Bob is the Machine #1
I see many of my friends engaged in soul-searching struggles for the meaning of life, and for an explanation of why the world is the way it is. I must confess, this to me is the source of much amusement, for I found that answer one day six years ago, and it is quite simple: one must recognize God--that He truly exists, and is the creator of all things--and one must accept that His ways and purposes are incomprehensible to men. Do this with all humility and sincerity, and with the greatest faith that your heart can muster, and you will likely receive the many blessings it has been my privilege to enjoy. But woe to the man who curses his maker.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I conceived the idea for this short story. The main character's name was John Casanova. He was a handsome man of full-stature and dark features. He was well liked by many people, and was especially popular with women. He didn't need to work, for he had a trust fund which he utilized wisely, and thus was able to postpone the day he would have to seek employment. He also stood to inherit a substantial sum of money from his uncle Walter. The man was old, his health declining, and John was in truth trying to make the trust fund last only until Walter finally gave up his ghost.
Once I had worked out these details of John's character and history, I placed him on a street corner and left him there for two years. During that time I tossed around various ideas for the story, and when I had finally decided where he was going, I fetched the first page from the drawer of my desk.
"Hey Bob!" he cried, looking skyward. I was puzzled.
"Yes you--Robert Charest!"
"Are you talking to me?" I asked incredulously.
" Is your name Robert Charest?"
"Then I suppose it's you that I'm talking to. What the hell are you doing leaving me standing on this corner for two years? I'm exhausted, I'm hungry, I'm bored, and my feet are sore; if you haven't noticed, I'm wearing short pants and a shirt sleeve, and we just had two of the coldest and snowiest winters that anyone can remember. I've had fevers, and sunburn, and--"
"John, calm do--"
"I won't calm down! I've had this on my chest for two years, I'm angry as bloody hell, and you're going to hear about it!"
"Take care what you say, John," I said sternly. "I'm the author here, and words such as 'hell' don't normally appear in my work, at least not in the context in which you use them."
"I don't care! I've been standing here for two years because of you! I'm sick, I'm starving, I'm lonely, and I just want to lie down, you bastard!"
"I told you before to watch what you say--"
"I will not watch what I say!" he interrupted. "I'm angry! If I want to swear, I'll swear, and if I want to scream, I'll scream. Aaaaaahh!"
"John, shut your mouth and listen to me for a moment." He obeyed, because it was my will; but then I had to stop and think, for I had written numerous stories and books containing a multitude of characters, but never before had I become involved in a conversation with one. At length I invented what I thought was an appropriate response. "John, I'm sorry. I didn't think you would actually be standing on the corner waiting the entire time the unfinished story sat in my desk."
His fists were clenched, his face red, his body trembling, and sensing that he was in danger of bursting, I released his tongue. "Well I was, and I think it's a pretty irresponsible and inconsiderate way for an author to treat the people in his stories, especially a main character like myself!"
"John, you're not real; I created you, and I control your destiny. I can make you do anything I desire, for I am your lord and master, and just as a man puts himself at risk when he is disrespectful to God Almighty, so are you doing now."
"I don't care--I do not care! Do whatever the hell you want, you bastard! And I'll use profanities in your story, you dumb fu--"
He didn't finish, for at that moment an elderly lady whacked him on the head with her umbrella, and said: "Get out of here, you lunatic! I didn't mind you standing on this corner in silence for two years, but now you're babbling to no one, and this is my neighborhood, so move on!"
He did, but before he had gone even a block his legs became severely cramped. He rested on a bench, but it was two hours before the pain had subsided enough that he was able to resume walking. By then it was getting dark, and John was unwittingly headed into the most dangerous area of the city. There were many places he would rather have been at that moment--the Bahamas, Germany, Jill's apartment--and it was these thoughts that were crowding his mind as he inadvertently turned down a grimy alley. When he left his daydream and returned to reality, he was being throttled by the two thugs he had stumbled against. They robbed him of the $10,000 that was in his pocket, and left him lying in the trash, battered, bloody and gasping. It was nearly midnight before he was even able to stand up, and when he did, he scratched his head and said: "I don't remember having any money in my pockets, much less ten thousand dollars."
I'll admit, I was laughing, and it was with great delight that I divulged the explanation. "John, it's Bob here again. I forgot to mention it earlier in the story, but the reason you had so much money in your pocket is because you had just come from the bank, where you withdrew the balance of your trust fund. Even I don't know what you were planning to do with all that money, but you made those two muggers extremely happy, and at this very moment they are buying drinks for everyone at a nearby pub."
