At 18 years old, Connor is a man! Now what? Coffee!
The rosy-golden glow infiltrated the living room as Connor separated the curtains, the morning rays fondling his face with soft warmth as Doodle yawned beside him. He pet the eighty-five-pound Labradoodle and smiled as he considered the potential in his day. A week past his eighteenth birthday, he was now an adult renting a house, and the staple of a man of the house was coffee. He turned into the room on his way to the kitchen and dumped kibble into Doodle’s bowl before pivoting to the coffee maker.
“I…I don’t know what to do here,” he said to Doodle as he bit his lip. Coffee was more symbolic now that he was making the drink for the first time. He palmed the plastic tub from the counter and pulled the lid off, discovering a foil seal. He gripped the tab and pulled, but the glue didn't budge. He held the bin tighter using more strength to pull on the tab. It didn’t give.
“This stupid son of a…” he said, his voice no more than a mumble as he grabbed the flap, furrowed his brow, and then yanked in the opposite direction. The plastic squeezed inward as the seal tore, and the quick puff of air escaping from the container carried the particles of breakfast roast in a mist of shrapnel. He jerked his head and sneezed. When he recovered, he looked around at the mess. He flicked his shirt, the coffee flying from his body to settle on the floor. Doodle stared at him.
“I don’t need your judgment,” he said. He turned to the coffee maker, poking his fingers around the empty spaces inside. He held the canister of caffeine to the machine and dumped coffee until all nooks were full, powder overflowing onto the counter. Replacing the container, he retrieved the creamer from the fridge, popped the cap, and poured it onto the mound of coffee until the sludge resembled the edge of a winter swamp. He set the creamer down, closed the lid of the coffee maker, and jabbed the “Start” button.
“Okay, that wasn’t so bad,” he said to Doodle. “You know, I think dad was wrong. This isn’t that big of a mess. We can survive this, Doodle! I am a man!” He looked down at her as she licked the bottom of her bowl. “Don’t make yourself sick, puppy. Slow down.”
He stepped around her, opening a cabinet and making a face when confronted with the absence of towels. He stood, kneed the door shut, and walked to the laundry room. He’d washed towels the evening before, but they offered no benefit in the washer. He muttered expletives, bending to open the dryer door. He pulled the lint trap and scraped it into the trash, remnants of the previous owner’s dried flotsam and jetsam. When he pushed the trap into the hole, he growled when it did not fit neatly into its place. He removed the trap, snatched the flashlight from the cabinet above, and then looked into the sliver in the dryer.
There was a dune at the bottom, packed lint, the cause of nearly three thousand fires a year. He dropped the flashlight and walked into the kitchen, rooted through a box, and cut his finger before pulling out two wooden spoons. He cursed and shook his hand, and then he ripped a paper towel from the roll. He placed the cloth around his finger, and he closed his eyes, regulating his inhalation. He opened his eyes, a stiff smile on his face.
He moved toward the laundry room, but the familiar noise of a sick Labradoodle caused him to scan the rooms. His eyes widened when he saw Doodle’s face near the ground as she hacked.
“No!” He moved toward her while opening the back door in a smooth motion. He took Doodle by the midsection and escorted her to the deck just as her breakfast made a reappearance. He shut the door. The dog could stay out for a minute.
He snagged the vacuum cleaner on his way back to the laundry room and removed the hose from the base. He plugged the machine in and stuck the mouth of the hose to the recess, but his smile disappeared when the hose wouldn’t fit into the hole. Using one spoon, he expected the lint to release in one big strip, as it did with the vacuum, but this task proved more inconvenient. He looked into the gap, his smile fading as he saw the lint breaking up into fine particles just beyond the reach of the suction.
He turned the vacuum off and shoved the other spoon into the opening. Using the utensils as chopsticks was fruitless. He flipped them over and tried shoveling what he could into the bowls of the spoons. It was cumbersome, and his face was as stiff as a surgeon’s in the middle of an operation as he maneuvered the spoons for efficiency. He peered into the trap and saw he had removed what could be considered a substantial amount of the lint. What was left wouldn’t cause any problems, especially given how much of the fire hazard he’d alleviated.
He put the towels in the dryer and started it, then went back to the kitchen. As he passed the door to the deck, he saw Doodle through the glass staring to come in. He turned the knob and let her inside, and as he shut the door, he noticed the dirty floor. Vacuuming and mopping were on his list of things to do today, but until then, he went to a pile of boxes in the living room and pulled out the newest product for home cleaning, the sturdier Shop-Vac Roomba, a present from his parents. Once the machine was ready, he congratulated himself on his brilliance, and he put the SVR on the floor where it whirred and spun before racing off. He giggled as he watched it, an absurd automated pet larger and quieter than the standard Roomba.
