Gala 4135

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Even now, in midwinter, when it snowed every day, when it felt like it had never not been snowing, a man named Murphy delivered crates of fruit to the Meagerhorn Stop and Save, and it was Emmy Reilly’s job to sign for them. It was a responsibility she took seriously. Almost religiously. Because the net-bagged oranges with waxy peels, the heavy crates of scaly melons, the plums wedged into green Styrofoam sockets as if they were something precious were, for Emmy, if not miraculous, then certainly miracle-adjacent. It helped that Murphy was four years older than her. That he had the broad chest of a former football player. That she had always noticed him in the halls before he had dropped out of Emmy’s high school two years back and started driving his father’s truck.

And so, as Murphy delivered, and Emmy received, they recited the liturgy of the PLU codes together.

“4251,” he said. “Strawberries, long-stemmed.”

“4288, Grapefruit, deep red.”

“4050, Cantaloupe, or rock melon.”

“3156.” Murphy put a net sack of oranges in Emmy’s arms. “For your mother.” He grabbed the brim of his baseball cap and twisted it to scratch his forehead.

Emmy smiled. Emmy had a nice smile and crooked teeth. She wore fur-trimmed boots and a fishing sweater and a green Stop and Save apron. Inside her marsupial pocket, her phone sounded.

Emmy’s phone gave her pangs of dread. It was a text from the BOTomist.

Notice: aberrational reading.

Her mother.

“Thanks for the 3156,” Emmy said, and ran home in her heavy boots.


Emmy’s legs were trembling as she unlocked the front door. She hefted the oranges and pushed open the door.

“Diane!” she shouted. The house was a 1970s A-frame. Reddish wood beams and sloped ceilings. Emmy climbed the ladder to their sleeping loft, but the mattress, with its tangle of family quilts—flocking geese, Dutchman’s puzzle, cross and crown—was empty.

Climbing down the ladder, Emmy felt faint. The house was always warm these days because Diane thought she was dying and so, for the first time in her life, was not worried about the cost of gas and electric.

There was music coming from the bathroom, which was enormous, a room unto itself with three rag rugs, a full vanity, and a claw-foot bath. Emmy rushed in, stepping on the album sleeve to Court and Spark. The album was playing from a turntable balanced on top of the sink.

“Take your boots off, chicken,” her mother said.

Diane Reilly was in the tub, which was full of suds. Her hair, dyed fuchsia red, was tied up, damp at the nape. The suds did not cover her chest, the two horizontal pink lines where Diane’s breasts used to be. The best tits in Massachusetts, she had said, after the mastectomy. What a waste. She was now absolutely flat, her scars flushed from the hot water. She was drinking scotch. The steamy air smelled like bubble bath, and like peat—Diane was at the end of her drink.

“Where’s the BOTomist?” Emmy looked around. “He said you had an aberrational reading.”

“The BOTomist has been detained,” Diane said. “Are those for me?” She pointed at the oranges.

From behind the blue shower curtain, Emmy heard buzzing. In the corner of the bathroom the BOTomist was whirring to himself. His caterpillar treads were tangled in a nest of damp towels. He spun in circles, bleating softly:

There is one new notice. There is a jam. There is one new notice. There is a jam.

Emmy dropped the oranges. She untangled the BOTomist and knelt to punch the keypad on his chest.

Notice: aberrational reading. See details?

Emmy selected Yes.

Aberrational reading. Blood alcohol content is high. Blood alcohol content estimated at point, oh, eight.

“Are you fucking kidding me? He says you’re drunk.”

“Who are you going to believe, a robot or your own mother?”

“It’s not your lungs?” Emmy pressed the selection button repeatedly.

 “I’m dying,” Diane said. “But my lungs read fine, thanks for asking.”

Emmy sat on the closed toilet lid. “You’re not dying,” she said. “Not necessarily.”

