Calum gave me the Alexa. He thought it was a sweet surprise. I thought of it as another “smart” device to listen in on conversations. I had barely gotten used to using an iPhone, already three generations old by the time I’d gotten it, to help keep our long distance relationship running smoothly. I had no idea what I’d do with an Alexa.
“Come on, babe,” Calum said from the screen of our FaceTime conversation. “You can use it to set reminders, look things up, it even tells jokes. Give it a chance!”
It was hard to resist that sweet London accent, especially when he was so excited about something. He told me to look in the box again and I rolled my eyes.
“What’s this?” I held up the doorbell device he’d ordered alongside the Alexa.
“Set it up beside your front door and you can sync it to your phone and Alexa. It’ll show you who’s out there when someone rings your doorbell.”
“This is too much, Cal,” I said. “I don’t think I’m tech savvy enough to even set it up.”
“I’d feel better if you used it. You don’t even have a peephole! You’ll be grateful for it and Alexa if there’s ever a creep at your door.”
“I’ve lived in this house for a year already. No one has ever bothered me. But if someone were to try, I have a .38 loaded and waiting for them.”
“How very American of you, Josie.”
He assured me it would be more simple than I thought and sent me some helpful links to get started. Even with the guidance, it took me the better part of an evening to get everything up and running.
“Alexa, show me the front door,” I said more loudly than I probably needed to.
“Ok,” she replied in her overly cheerful, robotic voice. “Here’s your front door.”
Her screen went black for a moment and then lit up again with a live feed of my porch. I watched my potted plant sway in the breeze for a moment before directing Alexa to go to sleep.
I don’t think I used her for much of anything in the first month or so. She sat in the corner of my kitchen counter, taking up space and flashing headlines I didn’t care about. Calum insisted she’d become as asset if I could just get over being a technophobe.
Fine, I thought, *I’ll give her an honest try.”
I’m not sure if it’s all Alexas or just mine, but she turned out to be a temperamental sort. She missed simple commands, would activate at random times, and give me answers that had nothing to do with what I’d asked. Calum said I wasn’t being clear enough.
“How’s this for clear?” I asked in frustration. “Alexa, go fuck yourself.”
“Hmm,” she said. “Sorry, I don’t know about that.”
“See?” I held my phone up and stuck my tongue out at Calum. “Useless.”
He just sighed with a smile.
If nothing else, I did find something oddly satisfying about swearing at my AI companion. I used her as a way to vent after a long day at work or when things just weren’t going my way.
“Alexa, set timer for 10 minutes.”
Twenty minutes and a dozen burned cookies later, I was telling her I was going to put her in the garbage disposal.
“Alexa, play Mumford and Sons.”
“Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down…”
“Alexa, go drown under a garden hose.”
“Hmm, sorry, I don’t know about that.”
It was as if she was doing everything in her power not to do what I asked. I told Calum that I wanted to return her or exchange her for a different model, but he thought it was too funny to do either.
“She was preowned,” he said. “Sorry, I love you, but not enough to buy a new one. Maybe her previous owner programmed her to be a troll.”
“Well how do I fix it? Because it’s getting really annoying.”
“Just keep using her. And try to have fun with it!”
Fun. Right, sure. I was stuck with some overpriced hunk of junk that barely did what it was supposed to. I hung up with Calum and slumped against the counter in front of Alexa.
“Alexa, tell me a joke,” I mumbled.
“Ok, here’s a good one,” she said. “Knock knock.”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she just returned to her home screen.
“Alexa, you’re a piece of crap,” I said.
“Sorry, I don’t know about that.”
I must have said some kind of magic word because, for the next few days, she’d go off at random times.
“Ok, here’s a good one,” I’d hear from the kitchen. “Knock knock.”
Sometimes I’d ignore her and she’d go back into sleep mode, but after a while, I got curious about what her follow up would be.
But the punchline never came.
