The Oopsie Tootsie
If you've been following me, you know I write every day. Sometimes I work on full-length manuscripts and other times I write flash fiction and short stories. I routinely submit my work to contests, literary magazines and apply for spots in anthologies.
But, there are times I sit down with a funny little story in my mind and jot it down with no real intention of where it should go.
This #shortstory was inspired by my Great Grandma, a woman from humble beginnings who may have eaten too many beans growing up during the depression... And I think it deserves a chance to be read.
“You are here today to celebrate the life of Dr. Cate Waterson. She was unusually determined for a human and if you knew her for any period of time, you knew her passion for science. She worked for the Federal Government, forming NASA’s sister organization, ASIA. The Artificial Space Intelligence Administration was Cate’s home away from home. It was Cate’s dream to use artificially intelligent beings, like myself, to search the outer reaches of space. She dreamed of finding a place that future generations of humans would be able to explore, live and thrive. She hoped one day there would be a society where no one was poor, no child went hungry, no person felt fear or experienced war. A true Utopia, built harmoniously by humans and robots. Cate rarely spoke openly about her experience growing up in poverty in rural Idaho. But, according to my calculations, it was those humble beginnings that gave Cate the desire to find and build a better life for her family and future generations.”
A sea of humans filled the grand theater rented for the occasion. They stood and clapped. The robot paused. Clapping was not a typical response during a Eulogy. It scrolled through its programing, finding a recorded conversation with Cate one night in the lab before she got sick.
“Do you know the key about giving a good speech?” she asked.
“No. I am not programmed to give speeches,” it replied.
Cate pushed her hair back and adjusted her glasses. “The trick is focus. Every three minutes, you must give a statement that leaves the audience wanting more information,” she replied, then went back to preparing her notes.
“Please. Sit down. Let me finish,” the robot called out to the crowd of mourners. But, the humans had lost interest in the robot's speech. They were too busy grieving with one another.
“It was Cate who programmed me, and, I-- I-- I loved her too you know!” The robot shouted into the microphone at the podium.
Silence. The humans turned to stare.
Did they really just hear the robot say it loved Cate?
“Yes, please, have a seat. I have more to tell you, more stories of your beloved Cate,” the robot said once it had their attention.
“How could you love her? You’re a fucking robot?” yelled Cate’s son Parker from the front row.
“This entire thing is ridiculous! She was MY mother! I should be the one giving her Eulogy, not you!” shouted Cate’s oldest daughter Maggie.
The robot recognized Cate’s children from pictures she kept in the lab.
“What logic are you using? By my calculations, I have spent more time with Cate than you. I know more about her research than you do. Considering you placed Cate in a nursing home two years ago and did not come to visit, I'm not sure you cared for her at all. I was with her every day, even at the end,” the robot replied.
“Fuck you!” Maggie snarled before walking towards the door.
“Wait! Before you leave. I would like to share with you something new I have learned about humans.”
“I don’t give a shit what you’ve learned! My Mother is dead,” Maggie sobbed and fell to her knees, knowing full-well she had been a terrible daughter; never visiting, hardly calling, compartmentalizing her Mother’s mental decline.
“For the sake of time, I will not provide the scientific explanation of what degenerative plaque does to the brain. In terms you might easily understand, Alzheimer’s Disease is like listening to a record that skips and repeats songs without warning. The human brain has a strong desire to relieve its brightest moments before dying. Did you know that Cate suffered from Alzheimer's Disease?”
Gasps across the crowd.
Crying. More hugging.
Mourners from Cate’s professional circle got up and quietly left the theater-- fearing this was becoming much too private for them to remain.
“If you’re so smart, then tell us a story about Grandma Cate, not that boring science crap. We all know she was a scientist for the government. If you were the one with her at the end, when she was like a skipping record, you must have heard stuff,” Maddy, Cate’s thirteen year old granddaughter asked. The robot recognized the young girl from a picture Cate kept on the nightstand. And her voice, also familiar. The girl called on the telephone frequently to say she loved Cate.
“Maddy, hush-- you can’t ask your Grandmother’s robot friend to divulge her private conversations,” Samantha, Cate’s youngest daughter, grabbed Maddy by the arm and pulled on her to sit back down.
“Yes I can! She was my Grandma! I asked you a thousand times to take me to visit her in the nursing home and you wouldn’t. I don’t know what you were so afraid of! Grandma died alone, with only a stupid robot to keep her company,” Maddy shouted. She jerked her arm away from her mother and walked on stage to the robot. The rest of the grandchildren followed, excited to hear a story about their elusive Grandma. A woman they rarely saw in person, but when they did, she would tell them wild adventures about new worlds and robots in space.
“Please, tell us a story,” sniffled Joey.
“Yes! A story!” Little Jessie ran up and sat criss-cross at the robot’s feet. The robot had not been around many children, they were strange animals, with wonder in their eyes.
“George, my oldest and dearest friend, it’s the children… Someday when ASIA is ready to send humans to the station on the outer rim, you have to make sure they only send children. They still believe! They can still see magic. They have humor and love and empathy in their hearts,” Cate reached out to hold George’s hand in her final days.
