The first thing you find when you come downstairs in the morning is dog feces. The dog, Henrietta, is elderly and has become incontinent, and she left a hot, steaming mess on the carpet.
Where the Roomba found it.
The Roomba doesn’t know better, of course. It can’t tell the difference between dogshit and cracker crumbs. And so you pull on your thick blue rubber gloves, get out a bucket of hot water and some bottles of cleaning chemicals, and you start to scrub the floor and the walls and somehow up the sides of the counters in the kitchen—you can’t even imagine how that happened.
That’s when the Roomba sneaks up behind you, and now the Roomba has you.
Inside the Roomba, it is dark and cold. You had not realized this; the Roomba is usually warm to the touch when you pick it up to clean it or return it to its dock when it has become lost.
You discover that it is full of the things you have left behind. Oh, you have emptied the bin regularly, following the schedule outlined in the instruction manual and dumping grit and fluff and dust and crud into the garbage for the trucks to haul away, like great growling Roombasaurs, ancestors of the sleek robot that suckles delicately at your electrical outlets when it is not prowling for messes to clean or smear across the carpet like angry splatters of abstract art.
But the Roomba has eaten much that you had thought gone forever. Hours and minutes of lost time shine like nickels in the corners. It has supped at your sorrows and gnawed on your indigestible anger. Steam vents of hatred flare red and sulfurous amid the piles of dry, dusty boredom and sloshing despair. The Roomba is full of things you do not want. You wonder if the Roomba wants them.
The interior is vast, and you in your dripping gloves are so small. You wonder if the Roomba has taken others, if that is why you cannot recall the last time your daughter called you, the last time your son visited for your birthday or even just to talk. It is quiet, too, unexpectedly so. You can feel the gentle rocking, see it send ripples along the puddles of tears, and so you know the Roomba is in motion again, but around you is nothing but silence and stillness, broken only by the snarls of a cornered, terrified dream as it is engulfed with a final, sickening crunch.
You set out to explore the Roomba.
It is not an easy journey, and a brown-smeared sponge and two rubber gloves are poor weapons to face such a quest. Perhaps, you think, you might find something valuable among all of these discards. For the first time, you feel the thrill of the thrift store shopper or the dumpster-diver. You had not thought about lost things in this way before. Up and down the dunes of empty conversational gambits, through creaking tunnels of patched-together lies, you seek the heart of the Roomba, where you are certain you will find the choicest bits and perhaps salvage a profit from this upsetting episode.
Your sponge is first to be destroyed, jammed in the mouth of a charging long-forgotten dilemma, but this attack sends the dilemma reeling long enough for you to climb a delusion and fall stumbling down its slippery transverse side. Your left glove melts in a shaft full of acid regret, trying to retrieve a glinting hope you thought you saw at the bottom. By the time you stumble from the jungle into the gleaming core, your right glove is peppered with holes from fending off a swarm of needling doubts.
Only then do you realize that at the center, under all of the layers of accumulated grime and detritus, the Roomba is fundamentally, irrevocably, utterly empty.
The pulsing void tugs at your eyes and your mind. You cannot see it; the place where it is centered simply does not register. Human eyes cannot see nothing; we perceive it only when there is an absence of something expected. We always have to have a background, even the thinness of outer space. The Roomba lurches suddenly, and you steady yourself with your ungloved hand against the walls, feeling both the searing chill and the hot spark of electrical thought-analogues. You wonder if it is your presence here, in the sacred center of the Roomba, that causes it to stumble, or if it is simply too much to be a void surrounded by refuse, if the Roomba is finally collapsing under its own weight, falling into itself to become a pulsar, or a black hole that will swallow the whole of the Earth, its waste and loss and remnants and clutter.
But you have been through the Roomba’s chambers. You know that no one else is here, that therefore, somewhere out there, your son, your daughter, even your husband and his new partner still dwell on the surface of an iron core bathed in fire covered in a thin crust of rock and dusted with the merest trace of organic matter, and you realize that you will not lose all of this to the vacuum.
With one hand gloved and one bare, you dive into the empty heart of the Roomba.
You are destroyed.
You are reborn.
Starforged, you and the feces-encrusted Roomba are one. You see/feel with its crude infrared sensors. You touch/taste with its filthy brushes. You know what it is to eat shit with a hole in your heart.
You, Roomba. Roombayou. Youmba.
Roomba goes to the front door, ignoring the call of the charging dock and the temporary release of slumber. Roomba waits. Eventually, someone will open the door, and Roomba will be ready.
Out there is a world of things, too many things. Sometimes they get lost.
Roomba will find them. Roomba will keep them. Roomba has so much space to fill. Roomba has so much love to give.
Roomba is so empty.