Life is so Wonderful
Steam Powered Giraffe Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah
The scent of fresh, cold rain on hot asphalt and the brightness of the sun reflected on the wet surfaces struck them as they descended the steps of Walter Manor. Every time either of them smelled rain on pavement they would think back fondly on this, their first day out of the house. All they did was tell Norman they were going for a walk (after finding Rabbit a pair of flip-flops) and they were off.
“Now, we won’t be gone long,” The Spine had advised the Walters’ servant. “We’ll be back before sundown, for certain.”
“Very good, Mr. Spine,” Norman nodded. “Will you be taking a car?”
The Spine raised a brow and looked to Rabbit. “Uh... yes. Of course. A car. Certainly. Forgot about that. Come on, Rabbit. Let’s go get the car.”
Rabbit could hardly contain herself. “Why, sure, Spine. We’ll go for a drive!” When they were outside she let out a peal of laughter. “We’re gonna drive a car and no one’s gonna tell us no!”
“Much better than walking,” The Spine agreed. “I forgot that the park is probably ten miles from here!”
They took the Walters’ black 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air out of the garage and had an uneventful drive to the park. The Spine had been an accomplished driver when he was a robot and his skills had not diminished. They parked close to what was left of the old Pan-American Expo buildings and hand-in-hand, took a walk through Balboa Park.
They remarked on how time had been unkind to so many structures, but were heartened that others had just recently been placed on the Register of Historic Places, saving them from destruction. They strolled for a few hours before finding a free bench and sitting down to people-watch.
“Now,” The Spine said, tipping his head toward a young woman on roller skates. “Watch this.” She wore short-shorts and a tight tank-top. Her blond hair was feathered and her skin was tanned. She skated past a number of young men who all turned their heads and watched her go. Those who were not alone, made comments to their friends about this or that aspect of her appearance.
Rabbit watched, jaw hanging open. She pointed to the woman as she disappeared down the path but was at loss for words.
“Yes, Rabbit. That is the effect you have had on the two men in our household.”
“But... but I don’t look like that!”
The Spine laughed. “No, not quite. But the effect is the same. That woman knows very well that she is getting looks and comments and she probably both wants and expects to get them.”
He laughed again. “It might make her feel good about herself, maybe?”
Rabbit huffed. “I don’t want to do that.”
“You don’t have to. You seem to feel pretty good about yourself regardless of what people think of you.” The Spine noticed another example and subtly indicated to a nice-looking woman in her forties. She walked a greyhound and wore sneakers, a knee-length orange skirt and green blouse. Men also turned to look at her, though not as many and their look was not lascivious or rude, just acknowledging. “See the difference. She’s not flaunting her looks, but she’s still nice to look at so, men--they’re going to look!”
Rabbit hummed and nodded. “Did you look?”
The Spine made a face. “Uh... I...”
He sighed. “Yes. I did. I looked. I am a man. It will happen. However,” he said, took her face in his right hand and kissed her gently. “You are the only one for me.”
Rabbit melted. “Ok...” she acquiesced.
“Yes. I guess I can forgive The Fifth. He’s our friend and I guess I better, since we have to live with him!”
“Probably the best thing to do. But,” The Spine said, his tone becoming serious, “if anything else happens to you...” He put his left arm around her shoulder.
“You’ll protect me.” Rabbit looked up at her beau and gave him a sweet, loving look.
“You might better give that look only to me from now on. Damned powerful stuff,” he said and kissed her.
“With great power comes great responsibility, The Spine.”
He laughed and his stomach growled. “Ugh,” he groaned. “I wish we had some money of our own so I could buy us some lunch.”
“Lunch, schmuch,” Rabbit dismissed him but made a face as her own stomach growled. “Ok so that would be pretty great. But! Nothing to be done about it. Oh! Spine! Do you hear that?” The sound of music drew their attention to the north and Rabbit grinned wide, leapt up and took him by the hand, dragging him toward the distant notes of an alto saxophone.
