Hey Alexa by Melissa Amstutz



credit: bgr.com


Alexa, play music from the twenties. Okay, playing Matchbox Twenty from Spotify. Alexa, stop. Alexa, play music from the nineteen-twenties.

She complies and instead my house fills with the sounds of “Wade in the Water” sung by Judy Henske. Not from the twenties, but the spare sadness is what I need. I get mad at Alexa but really she’s an extension of my brain. Brain, I’ll say. Start editing. Okay, starting Rupaul’s Drag Race, it replies.

But my brain is learning. That’s the true indication of a fine robot: the ability to learn. I say that but it’s been ignoring me and going rogue. I told it to figure out my life. It sputtered at me to pick something for it to focus on. I said, okay, and started really thinking, but my brain said Never mind, I have some other things for you to do. Look at those drooping flowers in that vase. What’s that supposed to mean, I asked. Look, I’m taking over, it said.

What a wonderful breezy feeling. I say breezy figuratively because what I did was empty the dead flowers into the compost and spend the next few hours in the yard. I pruned the entire rose bush I was cutting new flowers from. The rosemary needed trimming, too. I came out with such a haul that I brought it all inside to dry. But then I needed some twine. And clothespins. I found both in the garage, came back inside, and made little bundles. Oh, I forgot about the lavender. I went and picked some, bundled, clipped. Now more flowers. I should grab those jars from the recycling and use those, too. Hot water gets the labels off. I arranged my flowers, every so often running back outside to cut some more. California poppies. Pink and red roses. Little white daisy-like Feverfew.

The placement of the bouquets led to clothes being folded, because who wants a floral display in a cluttered room, and then of course some dust-busting, some tinkering with candles and such, and as I was about to dive into some closet reorganization, I said, Brain. I need back in. Do what you want, it said. Did I detect the ability to smirk?

The sun went down, lingering behind Mt. St. Helens and the rest as it went. I sat in the backyard smoking. Now in total darkness, I groped my way back inside, touching the cold stones of the patio with my palms, then trellising my way up to the doorknob.

Reaching the kitchen and flipping on the lights, I forgot why I bothered to come in at all. Why bother with anything, I whispered.

So I switched off the lights, padded my way back outside, and shut the door. The delicate scent of lavender eased through, underscored by the woodsy Rosemary. Then the crackling started. I spun around, grabbed the doorknob, and found it locked. I peered through the glass. The crackling eased into a lull, the tinkling of a piano and then…was that Bessie Smith singing? I couldn’t see a damn thing with the lights off, but I swear there were soft footsteps—two sets—dancing. But it wasn’t all dark, was it? A blue ring of light. A fire. Flickering, mesmerizing.


Melissa L. Amstutz is a writer, musician, and bookseller at Powell’s Books. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Smartish Pace, fog machine, and The Collapsar; her music videos have appeared on Interview, Nylon, and Bust. She received her MFA from NYU and resides in Portland, OR with her wife and animals. Her online home is melissalamstutz.com.