By KJ Hannah Greenberg -
Shelly picked a piece of chard out of her teeth with one of her broken nails. She wished that Emmanuel had cut the leaves finer when making their quiche. That same husband had been so excited by an organic farm’s freemium produce that he hadn’t thought through the actual toll on their budget that their subsequent subscription would take.
There had been no refunds available for that purchase. In fact, the organic farm’s website had disappeared mere days after Emmanuel had sent in his and Shelly’s credit card number. In spite of that reality, for nearly half of a year, the duo had been the recipients of: fresh corn, sweet tomatoes, large bell peppers, summer squash, beans, parsley, basil, beets, mint, and more leafy greens then they could immediately use.
Taking everything into account, most of the yield, of which they had taken delivery, had been welcomed. The multi-hued carrots had been honeyed, and the kohlrabi had added crunch to their mixtures of raw vegetables, stews, and stir-fries. Yet, Shelly had laughed in a frenzied manner when they had received the seaweed spores. The watercress, collards, and bok choy had already pushed her to her precipice. That dulse had been one too many sources of leaves.
Also, Chip, their underwater drone, who had not been perplexed by the kale or by the mustard greens, had coughed up one error message after another when the oceanic sporophytes had arrived (Chip had been one of Emmanuel’s investments. Shelly’s man had wanted their whazzit to dive into the local reservoir, where, Emmanuel was convinced, sunken diamonds awaited.)
When those water-dependent reproductive structures had been shipped to them, neither Emmanuel nor Shelly could fathom how seaweed was relevant to sustainable land agriculture or why the two of them had received so much of the stuff. Rallying, Shelly had suggested that they use their guest bathtub to grow that algae. Her planned worked.
The pair condensed most of the resulting red foliage into powder, care of their food dehydrator. They designated their coat closet as the shed for their bags of processed harvest. Eventually, though, both the space in that closet and Chip gave out.
Chip had used up its expensive batteries to grow that dulse before its owners had harvested even a hundred kilos of seaweed. The processing unit had been a good shepherd of the sea lettuce, having possessed programmed prowesses that enabled it to optimize the crop. On balance, it had finite stored energy.
Emmanuel’s scheme to increase his and Shelly’s wealth by selling dulse powder as a wholesome source of iodine faltered. What’s more, that failure was problematic— they needed to offset the drain on their finances caused by their subscription to the mysterious organic farm.
Meanwhile, Shelly was out of ideas for using fresh dulse. That plant was more challenging than chard. She was tired of dulse flake-enriched avocado dip, of dulse-based sushi, and of Waldorf Salad featuring dulse. Even so, Emmanuel refused to let her fertilize their apartment complex’s Eastern Redbud and “Elizabeth” magnolia with that fill.
He could not abide having his agrarian asset reduced to compost for landscaping that he and Shelly had already funded through their apartment association fees. If they were not going to eat or to sell their seaweed triturate, then they were going to save it. That husband would get a new idea sooner or later.
Emmanuel asked his mother if he could store the rest of their bags of powdered dulse in her basement. She replied that if her child deigned to deposit as much as a single bag of that creathnach in his boyhood home, his longevity would be compromised.
When he had moved out to marry Shelly, his mom had celebrated. She was finally rid of his monetary stratagems and she wanted her life to remain that way. Not one of her friends had raised a child who was insistent upon nurturing mice to sell as snake food or had raised a child intent who was upon selling shares of a never published comic book to fund flowers for a prom date. Certainly, none of her girlfriends’ children rented out their college dorm room to “discrete” couples to subsidize a trip to Vahanga.
So, bags of dried dulse began to mound on the young marrieds’ kitchen counters. Over time, Shelly surreptitiously tossed some of the bags from the kitchen and some from the closet. She wished she were brave enough to have mixed that pulverized goodness with the complex’s tree mulch.
Afterwards, when Emmanuel received a raise, he bought new batteries for Chip. Once the robot was fully re-energized, it straightaway returned to the bathtub where the seaweed had grown.
Despite its stereoscopic cameras, it could not locate floats nor stipes. Even with its movement control sensors, it could not detect any watery pitch or roll as the tub had long since been emptied.
Sparks flying from its chassis, that small, undeterred contraption ran through one of the exterior walls of Emmanuel and Shelly’s apartment and then through one of the exterior walls of the building. It meant to jump into the complex’s swimming pool (the android’s logic centered on task management, not on conserving human habitats.)
Shelly shook her head. Chip’s very special batteries had cost a full month of Emmanuel’s salary. The damage to their apartment and to the building, itself, would make their losses even greater.
Emmanuel flung himself at their coat closet. He emptied bag after bag of desiccated seaweed onto the carpet. In a short time, their living room had become an area marked by savagery in lieu of a lounge ready for company.
Silently, Shelly vacuumed up the mess.
Hours later, the building’s superintendent placed a box of coils, aluminum, and plastic shards in front of Emmanuel and Shelly’s door. He had known that the youngsters possessed a gizmo that could: monitor water quality, eliminate pests, and adjust siltation. The custodian had figured that they might want to sell the scraps of their artificially intelligent doohickey and that they might want to give him a generous holiday tip for boxing up those oddments. After all, he had spent two hours using his leaf skimmer to fish those components out of the pool.
