Joan McKrohn had a rotary phone.
Which was a problem, but not necessarily a large one when stacked up against the other problems swelling around her. For one, four out of nine of her cats—John, Paul, Ringo, and Dragon–were feasting on the Styrofoam packing peanuts that covered the living room floor. That was going to lead to some bloated bellies and disquieting poops, she was sure of it.
Secondly, she had suffered a nasty paper cut while unfurling the treasure map-sized instruction manual that lay crinkled out before her. It smarted.
Lastly, now that she had finally pried the stupid Clone-O-Max out of the crate and figured out how to turn it on, she couldn’t figure out how to shut it off again.
Precisely every six minutes and thirty eight seconds it rumbled, flared and vented strange smelling vapor into the air, followed by a jaunty, microwave oven ‘PING!’ and “YOUR CLONE IS READY,” announced with an emotionless, robotic baritone. It reeked like singed hair–or more accurately singed fur–which Joan recalled all too well from the unpleasantness involving Whiskers the first and the electrical outlet behind the sofa.
The problem with Joans rotary phone, was that she couldn’t “Press one for English,” like the computerized interactive voice response entity commanded. Every time she tried-
‘WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH, ticka, ticka, ticka, ticka, ticka, ticka’
-the phone died, and she had to dial 1-800-CLONMAX all over again, which on a rotary phone, took approximately forty five minutes.
In the midst of her fifth call, she was about to try saying “English” instead, when one of her cats chased a bouncing packing peanut across the splayed out instruction manual, decorating it with tiny claw marks.
“SHOO, DRAGON!” She shrieked at the spooked kitty.
“O-kay,” the customer service robot piped up confidently. “I think you said ‘UKRANIAN’. Is that right?”
Overcome with frustration, Joan slammed down the phone. In the background, the Clone-O-Max rumbled, flared, and vented strange smelling vapor into the air. ‘PING!’ “YOUR CLONE IS RE— “I KNOW!” Joan interrupted. “Just stop it! Stop saying that!”
She huffed, ran a hand through her frizzy, grey bob, and settled herself with a cleansing breath. Maybe her friends were right. Maybe she was technologically challenged like the girls at Bingo always teased her. She did have a rotary phone, after all. She had a VCR, too. Her Walkman was scratched up and pocked like the moon, but that didn’t stop her from jamming out to her Neil Diamond cassettes each morning as she cleaned out the litter boxes.
It was like her daddy always told her: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Joan had turned that old truism into her life’s mantra, but in all honesty, she was getting tired of being teased. Tired enough in fact to buy that odd looking ‘TECHNOLOGY OF TOMORROW’ magazine at the grocery store. Tired enough even to order the Clone-O-Max contraption from the peculiar advertisements on the back page.
‘ARE YOU LONELY?’ The ad had asked. Joan was, although she would never admit it to the cats.
‘ARE YOU SICK OF HOUSEWORK?’ The ad had asked. Joan was. Three of her cats had irritable bowels, and one had a weak bladder. Her hands were chapped from chemical cleansers.
‘WHY NOT CLONE YOURSELF?’ The ad had asked. Joan was skeptical.
‘FOUR HANDS ARE BETTER THAN TWO.’ Still skeptical.
‘BE THE ENVY OF ALL YOUR FRIENDS WITH THIS TECHNOLOGICAL MARVEL!’ That sealed the deal.
Joan clipped the advertisement with her coupons and sent the payment by snail mail. She didn’t own a computer, and even if she had, it wouldn’t have been much help. Joan thought the internet was an office device used to snare slacking interns.
Three and half months later the Clone-O-Max arrived.
Now, the refrigerator-sized thingamajig loomed behind her, right in the middle of her living room carpet, and it wouldn’t stop— ‘PING!’ “YOUR CLONE IS READY.” Joan took another deep breath. She scrunched up her nose at the smell. She resigned herself to give 1-800-CLONMAX one last try. She needed help. She picked up the phone, but before she could dial-
-a purposeful throat clearing sounded behind her. Joan swiveled on the seat of her vintage slacks. She gasped.
The living room was full of Joans.
The largest was the size of a Chihuahua. The smallest, the size of a mouse. There were eleven in total. On the carpet, on the sofa; one had even climbed up onto the ceramic unicorn that sat on the end table. They were each dressed in crude, lady bug festooned ponchos which the most innovative Joan of the bunch had fashioned for them by tearing up a tea cozy.
Original Joan thought back to the Clone-O-Max DNA sequencer set up. It couldn’t have been more complicated. She figured she’d gotten something wrong. Now she knew for sure.
As she gawked from miniature Joan, to miniature Joan, and they gawked back, the Clone-O-Max rumbled, flared, and vented strange smelling vapor into the air. Joan groaned, kicked the contraption with her thrift store sock.
Mini-Joan the twelfth tumbled out.
Somebody tossed miniature Joan the twelfth a poncho. She was roughly the size of a cricket.
“YOUR CLONE IS REA– Joan kicked the Clone-O-Max again. Hard.
The plug fell out of the electrical outlet next to it with a thump. The Clone-O-Max sputtered and died. Joan blinked, once, twice, and exploded with laughter. On cue, the mini-Joan’s followed suit.
All thirteen Joan’s laughed until they were blue in the face, then laughed some more. Original Joan laughed hardest. Her sanity was cracking like thawing ice.
Once the laughter fizzled, and they struggled through nervous first impressions, Joan and the clones made s’mores.
After that, they snuggled and read a Garfield comic, cover to cover, prompting one clone to ask for lasagna for supper, and another to groan she “had a case of the Monday’s.”
After lasagna dinner, they threw a mixer that mimicked a 1970’s junior high sock hop; clones on one side of the living room, cats on the other, Neil Diamond crooning in the background, no one wanting to be the first to start dancing.
Joan McKrohn never went back to Bingo with her so-called-friends again.
She had new friends to play Bingo with. Friends that loved her. Friends that didn’t judge her, didn’t tease her, and listened with rapt attention as she gushed about her cats. Miniature friends, but friends just the same.
Nine of them.
That’s right. Nine.
Dragon ate three of them—completely accidently of course–but that was alright.
In Joan’s opinion, ten was more than enough for a rousing game of Bingo.