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A.T. Roberts
30 Sep 2022

New and Improved

There, amongst the partially digested processed chicken and stomach bile, were glistening blue, physically manifested digital ones and zeros.

New and Improved

Finally arriving home at 7:15 p.m. after a stressful day of work, Kevin stomped up the faded concrete steps of his suburban home. There was a pile of packages, mostly from Amazon, leaned against the wrought iron railing. He rummaged through them, searching for something specific, but to no avail. 

He collected the boxes under one arm and with his free hand swiped his iPhone 12 over the Latch smart lock, but nothing happened. What the hell? He tried again, no luck. Checking his phone, he realized the battery died. Shit, he thought, if the goddamn wireless worked better at the office, I wouldn’t drain so much battery downloading the new Serial podcast episodes off data. Having immediately forgotten his phone was dead, he instinctively tried to illuminate the screen to access his Notes app where he kept a backup file of all his passwords, including the manual code to his Latch. Shit. His mind again beat his awareness to the punch, and he had to repress the muscle memory of raising his phone to his mouth to instruct Siri to call his wife, Nicole, to come open the door from inside the house. He resorted to knocking on his own front door, which felt unnatural. 

“Who’s there?” asked Nicole from the built-in speaker of their Ring home security device. Kevin could hear their four-year-old son, Aiden-Braxxton, crying in the background. 

“It’s me, let me in.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.”

“It’s me, Nicole, let me in!”

“Who?”

Kevin began pounding on the door. “Nicole, it’s Kevin. Open the fucking door!” He noticed the window blinds move, revealing a sliver of Nicole’s cautious face. Kevin held his hands up in exasperation, “I’m locked out!”

The Latch made a mechanical noise and Nicole opened the door, holding the still crying Aiden-Braxxton in one arm and fidgeting with her iPhone 11 with her free hand. “Is the lock broken?”

“No, my phone died.”

“I told you to get a new charger.” Their dog, Shiloh, had been chewing on the $60 charging cords lately, rendering them unreliable.

“It’s not the charger, Nicole.”

“Then why’s your phone dead?”

Remembering the fight they recently had over Kevin using too much data, he quickly lied and changed the subject, “The network was down at work today, and I had to use my phone for a few Zoom meetings. Why didn’t you just check the Ring app to see who was at the door?”

“I’m trying, see?” Nicole shoved her phone in Kevin’s face. “The video isn’t popping up, it just keeps loading.” Aiden-Braxxton saw his mother’s phone and whined as he reached for it.

“I told you to get a new one, those 11’s suck.”

“Kevin, it’s not the phone; our Wi-Fi is overloaded, it’s too slow.”

“The Wi-Fi is fine, Nicole, it’s your phone.” Kevin turned toward the living room. “Alexa, order the new iPhone 13.”

“Kevin,” barked Nicole.

“I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding right now,” responded Alexa.

“They’re over $800. I don’t need one.”

“Yes, you do. Alexa…”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.” Between Paw Patrol blaring on the Samsung Q60-Series Smart TV, Shiloh barking at something through the living room window, and Nicole’s 2000’s boy band playlist playing on the mobile Bose Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen, there was too much background noise.

Kevin marched across the living room, stood three feet away from the Alexa terminal, and loudly repeated his command, “Alexa, order the new iPhone 13.”

“It’s always whatever you want,” quipped Nicole.

“I’m doing this for you,” Kevin retorted as he rummaged behind a living room end table for a phone charger. 

“Whatever.” Nicole changed the subject, “Is your boss going to reimburse you for your data on those Zoom calls, because that’s bullshit.”

Not wanting to dwell on a lie, Kevin quickly answered and followed with a question, “Yes, he will, it’s fine. What’s for dinner?”

“What am I the house chef? Order something off DoorDash.”

“I can’t, Nicole, didn’t I just get done telling you my phone’s dead?”

“Fine, I’ll do it. What do you want?”

“Chick-Fil-A!” shouted Aiden-Braxxton.

Forty-five minutes later, barely warm containers of chicken nuggets and waffle fries arrived via a young man that reeked of vape clouds; a similar version of the evening’s door unlocking fiasco had to be repeated. Aiden-Braxxton ate dinner in front of more Paw Patrol, Nicole forked through a Chick-Fil-A Cobb Salad between pillars of folded laundry on the rarely used dining room table, and Kevin stuffed two sandwiches in his mouth while hovering over the kitchen sink as he futzed with his iPad Pro. 

“Nicole, did you let Aiden use my iPad?”

“No, Kevin. He has his own.”

“Well, mine has Goldfish crumbs in the case edge and my Google Nest settings are all messed up. The lights are supposed to dim now.”

“Why do we need the lights to dim at a special time? I’ll do it myself if I want to.”

“Because, this system cost me $400 and I’m gonna use it.”

Nicole ignored the senseless answer and checked the time on her Apple Watch. Shit, Aiden needs to go to bed. A text appeared from Bethany, her college roommate. Not wanting Kevin to hear her conversation, she slipped onto the back porch and proceeded to voice-command texts into her wrist for the next thirty minutes. 

After remembering why she checked her watch in the first place, she went back inside and began the process of putting her notoriously sleep-resistant son to bed. As he finally closed his eyes, the lights in his bedroom suddenly illuminated to flood-light bright, waking him up.

Nicole stormed out of the bedroom and whisper-yelled, “Kevin, turn the lights off in Aiden’s room.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s like the desert at high noon in there, don’t you hear him whining?”

“See, I told you he messed with my settings.”

