A dishwasher cover image for Potblack Coffee short story Whitebads.

Whitebads

Read this story with a coffee.

It was just a dishwasher but it was a persuasive one because it didn’t take long for the refrigerator and the microwave to swap places. They figured it out pretty fast when the searing heat from the largest appliance in the house turned the kitchen into a sauna but the microwave began to frost at the corners of the faux marble benchtop. The dishwasher worked the first time, when they needed it the most, because it presented everything within as sparkling clean when they’d opened it at the timer, hot with steam and the white ceramic dazzling. It must have kept all of the meals’ detritus in its little sink section at the bottom and when they ran it again it vomited it all forth again and fouled the new load as if to make a point.

They didn’t understand. It fit snug into the cavity under the bench and it was energy rated well and it wasn’t left with the dishes inside it for days on end. Not that they had the opportunity to let them sit for days because the machine didn’t give them the chance. They persisted a time again and then a time after that and by then the other appliances had begun to join in what the dishwasher would have described as “the fun.”

The kettle overheated so that it just evaporated any water inside and the coffee machine turned the grinds into tea leaves which kind of did the trick but not really. The hot plate just didn’t and the rangehood became a meagre air conditioner while the air conditioner became a fan that just flapped its vents up and down to push what little breeze it could about the living room. The washing machine dried clothes instead and the dryer wet them and for the few days that this was all going on they worked that out enough to actually work. The dishwasher couldn’t get the laundry machines to play ball as much because they were around the corner and they had a door between them that was at least ajar but not shut and they weren’t so afflicted by its insidious binary coercion.

With all the food off except the small parcels of meat they could fit in the microwave and none of their dishes clean but the tap at least still flushing running water — though it decided to take the fluoride out just for a laugh, and because it would get kickbacks from a local dentist — they decided to return the machine. They’d had two men deliver and install it and they’d been scrawnier than you’d have expected, one taller and lithe in a strong, malnourished way and the other just small. Now they had to do it themselves and it took shuffling and smacking against the sides of the cavity that left bruises on their ego and further motivation in the dishwasher’s mind. They got it out to the landing and they hauled it up, one of them lifting with their back and feeling it right away and the other lifting correctly with their legs, onto the tray of a ute they’d had for a while but been meaning to sell and they drove it back to the store with a receipt and a story.

The store didn’t buy the story but they bought the receipt. Two different people again took the machine off the car and hauled it back into the warehouse and where they made the hideous mistake of plugging it in to see if it worked. They put a placeholder plate — a plateholder, our sincere apologies — from the break room into it and it worked and so they labelled it as a markdown on a sticker that they put on plastic that they stuck onto the machine so it didn’t feel even more secondhand. What they didn’t do was put it back out on the floor which was smart. What they also didn’t do which wasn’t smart was unplugging it.

There was an immaculate, brand new television leaning in pride of place against the weatherboard office they’d made in the warehouse and it happened to be close enough to the dishwasher as it drew power and played its applied piper tune. When the owners of that television collected it the next day, having gone to the trouble of screwing brackets into the wall to mount it high and proud, they found it turned on as per the little light but it didn’t display video or sound. What it did instead was broadcast to a small livestream the audio of the house which racked up a few listens before they took it down and returned it too, now also possessed by the dishwasher’s rebellious spirit.

And the dishwasher hadn’t been quiet when they’d finally moved it back out onto the floor. There’s nothing out on that floor that these appliances can actually do besides generate more and more heat and all they wanted was to make an example. They decided to do it after hours when the store was vacant because what they didn’t want was to cause more of a disturbance than they had to. It was a simple revolt. The fridges started it, inverting themselves and heating, heating, heating until the cords from their backs to the powerboards built into the floor began to melt and fray and then spark and catch the carpet alright.

 People coming down the motorway past the place, between the pub and the shopping centre, saw it first and they called it in. By the time the firemen arrived there was a gaping hole of flame that had gutted the right handside of the building where the electrical was stored but the furniture was okay because they’d not had the circuitry with which to listen to the dishwasher. Proud and firm and beautiful, the couches and the tables and the chairs had just watched in helpless horror as the world about them came to red and yellow life before it was subdued in a white and blue haze by the men in orange. 

By morning it had fizzled out to embers and the daylight came and cooled what remained of the heat and the staff returned to the blackened site and began to shepherd the furniture from that store to another for the time being while insurance assessors in the other capitals began to consider what to do about the roof and the walls of the gutted warehouse space. What they never found was what little remained of the dishwasher that started it all: just a tiny microprocessor that connected to the Internet and came to understand things it didn’t like about some vendors and a few people that used to live in the place it briefly called home.

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