’s one more thing, darling. It’s a tough one. In this story your grandmother isn’t alive. She’s dead. Can you handle that?
My grandson bursts into tears burying himself in my arms. heaving and sobbing until my shirt is damp with his grief.
“Oh baby, it’s only a story…. I’m sorry…I’m sorry. You know your real life grand mother is very much alive. She’s probably in the kitchen baking you peanut butter cookies as we speak.” I pull him away from my hug and he begins to wipe his tears. “You know that, right, baby. I never should have…”
“It’s okay Grandpa. I understand. Sob. Sob. It’s just that it’s so sad for the boy not to have his grandmother.”
“Sometimes a story needs a little sad…so it can all work out in the end,” I say, not quite convincing either of us.
“ Just one thing, how did the grandma die in the story. Was it Zombies?”
“ No, I’m afraid she drowned in a kayak accident off the Oregon Coast. Her body was never found.”
“Then maybe she’s still alive,” he says hopefully.
“Maybe,” I say, despite knowing that the ending has already been written. Perhaps I am not the same person who told his children there was no Santa Claus.
My grandson is off my lap poking at the keys of the piano. It sounds a little like a line in Coltrane’s Love Supreme.
“I still wanna be in your story, Grandpa,” he says.
“ Well, maybe I can find a zombie robot for you to slay,” I say.
“Really/” he brightens up.
“Sure,” I say.
“ Good, then let’s go make some lemonade,” he says grabbing his bag of lemons, heading for the kitchen.
“I’ll be right with you, I’m gonna close down the computer.” I scan the last scene I wrote.
In the noon sky a flurry of whirring Bezo-drones are busy delivering this week’s vaccine. On the lawn Androgyny Two has completed assembling and activating Androgyny One.
One looks up adoringly at Two and says in robo-speak,
“Are you a One, too?”
“ No, I’m a Two, One,”
“And that’s the end of that joke,” says, in the corner of my mind, my late wife waking to the song of a suprachiasmatic nucleus before I shut down all systems and join my grandson and real-life wife for a glass of real lemonade and, perhaps, a tasty peanut butter cookie.
Today a large package was delivered by UPS. The driver, a young husky black man was already crossing the street to his truck when I stepped, leash in hand, dog at side, onto the porch of my Berkeley home. The package was a forty pound box of parts for a recently ordered Exerpeutic Exer-cycle guaranteed to help pedal ones way through these stay at home times.
“Oh great,” I said pumping my fist in the air, “now I can exercise.”
The UPS driver turned and smiled.
“ Hey man, thanks. You stay well,” I called. “I appreciate your working in these times.”
“Good of you to say that,” he nods his head and points his finger towards me.
Here, in my isolation, this smallest interchange of greeting and civility is uplifting, almost godly, a point of light in the dark loneliness I feel. Such is the nature of hope.
As the driver pulls away he waves. I place the leash around Abbie’s neck. On our walk to the park I see several familiar dogs tethered to several less familiar dog walkers. There is the labradoodle with a curly coat similar to Abbie’s, walked by the tall woman in tight jeans and knit cap who steps into the car-less street to maintain our distancing; there are the two barking chihuahua, off leash, circling around Abbie who is unsuccessfully sniffing at their tiny elusive butts. The chihuahua owners, two guys I know but don’t know, are walking dreamily on the grass towards the baseball diamond. The tall, older one waves to me. I smile at him (I have not yet begun wearing a mask), but he has turned to his phone; our interlude complete.
Abbie and I continue our walk around the perimeter of the park. She does her business, I do mine, going out of my way to deposit the orange poop bag in the trash can without a lid. I have forgotten to bring my blue neoprene gloves.
Abbie pulls on the leash sniffing in the air and at the grass, seeking familiar scent, peeing, moving on. At the yellow Victorian across from the basketball courts I see the familiar UPS truck. The husky black driver is bounding down the steps back to his truck.
“You again,” he says pointing his finger in my direction.
“You again,” I reply returning the gesture.
It is so nice to see a familiar face these days.
When I return home the box is still on the porch. If I read the reviews of this particular exercycle correctly, it will take several hours to assemble ‘for those who read instructions well.’ I am not one of those.
I struggle to move the box to the back yard, place it on the lawn. To my delight my grandson, Kiko, is there on the porch holding a bag of lemons.
“You’re just in time for lemonade,” he says leading me to the kitchen. My wife is removing a sheet of peanut butter cookies from the oven while I wash my hands vigorously for twenty seconds. Kiko grabs a cookie too hot to handle from the baking sheet, my wife chases him around the table swiping at him with a spatula. Abbie joins the fun, barking, nipping at the cookie hoping it will fall.
I am of an age where I do not take these moments for granted. Other worlds can wait. I am ecstatic.
Carl is a retired school teacher, house painter, commercial fisherman and NYC taxi driver now living in Berkeley, California.