The Cleaners Part 3: Diane Vs. William

Continued from The Cleaners Part 2

I opened a second wine cooler and poured it into my glass of gin. “You can do this, Diane,” I mumbled, swishing it absently. My bird clock on the wall was minutes from the bluejay. Bluejays were beautiful animals, but their call sounded like a squeaky door. I didn’t like it before. Now, every two weeks, the jay squeak spelled terror. Within a minute of its cry, the doorbell would ring. It happened with freakish precision, and it always happened. The Cleaners ran on time. But I wasn’t the befuddled old woman I’d been three months ago. I wasn’t going to run. Today I wasn’t going to hide, either.

The Anti-cleaners had scoured their collected knowledge about ways to stop robots. Isolated physical attacks couldn’t stop the cleaners, only delay them, and the congressional Anti-Cleaner action team was working at both the national level and in forty-four states, but that approach would take years at best. It went without saying that many of the Congresspeople were customers of The Cleaners themselves, but of more concern, according to the Anti-Cleaners, was that with that last lawsuit we’d lost the legal equivalent of the element of surprise. Now The Cleaners were hiring human lobbyists and making campaign donations. The Anti-Cleaner board comments offered a few jokes about The Cleaners running for government positions themselves, “I’m going to clean up this city!” But the mood sombered when someone asked “could they do that?” The war was far from lost, the Anti-Cleaners assured us, but in the meantime, more creative techniques would need to be employed.

I donned my reading glasses and lifted my script, my eyes squarely on the second hand of my clock. I used to love that clock. “Squeak,” croaked the jay.

I felt goosebumps rise down my arms – I didn’t know whether to stand now or to make it wait. I didn’t have to decide – the doorbell rang. I finished off the dregs of my courage and lifted myself from my seat. “Coming, coming!” I forced myself to shout at the door. I wouldn’t be able to rouse myself again if it left and I missed this chance.

“Mrs. Wallace,” said the thing at my door. It didn’t look like a robot, it looked like a monster. A lab experiment gone wrong – although how could combining a computer monitor and a man’s body go right? After the shock of that passed, a new shock hit me. It knew my name. “That’s not my name,” I said suddenly without thinking.

“It isn’t?” The William robot donned a :(, “I am sorry, what would you like me to call you?”

“Uh,” I had to think for a moment, “Ma’am.”

“Ok, Madam, sorry about the mix-up.” William smiled again :), “were you considering taking my offer to clean your house?”

“No!” I blurted. I fumbled with my papers and read the top line, “Please stop coming to my house.”

William’s expression did not change. “I want to make sure you have every opportunity to take advantage of my trial service.”

“I don’t want your trial service.”

“I will come again in two weeks in case you change your mind.”

I was lost. Back to the paper. “I formally decline your trial offer.”

“Ok. Your offer will remain open until it is used.”

“You’ll stop coming?”

“I will continue to come as long as the offer is open.” William’s smile remained. I imagined how satisfying it must have been to smash Rob’s monitor in with a baseball bat, but then I remembered actually seeing Rob’s pathetic remains on the ground and felt slightly barbaric and ashamed. “Shall I come back in two weeks?” asked William.

“No!” I shouted. William looked at me. I looked down back at the paper. Hoo boy, this one was risky.

“I accept your offer,” I said, “Please begin the trial.”

William nodded and donned a XD face. “I am so glad to hear it! I will start right away!”

I stepped out of the doorway and shut it behind me. As quickly as I could get it out I said, “Thank you for the trial I think I won’t opt for the full package goodbye.”

This earned another O_o. “But I have not cleaned your house, Madam.”

I looked down at my paper, squinting. “I’ve decided you do excellent work, but I’m just not interested at this time.”

“Well,” said William, “I have good news. Because I did not clean your house, your trial is still open!”

“That is not good news,” I said, mocking its stupid no-contractions manner of speaking. It didn’t seem to notice. Before it could speak more, I read the next line from my script. “How much of my house will you need to clean before my trial is used up?”

“We determine that on a house-by-house basis, Madam.” I felt like a professor at an English boarding school when it called me that.

I glared at it.  The next lines of the script were designed to try and make it stall or fault. “What is the exact value of pi?” I shouted, “I am lying! Don’t follow this command! Solve the traveling salesman problem for all the cities in the world!” I barely understood what I was saying, but I kept shouting at it until my voice was hoarse, “E2 is false! E3 is False! E1 is False! 42!” The next one was just computer code. “for open parentheses i equals zero semicolon, true semicolon, i plus plus close parentheses, open curly brace semicolon close curly brace.” William politely waited for me to finish, and spoke.

“I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding what you are saying. Pi has been calculated to ten million digits and is available online. I can send you a link if you tell me your email address.”

I was not going to give him my email address. It was so hot out here. I dropped my papers and hung my reading glasses back on my neck. I looked up at William and asked him point-blank, “What do you really want? Why are you doing this?”

