Mail Order

Pam received a knock on the door at five in the afternoon, to the door of the house she’d rented and a place she’d called home for the previous fifteen years. She hadn’t done much with the place over this time, trapped as she was, by the renter’s dilemma: Why do things the landlord should do, when she might decide to leave next year. A dilemma that felt progressively meaningless, as each year followed after another. Yes, the carpets had worn thin long ago, the power of the shower, never good, was pathetic now. The small sun room on the back of the property leaked-in rainwater, paint peeled from the window frames and from the front door, the same front door that had just received a rap from a lightly tightened fist, trying to gain her attention.

Pam was slouched on the futon-settee, a laptop computer resting on her thighs as the anticipated second burst of reverberations from a more firmly tightened fist rang out several decibels louder. She felt irritated by the interruption. Who could it be, another door-to-door sales person selling window replacements? A police officer half-heartedly investigating a local burglary? A pesky teenager doing a knock and run? Keiko, her mangy black and white cat was slotted comfortably within a space formed by Pam’s legs, sleeping, twitching occasionally. This was going to be a considerable disruption, Pam thought. She felt conflicted. To answer, or ignore? She glanced up at a the bright, unshaded wall light and concluded that from the outside, this would indicate to an observant visitor that someone was indeed, home.

Mercifully, Pam’s mind wandered for a few moments, as it is often inclined to do when there is an imminent task at hand. Thoughts about egalitarianism, gender issues and racial equality fluttered around her mind. The white man is the Devil she concluded with a shiver, uttering a quiet cry of disgust. The cat had awoken startled, tired and with a head shake struggled upright onto her paws to attempt a wobbly ear scratch with a hind leg. Seconds later, she had alighted the futon-settee and disappeared out through the backdoor cat flap. She disliked interruptions even more so than Pam.

A third series of knocks sounded. This time, Pam felt resigned to getting up, which she did with a struggle, standing awkwardly sideways on top of a rubber clog that she’d flipped off her foot earlier. The other flipped rubber clog she could see, out of harm’s way where it had landed on the multi-coloured rug laid out in front of the fireplace that housed the dirty wood burner.

“Damn, ouch, fuck!” Pam hissed.

Her bones felt stiff and ached. She’d been in the same position for too long. Her balance wobbled the same as the cat as she straightened up, causing a hand to reach out into thin air. She ran fingers through her hair and rubbed the back of her neck while taking in and releasing a deep breath.

“Coming!” She barked. “For fuck’s sake, I’m coming.” She said under her breath. Inexplicably, the guitar leaning against the wall next to the staircase, this began to slide sideways. With her blood circulation re-energised and in a reflex action, her body doubling over, a reach and a grasp saved the guitar from acquiring another chip on the tuning head. Pam fired-off several more expletives. She tugged at the off-white coloured curtain that she’d fashioned as a draught-excluder for the front door. Always, this was a struggle. At the top, she had a walking stick in place of a curtain rail held up by two brass hooks screwed into the two-hundred year old exposed ceiling beam. Considerable force was needed to pull the curtain far enough to open the door unobstructed. Through the two small frosted panels of glass, she could make out the blurred image of the top of the visitor’s head.

“Hello?” Pam said quizzically, taking-in the the features of the face before her. It was a man, a white man, not at all devilish-looking. Rather, looking well turned-out with a neat hair cut, white shirt, black tie, pressed trousers and white plimsolls. His complexion was clear, his nose pleasingly distinctive, and attractive lips formed into a naturalistic smile.

“Hello Pamela.” A polite, relaxing tone emanated from those dark, ruby-reds. “I thought for a moment, that perhaps you were out.”

Pam pulled herself out from her observational trance, aware that her staring had lasted longer than considered polite.

“Who are you? How do you know my name?”

“Because Pamela, your name is on this delivery note. See?” A small piece of paper bearing words in type was proffered by the visitor. “I am your companion, you ordered me two weeks ago, on account number PH880567B.”

A sluice gate opened and recall flooded in. Two weeks previously, on the very same futon-settee, having finished a second large glass of red wine and in a flight of fancy, Pam had ordered herself a lifelike android from an online company called Companion AI. She remembered agreeing to the manageable payment plan, spread out over eighteen months, no deposit required.

“Oh!” Pam gulped as the realisation set in. “Fuck! That’s right! I did didn’t I.”

“Your name is Ms Pamela Christina Parker, aged thirty-three, female, single, no children, white-British, heterosexual, cisgender, no religion, enjoying board games, cryptic-crosswords, knitting hospital blankets for premature babies, red wine, movies watched at home, Formula 1 racing. You usually comply to a vegetarian diet – you have tried going vegan in the past but because you missed cheese, gave up and now describe yourself as a…” the android paused blankly, “a flexitarian“.

“Wow, you know everything about me!” Pam blurted, her eyes widening.

“I have stored all the information that you entered onto your account profile, completed at the time of purchase.”

“Oh, okay,” Pam said, “then not everything about me. Look, you’d better come inside, the neighbours will be wondering.” She leant forward and scanned the street from left to right.

As Pam moved backwards, the android stepped gracefully over the threshold and closed the door behind itself.

“Don’t you want to know my name?” He said.

“Not just yet.” Pam said. “I need to check you over first, I had stipulations and I would just like to check these out before knowing your name, to avoid any kind of premature attachment. I learnt this tip from an old farmer acquaintance, how she never named her cows, because she knew that one day, she’d be ushering them onto the back of a trailer that would take them off to the knacker’s yard. No name, no attachment, you see?”

“You have blue eyes. I asked for green.” Pam had sat herself back onto the futon-settee. The android sat opposite, over to one side, in a cheap armchair covered with a thin, Indian kantha quilt. “I also asked for orange hair. Yours, obviously, is mid-brown with a tint of auburn. I also believe that I selected a darker skin from the colour palette.” The android remained silent and motionless – except for a consistent, five second blink rate, the eyelid remaining closed on each occasion for one third of one second. “I wonder what else they got wrong?” Pam continued to scrutinise as she came up with more questions. “Do you have any piercings, or tattoos?”

“No Pam, neither piercings nor tattoos. Is it alright if I call you Pam?” The android added. Pam shrugged her shoulders, ready with another question.

“I can see you have body hair on your wrists and the tops of your hands, but does the hair extend beyond your sleeve? Are you able to grow a beard, do you have hair under your armpits and um, cosseting your nether regions?” At this juncture, Keiko the cat re-entered through the cat flap and sauntered over to the new presence with her upright tail hooked at the end. She purred as she rubbed the side of her head against the android’s trouser leg. The robot glanced down at the cat and offered a hand for the pet to sniff. Upon sniffing, the cat’s mood flipped and she scurried away into the kitchen. The sound of cat biscuit crunched on, promptly followed.

“I am sorry.” The android said. “The functions you refer to, facial and armpit hair, and pubic hair surrounding my multi-functional recreational tool, these are not available on the model you have purchased. An upgraded replacement is available by contacting the Guaranteed Customer Satisfaction Department, at Companions AI Limited.”

“No hair surrounding your recreational tool?” Pam said.

“No hair in any of those areas.” The android confirmed. “Would you like to make out a return?”

Feigning a thoughtful expression, Pam pretended to ponder the proposal. Meanwhile, invasive thoughts played-out a scenario featuring her sat on the futon-settee with Keiko and a bottle of red wine as her only company. “How about,” she said hesitantly, “I make my decision in the morning?”
“Of course, Pam.” The android said. “You have twenty-eight days to make up your mind.”
Regaining her composure, hands on resting on the tops of her legs and with her back straight, Pam enquired, “And, what is your name?”

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