19 July, 2005

Abortive writing

Every so often I dig through my home directory and come across some tidbit of writing I began but never managed to complete. Here's a sample I just stumbled across (fully equipped with abortive ending):
It was precisely because Viola was not interested in cleanliness that they acquired a robot. Not that she was slovenly; rather, she did not make a habit of cleaning. Maintaining a clean home is a task requiring some measure of dedication, and Viola lacked such fastidiousness.

As it happened, the matter was taken out of her hands. "After all, a Muslim must be clean," Ayoub told her. And he went out and bought a robot. In retrospect, Viola wished that she had had the foresight to make this move preemptively, because Ayoub, being a man, lacked the necessary insight, and came home with an utterly unsuitable model.

At this time, their son Afzal was three years old, an age at which scattering objects across the floor is a favorite activity. Viola had assumed the mother's duty of cleaning up after her progeny, but gleefully announced her retirement from this line of work after the arrival of the robot.

It was a dome-shaped thing about the size of a bulldog, made of some glossy black material. It had no apparent inlets or appendages. Viola, who had never owned an autonomous cleaner before, took its simplicity to be a sign of sophistication, and for several weeks was greatly enamored of it, even after it ate a pair of her husband's slippers.

But in that much time, she noted its major flaw: though it was quite intelligent and could distinguish between a jelly donut smeared across the carpet and a chocolate eclair smeared across the carpet, and was equipped with all the accoutrements necessary to deal with these diverse scenarios, it was guilty of the error of omission. When it made the decision that a particular bit of chaos was not a mess, it would diffidently ignore it. So piles of Afzal's toys quickly began to accumulate around the house, like various archeological excavations. The robot lacked the capacity to tidy: it could not return things to their place.

Like a good Catholic, Viola immediately assumed the fault was her own, and spent many evenings poring over the robot's instructional manual, searching for the setting or mode that would cause it to begin tidying. When she at last realized that no such configuration was possible, and the robot was well and truly impaired, she felt the shock of betrayal.

She confronted Ayoub with this scandalous information and succeeded in precipitating a major crisis in their young marriage. He remarked on her laziness, and she remarked on his enforcement of antiquated gender roles. In the end, after many tears and one hurled vase (promptly cleaned up by the attentive and oblivious robot) and even the threat of a phone call to Ayoub's mother, Viola ended up sleeping on the living room couch, and Ayoub ended up sleeping under the kitchen table. Afzal had the bed all to himself.

The next day they both repented and made up with many sweet kisses and murmured apologies. She made him tea and he made her crevettes-a-l'ail, and they never spoke of the robot again. Both of them began picking up Afzal's messes. In time Afzal himself outgrew the phase when such profligate mess-making was considered permissable, and he had to pick up his own messes.

This state of affairs lasted two years, until one day, when the aging cleaner ate two pairs of slippers in a single morning, tried to gorge itself on a newly-acquired kitten, and was beaten to death by an outraged Ayoub.

The purchase of a replacement was taken as a given; by this time they had acquired the habit of luxury. Viola insisted on being solely responsible for the selection of this new cleaner, and Ayoub gave way without argument. He was more than a little shocked by the sudden derangement of the device, and felt a bit of shame for having purchased it. And he had not forgotten their fight of a year ago (such things stand out in a young marriage).

Viola found


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