By David Cook
Jenny gazed around her dad’s old bedroom. The faded blue curtains; the frayed cream carpet that was coming up the corners; that carving of an obscure Ancient Egyptian god touching himself that he’d bought on holiday just to annoy her mother; the photo of the three of them, taken one Christmas when she was 14 or 15. This room used to be full of life, but now everything was too quiet, too still.
She left, closing the door behind her. She wasn’t sure when she’d feel able to go back in again. She made her way down the stairs and sat on the brown sofa in the lounge. The funeral that morning had been hard, every bit as hard as her mother’s two years earlier, and the wake had been no better. Obscure family members offering their condolences, her dad’s friend, Reg, standing too close to her and perving at her chest—at a wake, for goodness sake—and saying, “If there’s anything I can do, my dear…” Her boyfriend Mark had ushered him away, bless him. Afterwards Mark tried to come home with her to make sure she was okay, but she’d insisted that she needed some time alone. He understood. He was good like that.
She’d lived in this house all her life. What would she do now, with both of them gone? She looked at the wall above the television, where there was another picture of herself with mum and dad, from a professional photo shoot they’d had done six years ago. Her mum, all made up and glamorous as usual and her dad, handsome as ever, with his greying beard.
Jenny smiled despite herself. That reminded her of the ridiculous stories Dad would tell her when she was around five years old. Like little girls grew a beard for a year when they turned nine, or that Jenny was actually a robot and he changed her batteries once a month when she was asleep in case they ran out of power, or the one about her gran having lived on the moon in the Seventies. Even at that age, she’d never believed any of them for a second. “Dad, that’s not true, is it?” she’d say. With what she’d been told she displayed surprising weariness for a tot, but he kept them up—if only to amuse himself. Her mum used to say to him, “If you keep telling her silly stories, she won’t believe you when you tell her something that’s actually important.”
The smile faded gradually, as did the light outside. Jenny wondered if she should make herself something to eat. She didn’t feel hungry, but she’d barely had a crumb all day. That was something else dad had once told her, that he’d trained house mice to collect crumbs from the floor when everyone was asleep and use them to build tiny statues of themselves held together with mouse spit.
He’d been an odd man, really.
She put a slice of bread in the toaster and tidied up halfheartedly while she waited. When it was ready she spread butter on the toast and ate about half of it. Then, out of nowhere, she felt woozy as if her energy slid away all at once. Her vision turned black and she fell to the floor, her plate crashing down alongside her.
The next day, Mark kicked the door in, having rung the bell for some time without an answer. He’d tried calling Jenny’s mobile too but only got her voicemail.
“Jenny!” he called. “Are you here? Are you OK?”
He strode through the lounge to the kitchen, which was where he found Jenny, her cheeks pressed against the linoleum, her blond hair cascading over her face.
“Oh my god!” he said, hurrying to her side. “Jenny!” he yelled, kneeling down beside her. “Can you hear me?” No response. He put one hand around her back, and shouted her name again. Still nothing. But he could feel…something, under his hand, beneath Jenny’s clothes. Something odd, like a little hole near her lower back. Funny, he’d never noticed anything there before. He gently pulled up her blouse an inch or two.
It was a hole for a screw. The screw held down a little lid, about five centimeters in length and three wide. He looked at it, puzzled. That couldn’t be what it looked like. He dug his penknife from his back pocket, pulled out its screwdriver and levered open the lid. It came off with a pop.
Two small batteries slipped out of Jenny’s back and rolled across the floor.
As Mark looked on, stunned, he didn’t notice the teeny, tiny statue made of toast crumbs in the corner of the kitchen.