The robotic phlebotomist was a concession. In exchange for agreeing to be part of a medical trial in which breast cancer survivors agreed to have their health data regularly monitored, in exchange for having the BOTomist in their home, Emmy and Diane received a monthly check. The idea was early detection—that data collection would increase the likelihood of catching the cancer if it returned. The tradeoff was this robot in their home. The tradeoff was that, whenever Diane and Emmy laid eyes on him, they were reminded that they were broke and had been willing to accept this indignity in exchange for money. They were also reminded of the cancer and the possibility of its return.

The BOTomist, now free, caterpillared over to Emmy, his rubber traction grips squeaking on the wet floor. A corner of the bathmat got sucked into his tracks.

There is a jam, he told Emmy.

“Ha!” Diane watched the robot struggle. Emmy tugged the bathmat out.

The BOTomist was four feet tall. They had opted for the rubberized BOTomist outer shell, so they wouldn’t have to see his steely innards indecently chugging away, or worry about bathwater. Mounted on white-and-mint-striped caterpillar treads, the BOTomist was a hospital-green cylinder, rounded at the top. He had one functional arm, to draw blood with. The other was mainly for balance. A small, red LED scrolled text above a keypad in his chest. Where Emmy imagined his face was, he had a constellation of audio projection perforations, cut in leaf patterns like a complicated bindi. Beneath this, a purple-black stripe of lidar for vision. Beneath that, you could just make out the ghostly O of a mouthlike circle in the rubber.

Diane's hatred of the BOTomist was a matter of principle, of aesthetics and ludditism, as well as a healthy Boomerish disdain for surveillance and the monetization of data. Until two weeks ago when the BOTimist registered an anomalous pulmonary reading. Until the trial doctors called and said that, in light of this, they’d like to do a tissue biopsy “just in case” the cancer that had taken Diane’s breasts and spread to her lungs before she’d beat it with chemo the last time had returned. The biopsy results would be back within the week. But meanwhile, Diane’s hatred of the BOTomist had taken on a vengeful quality.

“Take a reading,” Emmy asked the robot..

The BOTomist said: A reading has already been taken within the prescribed timeframe.

“Take a reading,” Emmy said louder.

New reading sequence, said the BOTomist. Would you like One: Blood Ph, Two: Urine Analysis, Three: Pulmonary Function, Four:—

“Pulmonary function test,” Emmy said. Diane glared at her. Emmy picked up Murphy’s sack of oranges and ripped the red netting. From the BOTomist’s face a small tube slowly emerged from the ghostly circle. He rolled over to Diane, tube extended.

Ready for input, the BOTomist said, and waited, expectantly.

“This is absurd,” Diane said.

Ready for input, he repeated.

“Just blow,” Emmy said. Diane drew herself up and leaned over the tub, bubble bath slipping down her arms and chest. She cupped one hand against the BOTomist’s face. She put her lips to his tube and closed her eyes. She blew.

As she sank back into the tub, the BOTomist said, Thank you. Analyzing. He slowly retracted the tube.

“He’s not much for romance,” Diane said.

Aberrational reading. Blood alcohol content is high. Blook alcohol content estimated at point, eleven.

“You can’t just get drunk in the tub all day,” Emmy said.

Diane shook her hair loose, then looped it up with a rubber band. “I don’t see why not.”

“Because—” Emmy started to say, then didn’t. But this was a road Emmy would not go down again. Since the aberrational reading, since the biopsy, since the doctor tried to cheer Diane by reminding her this was exactly the point of the BOTomist trials, since she said that even if the cancer had returned they could do chemo again, since Diane made it very clear that she had no interest in going through chemo again, since the doctor told her that was absurd, since Emmy and Diane had fought about this, and then fought about it a second time because she’d thought Diane was having an initial bad reaction she would get over, since it became clear this was not the case, since it started snowing three months ago and would not stop, since Diane started drinking out of some kind of childish spite for herself and her shitty luck that Emmy could understand but hated anyway—Diane had been dragging Emmy down this very rhetorical alleyway: Why does it matter what I do?

Emmy threw an orange at her mother.

It plonked in the water. Diane fished the orange out and began to peel it.


