Alexa by Eric Lande


I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. No, not because of anything that had occurred during the night. It’s just that Roma, one of my cats, was lying — asleep — on the right side, and I didn’t want to disturb her. I turned on the lights and looked for my iPhone to check the weather app, the mail app, and the CNBC app. How could I start my day without first knowing what the weather forecast would be — though, living in Vermont, that was always a minute-to-minute question, somewhat akin to my ex-wives’ answers when I would ask if they wanted to join me in the bedroom: changeable. I learned to act quickly, acquiring the nickname ‘Billy the Kid’, though my name isn’t Billy — it’s Adam. 

After using the bathroom, I returned to my bed to brush the cats. Figo and Summer enjoy being brushed and wait for me on the right side of the bed, while Roma remains, asleep but with one eye open, on the bed quilt. Sunshine, my fourth cat, usually stays in the kitchen, waiting to be fed. I brush them and they purr — all except Roma. When I brush her, she thinks I’m playing, and instead of purring and simply lying on the quilt peacefully, she rolls around with her clawed paws raised, ready to attack. To brush Roma is a mission. As a former accountant, I count the strokes, hoping to reach 100 before her clawed paws reach my hand.

After cleaning their litter boxes — one being in my shower … no, if I want to take a shower, I go upstairs to one of my guest bathrooms, as the shower in my bathroom has been converted to a place where my cats go and do whatever it is that cats do in litter boxes; I needn’t explain further. 

This morning, I walked into the kitchen, anticipating my cappuccino. I asked Alexa — politely — to play ‘Latest BBC News’. That’s what I like to hear first thing in the morning as I prepare my breakfast and meditate over my cappuccino.

“Sorry, I don’t understand you,” came her reply.

I repeated, “Play latest BBC News”, and waited.

“Sorry, I’m busy right now.” 

Busy? Busy? Doing what? That’s what my last wife would tell me every time I asked her to do something … anything, especially have sex, except my last ex-wife wouldn’t preface her refusal with ‘Sorry’; she’d just outright refuse my request.

I tried again, this time with different phraseology. It often worked with my ex-wives —  and always, with my lovers. 

“Alexa, sweetheart, play BBC latest news.”

“Here’s the latest news from the BBC.”

You see, a little sugar goes a long way in life. That’s what my mother taught me, — but who listens to their mothers?

I continued preparing, adding water to the rice pot — boiled rice mixed with canned, no-salt-added corn and chopped mixed greens, being part of the treats I give my chickens, ducks, and guinea fowl — and I placed my cup of water in the microwave, set for two minutes.  

I don’t know why I ask Alexa to play the latest BBC news. It’s all about countries no one has ever heard of — except on the BBC news — and people, usually dictators and rebellion leaders in countries no one’s ever heard of, except on the BBC news, and whose names are unpronounceable, even by the BBC commentators — but the news cast doesn’t last long, which is, perhaps, a blessing.

While I was slicing and squeezing the lime that accompanies my hot water, I asked Alexa to ‘Play songs by Arturo Rubinstein’. 

She replied, “I don’t know any songs by Arturo Rubinstein, but here are some songs by Ravi Shankar.”

“Alexa, I didn’t ask for songs by Ravi Shankar; I asked you to play songs by Arturo Rubinstein,” I told her, my voice slightly agitated. 

Alexa replied, “I don’t know any songs by Arturo Rubinstein; perhaps try someone else.”

While arguing with Alexa, my hot water — now with the juice of a squeezed lime — cooled, requiring me to put the cup back in the microwave, this time for one minute. Giving up on Alexa playing songs by Arturo Rubinstein, I asked her to play some Argentine tangos.

“Here are some Argentine tangos by Xavier Cugat.” 

What? Xavier Cugat, to the best of my knowledge, was Cuban — not even close to Argentina — and he had a band that played rhumbas — not tangos. What is Alexa talking about? In the meantime, while Xavier Cugat is playing rhumbas and I’m trying to maneuver my footwork to his rhumba beat around the island between my sink and my refrigerator, the previously hot lime water has cooled — again — requiring another minute in the microwave. 

I like Xavier Cugat. I recalled my mother telling me she had danced with him at the Waldorf on one her periodic visits to New York with my father, but it’s not Argentine tango, and I specifically asked Alexa to play Argentine tangos. 

“Alexa, please — pretty please — play Argentine tangos by di Sarli.” 

With some of my ex-wives, being excessively courteous worked — depending on what I asked of them. If we hadn’t had sex in a couple of days — which was highly unusual and, therefore, unlikely — it worked. Again, I have to thank my mother for this advice, although she never would have used it — or suggested to use it — in order to lure a woman — any woman, especially your wife — into your bed — or even on top of your bed.

“Here is some music by Carlos di Sarli,” Alexa told me.

“Alexa, louder,” I asked, but she didn’t raise the volume. Perhaps she didn’t hear me.

I repeated, “Alexa, louder,” but again, the music played at the same level of volume. Had Alexa become hard of hearing, was she stubborn, or perhaps she might have taken a coffee break? Whichever, she was becoming annoying — like all my ex-wives. I tried again — like I always did with my ex-wives.

“Alexa, volume 5,” I told her, and waited.

“I think we’ve lost the connection,” she came back with.

I decided I needed a break — from Alexa — and asked her to stop. 

Instead of doing what all my ex-wives did, and that was to ask, why? Alexa stopped.

I don’t know why I put up with Alexa. She acts just like a wife — and I’ve had quite a few of those in my past. I’m considering replacing her — no, not with another wife — with another cat. Cats never say ‘Sorry’, or ‘I’m busy right now’. They never tell you to ‘Try later’, or ‘I’ve lost the connection’. Cats make you feel like you’re the most important person in their lives, like you mean something — everything — to them. They never say ‘I’m tired’ or ‘I have a headache’, like all my ex-wives used to tell me too many times when I wanted to have sex. 

At least Alexa never said any of those things to me. 

All cats want is your love — and a scratch on their bellies from time to time. You give them food, and water, and clean their litter boxes. They’re right there when you want them, and more often than not they like to cuddle up against you in bed.

Yes, the more I think about it, the more I feel I should take the break from Alexa and get another cat.

 But I won’t name her Alexa.

Born in Montreal, E.P. Lande has lived in France and Vermont, where he now lives with his partner. Previously, he taught at l’Université d’Ottawa as a Vice-Dean and has owned country inns. Recently, his stories have been accepted by more than two dozen journals including Bewildering StoriesArchtype and Literally Stories.

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