"But I don't remember going to the bank," he replied.
"Well you did, and if you want proof, the cancelled passbook is in your back pocket." He verified my words, and slowly began to cry. "Don't worry Myron; even though you're penniless now, things will get better--eventually."
"Myron?" he sobbed. "Who's that?"
"But my name is John Casanova."
"Not anymore. I just changed it to Myron Mary Margaret Dunghill."
"What the hell kind of name is that?"
"It's yours," I answered, "to keep and enjoy forever. O, and one more thing, Myron."
"If you want your situation to improve anytime soon, I'd suggest you strike the word 'hell' from your vocabulary, as well as all the other vulgarities you're so fond of using."
"Go to hell, you bastard!" he shouted, shaking his fists at the heavens. "And while you're on the way down, make sure to give yourself a good fu--" He didn't finish, for at that moment half a watermelon landed on his head. It had been dropped from a window on the third story by a young rascal, who continued pelting him with rotten fruits and vegetables. Myron charged through the barrage and out of the alleyway, but in his haste he failed to see the banana peel that sent him sprawling headlong into the shards of glass that cut dozens of incisions into his legs and arms. The boy was not without compassion, however, for upon seeing Myron's condition he ceased his attack, and contented himself with hysterical laughing.
Myron eventually reached his apartment, where he cleaned and dressed his wounds, and washed off the dried fruit juices, but his pain was so intense that he was unable to move from bed for several days. During that time his landlord came looking for the rent, and Myron, suddenly finding himself unable to pay for his lovely apartment, also found himself with seven days to vacate it. He was fortunate, however, in that he didn't have to move into the streets, for he bumped into an old schoolmate, Bill, who was managing a local hotel; and although its rooms were shabby, and roach-infested, Bill was sympathetic, and willing to let him stay there until he was healed enough to seek employment.
On the morning after his first night in the hotel, I awakened Myron. "Myron," I said softly, speaking from the ceiling.
"Huh? What? Who is it?"
"It's me, Bob. Wake up. I have some news for you."
"What?" he yawned. "What is it?"
"Your uncle Walter just died."
"He did? Really?" he said, painfully sitting up. "Wahooooo!"
"Don't start the celebration yet, for I haven't finished. Two days ago, while a fever was in control of his brain, Walter altered his will, making your brother the sole beneficiary of his entire estate."
"No! No! No no no! Why are you doing this to me? Do you have any idea what kind of a man my brother is?"
"I should think I know Alvin very well," I replied.
"Then why does he get it all? He doesn't deserve it: he's as big a bastard as you are! That's not fair!"
"That's life. I'll be talking to you soon, Myron, but until then, stiffen your lip and tighten your buckles, for things could get hectic."
"Hey Bob! Listen to this: hell, hell, hell! Take your pen and write yourself into hell, you stinking heap of shi--"
He didn't finish, for at that moment a large section of the plaster ceiling became dislodged and crashed on him. Then the hundreds of roaches that were trapped behind it rained down, and seemed to be in furious competition to enter into his orifices. And while he was frantically brushing them off his skin--an action which sent exquisite stabs of pain through all his fresh lacerations--a midget entered the room, shoved a bar of soap into his mouth, slapped his face, and said: "Bob told you to watch your tongue!"
As I mentioned earlier, throughout his life Myron had always had excellent luck with women, but the one thing he had forever desired but never had known was love--true love. He had shared encounters with many fine and beautiful ladies, but he had not yet met anyone he would consider taking to wife. That long wait ended the day after Cuthbert, the midget, cleansed his mouth. He was wandering aimlessly around the city, lamenting his misfortunes, and, of course, the passing of his uncle, when he found a dollar bill. It was the first money he'd had in his possession since the mugging, and since there was little he could do with such a small sum, he decided to treat himself to a cup of coffee. It was while he was in the cafe that she came in and sat down beside him.
"You are unquestionably the most handsome man these eyes have ever seen."
"I'm very flattered," he replied, "but I don't know how you can say that to someone who has a mountain range of scabs across his face."
"But that's what I mean: if you look this good now, I'm simply going to melt when I see you after you're healed. My name is Lola Falonge, what's yours?"
He wanted very badly to say John Casanova, but when he opened his mouth, the truth came out: "Myron Mary Margaret Dunghill."
"How lovely and unique! In fact, Myron has always been my favorite name, and I've always known I'd fall in love with one."
