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Robbie’s App

Mark Giglio’s disarming short story with a twist deals with the connections people have with each other and the world around them.

Giles Thurston and his wife Virginia sat on a massive leather sofa in the great room of their 6,200 square foot home, the largest home in Lucian Heights. Giles looked out the ceiling high picture window. The ocean breeze carried a scent of jasmine, fluttered the palm fans and caused an iridescent rainbow around the silver water that cascaded down the four tier fountain. He looked past the beautifully manicured shrubbery and lawn toward the Pacific. Giles used up eight landscapers until he found one he liked.

“Maria, Maria, we’ll have our wine now.”

“Si, Meester Giles.” Maria wiped her hands on her apron and abandoned the mushroom caps she was stuffing with artichoke tapenade, capers and feta cheese for the party. She poured two glasses of 2007 Petit Mauton that Giles took from the wine locker and left on the counter. Maria them served the wine.

Virginia took a discerning sip. “I think I like the 2003 better.”

“You should like the 2002 better. We were all a bit younger then, weren’t we?” Giles made sure Virginia saw his cryptic smile.

Virginia sipped her wine before she answered, “I’d give anything to roll back the clock. By the way, I told everyone to come around sixish. So, that means Stan and Hanna will be here at five thirty on the dot.” Giles invited their friends who lived in the community of Lucian Heights. Lucian Heights spread out over several hundred rolling acres dotted with a collection of custom, villa type mansions for the very wealthy and a “poor” section of high-end tract homes.

“Hanna, yes, Hanna… and Stan, yes. You do know I invited Robbie.”

Virginia arched her eyebrows, “He’ll be out of his depth.”

“Be nice, sweetheart. He did graduate from MIT number one in his class, top of the heap. Those genius types have their uses.” Giles swirled the wine in his glass, sniffed the bouquet, waited for Virginia to watch him and took a long savoring sip. “And anyway, the party won’t be complete without him.” Giles wore the same cryptic smile as before. This time he sparked Virginia’s curiosity.

The monstrous, mahogany grandfather clock in the foyer chimed five times. Virginia put her glass down on the Nakashima coffee table. She pushed herself up with a little grunt. Virginia had pain in her knees when she stood, and about six months ago her shoulders and wrists began to hurt when she played golf with her girlfriends. “I don’t think I like this getting old.”

Today was her fifty-sixth birthday.

“Don’t feel that way, babe. It happens to all of us…” Giles playfully added, “old girl.”

“Well, it shouldn’t…old boy,” Virginia not so playfully echoed back as she passed through the dining room into the kitchen.

Virginia was well pleased with the stuffed mushroom caps. Maria was a treasure, smart, and punctual, not at all like her predecessor, Long Sufferin’ Lupe. Giles and Virginia acquired Maria from Thom and Becky Ridgeway when the Ridgeways moved back to D.C.

Virginia and Giles wryly dubbed their seven-year employee, “Long Sufferin’ Lupe.” Lupe commuted from Tijuana every day. Occasionally she had car trouble. Once in a while she missed work caring for her bedridden daughter who was diagnosed with some “third world disease,” as Giles dismissively put it.

Poor Lupe’s luck and timing were terrible. She humbly asked Giles for a raise the same day Maria came on the market. Virginia telephoned in the middle of Lupe’s plea with the good news that she beat out Beth, Barb, and Hanna, and got Maria. Giles cut the meeting short with, “Not my problem, Lupe. And, by the way, we won’t be needing you anymore.” He paid her for a half day even though it was almost two o’clock.

Maria filled the silver, scalloped serving bowl from the double carton of Petrossian Special Reserve Caviar. She didn’t notice the dozen plus little spheres that adhered to the bottom of the spoon. Virginia did. “Look here, Maria,” Virginia took the spoon out of Maria’s hand and turned it over. “See, the caviar is too expensive to waste any. Even one little egg is important.” Maria nodded that she understood and prepared a plate of crackers.

Stan and Hanna Whiteman were waiting at the door when the clock struck the half-hour. Hanna was an athletic, short-haired blond with a turned up nose and a shiny complexion. She filled out her summer dress quite nicely and was the answer to Stan’s mid-life crisis. She was fifteen years junior to Virginia and the other wives. Stan had a cooler of iced oysters on the half shell. A bottle of Tabasco sauce bulged in the pocket of his Hawaiian shirt. Stan was a well tanned and lean, retired stockbroker and the same age as Giles.