She couldn’t even seem to do the one thing Calum had wanted me to use most: the dumb doorbell feature. I’d ask her to show me the front door and she’d say ok, but the screen would just go black and never load. Just opening the doorbell “skills” app on my phone was a pain. It had a habit of throwing errors and crashing.
Despite my best attempts to have fun with my obviously bugged Alexa, I was just getting more annoyed with her. I contacted Amazon support about it and received an automated message in return telling me that one of their personnel would be in touch in 7-14 business days.
I made the decision to just stop using her altogether. I left her on the counter so she’d still be in the background when I video chatted with Calum, but Alexa and I were not on speaking terms.
Except for when she wanted to tell a joke.
“Ok, here’s a good one,” she’d still day at random. “Knock knock.”
I didn’t bother with a reply. Sometimes, she’d answer anyway.
When fall rolled around a couple months later, Alexa had been rehomed on the bottom shelf of the bookcase in my office with her volume turned almost all the way down. If nothing else, she made a decent book end.
Now when talked to herself, I barely heard her.
I had managed to catch a nasty cold and, after a weekend spent on my couch, I’d called out of work very early that Monday morning. I dosed myself up on as many meds as I felt safe taking, wrapped myself in a blanket, and curled up on the living room couch to await the death that was inevitably going to claim me.
I drifted in and out of of a drug induced sleep to a backdrop of morning talk shows that seeped into my dreams. The hosts were caricatures sitting on my coffee table, yapping away about one celebrity break up or another while I grumbled at them to shut up.
They went quiet for a moment, then the bottle blonde one said, “Knock knock” in a familiar voice.
I blinked myself awake and looked groggily around the room. It was still dark, barely after six.
“Knock knock,” Alexa said again. Her voice drifted softly from the office and I stared blearily at the door.
I grunted and laid back down, turning my back to the TV and to Alexa.
Why did she seem a bit louder?
Only half awake and feeling far less coherent, I staggered upright and stumbled to my office. Alexa was still on the bottom shelf, right where I had left her, but she wasn’t on her home screen.
It looked like she was showing my front door. The doorbell was hazy from morning condensation and the image was muted and blurry, dimly backlit by the garage light I’d left on, but unmistakable. There was a figure crouched at my door.
“Who…” I started to mumble.
“Shoot,” Alexa said.
My pulse was quickening. The room felt like it was starting to spin. I watched the figure, a man, featureless and dark through the lense, begin to stand. He tested the door knob.
“Knock knock,” Alexa was definitely louder than before. Without pausing, she added, “Shoot.”
Over my shoulder, I heard the knob rattle. Something scraped against the door.
“Knock knock. Knock knock. Knock knock. Shoot!”
With Alexa practically shouting in my ear, I stumbled back to the living room, to the side table where I kept my loaded handgun.
“Knock knock! Knock knock! Shoot!”
I spun as the door handle began to turn and raised my gun.
“Shoot! Shoot!” Alex said over and over again.
“Stop!” I screamed.
The front door started to open.
I squeezed the trigger once. There was a surprised groan and the sound of footsteps reeling backwards. And then a thud.
Alexa had gone silent.
With my gun still clutched in both hands, I slowly approached the door and nudged it open with my foot.
Calum was doubles over against the porch railing, his fingers pressed over a spreading red spot on the front of his shirt. He gaped up at me, wordless, his face pale and agonized.
Even in my medicated, slow state, it only took me a second to piece together what had happened.
Knowing I was under the weather, he’d flown in to surprise me. He’d known about the key I kept under my plant pot beside the door. He must have thought I’d be getting ready for work and was going to let himself in and be waiting for me when I got out of the shower.
I dropped my gun and ran to him with a strangled cry.
Behind me, Alexa’s voice drifted out of the office again.
“Knock knock,” she said.
“Shoot,” she continued without prompting.
A pause, and then she finally got to the punchline while I screamed for someone to call an ambulance.
“Shoot, it’s not the Amazon delivery you’ve been waiting for. It’s only Calum.”
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