That night, in the loft, under all the quilts, Diane’s body radiated heat. She spooned Emmy. The BOTomist was in sleep mode, purring in the corner. Even when they were asleep, he was there, humming, a dim clock from his LED pulsing red.

“The extra storm windows are in the basement,” Diane suddenly whispered, close to Emmy’s ear.

“I know,” Emmy said.

She whispered again: “And your grandmother’s silver serving platter is down there too, in a box that says ‘Sweaters,’ so don’t throw that away thinking it’s a just a bunch of sweaters because that platter is definitely worth something.”

“Diane,” Emmy said. “Go to sleep.”

Diane jacked her knees up so they drove into Emmy’s back. Emmy arched away, but found herself at the edge of the bed, without enough blankets.

“You know if the news is bad I’m checking out,” Diane said. “I just want you to be prepared.”  

Diane had been saying this since the last time, two years ago. I’ll kill myself before I go through chemo again.

And yes, Emmy did know it, but in the way you know something that has been repeated so many times you no longer have to think about what it means. The way you know out of defeat, because you are tired of arguing.

Diane would do it with pills. She would do it with rope. She would do it any way but slowly, Emmy knew, because, as it turned out, Diane was serious. To have felt that bad luck and bad genes had brought this upon her once, Diane had resented but accepted. For it to be asked of her twice was the retraction of a bargain Diane believed she and the cosmos had agreed upon.

It had been awful last time. Emmy knew that. But awful was not impossible.

“What about me?” Emmy said, even though it made her feel like a whiny child. “What am I supposed to do, exactly, when you check out?”

“You can do whatever you want, chicken.” Diane stroked her hair. “I’m insured out the wazoo; you’ll have money. Maybe you should go someplace warm.”

“Don’t ‘chicken’ me,” Emmy said. “I’m serious.” Diane sighed. Emmy could tell from the icy ticking against the window glass that it was still snowing outside.

“I’m going to shovel the driveway,” she said, crawling out of bed. The BOTomist sensed her movement and woke himself up.

How can I help, please? he said.

Diane said, “Take the talking dildo with you.”

Emmy put a jacket on over her pajamas and brought the steel shovel outside, the BOTomist trailing behind. While Emmy shoveled the snow, she had the BOTomist read her the complete history of her mother’s test results. Snowflakes melted on him as he recited blood data and oxygen readings from the past few weeks. It was pointless, but soothing to listen to. They would get biopsy results soon and know for sure. Emmy launched a shovelful of snow up and over the drifts. The sides of the driveway were, by this point, almost as tall as she was.

Report: Pulmonary Function Low. Recommend Biopsy To Confirm Results.

Before the blizzard, there were always parties. The parties were for people Diane loved, but they were chaotic and unpredictable because Diane knew that sometimes you love people best by telling them to shut the fuck up, or making them dance when they feel like screaming, or blasting music so people have to shout the things they think and surprise themselves with the truth of them: I Want More Wine, I Was Wrong, You’re Funny, I Could Have Done Better. It was how Diane loved Emmy, too. Even beyond her being her mother, Diane seemed like a rare commodity. Emmy would not give her up.

Report: No Data Input For Forty-Eight Hours. Please Submit To Testing.

A snowplow drove by. The radio had said that the constant sound of the plows, their droning and scraping, three months of it now, the worst winter in town history, was driving the people of Meagerhorn insane. Someone on the radio said it was climate change. Someone else on the radio said they were wrong. Emmy put down her shovel. A white tideline of ice melt salt ringed her pajama pants, which were wet.

End of medical history, the BOTomist said.


The back of Murphy’s truck smelled awful, rotten sweet. He sat on a bank of crates with a clipboard, checking off delivered inventory. Emmy paced, eating a plum, 4039, Black Torch, small. Outside the snow was swirling in tight little clouds. There had been hardly any business in the market that day.

 “Just because she’s smart she thinks she knows everything,” Emmy said. “And she is smart, but there are people, doctors, who happen to know a lot more than she does about this one particular thing.”