Giles swung the door open. He vigorously shook Stan’s hand and gave a smiling glance at the cooler. “Howdy Stan, brought a goodie I see.”

“You betcha.” Stan looked past Giles and waved at Virginia who was on the sofa poised like a praying mantis. He hurried to her.

Giles made a lingering sweep of Hanna from head to foot that was just short of being smutty. “Well, don’t you look lovely today.”

“Thank you, Giles.”

Giles pulled Hanna in for a hug that was too long and tight. He gave her a loud kiss on the cheek and smacked his lips. “Delicious, I could just eat you up,” he said with just enough playfulness in his voice that it flattered Hanna and excited her naughty curiosity.

Hanna loved the attention, “Promises, promises.”

“Come on in girl, Virginia’s in the great room.”

Virginia and Stan were in the kitchen sitting at the countertop. Maria fashioned a pyramid out of Stan’s six dozen oysters. She cut lemon wedges, set out a bowl for the shells and retired to the laundry room to do some folding and ironing. Giles and Hanna joined their mates. “Ready for your aphrodisiac?” Stan asked Virginia.

“We’re not going to wait?” asked Hanna.

“Catch as catch can,” Giles chuckled. He snatched the oyster off the top of the heap, quickly squeezed lemon over it, shook a few drops of hot sauce on it and slurped it down. Virginia, Hanna, and Stan followed suite. Giles, Virginia, and Stan attacked the oysters. They laid out their empty shells in front of them as a tally. Hanna quit the contest; the oysters made her gag.

The door bell rang. Giles was in the lead so far with fourteen, followed by Virginia with eleven and Stan with nine. “I’ll get it,” volunteered Hanna. Giles gave her an appreciative nod as he downed another oyster.

Frank and Gloria Steele, Will and Barb Wallace and Robbie arrived at the same time. Hanna opened the door and the couples crowded past her. Hanna met Robbie once before and enjoyed the novelty of his long hair and downy whiskers that outlined his upper lip and jaw line. Robbie wore a hoodie, Levis and a pair of sandals. He followed Hanna into the great room where the others had already claimed the sofa, the matching love seat, and two overstuffed easy chairs. Robbie greeted his uncle.

“You made it, I see.” Giles introduced Robbie to the others and said, “Sit there.” Giles pointed to a slipper chair upholstered in ostrich skin.

“Happy birthday, Aunt Virginia.” Robbie gave his aunt a kiss on the cheek, then slouched into the chair, stretched out his legs and crossed them at the ankles.

“Your uncle said the party wouldn’t be complete without you,” said Virginia. “What did he mean by that?” She smiled at Giles.

Robbie looked at Giles and got a go-ahead nod. “It’s an app I designed for you Aunt Virginia.”

“An app?”

Robbie thought for a second, “It’s something that tells your computer how to do certain things.”

“Well there’s certainly money in computers,” Frank Steele announced with a serene, pouting nod.

“The Market couldn’t function without them,” added Stan.

“No business worth anything can,” attested Giles.

And so the evening and dinner went on. The guests carefully scooped up the caviar and oohed and aahed. They cracked into lobster tails and savored juicy cuts of filet mignon. The men told tales of long ago business ventures that made their fortunes. The women engaged in chitchat about the new spa that just opened and all the reasons it was so much better than the old one, and which salon had the best hair stylist; and Virginia had to bring up the importance of good help.

Robbie couldn’t help but ask, “How do you guys keep so thin?” He addressed the question to Virginia.

Giles fielded the question. “It’s all in your constitution. As for me, and it seems for all of us here, we can eat all we want and never gain an ounce. So we do.” The ladies tittered and the men nodded in agreement.

Dinner ended. The aroma of espresso wafted through the dining room. All eyes were on Giles as he made a busy spectacle out of fetching a chocolate cherry torte and placing it in front of his bride. He lit the one candle. They sang the song. Virginia blew out the candle and made the first cut. Robbie was amused and amazed that for all of the food consumed one might think the party goers were famished by the way they wolfed down the birthday offering. The cards were opened. The clock chimed eight. Everyone smiled, restated their best birthday wishes, smiled again and took their leave.

Virginia and Robbie sat at the dining table. Giles brought his laptop in from his office and set it before his nephew. “And now for your gift sweetheart, if you would Robbie, tell your aunt about your work.”