He grabbed his coffee mug as his sense of smell reminded him of the potion brewing in the little black machine. He wrenched the pot from the base and looked at the liquid in the glass. It was thick, a color causing Connor to arch an eyebrow. He jumped when he heard the tssst! of coffee dripping onto the hotplate. He poured what was in the pot into his mug, then returned the pot to its place.
“That was close,” he said to Doodle. She wasn’t here, though. He heard her coughing in the living room. Spilling his coffee as he sprinted to the dog, he ran through the doorway to see Doodle’s breakfast making … wait, was this the second time the same food was coming up? He scrunched his lips as his brows tensed, and he covered his mouth.
He jumped to action when she squatted and pushed liquids from her other end. The smell moved through the air like a shockwave, but as he neared her, the damage was done. Maybe Doodle was expelling the sickness from her body, and this would be the worst of it.
Connor ran to the kitchen for paper towels, returning to the living room in time to watch the nightmare begin.
As Doodle excreted, the SVR was splashing around in the vomit, coating the floor with a film of digestive fluids along with the chunks of mushy food. Despite the worst smell in his life, his mouth dropped open as he uttered a whine at the world around him. His shoulders sagged, the SVR rounding back to run through the other liquids. Connor would later explain to his dad he was sure the Roomba was gleeful as it played, a disgusting robot child finger-painting with doggy fluids.
The explosion of the coffee pot, the shards of glass pelting the counters, sink, and floor focused his attention back on the kitchen. He ducked as he swiveled, flames dancing from the little black coffee maker to kiss the cabinets above. He ran into the kitchen, pulling the electrical plug from the outlet before whirling to turn the sink on. He pulled the hose while spraying water onto the fire, his arms flailing as he doused the cabinets. With the danger abated, he moved to replace the hose. He slipped in the water onto the hard floor, dragging the attachment with him. It resisted for a moment before tearing from its support, allowing a geyser of tap water into the air. He squirmed, but the pain seared up his back and down his forearm as he rolled over.
He pulled himself to stand. The water was shooting from the hole. He slapped the knob to turn off the water, but it didn’t stop, and now the floor was flooding. There were bubbles around the bottom edges of the cabinets. At least the water was going somewhere instead of inundating his kitchen. He pushed from the counter and limped back to the laundry room to shut off the main water valve.
He stepped into the laundry room, smoke veiling everything beyond immediate sight. He could see a glow from the dryer, fire climbing from the machine. He walked into the jungle of dense smoke, his lungs in spasms as they rejected the heated air. He reached the other wall and felt around, his hands scraping and feeling but coming up with nothing. He couldn’t find the shut-off valve.
He turned to the fire, but he couldn’t stay here for long. He twirled, searching, but he couldn’t remember if he’d brought a fire extinguisher. He bent to the floor, crawling and wincing as he forced his body to the lowest point where he could see better. Under the smoke, standing in the doorway, was Doodle vomiting whatever could have been left in her stomach. And here came the SVR as it rotated the fluid around.
He bit his lip and lurched forward, his face tight as he grabbed the dog. He moved quickly for a young man with an injured arm and ego, but even now he could see the smoke adventuring through the house. And there in the kitchen, the water was still pouring into the room. There was a sound like thunder, and then this end of the house shifted, breaking from itself as the ground gave way.
“I can’t do this!” Connor said as he took the dog through the living room. He grabbed his phone from the coffee table, and once they were in the street, he looked back as he pushed the screen on his phone to call the authorities. The laundry end of the house was engulfed, the flames growing and swishing in the breeze. The other end had fallen into a sinkhole weakened by the flooding tap water. And then there was a crack! as the house to the left broke apart, falling into the sinkhole. There was another loud noise, and then, as the houses began to succumb to the growing hole, there was a crescendo of crashing as the neighborhood sank. In the distance, sirens were starting to echo as he pulled his phone from his pocket.
As he explained his situation to his mother, the SVR appeared in the doorway, and then it thudded down the steps, splashing down the wet sidewalk. It made it to the road, and Connor moved out of its way as it turned right and traveled down the street. He imagined it living on the rough streets, taking a job as a streetwalker or a street cleaner, maybe joining a street gang.
“Mom, it’s so bad, the Roomba you guys gave me turned to a life of street grime.”
Wrod Count: 1964