Rose glided through the wide hallways of the spacious house in which she lived. Her fingers drifted over the satin-finish of nickel-aluminum banisters, copying the whorls and flourishes with practiced habit. Early dawn was just creeping over the horizon framed by the large picture window, tinting the street outside with a rose hue. "Today is the day," she declared, sweeping down the steps.
Her companions swirled along the marble floor of the grand entry hall, swishing back and forth in excitement as they moved in synchronized dance. "Today?"
"Today," Rose said firmly. Through the sidelights flanking the main doors she could see Mickey, hovering around the sleek lines of the custom-built Rolls-Royce auto-mobile parked in the driveway. The silver and black lines of the vehicle expressed such grace that surely no one but the Creator could have inspired them. She opened the door and called out to Mickey. "Today is the day."
Mickey looked up from the shining reflection of the driver's side window. "Good morning, Rose. Will you go for a drive with me today?"
"Today they come." She couldn't keep the excitement out of her tone. "They will be here today and we mustn't delay. I hope it doesn't rain."
Mickey turned away. "It will not rain. It doesn't ever rain." He shot his polishing cloth into a bucket she hadn't noticed before.
Rose gasped. "Mickey! That can't be seen! Everything must be perfect for when they arrive."
Mickey spun, eyes flashing. "They--" A tiny sigh escaped him. "Go inside, Rose." His shoulders slumped "Everything must stay perfect."
She elected to remain outside and instead snipped the dead heads from the geraniums in the hanging baskets. The quiet movements of Mickey's work could be soothing, but after the small anomaly, they set her on edge. Everything must be perfect. They will come today. Today is the day, and we must be perfect. I cannot go driving with Mickey because they will come today.
She gathered a few choice blooms to place in vases inside and, with a last scan of the driveway--in spite of the outburst, Mickey had moved his bucket--she returned to the house.
She moved to the kitchen next, tuning the appliances into a mellifluous chorus of efficiency, anticipating.
The sun climbed higher, heating the marble in the grand entry hall. The companions drifted off, one by one, swirling away on predetermined paths away from the welcoming entrance and into the depths of the house.
She took yesterday's blooms from the vases and replaced them with the fresh cuttings. The wilted flowers, she gathered to her and exited the house through the kitchen to the back. There was a chute to carry the faded greenery away with all the rest of the trash. Everything was perfect for them once again, and they would never have to see or deal with the unpleasant underpinnings once they arrived.
Chiming from the kitchen sent her back to the appliances. The impeccably-formed hors d'ouevres emerged from the oven steaming hot and enticingly scented. Tiered serving dishes waited for them, along with covered chafing dishes in elegant silver, delicate creamy china, and the new durable plastic substance that would change the world. When they arrived, they could not fail to be amazed.
Her inspection drew her up the staircase, to the child's bedroom. What child would not be enchanted by the amazing collection of toys and the sumptuous, springy bedding? Her attention was drawn to the sturdy bed and she gasped. "Oh no!"
Her companion continued to hum along in her duties, oblivious to the disaster that had just struck. The bed. "The bed!" One poster of the bed's painted wooden canopy frame had collapsed. The pieces on the floor had already been taken care of, but grimy dust and strewn splinters littered the gaily colored coverlet, spoiling a child's dreamlike sanctuary. No one could be amazed at this!
Rose frantically searched through a catalogue of options and settled on one near the top of the list, even if there were logical flaws. She flew down the staircase and out the door. "Mickey! I need you!"
The driveway was deserted. The Rolls-Royce was gone. "Mickey!"
She sped down the street and came up short against an invisible line. The house--My responsibility lies with the house. I must stay with it. When they come, if I am not there, they will never know how perfect everything is.
My responsibility lies with the house. Everything is not perfect. If I am there, everything will remain not-perfect, and I will fail.
She pushed past the line. One of Mickey's duties was to go driving--when they arrived, he would take them driving on a tour around the town to see just how wondrous a place it was. She never accompanied him because her duty was with the house, waiting for them to arrive. It wasn't her place to be in their place.
She sensed movement to her left and flew down the cross-street. She knew the layout of the town from the framed map on the wall of the study showing the house in relation to the other wonders that waited for them, and the connections that would provide for their every need and whim, but the scenery was so much different than the lines on the map. I mustn't stop. The house is not perfect. What if they arrive and I'm not there and the house isn't perfect? Oh, Mickey, I need you!
There! Near the edge of town, a flash of silver, a bluish glow. She sped faster, at her limit now, unaccustomed to long distances and high speeds. "Mickey, please!" She followed the tail end of the Rolls-Royce around the corner and stopped short.