From that moment the conversation flowed as freely and easily as if it had been scripted, and even before they left the cafe, Myron and Lola were deeply and completely in love. For the next two months they spent day and night together, doing all the things that lovers do, with a happiness that was ecstasy. Lola was quite wealthy, and so took care of Myron's every need, although she repeatedly refused his request to move into her house. But they did have frequent discussions about marriage, and where they would live, and what names they would give their children. (Lola even insisted that their firstborn would be Mary Margaret Myron if a girl, and Myron Mary Margaret if a boy.) All his previous misfortunes no longer mattered, for Myron was happier and higher than he'd ever been in his life; and he was even starting to soften his opinion of me, so that notwithstanding all the terrible things I'd done to him in the past, I was perhaps not so bad as he'd once thought.
Then, what Myron had rarely considered could happen, and when it occurred to him as a possibility, was unthinkable, happened. They were sitting in the cafe on their two month anniversary when Lola dropped the bombshell out of the blue.
"This is where we say goodbye," she said.
"What?" he replied, as his heart split and sank into his stomach. "What do you mean?"
"I've had a wonderful time with you, Myron, but this is where you go your way and I go mine."
"But I don't understand," he said, struggling to choke back the tears. "Yesterday you spent two hours telling me how much you love me, two hours planning our wedding, and four hours kissing me. That wasn't even twenty-four hours ago, and now you're leaving? It doesn't make sense."
"My feelings have changed, Myron; I don't know what else to say."
"But that's so sudden--literally overnight! It makes no sense, unless--have you met someone else?"
"No, Myron," she said, rising. "Honestly, I haven't. I just want to be alone again." With those words, and a lackluster kiss on the cheek, she left him there in despair.
"I understand, I understand!" He ran into the street, and looking skyward, cried: "Bob! Bob, you bastard, don't do this to me! Bob! Come down and answer me! Bob, you're a cruel author, you sadistic assho-"
He didn't finish, for at that moment three vicious Dobermans converged on him, and clamped their jaws on his legs. He screamed, and was spared more serious injury only because they were well-trained dogs, and obeyed when their master called them away. Myron fell down sobbing.
He cried his eyes dry, then got up and walked home. On the way he found a large bottle of bourbon with its seal unbroken. He considered it a godse--a Bobsend--and spent the night in his room getting drunk, while alternately grieving for his lost love and cursing his creator. He didn't pass out until the sun was rising, and hadn't been sleeping for an hour when Cuthbert entered the room, placed his mouth one inch from Myron's ear, and screamed: "Myron! Myron! Wake up Myron! Bob wants to speak with you! Wake up Myron! Wake up--"
Myron's body straightened out as though it had been electrified, and he rolled off the bed, whacking his head on the edge of the night table. "All right, all right, all right, you little acorn," he muttered. "Shut up and send the bastard in."
"I love you Myron," Cuthbert said, "despite your fondness for filthy language." He then kissed him on the nose and left.
"Good morning Myron. How are you feeling today?"
"You know as well as I do," he snapped. "I got drunk on the whiskey you provided for me, and now I have a thundering ache inside my head, and a sore lump on the outside, thanks to your ingenious wake up call. If you had the tiniest mote of love or compassion in your heart, you'd do something to lessen my pain, but you're just an insensitive bastard, and you'll--oww! aah! aah!"
"That's called a migraine, Myron, and if you don't want a permanent one, I'd suggest you put a harness on your tongue. There's no more ceiling left to drop on you, but if in your obstinacy you continue to try and inject swears into my story, I have a million creative ways to stop you."
"All right! All right! All right! Just turn down the trumpets! Ah, ah, thank you. But you made me what I am, you--" He stopped of his own accord, and spared himself from the brick that was about to sail through the window. "Now Bob, I'm a reasonable man, and you know it: why can't you come speak to me in person? I feel pretty stupid talking to a faceless voice in the air."
"I can't arrange that, Myron. You live in my imagination, and I'd have to be able to crawl into my own head if I were going to present myself to you, and you know as well as I that that's impossible. However, if someone ever decides to adapt this story for the stage or screen, you might get your chance."
"You're a funny man, Bob," he said; "A very funny man."
"It's good you feel that way, Myron, because it assures me that you'll appreciate the humor in what's to come."
"I can hardly wait."
"Good, then I won't keep you in suspense. Today is the first day of your walk across America."
"What? You must be joking."
