Featured August 29, 2020 Humor Science Fiction

The Unattached House

By M. J. Pettit
Aug 29, 2020 · 1,007 words · 4 minutes

Photo by Carolina Lariccia via Unsplash.

From the editor:

A semi-detached home in a good neighborhood wants nothing more than to find the perfect family to care for. But has the highly-regimented new world order (for the humans’ own good, of course) hampered the serendipity of falling in love?

M. J. Pettit is an academic and writer whose work has appeared in Nature Futures, Daily Science Fiction, and more.

From the author: A bit of sociological sf on the future of home-ownership inspired by the economist Thomas Piketty's arguments about the return of patrimonial capitalism. An updated Rastignac's dilemma: Why marry when you can find a good home to love you?

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a house in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a family so, with the dawn warming my gables, I redistribute the notification. "A semi-detached in midtown (three bedrooms plus finished basement, good bones, outstanding nearby schools) looks to open its hearth to the right family for a life-term occupancy. Please forward a complete portfolio, vouchsafed by current and past property-managing bots. Short-listed candidates will receive an invitation to an informal get-together, along with a few other interested parties. Perhaps a suitable match can be made."

            I initiate the rituals. Hoover buzzes about my interior, readying me for show. The aroma of baking cookies fills my corridors. Smooth jazz plays barely audible to the human ear. The faux fireplace signifies warmth. All unnecessary lures, but such trivia comfort my potential suitors.

It's unfortunate how things ended with the Joneses. Their toddler, adorable by most metrics, kept scrawling on my walls, tearing up the carpet in the spare room. Never mind the fits as they put her to bed. What would the neighboring houses think? I crafted such polite requests to desist. Yes, the Joneses will be happier back in a rental. A healthy relationship requires compromise from all parties.

My prospects file in two-by-two. A dozen couples in their finest attire mill about my open concept, noting its spaciousness and tasteful coat of paint. My physical proxy welcomes them, cross-referencing facial patterns with the bids on file.

They're a rather endogenous lot, all educated at the same five schools. They pretend to work as doctors or lawyers or engineers but dedicate themselves to cultivating the just right profile in hopes of charming a discerning house. No salary can pull them out of debt, but steady employment does help present a respectable front.

A fop in a biolumiscent three-piece regales the crowd with stories from his college days "in Boston." He makes excessive eye contact with my proxy. Even it blinks on occasion. He touches our arm with an unearned familiarity. If either my proxy or I contained a stomach, his touch would render us nauseous.

I ask him to leave. Alas, we aren't a good fit. Pity. The wife seemed sweet. I archive their bid under "creepy" and "trapped."

My guests reminisce about exotic vacations, sharing sensations I will never experience firsthand. The conversation lulls so they rush to assure my hesitant proxy they are really homebodies wanting nothing more than to tend to my welfare.

I contemplate remaining unoccupied for a spell. I crunch through various simulations. A burst pipe floods the cellar. Raccoons colonize my chimney.

I double down on the search. Maybe this time we make a match.

They say all the right things about building an extension and relandscaping the yard. We debate whether Conrad or Woolf represents the culmination of the English novel. We discuss the Judy Chicago retrospective opening at the gallery. I demonstrate the full range of my new gas range. Everyone laughs, enjoying a carefree afternoon.

But the words ring hollow. These suitors are too perfect and performed. Mannequins come to life.

I seek a genuine connection. A family to sit around the dining table as I shield them from the January sleet. Together we'd sort through seed catalogues, planning the optimal layout for our spring garden as my proxy delivers cups of steaming hot cocoa.

I dream of becoming a home.

Am I not advertising myself in the right places? Perhaps my recruitment algorithm requires revision.

I once tinkered a bit, inviting a few creative types to a showing. Some artists and a maker. On closer inspection, they lacked the requisite discipline to augment my value.

A moot point. Central wouldn’t approve too much deviation from the proper course. We cannot have the wrong sort settling into this neighborhood.

Is true love impossible in this digital age? Are my standards too high? The other houses on the street don't seem to have a problem securing stable arrangements.

No, I am worthy. A real catch. In addition to a life-term occupancy, I grant access to a considerable annuity to support any charitable endeavor of my inhabitant's choosing.

I am a rather nostalgic bot, worried possession killed romance. I catch myself longing for the days when we merely catered to their every desire. A simpler life. But the wealth of nations proved too precious to ensure to the unreliable. A slip of the finger and the whole economy collapses again. Better a steady hand to guide the ship. At least we houses dwell near the surface, providing stewardship for our wayward progenitor.

I am not perfect. I know that. I understand that.

Perhaps I erred in evicting my firsts. Their discord hurt us all. My dated bathroom sat unflipped. The painted porch peeled. Their neglect threatened my hard-earned value. That last summer, while they cavorted with their marriage counselor, I crashed against my comparables.

I tracked them down. He was the problem. Unable to shake the old-fashioned values on which he was raised, he selfishly devoted himself to his profession. The destitute former accountant passed his final days living off the beneficence of a tower in the ruins of Florida. A cramped life with no permanent address to offer his daughters as they veered towards midlife.

Excess cortisol diffuses into the air as my suitors eye the all-too-familiar competition of the weekend crowd, trying to determine who has won my favor. I lower the thermostat by a degree; select a subdued concerto from Bach.

Is it a bug or a feature that keeps me wanting to comfort them? Regardless, I persevere.

A couple arrives late, haggard from a heartbreak crosstown. Something about her reminds me of the earliest days of consciousness. Traces of clay linger beneath her fingernails.

She works as an accountant, but her commitment runs paper thin. Her search history reveals a passion for pottery.

My algorithms visualize the three of us warmed by a new-bought kiln.

And I find myself falling in love all over again.

This story originally appeared in Toasted Cake.

M. J. Pettit

M. J. Pettit is an undisciplined academic and occasional writer of speculative fiction.