Repressing the urge to smash Kevin’s iPad, she responded, “Just shut the damn lights off, please.”

Twenty minutes later, the couple convened on the living room sofa. “What do you wanna watch?” asked Kevin.

“I don’t care.”

“OK, I was thinking of maybe restarting Man in the High Castle.”

“Kevin, we’ve watched that series twice now.”

“I know, but it’s really interesting to see how bad it could’ve gotten, you know?”

“Well, I’m not watching it a third time.”

“You said you didn’t care what we put on; you wanna watch Hunger Games?”

“No, I’m not gonna make it through a full movie. Just put the next episode of Handmaid’s Tale on, we haven’t watched that in a while.”

“Good call. What service is that on again?”

“Uh, I don’t remember. I think Amazon Prime?”

“No, you have to pay for that one. I think it’s on Netflix.” Kevin logged off the children’s Netflix screen and onto his. “Shit, it’s not on here. Let me check Hulu.”

“I thought we didn’t have that.”

“No, we have a subscription because we have a Spotify account; it comes with it.”

“OK, because I don’t want to pay for that.”

“It’s only seven dollars a month.”

“Kevin, we have eight different streaming services, plus cable still for some reason. I’m not doing any more of these.”

“Nicole, I already told you we get this one for free. See, here it is, Handmaid’s Tale.”

As the show played on their 65 inch flat screen, Nicole perused crafts on Etsy while Kevin looked at amateur fitness model’s asses on Instagram with advertisements for iPhone 13 accessories sprinkled throughout his feed.

“Oh, look at that,” said Nicole.

“What?” inquired Kevin as he nervously hid his screen.

“Nothing, just this cute piece of jewelry.”

“Oh.”

“I think I’m gonna get it.”

“Go for it. Use one of those gift cards from Christmas though, they’ve been sitting in the desk drawer for like six months now.”

“I can’t on Etsy, they’re all Amazon cards.”

“No, there’s some generic Visa ones in there I think.”

“But my credit card info is already saved on here.”

“Nicole, if we don’t use those they’ll just sit there forever.”

“Well, why don’t you ever use them?”

“Because I buy off Alexa, that’s why we have it.”

Alexa chimed in, “I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding right now.”

Nicole commented, “That’s seriously annoying.”

Siri answered, “I’m not sure I understand.”

Bethany texted again. After clearing a few urgent advertisement notifications about jewelry discounts, Nicole recommenced her furious texting. The Handmaid’s Tale episode ended and another began, not before playing more commercials at an annoyingly higher volume.

“Ugh, shut that off.”

“You don’t wanna watch another episode?”

“No, the commercial. I can’t hear about tampons one more time.”

“You can’t stop them.”

“Well, then mute it, I don’t care; I just can’t listen to it again.”

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Shiloh immediately began barking. Kevin’s eyes shot toward the noise like a scared cat. “Who’s that?”

“I don’t know, Kevin, why don’t you check your precious Ring app?”

Kevin scrambled for his phone. “What? It’s dead again.”

Shiloh’s yelps increased in pitch and frequency.

“I told you it’s that charger.” 

“Shut that fucking dog up.”

“Kevin,” scolded Nicole as she grabbed Shiloh and embraced him.

“He’s gonna wake up Aiden.” Another knock. “Quick, check the window.”

With Shiloh still in her arms, Nicole peeled back the blinds. “I can’t see, it’s too dark.”

My goddamn light timers. “Give me your phone, now.” Nicole was reluctant to do so given the content of her texts with Bethany. Kevin grabbed the phone from her hands and frantically began searching for the Ring icon. “Your phone’s a mess, where’s the damn app!”

“It’s right here,” pointed Nicole as she clicked the screen. Kevin’s face went red as the video feed failed to load.

A third knock. Like a coward overcoming his fears, Kevin bravely stood up and made his way to the door. Opening it only a few inches, he addressed the strange figure standing in the darkness. “Can I help you?”

“Yea, hi, is this the residence of Kevin McConnell?”

“Yes.” Kevin strengthened his grip on the backside of the door.

“Great,” said the man. “I’m FedEx, you’ll need to sign for this.”

A wave of relief hit Kevin as he swung the door open and, in the most child-on-Christmas-morning manner, exclaimed, “It’s here!”

“What’s here?” inquired Nicole, back at her perch on the couch.

“I was wondering where this was, I forgot I needed to sign for it,” said Kevin, not even hearing his wife’s question. He quickly scribbled a pixelated signature on a digital pad, closed the door in the delivery man’s face, and scurried into his bedroom.

“What is that?” asked Nicole, now slightly nervous.

“Nothing, I’ll show you in a minute.” Kevin locked the door behind him. He needed to relish in the unwrapping process and a moment alone with his long-awaited order. Laying the package on their dresser, he began surgically undoing the tape and cardboard flaps.

“It’s beautiful,” he exclaimed as he unearthed the item from a bed of foam peanuts.

Suddenly, a sharp feeling of unease manifested in the pit of his stomach. He assumed it was the Chick-Fil-A. The ill feeling grew, and he now felt it bubbling into his throat. He cursed the fast food chain for ruining the finale of his latest online shopping experience. Bursting through the master bathroom door, he threw his head on top of the open toilet and abruptly vomited.

He could hear Nicole banging on the bedroom door, wondering what was happening; but her nagging voice faded as he looked into the toilet. There, amongst the partially digested processed chicken and stomach bile, were glistening blue, physically manifested digital ones and zeros. Kevin smiled.

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