I was up to my armpits in the washing machine when the doorbell rang.
“Could someone get that, please?” I yelled. This stupid shirt was so tangled around the centre stem of the bowl I couldn’t see how it would ever come free. One of the buttons had popped off already.
There was no reply and, after a few seconds of complete silence, I remembered: Dewey was out playing tennis and Tasha wasn’t here because she hadn’t come home last night…again. There was only me and Melanie in the house. And Melanie was agoraphobic. There was no way she was going to open the front door.
I disentangled myself from the cuff button as the doorbell sounded again. Walking down the hall I wiped my wet hands down my jeans. I could see the person through the frosted glass at the front door, swaying back and forth in impatience.
A blue and white shirt. It was a courier.
“Hello? Who is it?” I called. Only idiots opened the door without finding out who was on the other side first.
Long pause, then, “Umm…it’s Henry from TVS Couriers? I have a package for Lifford Barney. I need a signature.”
Oh…right. That was the name Dewey put on the things he signed up for when he wanted anonymity: junk mail, free stuff, competitions, porn. Yep….porn.
I rolled my eyes and opened the door.
“Hi Henry! Yep, that’s us,” I said.
Henry’s eyes widened in greeting, “Hey! Do ya mind if I put it down inside? It’s really heavy.”
I stepped back and allowed Henry to stagger into the hallway and thump the big package down on the floor near the lounge door.
So much for the big fluorescent stickers screaming “Fragile” stuck all over it. Never mind.
He turned back and flipped a signature capture screen out of the back of his belt, “Would you sign here, please?”
I took the stylus he offered and scribbled on the screen. The result looked more like a sketch of a flushing toilet than a signature, but Henry didn’t seem to mind.
“What’s your name, please?”
Henry’s eyebrow went up, “Al? Short for Alison?”
The usual. I could feel my expression grow frosty.
“Just Al,” I said.
I admit, there was a little fire under there.
Henry’s face tried bemused before slipping into blankness out of self-preservation. The boy wasn’t totally incompetent at reading non-verbal cues.
He hightailed it out the door just in time for me to slam it forcefully behind him.
Shaking my head, I took a deep breath and inspected the parcel.
Al Mumford Limited
And there I stopped. He’d put my name on it? What the…?
Well, hell, if my name’s on it, I’m gonna open the thing.
I could see it was going to need some force, so I went back down the hall to the kitchen and grabbed the scissors out of the knife block. Tasha would have my guts for garters if she knew.
But she didn’t.
I slipped the letter off the front and tore it open.
I was interrupted by a whisper.
“Have they gone?”
I heard the creak of a door behind me. She was hiding in the hall cupboard, under the stairs. Silly bint.
“Yes, Melanie,” I replied at full volume.
I knew she was going to creep up on me, so, to head her off, I turned around to face her. But she was too quick for me and was already there. Right up in my face.
I nearly punched her. By accident, of course.
“Dammit, Melanie. Why do you have to creep around like that?”
“What is it?” she cooed. She meant the package. She was always ignoring direct questions.
“No idea. Let’s read the letter. Watch out, I’m holding scissors.”
She was already sidling up to me so she could see.
I dropped the envelope on the floor and held the letter down lower and to the side for her.
CONGRATULATIONS! You have won one of our twelve consolation prizes! Thank you for entering our competition and for your truly brilliant entry! It will be published in the next Groupie Magazine!
In small print beneath was another short sentence:
NB – The manual will be sent separately.
“Oh, how exciting,” I droned, “Please, I need another exclamation mark. There’s one missing. Surely.”
I left the letter in Melanie’s hands and got down on my knees to figure out how to get the package open.
It was… Well, it was full. It seemed to be bulging at the plastic straps that bound it, so I decided the best plan of attack was using the scissors on those first.
“Careful,” said Melanie, watching from a safe distance, “You don’t know what’s in there. You could damage it.”
She had a point. And the scissors had two, ha ha. I did my best to slide one blade under the strap and gently brought the other blade down. The strap fibres zipped apart before springing aside from the pressure within.
The thing was bigger now. I prodded the bulge with my finger. It felt like meat.
Errghh! Hopefully not. Meat by mail. Doesn’t bear thinking about.
The strap circling it around the other way popped open just as explosively. Was it something full of air? I’d better not puncture it.
Revealed by the now-dangling strap were some instructions:
Pull tape along dotted line and stand back. Provide support if needed.
“Stand back?” I exclaimed. This was getting worse and worse. What had the drongo won for me?
“Provide support if needed?” countered Melanie, “What does that mean?”
“No idea. Let’s get it over with.”
I got off my knees and grabbed hold of the tab. It resisted way more than I expected and I yanked it a bit hard, so I was pulled towards it before it gave entirely. The whole package seemed to swell to well beyond its original size.
I was off balance and Melanie gave what she probably thought was a helpful tug on the back of my shirt. It sent me flying backwards. I landed on my butt, staring up at my prize.
He was completely nude, but not anatomically correct. It was very strange. There was hair on his head, stubble on his chin, more hair on his arms, chest and…further down.
But nothing else there.
Melanie started to giggle.
“Well, what’s the point then?” I asked, looking up at her from the floor.
This made her spiral into hysterics “What’s the p…p…p…point! Ha ha ha!” She doubled over.
He—if you can call it a he, and I seriously doubt that, on so many fronts—just stood there, staring off into the distance.
Hairy legs too, in case you wondered.
He blinked regularly. So regularly I began to count, trying to measure the time between blinks. About four and a half seconds. Was that supposed to be reassuring?
I picked myself up off the floor, which didn’t improve the view much. He was taller than me.
“What’s he for?” I asked. This made Melanie’s hysterics bubble back up again. She was useless like this. I rolled my eyes.
There was a scraping at the front door lock—the only thing that would shut Melanie up, so that was useful. She hid behind me.
I’m used to it.
It was Dewey and Tasha.
I fixed my eyes on Dewey, “Good timing, mate. This just arrived.”
Once they shut the door, Melanie was back out amongst us, “It said the manual was coming separately.” She was very excited, her eyes were almost bulging from her head.
What she was looking at, I don’t know. It wasn’t there.
“It’s…” Dewey pointed.
“Yep,” I said, “It’s not there.”
“What the hell is this?” asked Tasha, her expression utterly bewildered and not a little horrified.
Dewey looked at me. He didn’t actually know.
“It’s a consolation prize from one of the competitions that Dewey entered.” I explained. I looked at him pointedly, “With my name on it. What was the main prize?”
His face squeezed down like a deflating accordion before he answered, “I don’t remember.” He’d entered so many and he didn’t keep track. Typical.
Tasha was pointing at the naked man now, “But, no, what is it, actually?”
Dewey answered, “It’s one of the new household bots…”
But this was as far as he got as Melanie abruptly shrieked with laughter, “Bots!” Her amusement was so loud, I was tempted to cover my ears.
Tasha began to circle our new toy suspiciously, “A robot? Seriously?”
She broke off suddenly and her expression warred between horror, hysterics and amusement.
Pointing, Tasha just managed to say, “It doesn’t seem to be put together correctly.” She wheezed then and covered her mouth, overcome. She was pointing at his rear end.
Dewey and I came around for the view.
Ah, the missing piece!
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