“You can’t do anything until you get the test results,” Murphy said. He handed her the clipboard to sign.

“It doesn’t matter what the tests says. She’s not going to listen.”

Her phone dinged.

One new notice. Aberrational reading. There is a jam.

 “I’ve got to go,” Emmy said.

 Murphy handed her two peaches. “4037. California Yellow. Small.”

Emmy held the peaches.

“It’s been snowing forever,” she said.

Murphy palmed her head, like a good melon. His hand was warm and she felt like kissing him, but didn’t. “It just feels that way,” Murphy said. “Someday you’ll look back and think, I really thought it would never be over. But I was wrong.”


“What’d you do this time?” Emmy shouted as she walked in the door, a blast of gnat-like snowflakes rushing in behind her. Before she could say anything more, Diane grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth. Her hands were dry and smelled like lemon soap.

“Shhh.” Diane released her.

“Why are you hiding from the BOTomist?” Emmy whispered. She squinted at the living room. “Is that rope?” Emmy did not want to think about the implications of Diane having this much rope.

“Just watch,” Diane said. They stood, obscured by the bookshelf, and waited.

The BOTomist was lurching around in half circles, one of his treads festively ensnared with a pink scarf. THERE IS ONE NEW NOTICE. THERE IS A JAM, he said. Emmy knew that she was imagining it, but she could almost sense a resignation in his voice. As if the BOTomist knew no one was coming to save him.

He tried to cross the living room but, somewhere around the sofa area, got blocked by a clothesline strung across the space. The BOTomist hit the line, slowly rolling forward until it grew taught and pinged him backward. He rocked on his treads like a drunk.

please wait. Recalibrating equilibrium, the BOTomist said, in what sounded to Emmy like the absolute voice of robot despair. She felt bad for him.

Diane laughed quietly. She squeezed Emmy’s arm. “Did you even know he could say that?”

Emmy presented the peaches. “From Murphy. 4037.” Diane accepted the fruit and sat cross-legged on the floor. She rubbed the peach against her knee to remove the fuzz.

“Do you know that’s state-of-the-art medical equipment you’re messing with?” Emmy whispered it as sternly as she could, but she was delighted. Her mother had built a maze. She was dressed, sober, and wearing shoes. She was fighting. Emmy said, “Thousands of dollars of science at work and you’re running him through a kugelbahn.”

Recalibrating equilibrium, the BOTomist said.

“I let him take the reading first,” Diane said, “but he kept on repeating the report so I trapped him.”

“What’d he say?”

Diane’s mouth full of peach: “Lungs a little wonky.”

“How wonky?”

“Minimally wonky.”

“Okay then. So, not so bad?”

Diane watched the window, the snow falling outside. “When this is all over I think you should live someplace that won’t get hit by climate change too bad. No beaches. No extreme temps. Maybe Virginia.”

“You need to stop listening to the news.”

 “I just want you to have some plans...”

Emmy thought of her mother cordoning off the living room, section by section. Containing the BOTomist. Felt stupid for letting it make her hopeful.

“For fuck’s sake, Diane. Do you have any idea how selfish that is?”

The BOTomist heard Emmy and tried to approach, but hit a clothesline at good speed and almost knocked himself over. Diane laughed.

“You want to talk about selfish, chicken? Who wants who to do what for whom?”

Emmy squeezed her peach. The skin ruptured. Her hand was sticky. She sank down to the floor and leaned into Diane. She wiped her hands on her mother’s pants.

“It’s even ripe,” Diane said, holding out her peach, its planet of a pit exposed and slick-wet. “Perfect timing. How does he do it?”

Emmy shrugged. Diane raked her fingers through Emmy’s hair.

Recalibrating equilibrium

“You should marry that boy,” Diane said.

Emmy laughed. “Why, because then you can check ‘plans for Emmy’ off your fucking bucket list?”

“Because he likes you.”

“He doesn’t,” Emmy said, though she hoped she was wrong.

