The quaint brick cottage on Evergreen Lane sits in the morning sun overlooking a vibrant garden of hollyhocks and foxglove.
Larry Baker kneels along the path, pulling weeds, depositing them into a bucket, careful not to get his overalls dirty.
"I've let this go too long," he mutters.
He stands and rubs his sore back for a moment, then collects his tools and cut flowers, carrying them up the porch stairs to the front door.
Inside the cottage, floral patterns adorn the walls in faded yellow and orange, a gallery of photos hang here and there with dusty Christmas cards lined across the fireplace mantle.
Larry sets his tools down on the bench just inside the front door.
He shuffles into the kitchen and rummages through the cupboards, pulling out glasses and mismatched plastic bowls.
"Ah, there it is. Oh, Clara loved this one," He says, finding a delicate vase embellished with indigo flowers.
Knock, knock. The front door rattles.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," he says, carefully setting the vase on the counter.
At the door a man in his late 40s stands holding a box wrapped in ribbon, his tailored suit and pristine shoes look out of place on Evergreen Lane.
“What's the occasion?” Larry says as he walks back into the living room.
John Baker follows his father into the cottage, closing the door behind him.
"God, it's dark in here, why don’t you open up some curtains?” John remarks.
"What do you want?" Larry says sitting down on the couch
John sits uncomfortably on an old recliner
‘We tried to call you last week. I thought mom had a cell phone?”
"She did, it's in her nightstand. You know I don't trust those things, the radio waves will fry your brain." Larry says.
"Dad, she didn't die from using a cell phone." John stops, knowing it will fall on deaf ears.
"Anyway" he continues, "Alicia, and I worry about you being here alone.”
"I'm fine, been here for 40 years in this house, took care of you kids here, took care of your mom."--Larry pauses looking at his son "Why are you really here, you never just show up."
John sets the box down on the coffee table in front of Larry.
"We got something for you, the kids wrapped it."
Larry lifts the top off. Inside the box is a small object, a shiny ball the size of a tangerine, it has 4 small holes on one side and a line splitting the hemispheres.
“Looks like a doorknob,” Larry says.
“It's called a Home Organizational and Automation Assistant, but everyone just calls them ‘Homies’.” John says, "Alicia and I have one, we love it."
“I don’t need it.” Larry responds, his voice notably irritated, “I got everything organized right where I want it.”
"Mom kept track of everything, you and I both know it," John says.
"It won't move any of your things.” John continues, “This device will simply scan and catalog so you can ask for an item and it will show you where it is. It will also allow us to check on you from time to time, so we know you are ok.”
"I won't have some computer sneaking around my house, doing God knows what." Larry retorts sitting back, crossing his arms.
"The fire department called us." John says with a tense tone, "They said you nearly burned down your shed last week. If your neighbors hadn't called ..."
He pauses, "Look, If you don't at least try this, we will have to talk about safer living arrangements."
Larry stares at the floor saying nothing, knowing if he fights this he could lose his home, the only connection he has to the good years, to his wife.
"leave it here then," he says.
"Good, just so you know, this model doesn't speak" John continues "I figured all your conversations are one-sided anyway."
John picks up the ball, it lights up and beeps one time.
"One beep means yes, two beeps means no" John says holding out the ball to Larry.
"Take it, dad," John says.
Larry takes the object, looking it over he flips it around a few times.
"Just say 'Hey Homey your name is' and give it a name you'll remember" John explains.
Larry takes a moment then reluctantly says,
"Hey Homey" the ball lights up "your name is Knob," Larry says.
The ball beeps once.
"Does this thing have radio waves?" Larry asks.
"No Dad, this uses the brand new SUBSTREAM network, its groundbreaking tech, my firm handles all the negotiations."
"So no radio waves?" Larry asks.
"No radio waves, no cell networks, nothing like that, you are safe," John replies "Ok, I'm running late, it was good to see you," John says as he makes his way towards the door.
"Tell the kids I love them," Larry says
"We'll come by soon," John replies as he closes the door.
Larry sits staring at a shiny ball he named Knob.
After a few minutes he gets up to carry on his daily routine, a walk to the end of the garden path, check the mailbox, then a stroll to the corner to watch the new streetlight being installed, then back again to find the shiny ball still sitting on the coffee table.
Back out to the garden to pull a few more weeds, a walk into the backyard to survey the burned shed, and back to the house to find the shiny ball still unmoved.
This goes on throughout the day, Larry is in and out, nevertheless, the shiny ball doesn't show any signs of life.
"Guess it's broken, that's just as well, it can sit there," Larry mutters as he thumbs through his mail.
