The Ursula Machine

I suspected immediately upon meeting Ursula that she was not a woman, but something else. Her cold gaze gave everything away.

“Your left eyebrow has more of an arch than the right.”

This was the first in a series of underhanded remarks, disguised as friendly banter or helpful suggestions that Ursula bestowed upon me. And despite the fact that we became, well, “friends”, in the depths of my heart I hated her.

The most important thing to remember is that, no matter what, her awkward gait and vacant expression remained constant. This, however, was the only factor of her outward appearance that remained the same. Every other week, she had a new belt, a new hairstyle, or a new ensemble. She had so many variations of her pseudo hipster Goth look. It repulsed me.

She worked at a coffee shop, which made it easy for me to spy on her often. Before she and I met, I watched her automatic movements every day; take the order, prepare the order, ring up the order, next please, next please, next please. Her customers probably felt like they were speaking to a recorded greeting on a toll free number when they gave her their order.

I’m not entirely sure how the events following our meeting came to be, though it was obvious that I had become obsessed. How could I not be? I imagined that there was some secret code in the way she made herself up. What if purple eye shadow on Wednesdays had an undercover meaning? What if her mini punk rock buttons were really heat sensors or microphones or cameras? The possibilities were unbearable and endless. I kept myself awake at night, fantasizing about exposing her for what she really was.

Months went by this way. Its funny, but a coffee shop is the perfect place for a stakeout. I wasn’t the only person who was there every other day, so I was never really questioned. Then one day, an old acquaintance came into the cafÃ?© and I was cornered. The bastard actually wanted to talk and drink coffee. Annoyed, I accepted his invitation.

That day, as we approached the counter, I was able to study her features closely for the first time. It was September 7, 8:49 p.m. As she took our order, she did not smile, yet she exposed a set of dull teeth. To the naked eye, it would appear that she just didn’t have good oral hygiene. I suspected, and upon further inspection realized, that her teeth were actually welded together. I could only imagine how quickly her jaws would rust together.

There were other small details about the Ursula’s appearance that disturbed me; shiny red lipstick that came to a point on her top lip, like a dolls mouth. She had no imperfections; no blemishes or scars on her face or her arms. Not even a cat hair on her stretchy black pants. That day, she wore a home-made t-shirt that said “Ashes to Ashes” in black permanent marker. I trembled as she poured my coffee. I half expected her to unscrew her pinky finger and dispense some hazelnut flavoring into my drink like Inspector Gadget.

“Coffee and a Frapp?” She asked in a tone that I could only describe as condescending. It was this first encounter with the Ursula that named me, abhorrently, “Frapp Girl”.

“What are you reading today, Frapp Girl?”

“Hot outside today, isn’t it Frapp Girl?”

“Hey Frapp Girl, you can see your bra through your shirt. You should really wear a nude bra with a white shirt.”

The bitch didn’t even bother to learn my name, but yet she could give me advice on my undergarments.

October 29, 12:30ish, the Ursula was wearing yet another home made shirt that said “Eat no Meat”. In an attempt to make conversation, I asked her if she was a vegetarian. She said no. I tried to make a joke about it. I asked her what you would call a cow on the barn room floor. She didn’t know, so I said “ground beef”. She did not understand the joke.

As the weather grew colder, I noticed that her hinges started to stick. Her motions behind the counter were less fluid than usual; she would bent awkwardly at the hip and use her arms bent at the elbow, much like a Barbie doll. It’s funny, but I almost noted a sadness behind her eyes during these colder months. But that just wasn’t possible.

November 20, 6:40 p.m.-The customer in front of me, a gangly little dude, tries to flirt with the Ursula. He asks for a Tai Chi latte in an attempt to be funny. The Ursula has none of it, even though he seems to be her type, employing the many articles of the hipster Goth into his own look.

She responds with “Tai Chi is an exercise, but would you like a Chai Tea?”

January 8, 3:12 p.m.-The Ursula stands in the corner with her face to the wall for 2 �½ minutes. It was almost as if she ran out of batteries, or that she needed to be wound up. Finally a customer came to the counter and she snapped out of it.

The Ursula had an arm that would hyper-extend during busy times. She was efficient beyond words, and from what I could gather, never made a mistake. No mixed up orders, no spilled mocchiata’s, and not a biscotti crumb on the counter under Ursula’s watch. I remembered this important detail on February 19, 5:28 p.m. as I ordered my usual, the Frapp.

She was as cold and removed as ever, yet this time something was different. As I walked away and sipped my beverage, I felt her glaring at me with her hollow eyes. It didn’t strike me until I got to my car that, instead of a small frapp, I was given a large latte, and a rather milky one at that. I pondered what to do for a moment. Was this a trap? Should I go back and complain? I took the safe, low road and complacently went home with my steaming cup of frothy milk. All I know is that this mistake, this messed up order was more than a personal attack on me, but was also a message of some kind.

March 2, 6:01 p.m.-Ursula is absent for the first time in the course of my stakeout.

As spring drew near, my anticipation for the answer to what Ursula was drew a nasty head. The melting of the ice on the windows brought the return of Ursula’s mechanic behavior. No more witty banter, no more sad, long stares. It all had to end somehow.

April 15, midnight-It was a Tuesday, and the store was closed. I waited for her in the parking lot. I knew that on a Tuesday, there would be less security for her and less people. A thin red scarf flew around her neck as she left the shop and waited outside the store.

My plan was quite simple; get the Ursula into my car, ask a few questions, drive away and never come back again. However, I never expected that the Ursula could produce emotion or anger or fear.

I drove up to the store front and asked her, obviously, if they were closed. She said yes and asked if I would give her a ride home. My plan was unfolding too easily in front of me. We drove into the night in silence. My attempts to make conversation about music, fashion, etc. were all futile.

“Pull over here.” She finally said.

Before I had a chance to ask Ursula where she lived, she lunged at me. Her grip was unbelievable and unforgiving. Her hand closed around my throat; I had been cornered. As stars began to form at the back of my eyes, I took one futile attempt at defending myself, and bit her on the arm. The flesh gave away easily. Imagine my surprise as blood, not oil or slime, flowed from her open wound. As I slipped into unconsciousness, a low grinding noise filled my ears and drowned out the whispers of the night.

The next day I awoke in my bed, bruised but generally unharmed.

June 30, 5:15 p.m.-I had finally gathered enough courage to return to the caf�© and face her. I walked into the crowded coffee house, and there she was, shiny and automatic as ever. She looked at me without recognition or malice, and went about her business.

On this day, I noticed something that I had never noticed before. A tiny old man sat in the corner of the caf�©, surrounded by a fortress of books. His little feet barely touched the ground, and his frame seemed fragile enough to snap.

Intrigued, I approached him and chuckled to myself because it looked like he was playing a video game. As I neared him, I realized it was more like a radio with an antenna. In my wildest dreams, I would have never guessed it to be a remote control.

He finally looked up at me and his sweet, withered old face took on a dark and sullen expression.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” He hissed at me.

A great flood of light opened above my head and the world became clear to me.

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