“I’ve been studying the physiological effects on the temporal when we are doing certain activities. Basically, when we’re doing something physical our inner clock is in sync with the natural passage of time. That would mean a minute spent doing exercise equals a minute spent in real time. Our bodies vibrate at a certain frequency. Now, when we’re doing a sedentary activity, like sitting in front of a computer, for instance, our inner clock slows down and we become out of sync with real time; and our bodies vibrate at a different frequency.”

Giles saw the confusion on Virginia’s face. “Get to your discovery, Robbie,” he said impatiently. “Get to the good part.”

“I found I was able to isolate and capture those out-of-sync free radical nanoseconds with a little modification of the computer’s camera.”

“All well and good, just get to the point,” Giles said with a forced smile.

“I was able to capture little bits of time from other people and I can transfer that time to you.” With his uncle’s funding, Robbie created the app and attached it to an invisible virus that circled the world. The app turned on the computer’s camera and snatched a few nanoseconds away from each computer user. Robbie recorded those rogue nanoseconds in that sliver of a frequency, and turned that frequency into a signal that could travel through the optic nerve and stimulate that part of the pituitary gland to stop and even possibly reverse the aging process.

Robbie turned on his uncle’s laptop and keyed in the code. He smiled at his aunt and uncle. “And now, all you have to do is look at that little lens right in the middle of the frame at the top of the screen.”

Virginia leaned in and focused on the camera lens. She touched it with her fingertip, “That thing?” Her eyes opened wider. “What do I have to do?”

“I have the computer set up, so all you have to do is hold down the enter button and look into the lens. You should feel a little tingle when the ion stream that carries the out of sync radical nanoseconds travels through your optic nerve to your brain and attaches to the synapses. Just don’t look into the lens for too long at a time.”

“Like this?” Virginia looked into the tiny camera eye and held the Enter key down. She did feel a tingle.

“Yes, like that. Now, remember don’t overdo it. No more than thirty seconds a day. OK? You’re getting little bits of time from people all over the world.” While Virginia got used to Robbie’s app, Giles signaled his nephew to follow him to his office. He sat at his desk and wrote out a check. Giles gave his nephew the check and continued with a self-satisfied smile, “You know Robbie, if you have enough money, the world is your oyster.”

“I couldn’t have done my research and development without you, Uncle Giles.” Robbie was truly grateful.

“Before I give you this check, there is no possible way anyone out there could come after us?”

“No Uncle Giles, there are over three billion donors. How could anyone tell if they were missing a few nanoseconds?” Robbie shrugged and gave his uncle a confident smile. “Don’t worry.”

“Here’s your first installment; it’s for 40K. I want you to buy yourself some decent clothes and go see a barber. If you can, find yourself a smart, good looking gal and settle down. Find someone like your aunt. I’m glad I found her.” Giles became reflective, and his normal intensity waned. “If you find the right one, well, every day can be a feast.”

Robbie barely heard his uncle. He picked up the check and looked at all of the zeros after the number four. He smiled, “Clothes and a haircut, no problem. If you have any questions about using the app call me.”

“We will.”

For the next week, Virginia followed Robbie’s instructions for using the app. She came to like the tingle when she pushed the Enter key. The little cross hatch wrinkles across her upper and lower lip disappeared. Another week passed. There was a definite improvement in Virginia’s golf game. Her shoulders and wrists no longer hurt, and she was able to drive and putt the ball the same way she could when she was in her thirties. Her knees no longer hurt when she stood up. She smiled more.

Giles noticed the difference in his wife, too. Her hair was fuller, and her skin was softer. Her breasts were perky, and her bottom was firmer. Virginia was more amorous… honeymoon amorous. Giles called Robbie. Robbie told his uncle not to worry as long as Aunt Virginia didn’t overuse the app. “You look great, babe; whatever you’re doing, keep it up, delectable!” Giles licked his lips and asked, “You’re using Robbie’s app just once a day, right?” She lied. He didn’t care. He wanted to believe her if it meant her looking better and better each day. Now his suggestive flirting with Hanna seemed so silly.

The girls, Barb, Gloria, and Hanna immediately saw the difference in Virginia, too. They were chirpy and agog over her glowing skin, shining hair and firm muscle tone. Virginia gave vague answers that had to do with wrinkle creams and hair preparations and Yoga. She held on to her secret and would never share it, especially not with Hanna.