"I assure you, I'm not. But first take off your socks and shoes, because you're going barefoot--in fact, take off all your clothes, because you'll be wearing nothing but your pink boxer shorts with the purple elephants on them."
"No! I'm capable of enduring almost any of the senseless tortures your whimsical mind can invent, but I'm not going to take off my clothes and walk naked across the country. I'm not!" One minute later Myron was undressed to his underwear. "No! I'm not going to do it. I'm not! I'm not! I'm not!"
"Would you rather throw yourself into the Atlantic and swim to England? A few hundred sharks might nibble at your flesh, and you might get wrapped up in a jellyfish or ten, and you'll drink more than a few gallons of salt water, and you won't get very much sleep, and you'll only eat an occasional piece of seaweed, and a giant sea turtle will eat your boxer shorts, and maybe something else, but I guarantee you'll see the white cliffs of Dover, although you'll certainly come out of the ocean looking like a blue prune."
"Enough talk, Myron, it's time to depart. But first step inside your closet and look above your head." He did, and took down the ten-dollar bill that had been taped there for twenty years. "Money!" he cried. "I actually have some money again!"
"You'll need that to make the chocolate-covered roses."
"You'll see. Let's go."
"Can I at least bring my coat? It's December already, and I'll surely die of exposure before I even get out of the state."
"No you may not. Don't worry, Myron; I promise you, you're not going to die, although a few more cracks may appear in your posterior when you pass through Alaska."
"Alaska? How far am I going?"
"I don't know yet; I'll decide as you're traveling."
He resigned himself to his fate with a sigh, and marched boldly into the street. Then he stopped. "Ah, what the hell," he said, looking to the sky. "Hey Bob! Why don't you stuff your story up your derriere, you whoreson cur, you mongrel son of a bi--" He didn't finish, for at that moment a crazed and errant pigeon slammed into his face, leaving something warm and white on his tongue. "Ptew! Ptew! All right, Bob--ptew, ptew--you win. Blech! I won't try to sneak any more profanities into your precious tale. I promise."
He started walking; he did not bow his face in shame, however, but confronted his destiny courageously, with his head high and his chest out. He went straightway into the busiest district of the city, where he braved the hundreds of stares and sniggers by keeping a smile on his lips and looking everyone in the eye. Then he came to a flower vendor who was having a sale on roses: ten dollars a dozen. It was very much against his will that he spent all his money on twelve roses, which he proceeded to arrange in his hair like a flowery crown. The laughter from the passersby grew louder and heartier; even the policemen just chuckled and let him pass without removing him from the street for behaving insanely. By the time he reached his destination--Higworth's confection factory--Myron was laughing harder than anyone. He arrived at ten o'clock, the precise moment at which a free tour of the grounds commenced, and joined a group of thirty elementary schoolchildren who, upon seeing him, broke into a chorus of high-pitched peals and squeals. Myron was quite pleased with himself for bringing so much joy to the little boys and girls. The children continued to express their mirth without restraint, so that for the duration of the tour he commanded more of their attention than the candymakers. Without going into a detailed description of the floor plan of the factory, I will cut straight to the facts that need to be known here. When they reached the area where chocolate was prepared, Myron broke from the group, jumped the ropes, poised himself at the edge of a vat of liquid chocolate, and sang: "I'm not the butcher, I'm not the baker, I'm the man who coats the roses with chocolate!" Then he bowed to the children and threw himself in. The foreman, who was short and bald with a squeaky voice, ran over and confronted Myron as he was pulling himself out of the vat, but he had to shout to be heard above the children's laughter.
"What have you done? You've contaminated thousands of dollars worth of chocolate! Why would you do that, you idiot?"
"My dear man," Myron replied, "there is no price too high and no cost too dear when one is purchasing the happiness of children. Fare thee well!"
He licked the chocolate from his lips, wiped it off his eyelids, removed the roses from his hair, presented them to the children, and left, singing: "I'm not the butcher, I'm not the baker, I'm the man who coats the roses with chocolate! I'm not the butcher, I'm not the baker, I'm the man who...."
Myron had been standing in front of the factory for only a few moments when his broken heart was shattered completely. He looked up from wiping the chocolate off his arms to see Lola and Alvin walking toward him. Their hands were clasped together.
"Myron, why are you covered with wet chocolate?" Alvin asked.
"It's getting to be a long story," he replied. "Hello Lola."
"Is this the Myron you were telling me about, Sugarlump?" Alvin said. "I didn't know you were referring to my brother."
