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by Sandra Arnold

“I’m so excited about my high-tech TV,” she tells her mother on the phone. “I can talk to it through a voice recognition app called Gavin and tell it what programme I want. It even gives me recommendations based on my preferences. I’ve bought coloured lights and installed them behind the screen and I tell the app to switch on the lights. Some nights I just lie on the sofa and watch the colours flare up the wall. It’s like being immersed in the most beautiful sunset you can imagine. When I go to bed the app switches off all the lights. In the morning it wakes me in a cheerful voice, but not too cheerful because the software recognises that I’m a bit grumpy in the mornings. It tells me the weather forecast and the day’s news. I feel like I’m living in the future. These days I can’t wait to get home to talk to Gavin and have a play with the lights.”

She hears her mother’s intake of breath. “Have you been out anywhere lately? Seen anyone? Read any books? What about that course you were doing?”

“No. Honestly, Mum, I’m having such fun with this stuff that my evenings are full. My days at work are so busy that I’m knackered by the time I get home, so I don’t feel like going out.”

“Yes, but … you need outside interests … you’re still young … you won’t meet anyone if you never go out.”

She wants to tell her mother that she doesn’t feel alone anymore, that Gavin shows more concern about her than whatshisface ever did. She thinks the software must have picked up on the sadness in her tone and responded to that. Or it could be the facial expression app that allows it to predict her mood. Last night she felt a bit low, and without her even initiating a conversation Gavin spoke to her in such a kind voice she couldn’t help shedding a few tears. He immediately dimmed the lights and played soft music. He recited “Remember” by Christina Rossetti. Before she drifted off to sleep she wondered how he knew that was exactly the poem she needed to hear at that moment.

She wants to tell her mother all this to assure her that she doesn’t need to worry about her anymore. She wants to tell her that she feels safe now. But before she gets the words out, the TV screen flashes a warning. Gavin is telling her not to say anything more. So she doesn’t.

Sandra Arnold is a novelist, short story and non-fiction writer who lives in New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia, and has been placed in many awards, most recently as a finalist in the 2018 Mslexia Flash Fiction competition. Her most recent work appears in New Flash Fiction Review, Fictive Dream and Connotation Press. Her third novel, Ash (Mākaro Press, NZ), and her first flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK), are forthcoming in 2019. She is a guest editor for Meniscus: The Australasian Association of Writing Programs and Flash Frontier. sandraarnold.co.nz