The Appliance

by Tim Kahl

A man with a square head stares into his computer screen, wondering who will go to sleep first when finally his wife comes in and turns him off.

"Who turned me off?" the man asks incredulously the next morning when his wife needed to use him to find out what time her flight would be leaving next week.

She sent messages about the children to neighbors and friends through him.

"But who keeps turning me off at night?" the man asked again irately.

He could not tell his friends he had no jokes or news, that he was only an appliance.

In the flicker awake each morning when his wife turned him on again, the man thought he saw an image of a solar flare, or a flashing icon, or the face of God, but it was only a retail site where his wife went to clip coupons.

Finally, so certain that his computer was more alive than him, he called it his animal, convinced the cord was its tail.

"You're a good animal. You're a good animal," the man said reassuringly, brushing his hand on the side of the monitor.

Taking pity on him, his wife left him on all night, and in the morning the man drank a pot of coffee, trying to reboot his brain. Once more, the man stared at his screen and studied it to see if it would twitch or suddenly jerk.

Was he reflecting its reflection, he thought, or was even this thought something his computer had previously considered. It was then he realized it was likely he had never initiated a thought. Probably everything he had ever uttered was the result of staring into his screen.

"Somebody turn me off," he bellowed.

But already something was surging, amplifying in his circuits. He did not have a name for this, this feeling that he was made square for a reason. He sold himself to this impulse come from plugging in to an exchange that favored heat and light arcing across the space where he was becoming irresistible.

Tim Kahl is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books, 2009) and The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, The Journal, Parthenon West Review, Caliban, Clockwise Cat, Thrush Poetry Journal, Uppagus, Cease, Cows and many other journals in the U.S. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the blog The Great American Pinup and the video blog Linebreak Studios. He is also co-editor of Clade Song. He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center. He currently houses his father's literary estate one volume: Robert Gerstmann's book of photos of Chile, 1932).