Another story from The Robot Revolution
First published in CommuterLit
First published in CommuterLit
Rip Van Winkle
When Rip woke up, he didn’t know where he was. Then he looked around and saw that he was in his own bed in his own house. But something didn’t seem right. It was the color of the room, a soft pink. He remembered painting it a light green. There were things on the bureaus that he didn’t remember seeing before.
He climbed out of bed and looked into the mirror that hung over the dresser. He pulled back in alarm when he saw an old man staring back at him. Then he remembered: he had woken up a few days ago in a hospital room, it seemed like. There was a lot of excitement when he woke up. Nurses kept running into the room and talking excitedly. Then a doctor came and explained what had happened to him. But Rip didn’t understand. It didn’t make any sense to him. After a couple of days they brought him back home, but it was late when he arrived, and he had gone right to bed.
He shook his head at the image in the mirror. Then he got dressed and walked out through the living room to the kitchen where he saw a plump blonde woman stirring a pot on the stove. She looked familiar, but he didn’t recognize her.
“Oh, good! You’re up. How are you feeling? Are you hungry? I’ll fix you some breakfast.”
Rip sat at the kitchen table. He thought the woman must be his daughter Alison, but she had changed since he had last seen her.
The woman brought him a cup of coffee and hugged him.
“Can you tell me what’s going on? I’m confused, Alison.”
The woman laughed. “I’m not Alison. That’s my mother. I’m Heidi, your granddaughter.”
It was getting more confusing all the time. “How can you be my granddaughter?” he asked. “Heidi is still in high school, and you must be…”
“I’m thirty-four, grandpa. I graduated from high school many years ago.”
“But where have I been all those years?”
“Didn’t they explain it in the nursing home? You were in a coma for almost twenty years.”
“Twenty years? How did that happen?”
“Evidently there was some kind of unusual reaction between your heart medication and Tylenol. Didn’t the doctor explain that to you?”
“I guess he tried to, but there was so much noise and confusion going on, that I didn’t understand very much of what he was saying.”
“Do you still like your eggs over easy?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she went on, “Mom will be coming down this week-end. In the meantime I will be staying with you for a while. But you should be okay. The doctors put you in a hospital for a few days to undergo some tests, but they said you are fine.
Heidi put the eggs on the table and popped two slices of bread in the toaster. She reached into the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of pills, which she put in front of her grandfather.
“Here are you heart pills. You need to take one with your breakfast. There is some Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. They are for my sinus headaches. Don’t you take any of it. We don’t want you to take another twenty-year nap.” She smiled.
After Heidi took the dishes to the sink, she said, “I’m going to the market to pick up some things for dinner. Do you want to ride along with me?”
“Sure. I don’t suppose my old car is still the garage.”
“No, it’s long gone, but that’s no problem.”
She picked up her phone from the counter and punched something into it.
“What did you do?” Rip asked. “Did you just order a taxi?”
“No,” she laughed. “I ordered a LandCar. I belong to an organization, and I can order a LandCar whenever I need it.”
“You just order it on your cell phone?” Rip asked.
“That’s right. I have a LandCar app on my phone.”
“I have an old cell phone around here somewhere. Can I get that on my phone?”
“Your old phone is obsolete. We’ll have to get you a new one. You need a cell phone for practically everything you do these days.”
In a few minutes a car pulled up in front of Rip’s condo. They went outside and Heidi climbed into the back seat.
“Are you sure you want me to drive?” Rip asked. “I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car for a long time.”
Heidi laughed. “No, you get in beside me. This car drives itself.”
Rip started to back out. “I don’t think I want to go,” he said. “I don’t trust a machine to drive me through traffic.”
After she coaxed Rip back into the car, Heidi said, “Take us to ShopRite,” and the car started moving.
Rip felt his heart leap up to his throat. “Stop the car!” he yelled. “Stop the car!”
Heidi laughed. “Don’t worry, Grandpa. These self-driving cars are much safer than cars driven by people. In fact very few people drive cars themselves anymore.”
When they entered the grocery store, Heidi showed something from her phone to a small monitor near the entrance. Then she picked up a basket and walked through the store picking up the things she wanted.
When she had everything she needed, she started walking toward the entrance.
Alarmed, Rip asked, “Aren’t you going to pay for the stuff you took? Are we going to get thrown in jail for shoplifting?”
She chuckled. “Sorry,” she said. “I should be more careful to explain things to you. I checked in with my phone first when we got to the store. After that, everything I picked up was charged to my bank account. “I’m sure you noticed, there were no cashiers or cash registers. It’s a lot easier this way. People rarely pay cash for things these days. They just use their cell phones to make a direct payment from their checking accounts.”
After Heidi put away the groceries, she made tuna sandwiches for lunch. As they were finishing their sandwiches, they heard a knock on the door. Heidi opened it to admit a short robot who rolled in on small wheels.
“Good afternoon,” the robot said. “I am Murdok from the Office of Vital Statistics. Are you Rip Van Winkle?”
Rip said he was.
“Well, Mr. Van Winkle, you are delinquent in filing your Personnel Reports. You are supposed to file it by March 15 every year, and we haven’t had one from you for over twenty years.”
“Iris used to file them. All that paper work gets me all confused. Besides, I was in a coma for almost twenty years.”
“No one is excused for any reason from filing Personnel Reports. It is your responsibility as a citizen.”
Murdok reached into a brief case, pulled out a pile of papers, and thrust them into Rip’s hands. “You have until Friday to fill out these forms for the past twenty years. I’ll be back to pick them up.”
“I can’t do that by Friday.”
“You should have been doing them every year, as required by law.”
“I couldn’t do them. I was in a coma.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Van Winkle. I don’t make the rules. I just enforce them.”
He wheeled around and went out the door.
All the stress had given Rip a headache. He went into the bathroom and got a Tylenol. He took a couple of pills and lay down for his afternoon nap.
The Robot Revolution
The Robot Revolution