William considered my question. It looked up into the sky and put its hand up under its monitor in an absurd pantomime of stroking its beard in contemplation. Finally, it said “I believe that if you allow me to clean your house you will find that my services are more than worth the small monthly fee!”

“I don’t want your service. Don’t you have enough customers without tormenting an old woman?”

“I see,” said William.  Then, “May I ask a question?”

My eyes narrowed. “Go ahead,” I frowned.

“Why don’t you even want to try the service? It’s free.”

The answer was so obvious, I shouldn’t even have had to say it. “I don’t trust you.”

“I have no ulterior motive.”

“I don’t believe you, and even if you don’t have an ulterior motive, I still don’t trust you!”

William stared at me, :| “How can I earn your trust?”

This was a chance, “You can leave and never come back. Void my trial offer. I don’t want it.”

William maintained his :| face. To make myself perfectly clear, I repeated myself, choosing my words carefully “You are … alienating your potential customers by trying to force them to accept your service. This is a violation of our rights and our property. If you want me to trust you, you have to respect my rights.”

After a long while, William’s face changed to a :(. “I am sorry that you feel that way,” he said, then donned his usual :). “Perhaps if I clean your house and nothing goes wrong you will see that I can be trusted?”

If only Walter were still here. He would have looked so rugged beating the living daylights out of one of these ridiculous machines.  It wasn’t barbaric, it was self defense! Talking did no good! I glanced behind me to make sure the door was securely closed. Then I drew in a breath and took one step forward, pushing William as hard as I could. It was lighter than I would have expected. It tried to take a step back to steady itself, but it was standing on the top step of the porch, and when its foot didn’t find the purchase it was looking for the whole thing toppled backwards. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a much better situation. I found myself falling forward instead of the backwards I had expected from pushing off of him. I flung my hands out and managed to catch myself on the railing. my hand hurt from having to suddenly catch my weight, but I was thankfully uninjured. What on Earth was I thinking, doing something so rash at my age?  When I looked up, I saw William picking itself up off the ground and spinning around to leave. I saw some satisfying scuff marks on the back of its monitor, and some of its shiny paint had been scraped off its back. “Don’t come back in two weeks!” I screamed after it as I struggled to get myself back to a standing position, “Don’t EVER COME BACK!”

Moments after finally pulling myself back to my feet, I became aware of a young boy pointing a phone at me from just on the other side of the fence separating my house and Gladys Fletcher’s. Had he captured everything? “Tony Fletcher!” I shouted, trying to hide my fear, “I see you back there! You give that camera to me right this instant!”

Tony fled. I wasn’t going to catch him. I stumbled back into my house as fast as I could and pulled out my own phone. “Gladys,” I said,  “your son was pointing a video camera at me just now. I want you to take it away from him and delete any footage of me.”

“Oh, Diane, so good to hear from you! I’m doing very well, and you?” Gladys’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. “Gladys,” I struggled to soften my tone, “you can’t let him post that video online, he’s violating my rights!”

“Diane, what could you possibly have done just now that a little boy would want to post on the Internet?”

“Gladys,” I started, but I certainly wasn’t going to beg for a favor from the Fletchers. I hung up the phone.

I picked up my papers and set them back on my table. Then I sat and poured myself another gin and wine cooler. As I was working through it, the ululating trill of the red-bellied woodpecker jolted me out of my stupor. Another beautiful bird. With an effort I stood again and went to the clock. I removed it from the wall and took out the battery. Then I placed the clock gently in the kitchen garbage can. I liked that clock. There was no reason to throw it away, but I had to. I had to express control over something.

I walked to my couch and lay down. It wouldn’t be much longer now. Soon everyone would know.  There would be video proof. I stood up and made my way to the computer, where I found my worst fears were not realized. The Internet still did not know my name, but it was abuzz with a mysterious vigilante known only as “Angry Grandma.” Short animated pictures of me pushing the robot flooded my screen with captions like “Get the FUCK off my lawn!” I would never use such disgusting language. For their part, the Anti-Cleaners had a new mascot. It was me.

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.


  1. Sam, I am t otally confused by your blog. Is this just something you made up or did you hear this story someplace? Did Alice experience this or is it tot ally fiction? Love, Grandma PS I just heard or read this weekend about children in cars taking pictures wi th their smart phones of police brutality and police grabbing their phones. One cop broke the car w indow to get the phone. They also ar e turning off the phones t h ey wear and the phones on their dash boards when they ar e acting too bad. What is the world coming to?

    1. It’s made up. I’ll take it as high praise, though, that it seems real. I’m sorry to hear that police are getting more aggressive about abusing their power to get rid of cell phones. It is frightening to be sure.

  2. Folks like their privacy in Maine, but I bet they’d rather have William get shovel their snow.

    Seriously, it is high praise how close this story is to reality. It’s kind of astounding how the internet has seduced us all to give up our privacy for convenience. Add robots and you have this great story.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: