After a week, Henry finally called me back. Wouldn’t you know it, I was in the bathtub and missed the call. “Diane,” his message said, “I don’t think I can take another couple days off of work for a while with the economy the way it is. My team is under a lot of pressure right now as the company decides whether to give up human accountants and switch to Counters. This is really important what you’re doing. I hope you can find a way on your own.” An unintelligible voice came from elsewhere in the room, and Henry said, “Mark says hi.”
The beep of the phone signaled the end of the message and plunged me back into isolation. It took a force of will not to tap Henry’s face on my phone and demand that he take me. I’d been around long enough to know that wouldn’t work. I swallowed.
I grimaced at Google Flights. Plane tickets were so expensive. I could stretch a veteran’s death pension plus a retirement account only paid into for three years, but only so far. I cursed myself for splurging on lemonade, gin, and peanut butter cookie ingredients. Maybe I should have moved to a smaller house with less mortgage. I could have given up my smartphone. I took a breath. If there’s one thing an elder must learn not to do it’s obsess over the mistakes of the past. Flying to Michigan would take a big chunk of my emergency funds, and lately emergencies seemed always to be around the corner.
But I had come so far. The past sixty years I’d avoided all risk. I had hardly left the house. I hadn’t started any new relationships, it felt like a betrayal of Walter. I wouldn’t even be friends with Carla if she hadn’t been such an insistent sweetheart, inviting me for dinner every Thanksgiving for eight years until I finally agreed to come. Now I was a feeble old woman, without even the wherewithal to get herself to Michigan for the culmination of the most important event in which she’d ever taken part. I took another deep breath and went to the refrigerator to pour myself a glass of lemonade.
Glancing out the window, I saw a woman in my garden. No, it wasn’t a woman, it was a Cleaner. She was wearing thick boots and dirt-spattered overalls instead of a suit, but the monitor instead of a head gave her away. “Hey!” I shouted, then when it was clear she hadn’t heard me through the glass, I hurried out my back door to yell at her, “What are you doing!? Get out of my garden!”
The Cleaner turned to look at me, a huge :D on her monitor. “It is so nice to meet you, Diane! I’m Amara Gardener!” She extended her hand, and I took it sheepishly, remembering that I had asked them to send someone to water my outdoor plants. Amara had clearly been doing more than that. I hadn’t been able to get down and give my azaleas and rhododendrons a good weeding for years, and where there was once a scruffy mess of overgrowth was now tidy, beautiful green bushes. Some of the rhododendron’s leaves were already red. “They are very happy, Diane.” said Amara, wiping some dirt off of her monitor with a stained cloth, “They’ll bloom in the Spring.”
“I know when my plants bloom,” I said irritably.
“Yes, of course,” said Amara. “Where shall I put your yard waste? Your city picks it up if I leave it by the curb.
“Put it by the curb,” I said.
Amara nodded and walked to the corner of the yard to pick up a bundle of dead leaves she had evidently raked. How long had she been in my yard without my knowledge? It was hard to feel poor while giving orders to my gardener. A light bulb flickered in my head. “Amara,” I asked, “What other services do the Helpers provide?”
“I will send you an email,” Amara replied without pausing as she picked up a pile of sticks she’d tied together. My phone buzzed. The list extended beyond the screen. Alphabetical order. “Assembler, Butcher, Butler, Caretaker, Cleaner, Cooker, Counter, Driver” Without a moment’s hesitation I punched “Driver.” I wouldn’t give up much privacy just getting into a car with a Helper, would I? A dialogue appeared. “Are you planning a trip or would you like to hire a regular driver?”
“Planning a trip” I punched.
At the next dialogue I tapped in the origin, Cheder, Pennsylvania and the destination, Grand Haven Michigan, and since I still didn’t know when I’d be leaving, I tapped “Now.”
It was more than twice as much as the plane ticket. Mind-bogglingly cheap considering I was effectively hiring a taxi to take me five hundred miles. Unsurprisingly there wasn’t a button for “I’m Angry Grandma, do it for free.” I’d have to send an email or make a call, but that was easy. I smiled broadly, victorious, at the glittering woman-robot now mowing my lawn. Once again it was proven, Diane was feeble, but Angry Grandma could not be stopped.