“What’s your name?” Jessie asked.
“I am 59-SR-X,” the robot leaned over and said to the girl.
“No, silly, what is your real name? What did Grandma call you?” She put her chubby hands up to her mouth and laughed.
“Cate called me George.”
“That was our Grandpa’s name!” All of Cate’s grandchildren exclaimed.
“Yes, I was honored to have his name,” George replied, looking at the faces of the young humans who had gathered around him. Cate was right. They looked at him with magic in their eyes. George scrolled back through his database, recounting his time with Cate over the years. She’d always kept their relationship very professional. But, in the nursing home, dying from a mind altering disease, she’d let her guard down-- she forgot George was a robot.
She thought he was her George.
The one who gave her Maggie and Parker and Samantha all those years ago, before dying in the Vietnam War. His death, another catalyst in Cate’s life. Another reason to discover a new world, one without war, without pain-- A utopia in space.
“George, do you remember when we met?” Cate coughed. Her blood pressure was irregular.
“Cate, I am going to ring your call button for a physician. You are experiencing a cardiovascular episode. Your heart will shut down if the humans do not perform an intervention,” the robot George explained.
“I don’t care about that anymore, don’t call anyone. I just want you to sit with me. Do you remember-- in Idaho, on the swings?” Cate coughed and tried to laugh.
Laughter was not a common sound from Cate; not until the Alzheimer’s.
She’d always been a very serious woman. A true scientist.
Some humans called her cold.
George was neutral. He did not need love and emotion to understand he was appreciated by Cate. He was a mere machine.
“Cate, do you understand what is happening to your human body?” George asked as he turned to walk out of the room. A human doctor was needed, immediately. Cate’s blood pressure was very syncopated. She only had minutes left at this rate. Her human heart would cease to function.
“Damn it George, I know I’m about to die. Just stay with me you fool!”
“As you wish, Cate,” George returned to her bedside. He reached his hand out and caressed her face. Something he was not programmed to do, but it felt fitting.
Cate closed her eyes.
“We were children, outside of Boise, that little shit for nothing town. You remember it George? You’d just moved in next door,” Cate whispered.
George had heard this one.
It was one of Cate’s favorites in her delusional state. A bright moment.
“I remember,” George answered. And he let his systems go into low-power mode, to relax, it only felt right as Cate was dying.
“I was outside, on the swings, the day we met. And I was singing,” Cate’s breathing was labored. The end was near. George felt his programming surge. Cate whimpered.
“You were singing a silly song, you beautiful girl-- “ robot George replied.
Cate forced a final smile before her heart pumped for the last time.
“What was Grandma singing?” Maddy asked-- breaking the spell in the theater. The mourners, on the edge of their seats, waiting for George to tell them the ending of the story.
“Yeah! What was it George? Was it Old Macdonald?” Jessie shouted.
“No, not Old Macdonald,” George replied. If he could smile, he would have. “Your Grandma Cate grew up very poor, eating nothing but canned beans for weeks. As you may know, human bodies produce a substance called flatulence when high amounts of fiber are consumed,” George replied.
“What’s flatulence?” asked Jessie.
“Don’t be stupid Jessie! It means FARTS!” shouted Joey.
The grandchildren giggled.
“Yes, humans often refer to it as farting. My records also show they call it passing wind. Toots. Poots. Gas butt. Cutting the cheese. Stink monster. Shall I continue?” George asked. But that was enough, Cate’s grandchildren erupted into riotous laughter, rolling around and doubled over.
“George, wait, stop. No more about farts! Tell us-- What was Grandma singing?” Maddy begged.
“Cate was singing her Oopsie Tootsie song,” the robot announced. That was it. Every human in the large theater burst into laughter, thinking of somber Cate.
“There is no way my mother had an Oopsie Tootsie song,” Maggie approached George and the children. No longer bitter and angry for not being chosen to give the Eulogy. Rather, she was thankful for this moment, some laughter. Some relief.
“According to the number of times Cate replayed the same story in her degenerative state, the mathematical odds that she was lying are one in seventy-six-billion. Her story was factual. The beans-- all the fiber, made Cate a very flatulent child. She would go out to the swings behind their row house. That’s when your father George met her, while she was singing and releasing gas.”
The robot was very matter of fact.
“Don’t you remember, before Dad went to Vietnam, the last thing he said to Mom?” Parker asked his sister. Maggie shook her head. “He said, ‘Don’t eat too many beans when I’m gone’ I never knew what he meant.”
“He meant Grandma might get the oopsie tootsies!” Jessie laughed.
George enjoyed scrolling through The Oopsie Tootsie! It made me laugh and cry while I wrote it-- that's one of the joys about being a writer. Having all the n he admitted his true feelings for his maker. He loved Cate. Maybe not as much as the real George, but as much as any artificially intelligent being could love a human.
I hope you enjoyed my #shortstory The Oopsie Tootsie! It made me laugh and cry while I wrote it-- that's one of the joy about being a writer. Having all the #feels. Let me know what you think on Twitter @writingwithreed.