brigits_flame has revealed so much to me about the bizarre mechanations of my strange little mind.
ANYWAY, I was thinking about robots, and something about robots under siege, but I made the mistake of looking up 'Besieged' at thefreedictionary.com (I actually do have a hardback Pocket Oxford, but hey, it was all the way across the room). I read two of the definitions and got this: more stuff from the Pape and Danforth...thing I started back in round one, which some people had requested I continue.
Not many people, mind, but I do believe in meeting the audience's wishes when possible. :)
So, I swear to God, mermaidbia and watchclarewrite, that I will write about robots. At some point. Really. Hey, I might even write something else for this round before voting starts. But in the meantime, I am posting this here. I hope you enjoy it.
This is kind of gross, but there are no deaths, injuries, illnesses or animals that were harmed in the writing of this piece of fiction. And it's not gross for very long, honest. It's also a prequel to my previous entry, The Nesquick and the Dead.
The old lady was sitting on the park bench in front of his apartment building. That was weird, because it was after five in the evening and really, really cold. When Charles had stepped off the bus at the corner, his first breath felt like getting punched in the chest. And it was only going to get colder once the sun went down.
But there she was, sitting hunched over with a white plastic bag in her lap. Small chunks of bread were spilling out over her legs and onto the sidewalk.
There was a dog there, too, standing next to one of the park bench's ornate, curved iron legs. It was mostly white, so Charles almost stepped on it before he realized it wasn't a mound of dirty snow. It looked like some kind of purebred, one of those tiny dogs with bulging eyes and nervous disorders, though he had no idea what kind. The dog was shivering violently; shifting from tiny foot to tiny foot like it was painful to put weight on any of them.
"Are you okay?" Charles asked the old lady. He'd been freezing cold since he left for work, and he just wanted to go back to his apartment and put on about four sweaters and make macaroni and cheese. The last thing he wanted was to have to deal with a homeless woman and her dog, but he had a horrible certainty that if he didn't nobody else would, and he'd find her in the exact same position the next morning, only dead and frozen with a tiny off-white mound of frozen dog near her feet. Like installation art.
He'd have to let her sleep on his bed, so he'd have to sleep on the sofa, and he hated the sofa. And she'd want her dog in there too, of course, and she and the dog probably hadn't bathed since winter started, which meant his whole apartment would smell even worse and he'd get fleas. And he hated this already, hated her and her stupid dog, but he couldn't just leave them out here. It'd be his fault if they died.
"Uh," he said, because the old lady hadn't answered him yet, and he was thinking, she didn't look dead, but there was all that bread and the poor dog that had obviously been outside too long so maybe she was. But then she tilted her head enough so she could peer up at him. All he could see was a line of skin and her watery blue eyes between the ugly toque and the high collar of her parka, but Charles could still somehow tell she was smiling at him.
"Hello, dear," she said, as if he hadn't been standing there for long enough for his toes to go crunchy-numb, wondering if she was even alive. "Are you the new tenant?"
"Um, no, actually," Charles said. "I've been here a couple of months." Though he supposed that might count as 'new', maybe. "You live here?" he asked then, hopefully, because if she did then it meant she wasn't really homeless, and he could go inside and let the bastard security guy deal with her if she froze to death.
"I'm in apartment four-twelve, dear," she said, still stealth-smiling at him. Her voice was muffled and Charles figured her collar was probably damp from her breathing on it. He wondered if it would freeze. "I've seen you in the hallway, with that lovely girlfriend of yours. You're in Gerald's apartment."
"I moved in at the end of October," Charles said. He didn't remember seeing the old lady at all--he wouldn't have wasted his time out here if he had.
"Hm," the old lady said. She reached out a hand that was so white from the cold it looked like it'd been iced over and crumpled the plastic bag closed, though she left the bread on her lap. Down by her feet the little off-white dog whined and made an unhappy grunt. Charles looked at it as it squatted, still shifting from foot to foot, one after another in a square. It started to crap on the frozen concrete. A long, liquid string of shit dribbled out of its butt. The dog whined miserably, as if apologizing.
