The Dodo Dragon: ‘The Appliance of Science’ excerpt

The fridge had gone missing again. All that was left was a rectangle of gleaming blue tiles where it had stood, surrounded by a ring of black grease.

Jose moaned softly. His hangover screamed through his brain like a pig being slaughtered, and his mouth tasted like a mud-wrestler’s jock strap. He needed orange juice and coffee. Urgently. He dragged off to the bathroom to search for aspirin, bum first like a baby, with his crippled feet trailing behind him.

The medicine cabinet had gone missing too, but the fridge was standing under the shower. He felt too ill to ask why.

“Orange juice,” he mumbled.

“Say please!” said the fridge.

Jose groaned. Thirst won out over frustration, and he surrendered. “Good morning, Fridge. Orange juice please,” he said.

“Good morning. It’s Friday 26th February, 2027.” The juice appeared in the delivery window.

“You don’t need to tell me the year every morning. I do remember you know.”

“You’re hung over again, aren’t you?” continued Fridge. “Why you don’t learn to control your drinking is beyond me. Why, only last week you–“

“Shut up, or I’ll core-dump you!” said Jose. He’d only got drunk because it was Carnival anyway. Nothing like as good as Carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, but La Palma put on a reasonable show. He knelt, grabbed the juice, and drained the whole carton.

“Have you seen Medicine Cabinet?” he asked.

Fridge’s silence was eloquent. Even though Fridge had no face, Jose could feel the pout.

Jose was in no state for this. On the other hand, he didn’t feel up to reprogramming Fridge’s personality just now.

“Please tell me where Medicine Cabinet has gone.”

“I don’t know.”

“Thank you for telling me that. Milk please.”

A glass of milk appeared. “It might be in the bedroom. They’re collaborating on a musical.”

“A musical?” Was this the audio equivalent of seeing pink elephants?

“Oh, don’t worry about our personal fulfilment, Jose. I like standing in the same place all day, keeping your pizzas frozen. It’s the summit of Bed’s ambitions to wait around all day in case you happen to fancy a nap. Why on earth would any of us want hobbies?”

Jose rubbed his splitting forehead. “Uh-huh.”

“Me and Shower here, we play chess. Not that you’d be interested.”

“Pawn to King’s rook three,” said Shower.

“Fascinating,” mumbled Jose, and slithered off to find the medicine cabinet.

“Don’t forget you’ve got four strawberry yoghurts that’ll be past their sell-by date in two days,” Fridge called after him.

These old Canarian houses were tiny. It must have been a real squash in the old days, bringing up ten kids in here, but it made it easy to shuffle around.

Jose heard singing from the bedroom.

“When you hurt me and desert me, you do more than disconcert me,” warbled the medicine cabinet.

It was right above the bed. He’d been too hung-over to notice.

“Cool,” said Bed. “Really neat internal rhymes.”

“Excuse me,” mumbled Jose. “Aspirin please.” He washed them down with milk, collected his crutches, and left Bed and Cabinet composing a song about a vivacious vacuum cleaner called Monica.

Jose stopped abruptly just before he swung in front of the French windows. “Opaque please,” he muttered. The windows darkened, and he stumbled past in the sudden gloom. “Clear, please,” and his front room lightened again. For the millionth time he wished that he’d stuck with plain old curtains. His original idea had been for the French windows, which were also his front door, to turn opaque automatically whenever he wandered in front of it in the nude — something he tended to do first thing in the morning. Doña Angustias, who lived opposite, was scandalized. Provincial, she was. He’d brought the windows online a month ago, and they still hadn’t caught on. Still, at least they didn’t wander around the house or nag.

Back in the kitchen, the cupboard had coffee and sugar ready. Whenever he was hungover, Jose had his coffee with three sugars. He made toast, then couldn’t face it, so he had more coffee. The screeching in his head subsided to a wail.

“You know, you’d feel better if you had something to eat,” said Cupboard.

“Can’t face it.”

“Half a bowl of Froot Loops?”

“Shut up!”

“Sorry.”

Designing and building intelligent appliances had been a big mistake. It had kept him busy enough after the fluffy kitten put him on crutches. In fact he got so absorbed he’d gone well beyond his original design. First, he bought a truck load of flood-damaged robot arms and converted them into appliance legs with castors and claws. It was only later that he admitted to himself that he wanted them to walk because he couldn’t. They even had state-of-the-art batteries. Then he carried on AI programming where his degree course left off, and gave them personalities. He’d thought they’d keep him company. Who else would be friends with a cripple? he reasoned. Especially a godo – someone from the Spanish mainland. But it was worse than being alone. They were all such chatterboxes. Any one of them by itself would have been fine for a while, but living with all of them, all the time, was driving him nuts. He had no privacy at all. It was like being married without the sex.

That was another thing. If by some miracle he ever found a girlfriend, she’d never agree to make love to him on a talking bed that might well provide a running commentary. “Say, Jose, aren’t you going a little fast for her? I think her left breast could use more attention.”

He’d been so engrossed in his creations that he never gave a thought to marketing them until his disability lump sum ran out. Then he found nobody would have them in the house. By then, he barely had enough money for food, let alone modifications or advertising.

Food. Maybe cereal wasn’t such a bad idea.

“Hey Cupboard, can I change my mind about those Froot Loops?”

“Sure.” A packet of gofio – Canarian porridge – appeared on the delivery conveyor belt.

“No, Cupboard. Froot Loops please.”

“We’ve run out. Anyway, imported cereals are expensive and gofio’s so much better for you.”

Jose gave in. He juggled crutches as he filled a pan with milk, heated it on the stove, then added gofio and stirred. His breakfast was ready. “I’ve been thinking. How would you guys feel about it if I reprogrammed you and made you less intelligent so you wouldn’t get so bored?”

There was a distinct pause before the cupboard answered. “Put it this way, Jose, how would you feel about having a full frontal lobotomy? No boredom, no worries. Just sit back in an institution and relax.”

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