Diane sucked the last flesh from her peach and handed Emmy the pit. It was clean and damp with spit. Emmy closed her hand on it, tight.

Diane rapped lightly on Emmy’s head. She pointed at Emmy’s fist. “If I haven’t taught you to read signs this obvious, you might be hopeless.”


Emmy and Murphy were sitting in the cab of Murphy’s truck, idling behind the grocery, as he finished paperwork. The dock lights were flickering. The radio was on. Some people were evacuating Meagerhorn, the radio said. They promised they’d come back when the snow stopped. They weren’t giving up on the town, they just wanted to wait out the storms somewhere warm and dry.

“Which, like, not all of us have the option of doing,” Emmy said. Today the snow was coming down in tiny hail pellets that stung, and she’d talked Murphy into giving her a ride home. They said temperatures would drop to negative twenty overnight.

“You can’t blame them for leaving,” Murphy said.

Emmy took her boots off and put her bare feet up on the dash. “I do blame them. They’re terrible.”

“Take your feet off of there,” Murphy said.

“You’re no fun, Murphy, has anyone ever told you that?”

“Only all the time,” Murphy said.

“You should come inside when we get there, see what she’s done to him this time,” Emmy said. Diane’s campaign against the BOTomist had continued. Diane had greased the kitchen floor with Crisco so the BOTomist whirred in place and could not pursue her. She’d trapped him in the pantry, where he’d knocked over the spice rack and speckled his rubberized skin with herbes de Provence they’d still not been able to totally remove.

Murphy snorted.

“That’s not even the best one,” Emmy said. Because next Diane had taken every pillow in the house and lined them up beneath the kitchen stair ramp, so when the BOTomist trailed her trying to do a pulmonary test, his beseeching tube extended, he’d landed on the traction-less surface, tumbled among the pillows, and been unable to right himself. Helpless on his back, like a beetle.

Murphy laughed at this and Emmy loved an audience.

Emmy had come home to find Diane lounging with the BOTomist, reading a paperback aloud, as if to a lover, while the BOTomist called out from his heap of decorative pillows: Please set me right. Please set me right. Please set me right..

Emmy imitated the BOTomist’s tinny plea. Murphy was laughing hard now, speechless, waving his hands at Emmy to stop.

Please set me right! she squeaked and hugged herself and rocked in the seat as if she had fallen and could not get up. She clambered onto her knees on the bench seat and grabbed Murphy’s arms and shook him and robot-talked:

Please set me right!

She was sitting on him now, straddling him.

Please set me right!

Murphy stopped laughing, and he pulled Emmy to him and kissed her, and while he was doing this Emmy was thinking: I hate it when Diane is right. If she goes, who will be right about me? Emmy kissed Murphy back, hard and immediately. Murphy slid his hands into Emmy’s hair. She pressed herself against him, grabbed him by the neck, she wrapped herself around him even though there wasn’t enough room in the cabin for them to grapple. Murphy put his hands around her waist and Emmy sighed. The sigh was so small, it surprised him, and he let go.

“No,” he said. He lifted her up and off of him. “I’m really sorry, Emmy. I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”

Emmy groaned and tried to clamber back. To make him remember that she wasn’t as young as he thought she was. The four years between them were nothing—and on the inside, Emmy swore, she was ancient. Murphy sloughed her off.

She slid back over to her side of the truck bench. Placed her feet on the dash, defiantly. YOU ARE THE WORST, Emmy said. THE ABSOLUTE WORST.

“I know,” Murphy said. “I know I am.”

The heat was blasting in the cab, and everything smelled like seat vinyl. Outside the truck, the overheads light hummed and burned orangely down on the deserted loading dock. The radio kept on about the weather. The plows. The people and where they would go to wait. The people who said maybe it was just time to give up on Meagerhorn. That it had become too extreme.

“What if the snow never stops?” Emmy said.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

Emmy shouted, “I am ridiculous! My whole life is like a bad joke.” She sank down.

Murphy turned to look at her. He poked her in the arm.

