The Only Light
Robot baby gets stuck at the top of the Ferris wheel when the power goes out. Robot baby is the only light for miles around. Someone gave Robot baby a glow-in-the-dark function; someone gave Robot baby gears from the grandfather clock that had chimed all through their childhood. Robot baby is made from all the old things that someone found, all the old things that someone had thought were lost.
Robot baby is too heavy to ride with anyone on the Ferris wheel, so Robot baby rides alone. A wadded bill slipped into the carny’s hand, a nod, a wink, a smile. Robot baby will always be a robot baby, never a robot toddler or a robot adolescent. Robot baby will only ever say wah or mama or baba unless someone reprograms Robot baby, only ever kick its little robot legs, only ever softly rumble from grinding gears like a cat’s full-belly purr.
The power is only out for seven minutes and thirty-two seconds. Parents waiting on the ground clasp each other’s hands and look skyward when the Ferris wheel goes dark and frozen. Children call down I’m okay and start their cars swinging in the sky. Only Robot baby’s car is still and quiet.
For seven minutes and thirty-two seconds, Robot baby glows in the powerless dark. Robot baby doesn’t kick its legs or say mama or wah. For seven minutes and thirty-two seconds.
Then the lights flicker and catch and the calliope music begins to stuttering play and the Ferris wheel resumes its big spin and Robot baby comes down, down, down, back to the earth and the someone and their spouse, waiting. Their arms have been empty for so, so long.
The last time there was a fair in Cathy Ulrich's town, someone was killed. Her work has been published in various journals, including Reed Magazine, Pithead Chapel and Cobra Milk.