The following is the continuation of a flash fiction story entitled “The empowerment of Bernice”. In this first story, Bernice, a vintage, Maytag Washer is given sentience by a Higher Power and is adopted by Joe Stalin, who is aware of Bernice’s sentience….
All went well at Bernice’s new home. Joe’s two sons kindheartedly welcomed her and they all agreed to start out with Bernice situated in the living room, which was the most used room in the home. Bernice enjoyed television shows, particularly mysteries, National Geographic, and that Jerry, with the tabloid show. Everything was proceeding nicely according to Joe’s plan. Bernice was with them for three months when Joe, in the guise of a routine check of the vintage washer, switched off Bernice’s speech, using a simple EM pulse. A few minutes later when she tried to speak, nothing came out. She was a lot more than slightly hysterical, rocking from side to side and slamming into the wall.
Bernice calmed down after a day or so, though her speech did not return. Joe applied an EM pulse in the area he thought might be the center of her consciousness, but he was off the mark. Joe tried again and again but he was unable to find that spark that transformed Bernice from an inanimate, obsolete washer to a sentient being. What Joe Stalin did not know was how cognizant of her surroundings Bernice had become–Higher Power made sure of that, as well as shielding Bernice’s sentient processes. Bernice’s consciousness. including speech, could not be accessed by anyone but her (and Higher Power). Bernice was fully aware that Joe and his sons were crooked.
Joe could not fathom where Bernice’s consciousness was kept. He tried just about every inch of the old washer. Where could it be? This washer wasn’t his first sentient piece of crap. Joe suspected Higher Power had caught on to him and creatively hid Bernice’s sentience. Joe needed Bernice’s sentience and one more–then he could retire to beautiful Ottawa and become a snowbird, wintering in the Florida Keys….
Lost in thought, Joe didn’t notice he had company in his bedroom. Eventually, he turned around and found himself facing Charleton Heston. “Hey, Chuck, what’s up?”
“Do not call me that. You’re getting nowhere with the washer–am I correct?”
“Come on Charlie, help me out here. They always flip when they see you standing in front of them. So…go get ’em. What’s the matter? Afraid you’ll get caught? Or, are you afraid of that old water bucket.”
“I believe he has empowered Bernice and that, is an unknown I don’t care to face. So, Mr. Stalin, either take care of it or walk away. It’s no matter to me, I’m not saving money for retirement–the NRA took care of that for me when I still lived in your plane of existence. I wish you luck, Mr. Stalin, either way.”
Frustrated, Joe called it a night and hit the sheets. Stress was exhausting. Around 2:00 A.M., Joe was startled awake when an attractive blond-haired woman appeared in Joe’s room, standing by his bed. He couldn’t seem to speak or even move as he watched her. She blinked and he was handcuffed and his mouth sealed with duct tape in a pleasant shade of fuchsia. She blinked again and there appeared a tag on his big toe. She blinked once more and Joe was discovered by a pair of police officers on the steps of the 27th Precinct, wearing his toe tag. A folder of his criminal activities, along with evidence of his latest scheme, was tucked under an arm.
At this point, all the blonde, who looked very much like Marilyn Monroe, had left to do was take care of troublemaker, Charleton Heston. She decided he needed a change of scenery, and planet. With a couple of blinks of her blue eyes, she sent Charleton Heston to a prison planet in the Delta System. She was sure that Heston, as a former Higher-Power impersonator, would be a very diligent Director of Prisoner Recreation. With that mess cleaned up, she visited with Bernice, revealing to her that she was not actually sentient, but that could easily be rectified.
“Bernice, tell me, would you like to be human, with a finite life, or a sentient object of your choice, with an infinite life?” The blonde was preoccupied with straightening the seams of her stockings.
“Yes, my dear. Do you want time to think about it?”
“No. I’d like to decide now. First, thank You, for all you have done for me, especially for giving me such an opportunity. I’m really not sentient? Then, what am I?”
“Don’t worry about what you are now–just consider the rest of your life. And, thank you for helping with my little scheme to get these criminals. And you may call me Marilyn if you like. So, have you decided yet?”
Bernice found herself staring at Marilyn’s legs. She tried to imagine how great it would be to walk, dance, climb a mountain. But, her life would be finite. She would grow old–a second class citizen, perhaps dying without any dignity as so often happens . A sentient object would have infinity. Bernice wondered, where’s the delight in being a sentient rock or Eiffel Tower? Now an apartment house where she could observe people’s lives–that could be interesting. However, she wouldn’t be able to take a walk. And, she might lose all the tenants if she tries to carry on a conversation with any of them. Bernice watched Marilyn brush her hair, apply fresh lipstick. The giver of the “ability to straighten the seams of one’s stockings” had obviously missed Marilyn….
The ethereal light of epiphany turned on for Bernice. “You are not the Higher Power. Who or what are you?”
The blonde continued primping as she answered Bernice. She disliked this part of the program. She always thought something Shakespearean would be more appropriate, or the line “You can’t handle the truth!” She looked at Bernice, that silly old-fashioned contrivance….
“Well, he said you would probably catch on. But, I don’t think you have, not really. To answer your question, dearest Bernice, you need to consider time as a fluid–a viscous fluid with everyone and everything bobbing around in it. Put your hand in the fluid and stir–voilà! It’s the year 2042.”
“You’re trying to tell me that I’ve traveled in time? It doesn’t make sense…”
“You are me, I am you.”
“I don’t get it, Marilyn.”
“You don’t have to get it, Bernice. Not right now, this minute. It will make sense soon enough. So, what’s your decision? Same choices, same conditions. Do you need time?”
“Yeah, stir the viscous fluid for me, will ya, Marilyn?”
The Maytag washer and Marilyn stood there, laughing at the absurdity of it all. Eventually Bernice made her choice. The right one according to Marilyn, because Marilyn was there to see that she did….