“Knock, knock,” Murphy said.

“Shut the fuck up.”

“It’s a bad joke, come on. Knock, knock.”

 “Who’s there?” Emmy said, hands over her face.


“Lettuce, who?”

“Lettuce in it’s cold outside!”

Murphy’s face lit up like it was the best thing he’d ever done. Emmy punched him in the arm.

There was a loud pop, and the lights inside the loading dock went off. It was dark in the cab. Murphy switched on his headlights.

“Power?” Emmy said.

Murphy dialed the radio to another frequency. The radio told them that the Meagerhorn substation had been outed by the snow. The radio told them it would take at least a day for repairs to begin. The radio told them residents were encouraged to spend the night at the shelter in neighboring Peekskill, as temperatures would be in the negative digits overnight and power would not be restored before morning.

Can you take us to Peekskill? Emmy said.


As they drove to Emmy’s house, there were no lights on in any of the houses. Not a single warm-square window. A few solar-powered spotlights illuminated heaps of meanly glittering snow along unshoveled walkways. There was no one around and the icy crusts were unbroken by footsteps. When had everyone packed up and left? How had they gone without her noticing?


They found Diane reading a paperback by the light of a Coleman lantern in the living room. She was wearing glasses and drinking wine. She was playing Alice Coltrane’s ashram record on the battery-turntable— weird symphonic chanting coming from the loft. Emmy thought the house already felt chilled.

“Power’s out,” Diane said.

Diane loved a blackout. When they lost power when Emmy was small, they would build tents full of lanterns that glowed in the living room. They would listen to all the sad women on the turntable, and Diane would read her stories as they lay in their nest of quilts. Emmy could tell already: this was what Diane was planning on doing tonight. But she couldn’t. Not with the temperature going so low.

“I brought a friend,” Emmy said.

“And I brought provisions.” Murphy held a sack of apples.

“Murphy, purveyor of unseasonable fruits!” Diane stood.

“Nice to meet you,” Murphy said, handing over the apples. “Gala 4135.” They were small, and a little bit greenish, and Diane bit into one immediately. The three of them triangulated the coffee table.

“I quite like Gala 4135.”

 Emmy said, “That sounds like a planet.”

“That’s our planet,” Diane said, pulling Emmy to her and stroking her hair. “We are the last two inhabitants of Gala 4135.”

 Emmy pulled away.

“What about me?” Murphy said. “Don’t I get a planet?”

“Well, that’s up to you, chicken, now isn’t it?”

“Don’t ‘chicken’ him,” Emmy said. “They’re saying we need to evacuate. To Peekskill. We’ve got to go. Murphy’s going to drive us to the shelter.”

“Nonsense,” Diane said. “I have everything I need here. And now, apples.”

“We’ll come back tomorrow. But it’s going to be too cold overnight.” Diane didn’t want to leave Meagerhorn. She didn’t even want to leave the house. But she had to. Emmy scanned for what they’d need to pack. “Where’s the BOTomist?”

“Haven’t seen him,” Diane said, taking off her glasses.

There was a banging from outside.

“Let me pour everyone some wine.” Carrying a flashlight, Diane got two glasses from the kitchen. “So, Murphy,” she said, as she poured. “How’s the fruit business?”

The banging came again.

“Seriously, where is the BOTomist?” Emmy said. “We need to go.”

“He went out for cigarettes.”

Emmy looked at her. “No.”

Diane shrugged and handed Murphy a glass. Emmy lifted the lantern and walked toward the sound. The outdoor floodlights ran on solar. Framed in the sliding doors, outside, was the BOTomist, small and green, flecks of herb still clinging to his rubber skin, using his fragile phlebotomy arm to rap against the glass.

“It’s going to be negative twenty tonight!” Emmy said. “You’ll freeze him!”

How can I help. Please. Help. Please. How can I. Please. Help, the BOTomist said.

“I’m letting him in,” said Emmy. She started to unlatch the door.

“Don’t you dare.” Diane stood up, pointing, loud. “Don’t you even think about it.”