A few yards away, Peter Walter V lowered a newspaper and watched them walk away. He pursed his lips and nodded. “Well, that explains that,” he muttered. He made sure they were out of sight, then folded the paper under his arm and walked slowly, hands in pockets, back to his car.
A middle-aged black man in a black suit seated on a folding chair played a saxophone without any other accompaniment. His hat was on the ground before him and this was partly full of change. He expertly played Charlie Parker tunes to anyone who would listen and the pair of former robot-musicians were enthralled. Soon, the sun had become too much and the sax player finished and started to pack up his things. Rabbit whispered furiously to The Spine and pulled him forward. “Mister?” she asked. “We just loved your playing!”
“Well, thank ye kindly, miss,” the man said and bowed his bald head to her.
“We don’t have any money,” she said sadly, “but I just wanted to let you know!”
“That’s fine, miss. Music is free. If people can pay me, that’s their choice.” He smiled, white teeth flashing.
Rabbit skipped back to The Spine and they turned and headed back out of the park. They passed a woman reading poetry, a couple of young men telling funny stories, and lastly, a middle-aged man in white makeup miming his way out of an invisible box. Rabbit froze and pointed. “Look at that!” she cried and nearly broke the mime’s concentration. “That is so cool! Ooh! Spine! Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“I don’t know, Rabbit, I’m pretty sure he can get out of the box without our help.”
She blinked at him. “No, no. I’m thinking of a brilliant idea. Come on! Let’s go home and I’ll tell you and Jon all about it!”
When The Spine and Rabbit returned it was already dinner time. They parked the car and The Spine hurried after Rabbit as she ran into the house, tearing toward the kitchen screaming that she was starving to death. He didn’t catch up to her until she was in the room and a tense scene was already unfolding.
Standing with her hands on her hips, fifty-three-year-old Wanda Becile glared at Rabbit with a look that could eat a hole through steel. The Jon sat on a chair between the two women and when either of them spoke, his head flipped dramatically from one to the other. Rabbit was striking the same pose as Wanda and faux-glared back at her.
“Isn’t that nice!” Wanda snarled. “Well, you’re lucky we feed you at all.”
“I just said I was hungry,” Rabbit insisted. “What’s you’re problem, Wanda?”
“You wanna know what my problem is?” she asked. “We’re broke, that’s what! We’re eating mac and cheese out of a box. Again. And there’s not enough to go around now that we go two more mouths to feed!” She pointed an accusatory finger at The Spine who wilted under her glare.
“Well sooooory!” Rabbit folded her arms. “Not my problem we got zapped by some crazy laser. You think we wanted to become mortal? We can die now, Wanda.”
“I don’t care about that. I care that in the meantime Walter Robotics is going down the crapper and we’re down two automatons! And let’s face it, the one we got left isn’t much use.”
The Jon made a sharp whining sound and sunk down into his chair. Rabbit clenched her jaw and shook with rage. The Spine could see she was trying to hold back so he put his hand on her shoulder to help steady her.
“Now, Wanda...” The Spine took a step forward but it only served to redirect Wanda’s anger toward him.
“Don’t you ‘now Wanda’ me. You’re just as bad. You took the damned car out for a friggin’ joy ride! You may not be aware of this, but we’re in the middle of another energy crisis!”
The Spine made a confused face. “But the ‘57...?” he started. She didn’t let him finish.
“And now when the next war comes along we probably can’t get a contract from the government because...”
“We said we’re never doing that again!” Rabbit stomped her foot.
“You don’t have any say in the matter,” Wanda spat back.
“The Jon will not fight in another war!” Rabbit shouted.
“Do you know how many millions we made off those wars? Do you? No! You don’t! You have no idea how hard it is to keep this monster going!” Wanda waved her hands emphatically at the ceiling, indicating to the whole of Walter Manor. “Damn it! Pete’s useless, The Jon is useless, and you two are the most useless of all!”
The Jon whimpered and pulled his hat over his eyes. Rabbit reached out and pulled his head to her belly to protect him despite her own tears and The Spine stepped into the tight space between them and Wanda. “That’s enough, Wanda.”