Whenever Virginia could she would steal away to a private part of the house, computer under her robe or of late wrapped in a towel. She locked the door, opened the computer and stared into the tiny camera eye, sometimes for as long as ten minutes. The tingle remained even after she stopped. Even though her brain was so stimulated, she couldn’t help but want more. After a month, Virginia ignored her Lucian Heights friends. They were boring. Giles was always telling her what to do and how to act, and he always had to be the center of attention.

It was six weeks to the day after her birthday present. Virginia stood in front of the mirror getting ready for her morning shower. She had to look twice. Her breasts were smaller. She looked into the mirror, and her lips parted involuntarily. She had a pimple. Giles knocked on the bathroom door. Virginia quickly stepped into the shower and hid in the billowing steam. Giles said he was going to meet Frank, Will and Stan to play golf. “The boys and I will be back around four. I told Maria to have some goodies ready for us, okay, hon.” Giles said goodbye.

“Have fun.” After Giles had left, Virginia got out of the shower. She stayed in the bathroom until she heard the front door close, and the Lexus pull away.

Virginia looked down. She placed her hands on her breasts; they were no more than buds. Her hips were slender and straight. She slipped on her bathrobe. The sleeves covered her hands, and the hem reached down to her ankles. She pulled the robe closed. She no longer had to use Robbie’s app because the tingling did not stop. Virginia suddenly felt exhausted. She was weak and needed to lie down.

The grandfather clock echoed three. Virginia opened her eyes. The little tingle that she felt when she first used Robbie’s app coursed through her every atom. She slipped out of bed and stood naked in front of her vanity. She had to stand on her tip toes to see her face and shoulders. Her eyes seemed so big and her mouth so small.

Virginia headed for the stairs. She was at the top of the landing when she saw Maria open the front door. Maria looked back and called out, “I leaving now, Missy Virginia. Everything is on the table in the great room for Meester Giles. I come tomorrow. Bye, bye.”

Before Virginia could answer, Maria closed the door.

Virginia descended the stairs. She held onto the balustrade and took one unsure step at a time. When she reached the bottom of the staircase, the clock chimed on the quarter hour. Virginia struggled to the coffee table. With all of her strength, she pulled herself up and crawled to the center of the table to the tray Maria set out for Giles and his golf mates. Virginia had trouble breathing. She hooked her tiny elbows over the lip on the bowl of caviar. Her head was throbbing. Virginia could feel her body becoming smaller, and the weight of her head bobbed forward and pulled her into the bowl. The caviar was cold. She became smaller and smaller until her sentient self was no more until she was no more than a shiny, little, quivering zygote that fell at the very top of the mound of caviar.

“Hey babe, I’m here,” Giles called out as he and his fellow golfers came in the front door and headed for the great room and the promised refreshments.

Stan and Will and Frank sat on the sofa. Giles looked at the caviar and crackers Maria set out. He sat on one of the overstuffed easy chairs and faced his rivals. “I sure wish Virginia was around. I could tell her I shot six under today.”

“We got it; you beat us,” echoed Frank with a hint of disdain over his friends success.

“We’ll have to call you Tiger from now on,” said Stan.

Giles picked up a cracker and scooped a goodly portion of caviar, from the top of the heap. He rolled the little spheres around on his tongue and swallowed them down. “Ah, my friends, to the victor goes the spoils.”

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Short Story

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About the Author, Mark Giglio

Mark started his adult life with an honorable discharge from the Air Force followed by a degree in English. Along came a wife and a baby boy. Circumstances lead him to follow his own bent and not the one he studied. He feels he has tasted enough of the bitter and sweet of life to share his notion of life’s essence in his writing. He’s always been interested in the connections people have with each other and the world around them. History, humanities, art, philosophy, anthropology, world religions and the natural world have been a fascination for him and a fountain head for inspiration.
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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous Anonymous

    This is one of my favorite stories from Mark. It has such a shocking and delicious ending.

  2. Marjon van Bruggen Marjon van Bruggen

    I know the work of Ingrid Bruck for a long time and always liked it. The five poems I read here were amazing. Here poetic depictions of her environment are full of atmosphere and love for the detail. Especially the poems of the Monastery caught my attention. I am glad I read them.
    Marjon van Bruggen.

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