“Mrs. Reilly,” Murphy said. “Maybe—”

“No dice, Murphy. Emmy, I swear to god if you let that robot inside—”

Please. Help. How can I. Please. Help. How can I.

Emmy let her hand drop from the latch.

“What did he say?” Emmy said. “Before you locked him out. What did he tell you?”

“I don’t know why you assume—”

“You tell me right now or I’ll open the door and have him tell me.” Diane looked at her feet like a child caught in a lie.  “Diane,” Emmy said, “I’m going to count to three.”

Diane said, “It’s bad news, chicken. You know that.”

“No I don’t,” Emmy said. She thought of all that rope coiled in the hall closet. She thought of the pills in the medicine chest.

“It’s a young man’s game out there,” Diane said. “I’m staying in Meagerhorn.”

The BOTomist’s banging stopped, and all three of them turned to look. He lowered his arm. He swiveled, slowly, pivoting around. Then, he began to roll away. The light from his LED cast a red circle on the snowy ground, and they watched it grow smaller as he went.

“Where is he going?” Murphy said. Emmy imagined some internal protocol demanding he return to the lab. That something in his programming drew him home, even though it would surely kill him.

Diane put down her wine glass.

“Where are you going?” Emmy said.

“To bed,” said Diane, crossing the room to retrieve the lantern. “Murphy, it was nice meeting you.” She handed him a flashlight.

 “Mom,” Emmy said. Diane smiled and took Emmy’s face in her hands. She kissed her on the forehead.

“I suggest you evacuate with Murphy,” she said.

As Diane climbed the loft ladder with the Coleman, the light grew dimmer until Murphy and Emmy were left standing in the dark.

It was a long moment before Murphy flicked his flashlight on. He shone it in Emmy’s face. She squinted at him.

Emmy picked up the wine and their glasses and brought them to the kitchen. Murphy followed, bouncing the beam of light along ahead.

Emmy leaned on the kitchen island and poured herself some. Across the island Murphy was watching her.

“You can drink yours, too.” Emmy said. She nudged him. He set the flashlight on the counter and took a small sip. Emmy laughed percussively. “Aren’t you glad you came over?”

Murphy picked up his glass. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize—”

“You apologize too much,” said Emmy. Emmy held the bulb of the wine glass in both her hands.

“You can’t make her come with us?’

 “The thing is,” Emmy said, “I don’t think it’s up to me.”

“It doesn’t have to go like that.”

“I’m pretty sure I have to let it go like that.”

“You could come with me.”

“I’m not going to fucking Peekskill.”

“Not Peekskill,” Murphy said. “You could come home with me.”

“Don’t,” Emmy said.

“I’m not teasing.”

Emmy felt her hands tighten on the wine glass and she told herself to let go, not to shatter it. She placed her hands flat on the counter, steady. Murphy leaned in and covered them. Outside, a ways off, at the edge of the floodlight’s range, they watched the BOTomist, grown small. The temperature had dropped. He would not last the night. In the dim light, he was caterpillaring over the blue, snowy banks and away.

“If you’re teasing, Murphy, I swear to fucking god—”

“We can go someplace else,” Murphy said. “Alabama? Or just around the block. You tell me where.”

 “Anywhere,” Emmy said. “So long as I don’t wind up the last woman on Gala 4135.”

“Belgica 3602? Civni 3615. Empire 4125, maybe,” Murphy said.

“A new planet,” said Emmy. “Any other planet.”

 “Elstar 4121. Jonagold 4145. Sciros 4122.”

“Yes,” Emmy said. “Yes yes yes.” She came around the counter and clung to him.

“Pinova 3435. Boskoop 3292. Alkmene 3000,” Murphy told her quietly. “And that’s just the apple system. If we’re talking citrus—”

 “We’re talking all of them.”

“Listen, are you sure we couldn’t—”

“Knock, knock,” Emmy said.

Murphy said, “Who’s there?”


Wednesday, January 15, 2020