art by Jonathan Westbrook
by Melissa Mead
When my television died I grieved. It had been a faithful little TV, bringing life to the house for many years with its bright pictures and chatter. I'm something of a Luddite ordinarily, preferring non-interactive appliances, but TVs are special. It's been that way ever since my mother's old black-and-white met me at the door when I got home from school, proudly showing my favorite cartoon.
The house felt empty with my television gone, and the neighbors began dropping hints. Wasn't I lonely in that silent house? I needed companionship, and so many televisions needed good homes....
At last I gave in and went downtown, only to be shocked at the changes that selective breeding had wrought in domestic televisions. The new breeds were sleeker than my old companion, broad and flat-screened, with assertive surround sound that I confess I found intimidating. I even let myself get cornered by a 55" bruiser with rumbling subwoofers. A sales attendant had to call it off with a clicker.
Shaken, I abandoned my search for a while, but loneliness won out. I answered dozens of "Free To Good Home" ads, but the poor creatures had been so scratched and dented, or neglected for being out of date, that they could barely hold a signal. My heart was too recently broken for me to take on the challenge of one of these abandoned models.
"You need to get out of the house," my neighbors said. So I packed a travel bag and took a shuttle to the ancestral homeland of the television: Schenectady, NY.
An unlit neon General Electric sign marked my destination: the Appliance Preserve. The door of the gatehouse showered dust on me as it creaked open. A young man looked up from behind a desk.
"The Edison Holograms are five miles that way," he said, pointing. "The Steinmetz show is at the planetarium, and if you've come for the dedication of Union's Schwennker Wing, that was last week. Sorry."
"Actually, I was looking for the Appliance Preserve."
The young man stared, and then grinned. "Really? I mean, of course! You've come to the right place, Miss... uh..."
"Stewart. Emily Stewart."
"Timothy Proctor. Like the theater. Nice to meet you, Miss Stewart. Did you come for the slide show, or the walking tour? It's quite a hike, but it's the best way to see the appliances in their natural habitat."
"Oh, the walking tour, please! I'm sure I'm up for it."
Mr. Proctor scrounged up some heavy boots and sturdy coveralls. "Protective gear," he explained. At my look of alarm he added, "It's perfectly safe! We haven't had any serious incidents since I started working here. I just wouldn't want you to get a nasty burn from a feral toaster."
It never occurred to me to ask how long he'd been working there.
Timothy Proctor opened the electric gate and bowed. "Right up that ramp, Miss Stewart. The path's elevated."
"Just Emily, please."
"Oh! Um, well, call me Tim." He hopped up on the path beside me. "Now: Stay on the path at all times, don't feed the toasters, and never get between a refrigerator and its young. Ready?"
"Who's minding the front desk?"
Tim sighed. "Don't worry about it. You're our first visitor in a week. We got a vintage range last month, beautiful fiery fellow, and no one even showed up."
"It's like people are so eager for the new breeds they can't wait to abandon the old ones," I said, thinking of my poor lost companion.
"Tell me about it. My friend at Computer Rescue says he finds month-old PCs, barely out of the box, dumped on his doorstep all the time."
We walked in silence for a while. Eventually I told him about my old friend.
"I'm really hoping to see some wild TVs. It's silly, I know, but it just felt like the right way to honor its memory."
Tim looked sympathetic. "I hope you will. Wild TVs have gotten rare. We had a pack here years ago, but nobody's seen them in ages. Keep your eyes open, though. You never know what you'll spot in here."
At first I thought the only appliances I'd get to see were the toasters. The bold little things would even scramble up onto the path to beg for bread. Then Tim stopped, put a finger to his lips, and pointed. "See there, among the trees? Avocado-green chest freezer. What camouflage!"
I just caught a glimpse of the big, boxy shape lumbering away. A flock of bug-zappers crackled overhead. To our right, the path dropped off in a series of cliffs and gullies.
"The really dangerous stuff lives between there and the Mohawk River," said Tim. "Lawnmowers, grills, that sort of thing."
The left was all broad, flat plain. A garbage disposal trundled across it, munching stray PCBs. Food processors nibbled on the grass. A washer and dryer wallowed contentedly in a pile of dirty laundry.
"They're a mated pair," said Tim with obvious pride. "And look there!"
I caught my breath. A herd of refrigerators stood by an electric stream, drinking from the flowing current.
"The largest of all land appliances," said Tim in a near-whisper. "That big fellow there can probably store six cubic feet of food at once. Aren't they beautiful!"
"Oh, look at the little baby 'fridge! It could probably fit under a desk."
"Not so loud," Tim cautioned. "See how some of them are flapping their doors? They're defrosting in this heat, and it's making them cranky. And with a little one there..."
Sure enough, some of the refrigerators rumbled their icemakers in warning, or dropped magnets, aggressively marking their territory. Tim and I started to back away. I'd forgotten all about the ubiquitous toasters--until I stepped on one's cord.