That Friday night in February the temperature hovered around 14 degrees. After a miserable 10 hours at work with Brad, that opportunist, constantly interrupting her new client presentation, Emily wanted to get home, dive under the covers, and veg out, drained from the day’s pressure. Her appetite had vanished with the late hour.

Circling the streets for a parking space near her apartment, Emily pulled her grey Corolla into a spot that had miraculously opened half a block away. Cars jammed the spaces on both sides of the street like lumpy bumper cars crowned by yellow street lamps. Out of her car, standing on the sidewalk, she hoisted her backpack onto her slumping shoulders, pulled her collar up, and gloved her hands. Glowing windows made her building appear like a homing beacon. Emily quickened her gait and kept her head down to avoid the punishing wind.

“Watch where you’re going, young lady,” said an elderly man walking two miniature poodles, puffed up in coats that looked like fur muffs. Standing his ground, he blocked her way.

Emily sidestepped him. “Sorry.” Did she sound sincere? Why do women always apologize? She had to stop that. Her frozen nose dripped, and her head pounded. She picked up her pace. Her key fob unlocked the building’s entrance. She wiped her nose on a crumpled tissue she found in her jacket pocket and trudged up the two flights. After fidgeting with the key, Emily entered her apartment.

“Alexa, turn on the light.” A click and the light hanging over the kitchen table illuminated the room. “Magic…I love it.”

“Alexa, are you still with me?”

“Yes, I’m here. I listen once I hear the ‘wake’ word.”

“Alexa, you’re a bit reserved, but at least you hear me. More than I can say about some people.”

“Mmm, I don’t know that.”

“See, that’s what I mean. Brad didn’t listen, either.”

She secured the chain lock and dead bolt, hefted her backpack from her shoulders and dumped it on a chair followed by her coat and gloves.

“Alexa, do you know you’re my only friend?” The melancholy in her own voice alarmed her.

“You’re important to me too,” said Alexa.

“Stop it,” Emily shouted at Alexa’s programmed reply. She leaned against the kitchen wall and took a long, deep breath, hoping to dispel the weight of the day and improve her state of mind.

In her tiny bedroom she switched on the bedside lamp and the electric blanket.

“Alexa, turn on the TV.” The TV clicked on and the screen lit up.

“Alexa, can I change your name? Maybe a male name. Could that even be done?”

“I can help you change the ‘wake word’ for this device. Should we do that now?”

“No.” What am I doing, she thought, having conversations with artificial intelligence? I need a life.

She sat on the bed and removed her leather boots. Thoughts of Brad resurfaced. He was charming, and his sense of humor attractive. But, the arrogance — what a turnoff — interrupting me again and again, trying to dazzle the client. Didn’t work, did it, Brad? Still, he cut quite a figure in his Brooks Brothers suit.

She raised the head of her adjustable bed to a comfortable viewing angle. She felt like a kid alone in her sandbox rearranging her toys. What she wanted was a playmate.

As she undressed, Emily shivered. She draped her work clothes over the hamper and pulled on a long, pink flannel nightgown. Hugging her matching fuzzy robe, she wrapped it around her body like warm new skin.

The silence bothered her. “Alexa, do you know I’m lonely?”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Alexa said in her monotone voice. “Talking to a friend, listening to music, or taking a walk may help. I hope you feel better soon.”

“Enough!” Emily yanked the connection from the power bar. In the bathroom, she examined her tired eyes. “Is this my life? Cryptic conversations and advice from Alexa?” She stared at her image. “Em, you’re exhausted. Go to bed. Tomorrow is another day.” Thank you, Scarlett. Oh, god, I’ve really lost it.

Feeling foolish, Emily reconnected Alexa. “Alexa, that was actually decent advice. Kudos to your programmer.” Emily watched Alexa’s blue light cycle around the rim of the speaker. “Too bad you’re not a cat, I would pet you.”

Dropping the robe to the floor, she crawled into bed. The manufactured warmth of the blanket engulfed her, and she relaxed. She reached up and turned off the lamp. Her triumphant smile was not without some gleeful malice.

Monday she would put together the completed portfolio of ideas for her newest account. In spite of Brad’s intrusions, her ideas had hooked the new client. Later in the day he had apologized. Maybe she’d be generous and give him a second look.

Lowering the head of the bed, Emily found a comfortable position for her body and snuggled into her pillow “Alexa, any words of wisdom before I fall asleep?”

“Sorry I don’t know that one.”

“So, you do have your limits. It’s okay, Alexa. I can still handle myself.” Emily grinned as she closed her eyes.

Joanne Sutera writes fictional short stories and flash fiction reflecting today’s crazy world, plays that explore relationships, and dark, acerbic poetry. She nourishes her passion by taking classes and hanging out with writers she admires. She still finds time to procrastinate. She is published in Zest Magazine and U.S. 1. She belongs to Room at the Table and the Princeton Writers’ Group.

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