Soon night settles over the cottage, Larry finishes dinner and eases back into his recliner. He picks up an oversized book, the only evening entertainment he has had since his TV stopped working 20 years earlier.
The shiny ball on the coffee table, unchanged.
Larry glances over his reading glasses, across the top of his book, then back to reading, then another look, several more times, until his eyes feel heavy.
Soon the snoring is deep and steady, the type of snoring one does after a long day.
The shiny ball lights up.
Larry wakes to the sound of the garbage truck out on the lane. Thin slivers of sunlight push through the living room curtains. He had fallen asleep in his chair, he rarely slept in his bed anymore.
Shuffling to the kitchen, Larry puts a teakettle on the stove, yawning he looks into the living room.
The coffee table is empty.
"You little sneak, waiting until I go to sleep, where are you!" He yells.
Listening carefully, he hears a slight thump coming from the hallway. Then again, another thump. He follows the noise until he comes to the basement door.
He opens it cautiously and out pops the shiny ball all lit up, rolling by him down the hall and into the living room.
"What did you do?" Larry says.
He steps down the stairs into the cool, damp air of the cottage basement. The morning sun filters through a dusty single-paned window. Larry moves boxes, a tricycle, and an antique record player. Nothing looks out of place, not that he would know.
He stops at one particular box. Opening it, he finds a white gown embroidered with lace and ribbon, a wedding dress. His fingers caress the fabric.
He continues to open items he had long since forgotten spending more time than he has planned, each a treasure of memories. He rings a bell attached to the tricycle handlebar, he can't help but smile.
"I wonder if that old record player still works," he says
Larry hobbles up the basement stairs carrying the record player, he sets it down on the coffee table; the teakettle in the kitchen is in full howl.
"Oh, I forgot about my coffee," Larry says
He pours out the boiling water into a mug and looks around
"Knob!" Larry yells, trying his best to sound stern "Stay put unless I say so, do you understand?"
Knob beeps once.
"What did John say? One beep for yes or two beeps for yes?" John mutters.
"Knob?" Larry says
Knob lights up.
"Does one beep mean yes?" Larry asks
"Beep" Knob answers
"Wait," Larry stops "So, it means yes, or are you saying no it does not mean yes?"
Knob lights up, not quite sure how to answer.
"Let's try this one." Larry says, "Is today Tuesday?"
"Ah, so one beep means no. Garbage trucks always come on Thursday."
"Oh, for Pete’s sake," Larry exclaims.
Knock, knock, the front door rattles
"Nobody visits for months and now every day they knock on my door?" Larry grumbles
"I'm coming, hold on," Larry calls from the kitchen.
He opens the door to find two young girls holding a collection of cookie boxes.
"Hi sir, we are from the neighborhood Girl's Troop and we are selling cookies to fund our summer camp. Would you like to buy some?" they both smile on cue.
"Uh, I don't really think I am interested," Larry says, putting up a good fight, but several minutes later has purchased four boxes of chocolate swirls.
Before he closes the door he turns back "Miss?" Larry asks as they are leaving, "What day is this?"
"Tuesday!" they yell back.
"Beep" Knob responds.
"Oh, for Pete's sake," Larry exclaims, again.
The evening routine of dinner and dishes comes and goes and Larry retires to his chair, another night with his book when he notices Knob is sitting on the coffee table, on the record player turntable.
"You want me to play something? I'm not sure this even works anymore" It had been many years since he had played music, the kids were always running around the house, Larry was afraid they would scratch the vinyl or ruin the needle so he put it away. His concerns seemed trivial now.
"Clara loved Tijuana music." Larry says, 'Where did she put those records?"
Knob lights up, rolls towards the basement door, banging against it repeatedly
"Hey, I told you to stay put!" Larry declares. Despite that, he opens the door and follows Knob down the basement stairs. He pulls the string hanging from the light, Knob glows green, vibrating and bumping against a box.
Larry opens it to find an assortment of vinyl records. The collection is pristine, saved for quieter times.
Larry grabs a handful of albums and walks up the stairs, he turns and Knob is still in the basement
"Well, come on," Larry says, and Knob follows him up the stairs.
The night is filled with song after song, Larry had forgotten how much he loved listening to the warm sound of the old record player.
“Knob, this calls for a toast,” Larry says, taking a bottle of tequila out of the corner cabinet and a shot glass.
He pours a little into the glass and holds it up “This is for you, Clara” he says and swallows the contents.
‘Whoa, that has a kick” he says with a snicker
“You know, Knob,” Larry continues, “I used to be an excellent dancer.”