The shit looped slowly into a puddle by the dog's hind feet, probably freezing as soon as it hit the pavement. The smell was still really, really bad, like the dog was diseased.
Charles tore his eyes away, took a step back. "Well," he said.
"I'm feeding the squirrels," the old lady said, before Charles could get to 'goodnight' and escape. She shuffled her frozen hand over to one of the bits of bread and flicked it off her lap with a spastic jerk. It bounced on the pavement, probably frozen solid. "Poor things go so hungry when it gets cold."
"Sure," Charles said. He didn't think squirrels came out this late at night, and there weren't any trees around the building, anyway. Just a black asphalt parking lot that never got salted enough when it fell below freezing. "Your dog looks kind of cold," he added, risking a glance at it. It just stared up at him in silent anguish, shifting from foot to foot to foot. At least it had stopped shitting.
"Did you know Gerald?" The old lady asked, and Charles had to blink and retrace his steps through their non-conversation before he knew who she was talking about.
"Uh, no," he said. "I met his daughter--I'm subletting from her."
"Hm," the old lady said again, like these were trick questions and Charles kept picking the wrong answers. "He was a nice man," she said. "Smoked like a chimney, though." She shook her head sadly. "Since he was seventeen, he told me. Started during the War. His daughter's a bitch." The old lady sighed, like this was something she'd just come to accept.
"She seemed pretty nice, actually," Charles said.
"She's a miserable cow," the old lady said. She pushed another piece of bread off her lap. This one bounced right over the edge of the pavement and into the parking lot. Charles wondered if anything would eat it, ever. "Gerald died of lung cancer, you know." She nodded, an almost invisible bob of her chin in her huge collar. "I told him smoking that much would kill him." She looked up at Charles again. "Do you smoke, dear?"
"No," Charles said immediately. Gloria did, but he didn't want to mention that. Everything in his apartment stank of smoke, because Gloria's was over so much since she hated where she lived. Charles had finally just stopped worrying about it. At least it wasn't Gloria's fault that the walls were all yellow. They had been like that when Charles and Josh moved in, though Gerald's daughter had aired the place out pretty well.
"That's good." The old woman nodded again. "Gerald died of lung cancer. I told him he was going to, if he didn't quit." She pulled her hand back into her pocket. Charles thought that if she just ducked her head a little more, she'd disappear into her coat.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Charles said quickly. He glanced down at the dog again, which was looking up at him mournfully. "It's awfully late," he said to the old woman. "And, you know, your dog looks pretty cold. I think, maybe you should go inside."
"Thank you, dear," the old woman said, as if Charles had just paid her a compliment. She didn't move. "Gerald used to come out here and feed the squirrels with me. He was such a kind man."
"I'm sorry," Charles said. He began shifting from foot to foot like the dog. His hands hurt and his thighs were burning. The dog's beady black eyes were luminescent with desperation. "He sounds like a great guy."
"Well, he's gone now," the old lady said, kind of accusingly. "And here I am, feeding the squirrels by myself. He would always bring peanuts for them, but I can't afford that anymore."
"That's too bad," Charles said. He wondered if he was going to freeze to death while trying to end the conversation, with the warm lobby barely two meters away from him. The dog shit had gelled completely, like ice cream.
Finally, finally, the old woman creaked forward onto her feet. She made a slow, shuffling turn, and the little dog limped enthusiastically to her ankles.
"Time to go inside," the old lady said. "What did you say your name was? Gerry?"
"Charles," Charles said. "I'm your new neighbor."
"Yes, that's right." Her eyes bobbed up and down as she nodded. "When did you move in?"
"October," Charles said. "I moved here in October." He was trying to get to the big entrance doors to the building, sliding sideways in tiny steps. The old lady didn't seem to be interested in walking. "Gerald's apartment," he added, because she was blinking blankly at him.
"Oh, yes," she said happily. "It's nice to meet you, Gerry. Did you just move in?"
"Yes," Charles said. "Yes, I did."
"That's nice," the old lady said. She shivered suddenly. "My, it's cold!" She gave an almost-laugh, the way polite people did when things weren't actually funny. "We really should go inside."
"Let me get the door for you," Charles said. It felt like the metal burned his hands.