"I didn't know you were brothers, but that's him," she replied. "We have to be going, Myron, but I do want you to know one thing: I wasn't lying to you yesterday; Alvin and I only met this morning."
"We're deeply in love, and are going to be married as soon as it can be arranged," Alvin said, leading Lola away on his arm. " I'd go home and take a bath if I were you."
Myron started to cry, but I was so pleased with his unconditional acceptance of his fate, and with his performance in the factory, that a sudden cloudburst floated over and drenched him with warm rain, serving both to disguise his tears and to wash off the chocolate before it hardened. Myron Mary Margaret Dunghill then left Higworth's and walked around America in his bare feet, wearing nothing but his pink boxer shorts with the purple elephants on them. Never once during the entire trip did he speak or think anything resembling a complaint. He received many offers of clothing, but after I forced him to refuse several times, he started doing so of his own volition. He endured some periods of hunger, but never approached starvation, for I made certain that he encountered only the most generous strangers, by whom he was regularly fed. He didn't say very much to anyone on the journey, but he did bring many smiles and much laughter to thousands of people, and he was well-pleased that at least others were able to delight in his state.
Myron arrived home fourteen months after setting out, and was fortunate to find that his old room had just been vacated, and that Bill was willing to let him occupy it again. He collapsed on the bed, with his calloused and sore feet dangling over the edge, and slept undisturbed for three solid days.
Seven years passed by before I was ready to write the ending of this story. "It's a lovely day today Myron, isn't it?" I said one afternoon.
"Hello Bob," he answered, not even slightly surprised that I had at last returned.
"How are you?"
"Don't you know? Of course you do. I've suffered greatly from the insomnia I acquired after fourteen months of irregular sleep, and I'm a little bored with this room, but otherwise I've been fine."
"You don't seem surprised that I'm here."
"I'm not; I knew you were coming back."
"You did?" I said facetiously. "How did you know?"
"I've been lying here in your mind for seven years, and know that your marvelous story won't be finished until I've humbled myself to you and been forgiven, so I've just been waiting for you to come back and give me the opportunity to do so."
"And I must say, you've been very patient."
"You created me: all the patience I have was given me by you. But can I just say one thing?"
"I've now spent many years here inside your head, and I've read all your books and stories as they were being written, and I must say that you truly have a very bizarre imagination."
"Well thank you," I replied, "but it's characters like you that make it possible. Enough of that, however; this is the point where I take my final bow and leave the story, but first I have to say one thing: I'm going to let you drop the Mary Margaret Dunghill and return to Casanova, but your first name will always be Myron, for I've grown rather fond of it over the years."
"Thank you, but why?"
"Because it will be easier for Lola, whose last name is already Casanova. Farewell Myron, and may God bless you forever."
He sat up in bed, and had been pondering the meaning of my words for several minutes when there came a knock on the door. He answered it, and cried: "Lola!"
"Hello Myron," she said softly.
"Lola!" he repeated, trying to contain his excitement, for the old feelings had already begun to surge inside him. "You look--beautiful."
"Thank you; and you're more handsome than ever," she replied, then paused. "I've come because I have some news for you: Alvin is dead."
"Alvin? When? How?"
"He died two weeks ago. We were sitting at the beach, and a turtle slipped from the grasp of a seagull that was flying above us. It landed on Alvin's head and cracked his skull open. He died instantly."
Myron chuckled, and mumbled: "At least you're consistent Bob."
"What did you say?"
"Myron, the reason I came here is because most of your uncle's inheritance is left, and although Alvin willed it all to me, I don't need it. It's rightfully yours, and I want you to have it."
"Well, I could certainly use it, as you can see."
"O Myron, I haven't stopped thinking about you since the day I saw you covered with chocolate. Alvin always treated me well, but our marriage was nothing like the love you and I shared. I don't even know why I ever left you. I wouldn't blame you if you asked me to leave, but I'd like to start spending time with you again, if you want. I'd really like for us to at least become friends."
"I understand why everything happened the way it did, and of course I'd like to be your friend," he replied, taking her in his arms and kissing her.
"O, thank you Myron, for being so kind and loving and understanding," she said.
"Don't thank me," he answered; "Thank Bob."
"Bob? Who's he?"
"Don't do it Myron," I whispered inside his head. "Say goodbye now and leave. Trust me."
Without hesitation he moved to the door and said: "Actually, I've just had a sudden change of heart, Lola. I don't need you or Alvin's money, I have Bob."