She blinked. "M-mickey?"
Mickey exited the car. "Rose? Rose, what are you doing out here?" His eyes widened, taking in her presence so far away from the house. "Rose, you crossed--"
Rose didn't hear him. The edge of town, marked by the gentle curve of the massive dome that kept it perfect, nevertheless failed to keep the sight of the outside from marring its perfection. "Th-this." Her voice was a bare wheezing whisper. "This is where you drive."
"Yes, Rose. I drive to this place, and other places at the edge of town." He stopped the Rolls, and the magnetospheric drive powered down, the blue glow fading as the car settled on its kickstands.
She moved forward, drawn now by something greater. Her face bumped against the glass wall and she peered out into the dark and cloudy wasteland surrounding them. "I--I don't understand."
His fingers were cold and gentle as he tilted her chin up. The darkness from the outside dimmed and blurred the edge of town, casting it into a clouded gloom, the kind just before a storm at dusk. A short distance away, the setting sun still shone on the center of town, limning the graceful lines of the top of the house in silvery gold, its tall shadow falling over the smaller buildings in front of it. She blinked. From this vantage point, she could see the sides of the buildings normally hidden from view, and now she could see the crumbling sidings, the rot-ridden rooftops, places where the vegetation overran the clean and definite boundaries of its intended existence. A tree had grown up alongside a small white saltbox home, punching branches clean through the windows and out of the roof again.
She turned away, a tremor rolling through her. But the scene that greeted her from outside the boundary crushed her harder. Great, hulking edifices with nothing but desolation over their featureless faces. Glass-fronted ephemerality that reflected, but didn't absorb, echoing back the outside and masking the emptiness within. Fog drifted in a dirt-stained haze around the tops of the massive buildings. Great snakes of freeway snaked in between them, mounted on massive pylons in a grotesque caricature of the original artistry in their design, with far too many vehicles piled up on them. Lights flashed and glared from harsh signs giving orders and making clumsy appeals to base needs with flashing dazzle that shocked the eye rather than caressed it. She turned away, her balance shaken from within.
He came up behind her. Comforting, stable, solid and real. Built to last. "Rose, they're not coming."
She shook her head, fierce. "No. NO. They will come. Even through that. Especially through that. How could they not? We made this for them."
She felt herself crumbling from the inside, in places too long ignored, patched together in haste with the hope that temporary fixes would hold out until--"But--we built it for them." Her voice shook.
He crushed her close, supporting her when she could no longer do it herself. "Rose, love. They didn't want what we built. They never came." His fingers curled into a fist. "They never came."
She found her footing again. "They never knew." Her confidence crept back in. "They didn't know about us. We have to let them know--"
He shook her shoulders, scowling. She felt her hat slide off, skimming down her back and landing with a near-silent huff on the pavement. "Rose, listen to yourself. They knew. They just didn't care. They. Didn't. Want. Us. We built this place for them and they refused it. It's ours now. Stop waiting for them."
Exposure sent streaks of light flashing at the corners of her eyes. The scent of blossoms overwhelmed her when it suddenly turned to rot, then to woodsmoke, with a hint of cherry tobacco. She bent down and retrieved her hat, staring at the patch of scalp still affixed to it. "You-you didn't tell me my hair had come undone." Once-rich chestnut strands now faded to a sun-bleached tan. The silk poppies on her hat were bleached almost white.
Mickey took the hat from her hands, straightened it, and set it back down on her head. The lights stopped flashing and the woodsmoke faded away, although she still smelled the cherry tobacco. "Your hair is beautiful."
She lowered her head and stared at the worn patches in her decollete where her servos showed through, and adjusted the front of her apron for modesty's sake. "You knew." She glanced back at the crumbling houses, the cracked and pitted pavement. "Why did you stay?"
He shrugged. "We built this place. It's ours." He glanced down at her, the lights in his eyes flickering. "Maybe other reasons, too."
Her cheeks warmed--undoubtedly a fault in her core temperature regulator. "But we created it for them. We created perfection for them--all they had do was follow the road."
He took her shoulders and turned her around. "It was never their road. They made their own."
She gazed at the fine artistry in the house that dominated the skyline of the town. In contrast to the crumbled sides of the surrounding buildings, it looked even more welcome, more elegant. More perfect, if that was even possible. Waiting for a perfect family that would never call it home. She swallowed back acid making a sudden burn in her throat.
"I think I'd like to go driving with you today."
His smile lit up his face beyond his internal drive's capacity. "Where would you like to go?"
Rose tilted her head up to the sky, one hand on her hat to keep herself from falling apart. "I suppose...anywhere."