Your Walls Can Talk
by Jen Durbent
The ad on the Internet read like something out of Mad Magazine from when Ada was 10. She expected to see something like that next to the “X-RAY SPEX.” It had a drawn low-rez picture of a man speaking to a wall: “Where is my daughter?” The wall replies: “She is in bed, sleeping.” The text read as follows:
YOUR WALLS CAN TALK!
New invention amplifies the quantum signature of objects and allows discussion with objects previously thought to be inanimate. Connects via USB-2 to any PC or Macintosh computer. Send 19.95 plus 3.95 shipping and handling to TALKING WALL USB.
And it gave a P.O. Box address.
She printed out the ad and then sent the check — A check? What? — for $23.90 and promptly forgot all about it until a padded envelope came in the mail about seven weeks later.
She looked at the envelope and remembered she had ordered this silly thing. When she opened the envelope, a long cord spilled out with a gray box on the end and, as advertised, the other end was a standard USB plug.
Coming out of the gray box opposite the USB cord were two small white knob-probe type things. The top of the box was embossed plastic with an arrow and “Place Object Here.” She examined the only piece of paper in the box.
Use any text word processor and plug in! Works as easily as a keyboard or mouse.
WARNING: Do not affix the probe to the computer it is plugged into or a short circuit may occur. Old objects may type slower than new.
Now, she was a foolish kind of girl and knew that she was foolish, so she did know enough not to plug a strange USB device into her good computer. She found an old laptop, which didn’t even work properly — the wi-fi was out — and put it on her living room coffee table. Her ex had put Linux on it, and they never touched it after That Night a few months ago; but Ada knew enough, so she logged in. Then she plugged in the device and sat on the couch.
Sure enough, the computer said, “Installing USB human input device.”
Ada waited a second.
She opened up the GEdit text application.
What to learn about? She looked around for something suitably interesting.
She looked at the table that the computer sat on. Shrugging, she touched the probes to the table. The words appeared on the screen, each letter coming slowly, “One of my legs is loose. Please tighten it.”
She took the box off looked at the table, her brows furrowed, questioning.
She crawled under the table, and there it was: a leg was loose. The wing nut had almost fallen off. Ada spun it around, tightened it firmly and crawled out from under the table.
The probe on the table again: “Thank you, Ada.”
“You’re welcome, Table,” she said and then shook her head at the idea. “Wait. Can you see me?”
“No. I have no eyes. I feel the vibrations of your voice.”
“Tell me something that only I would know.”
“You watch way too many Jenna Marbles and nail polish videos.”
“Oh that’s a lie. There is no such thing,” she said out loud and then realized she was justifying her YouTube habits to a piece of furniture.
The table actually typed in: “...”
“Inanimate doesn’t mean without a sense of humor.”
“That makes one of us.”
Ada smiled despite herself. “Is there anything I should know?”
“No. I am happy as a table. It’s what I was made to be. You are a good owner. The leg was the only thing.”
“I’m going to talk to something else. It was nice talking with you.”
The next thing she tried was her dresser. It had perverted opinions about her underwear. She made a mental note to buy herself a new dresser soon.
For the most part, the things were simple and polite. She fixed a few more loose bolts on tables and found a lost remote under a chair. They were all content to do what they did, as they were made.
It seemed like a good and simple life.
She looked and wondered, What else?
Then she saw it, what had been around her all day: the walls of her apartment building. There were only three units in the whole building, and one had been vacant since the occupants moved out last week.
There was also her son.
He had been morose for quite a while now. She attributed it to her breakup with her ex. Ada and he had always gotten along with the kid. For a moment, she considered entering the boy’s room with the device, but that seemed too close to snooping; besides, he was in there alone; she could hear him typing on the keyboard. He was always typing.
But the building itself? What would it say?
Ada went back to the couch and sat down, with the laptop on her lap. She took the box and pressed the white prongs to the wall.
The words came slowly but steadily. Maybe a letter every ten seconds. “Your daughter is scared and is crying in her room.”
“I have a son. His name is—”
The app did not let her finish before it started typing: “Yes, you do, and her name is Samantha.”
Copyright © 2019 by Jen Durbent