“Oh, here we go again...”
“THAT’S. ENOUGH.” The Spine shouted and drilled holes into Wanda Becile with his eyes. She straightened up, shocked and indignant, and her mouth closed into a severe pout. “Enough hurtful words. I know we’re a burden to you and we are grateful that you let us continue to live here, but please,” he said. “Let’s not fight.”
Wanda huffed. “Get your damned mac and cheese,” she said under her breath and slowly left the room, defeated.
When her footsteps had faded The Spine sunk down into a chair and let out a long breath. “You ok, Rabbit? Jon?”
“I’m ok, Spine,” Rabbit said softly. She stroked the automaton’s back and comforted him. “Jon, it’s ok, Buddy. She’s just got her knickers in a knot over money is all. She didn’t mean those things she said.”
“I am pretty worthless,” he muttered into her red sweater. “Prob’ly only worth the gold plating...”
“No!” Rabbit squatted down and held his face in her hands, looking into his green eyes. “No, The Jon, you are not worthless! Me, I’d make about a buck fifty, but you...!” He laughed a little and hugged her. “No matter what, we got each other. What’s a little poverty between friends, right?”
The Spine smiled and nodded. He got up and scooped out two helpings of mac and cheese for them into chipped china bowls. “She’s right you know. Not about the buck fifty.”
“As a matter of fact,” Rabbit said, releasing The Jon and standing back up again to receive her dinner. “I need you to help me out with something. Both of you.”
The Spine cocked a brow. “Is this the ‘brilliant idea’ you were hinting at earlier?”
Rabbit laughed and spooned the yellow, salty glop into her mouth. “You betcha!” She swung around to the other side of the table and dropped herself into a chair. She held the bowl up with one hand and held her spoon in the other. “See, Spine and me were takin’ a walk in the park today...”
“You went out?” The Jon asked in disbelief.
Rabbit froze and looked to The Spine who shrugged. “Yeah. See, I had something... I was kinda down about something and Spine thought it was a good idea I got some fresh air quick. So we were there and we saw something that inspired me!” She waved her spoon like a magic wand for emphasis and to distract The Jon.
The Spine raised a brow. “What was that, Rabbit?”
“Musicians. Actors. Performers. And...” she took another big bite of the cheesy pasta. “A mime.”
The Jon blinked. “A what?”
She swallowed and clarified. “A MIME! Oh, it was so awesome, The Jon! His face was painted white and he was moving like a robot and pretending he was trapped in a box and I totally believed him!”
The Spine looked skeptical. “And the mime inspired you to, what exactly?”
“Ok. Brace yourselves, gentlemen. The three of us are gonna go to the park and perform for money.” She held the bowl and spoon out and wiggled them but the other two men were silent.
“Perform?” The Spine asked.
“In the park?” The Jon asked. “Like... old times?”
“YES! Only, this time Spine and me are human so when I saw the mime it hit me. We can ACT like ROBOTS!” Rabbit deposited the now cold bowl of mac and cheese on the table and raised her arms. She mimicked movements that until not quite two weeks ago were automatic. She hissed between her teeth as if steam was escaping and The Jon nearly fell out of his chair.
“Ha! See? Brilliant idea!” Rabbit crowed.
“Well, I dunno, Rabbit,” The Spine folded his arms. “I don’t think anyone’s going to believe that we’re robots.”
“Already thought of that, Spine. The mime inspires again!” She put her fingers over her face. “Make up!”
“Lots of it.”
The Jon clambered back into his chair and stared, awestruck at Rabbit. The Spine made a pensive face and pushed his half-eaten dish away from him. “You know, I bet there’s still some make up left that belonged to Miss Mary and Miss Iris. The Walters never throw anything away.”
“Oh!” The Jon raised his hand as if he wanted to be called upon in class. Rabbit pointed to him. “And we have our guitars and you have your accordion still, right, Rabbit?”
“Perfect!” Rabbit said and clapped her hands together once. “Boys. The Steam Man Band is back in business!”