Colin’s BMW climbed the icy hill, headlights raking the kitchen windows at every bend. Rosemary sat perfectly still on the bench facing the door.
Mascara smeared across her cheeks. The house, her house, was quiet, now. This child’s drawing of a cottage, carefully restored to a family home, with a ten-mile view over the valley from east to west. They said it would be their last house. Then Colin, the early-adopter, had filled it with devices.
“You have a message from your FR3 food tracker.” It told her the lamb chops and cheese needed using up and she was out of milk; the washing machine announced its job was done, and the coffee machine smugly heralded with a discordant chime that her macchiato was ready. It was lukewarm. The Vacbot 1 had suicidally thrown itself downstairs and its dust over the hall, and the oven colluded with Home Message Centre to remind her of her failings: “You have not set menus for today”; “You have not set menus for tomorrow”; “Rosemary’s Mother called.”
She hated the machines, she hated the synthetic voices, and she hated Colin. She hated his shiny red face and thin colourless hair, boiled gooseberry eyes goggling as he programmed the microwave voice, converted her CDs to computer files and installed the voice-activated whole-house telephone system.
An app told him when to take his Propranolol and he’d installed a portable defibrillator in their bedroom, now a domestic version was available. His favourite was the heat pump and underfloor heating system. The designer of that had his own special place in hell waiting for him; all day it justified its existence with a running commentary; “Dining room, twenty degrees” ; “Water, sixty-five degrees.”
“Dinner at six pm; awaiting instructions. Oven on standby; awaiting instructions.” Her fingers curled inwards till the nails dug into her palms.
The phone rang as lights flared and an alert brayed, sounding like all the trumpets of Revelation at once and scaring her senseless. Two voices competed for her slow wits; “Rosemary’s Mother is calling,” and “Lighting up time.” Ignoring the phone, Rosemary scrambled around the kitchen switching off cabinet lights, pendants over the island and ceiling spotlights, till the room was lit only by appliance LEDs. Her heart rate and blood pressure subsided to somewhere near normal.
I should start dinner, she thought, but she didn’t move. “I should, I should, I should…”, she shouted, trailing off when she realised she wasn’t making a sound, and she wept.
The Message Centre, recognising the car’s approach, called out, “Colin is home.”
Rosemary went to the electric meter cupboard, pulled her sleeve down over her fingers and flipped the trip switch. In the hall she unclipped the Home Protection Device from its frame and sat, resting her arm along the cushion.
The door opened. “Rosemary”, he called, stamping snow from his shoes. “Why are you sitting in the dar…”
Rosemary breathed for the first time that day, and opened her mobile. She tapped the emergency icon, and said, “Police, please.”
Later, the report said ”Wife shot husband with taser. Lights off, assumed intruder. DOA. NFA.”