“Why, oh, why did we ever purchase an instrument that was more batrachian than human?”
“Emmanuel, stop anthropomorphizing!”
“All I ever wanted was to measure fetch when I am rowing.”
“No, you wanted an abnormal raise, a household servant that cost nothing to maintain, except for its pricy batteries, and for me to lose ten kilos. I still resent that last desire. You’re no crown prince.”
“You’re the love of my life!”
“Well, this love needs you to empty the vacuum bag. Why did you dump the powder?”
“Useless and its sister. What a loss!”
“True, we didn’t include seaweed in our fiscal plan. In fact, we didn’t include the farm subscription, either. Have you figured out a way to stop it from showing up next month?”
“Only by canceling our credit card. The monies are automatically withdrawn. Besides, as you know, the farm’s contact information has evaporated.”
“You mean, ‘vanished.’ Why is everything water to you?”
“You know, that’s not what I’m talking about.”
“Hey, back off. I’m taking the bag out of the vac, just like you asked.”
“And I’m taking a jog. For some reason, I’m a smidgen stressed.
When Shelly returned, she felt better. She had been able to rethink her words to her spouse and to laugh a little at the kerfuffle caused by the seaweed. It seemed like a good idea to be nicer to Emmanuel.
Nevertheless, the object of her intentions was nowhere in their apartment. Not he, not the broken fragments of their automaton, nor the vacuum bag full of dulse dust was anywhere to be found.
Shelly took a shower, tossed her sweaty clothing into the washer, and called her sister. All things considered, she was a reasonable woman.
After dusk, a tattered Emmanuel stumbled into their apartment. A fierce dog entered alongside of him. Given its size, the mutt probably had Great Dane blood.
“Shelly, this is Gwen.”
The cur growled, stopping only when Emmanuel patted it.
“I traded Chip’s vestiges for our new guardian. Please don’t ask me where or how I made this transaction; I swore not to tell.”
Shelly shrugged and reached for the remote. Her favorite drama was about to begin. She stopped reaching, however, when Gwen began to growl and to creep nearer to her.
Shelly reflexively shielded herself with the purple carrot she had purposed for her TV watching snack.
Gwen lunged. An inch or so short of the root, she sat, whimpered, and wagged.
Shelly tossed the vegetable to the giant creature.
That wolf cousin nibbled until only leaves were left. Sighing, that monster used even smaller bites to chew the greenery. Thereafter, Gwen laid her head on her paws. Soon, she was drooling in her sleep.
“Hungry, I guess,” Emmanuel shrugged as he scooted next to his wife.
“She sleeps in the basement!”
“We don’t have a basement.”
“She sleeps with the doorman!”
“I had to bribe him to let her in. ‘No pets,’ remember?”
“Where is she going to sleep? How are we going to walk her if she’s supposed to be a secret?”
“Already toilet trained…needs a bit of help with the toilet paper, though.”
“I liked Chip better.”
“You hated Chip.”
“Did you cancel our credit card while you were ‘fixing’ things?”
“Yes. I don’t think we’ll hear from the farm, again.”
“No more shipments of neonate seaweed?”
“Not to these premises.”
“The cost of vacuum cleaner repair?”
“How did you know that it was expensive? At least, we have Gwen.”
“Don’t change the subject. How much did it cost us to fix the vacuum and why did you bring that beast home?”
“To have a palpable token of how strongly I love you?”
“You know what? You didn’t trade Chip and you outright paid for that crossbreed. Which of our balance sheets did you use for our new ‘pet?’ How much did she cost? What did you do with what was left of Chip?”
“Score! I’m sorry about the vacuum. That dulse dust is a menace to modern machinery. I paid for Gwen from my savings for a road bike. As per Chip, right now, I’m too upset to it.”
“Without Chip, there’s no point in my circling the local reservoir to hunt for diamonds. I don’t need the bike any longer.”
“You don’t love jewels and there are no diamonds in the reservoir. You were on your college’s cycling team. You need bikes.”
“Okay, okay, but you love jewels. That’s why I bought Chip. That mechanism was never designed for dealing with dulse. Plus, a great amount of time has passed since I promised to replace your dime store engagement ring.”
“Hands off! I like my ring. It reminds me that our bond is not dependent on money.”
“You deserve more.”
“I don’t need…” Gwen stirred in her sleep, causing Shelly to wrap herself in one of Emmanuel’s arms.
Emmanuel carefully unwrapped that arm from his wife and reached into his pocket. First, he withdrew a claim ticket issued by the vacuum repair shop. Hopefully, their appliance would be ready in a few days. Next, he retrieved a photocopied record of Gwen’s shots. She was up to date. Last, he pulled out a jewelry box, which he handed to his dearheart.
Shelly opened the tiny chest and gasped. Inside was a piece of corral strung on a simple chain. Beneath the chain was a note declaring that the chain’s owner was entitled to a one thousandth share of a sea harvest enterprise. In addition to corral, the company collected sea sponges, and sea salt.
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs.
Thereafter, she's been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than three dozen books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals. You can find more of her work at kjhannahgreenberg.net.