Larry shuffles around the room
“Oh, but Clara was something to behold. She could have been a star, you know? She even won competitions.” Larry says,
“She used to have a gold locket with my picture inside. She wore it for good luck. I wonder whatever became of that?” Larry says, continuing to shuffle to the rhythm, one arm extended, the other on his chest, dancing with an imaginary partner.
The night continues with more music and even more stories until the last song plays and Larry is fast asleep in his chair.
This was a good night.
Larry wakes, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He climbs out of his recliner, there are a plethora of vinyl records spread out everywhere throughout the living room.
“Oh, I’m sore,” he mutters
“Knob?” he calls out ‘You could have cleaned this up at least,” Larry says jokingly
The only noise Larry hears is the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall.
“Knob?” he says again
Larry searches the house, finally ending up in his bedroom. He didn’t come in here very often.
There is a rustling coming from Clara’s side of the bed. Larry walks around to find Knob pushing a shoebox out from underneath.
“What is this?” Larry asks
Knob is vibrating and pulsating in green, obviously excited about something.
Larry picks up the box and opens it. Inside is a collection of handwritten notes, his son's crayon drawings, and some old photos.
Knob is almost hopping up and down with excitement.
Larry moves a few more items to find Clara’s gold locket, her good luck charm.
“There it is!” Larry exclaims “You found it!”
Larry releases the clasp and opens it to a faded photo of a smiling young man.
“I was a handsome devil,” Larry says with a grin. He lingers until he notices an envelope with the words ‘To my Lawrence’ written in his wife’s handwriting.
Larry hesitates, he takes the letter out and cautiously unfolds it. The letter smells of lavender.
To my dearest Lawrence,
I am dying; I wish there was a more elegant way to say it. I have known for a few months now.
I’m going to wait until after Christmas to give you this news. The holidays are always so special, and I do hope we get a little snow this year.
Remember when we were dating, and you bought me that gold locket? I found it the other day. I think you just wanted to keep the other boys away, but I was so proud to be your girl, I never took it off. I will always be proud to be your girl.
Thank you for our home; thank you for our gardens, but above all thank you for our wonderful life and the time I have had with you.
Please take care of John, I know he has grown into a man that we can both be proud of. He has a wonderful family and all the success we could have hoped for him, but he is still your son, he still needs his dad.
I am going to end here; you’re about to come in for supper, and I don’t want to miss any time I have left with you.
I love you,
P.S. I sprayed this letter with your favorite perfume; I know how you love lavender.
Larry’s hands shake as he tries to fold the letter as the tears well in his eyes. He had been holding back a tidal wave of emotions for too long and can no longer contain it.
Knob sits quietly, suffused in somber blue.
The rest of the day is quiet, Larry picks up the living room, putting the record player back in the basement, he leaves the house to go for a walk.
The clouds cover the sky almost like they know the world is a colder place today, a light rain spatters along the garden path as Larry makes his way up the stairs and back into his home.
He picks up Knob. Knob glows in cheerful response but Larry sets him in the kitchen drawer with the other utensils, no words are spoken, he just closes the drawer and sits down in the living room.
Several days pass, and still, Knob sits in the kitchen drawer.
With the usual evening routine completed, a reclined chair, and a few pages read, Larry is fast asleep. The grandfather clock in the hall chimes 2 AM.
The front door handle rattles and then a window breaks in the back of the house, Knob lights up, vibrating. He tries to push the drawer open; he beeps several times, but Larry is snoring too loud to even notice.
Larry opens his eyes. The morning sun is streaming through the windows, the curtains are askew, the entire living room is in shambles, drawers opened and contents on the floor everywhere.
He gets up and stumbles into each ransacked room; he looks in the basement, boxes are overturned, Clara's wedding dress thrown on the floor.
Larry hurries to the kitchen, the drawers all pulled open.
"Knob?" Larry calls out, "Where are you?"
He shuffles to the bedroom, the contents of Clara's closet all over the floor, piles of her clothes are everywhere. The gold locket he had set on her nightstand is missing.
Larry sits on the bed, he just can't find the words.
Then there is the familiar beep, it's faint, but Larry hastily digs through piles of clothing until he finds Knob is tucked inside an old boot
with the locket.
"You little sneak!" Larry says, picking up Knob and giving him a big kiss "You kept it hidden."
Knob lights up green and vibrates in excitement.
"Oh buddy, I'm sorry I put you in the drawer, I was upset, but not at you."
The front door opens,
"Dad, where are you?" a concerned voice calls from the living room.
"In the bedroom," Larry replies.
John gives his dad a hug, "Are you OK?" he asks.
"Yeah, I’m fine,"
"Your homie sent us a message this morning, I got here as soon as I could."
"I may be ready for some different surroundings," Larry says.
"We would love to have you, dad," John replies.