Rolli

1. How It Started

        Sara got a Chimpanion. Helen got a Chimpanion. But when Elsa Gartner got one I said to myself, “Well, that takes it!” Couldn’t hold out another minute. I jumped into the car, never mind my hair, or the bed not being made, and drove straight to Wally’s Department Store. $1,999.99, I could hardly believe it, a bargain sale price for a Chimpanion. I mean, I could barely afford it; but I could barely afford my house, my car, my credit card—you know, just add it to the pile. Raced home like a teenager, and struggled inside with the box—fifty or sixty pounds, it seemed, if it was an ounce. “My God,” I said to myself, setting it down, breathing hard. “My very own Chimpanion, at last.”
        Now, in case you haven’t heard—if you’ve been in India or living with Zulus, or something—I’ll explain about the whole Chimpanion thing. It wasn’t a fad, really (fads are dumb); it was just—a really great invention. The sort of thing everyone could use, that everyone needed. When I think of what my life was like BC (Before Chimpanions), I cry, practically—I mean, it was so tough. So ordinary. It was no life at all.
        Anyhow, Chimpanions (chimps + companions) were Electric Robot Friends—pets, you might call them, though they were so much more than pets. They could follow instructions, almost anything you could think of, like “wash the dishes” (you had to say it in a loud, even tone), even hard stuff like “get the groceries,” or “do my taxes.” It was like having your own private butler. By the end, my Chimpanion (it took a while to train him—they start out wild) could dress me, brush my hair, even paint my toenails, which saved heaps of time. It was pretty sweet. But “all good things . . .,” as they say. We’re AC (After Chimpanions) now, and life is murder. It all happened so quickly; I hope I remember all the details, the important stuff anyway. Here goes.
        I think the first thing my Chimpanion did, after I installed the batteries (they went in the rear end—funny, if a little indecent) and flicked the ON switch, was have a real rip-snorting tantrum. I was prepared for this—there was a warning on the box—but still, my heart was beating. I mean, the screams were so absolutely real. He even pulled out chunks of fur. Worst of all was when he jumped behind the sofa, and commenced chewing on the curtains—and they were nice curtains, floral, definitely not cheap. I was shouting things the whole time, of course, like “I command you to stop!” and “Bad monkey!” which any experienced Chimpaniowner (Chimpanion + owner) would’ve snickered at. If I hadn’t been too excited to read the instructions in full beforehand, like you’re supposed to, I’d’ve known you have to start every command with “Chimpanion,” so he knows you’re talking to him. So if I’d’ve said “Chimpanion, I command you to stop,” he’d’ve done it. By the time I’d figured that out, he’d completely trashed the living room, smashed all the lamps, and swallowed five or six bananas, whole, from the fruit bowl. I was curious what would become of those, I can tell you; but I didn’t find out until much later.
        Eventually, I got him under control, and listening to commands. With both of us working, it didn’t take too long to clean up the mess. I was pretty achy after that—pushing 70, after all—so I watched a little television (he seemed to like the same shows I did), then hit the sack. Chimpanions do sleep—that is, if you want them to. All you have to say is “Chimpanion, sleep,” or “Chimpanion, good night.” Stuff like that. But if you say “Chimpanion, lights out,” they generally run around turning all the switches in the house off—you know, not getting it.
        I hadn’t really thought—it was so spur of the moment—when I bought my Chimpanion, where it would sleep. Luckily, there was an extra bedroom—small, and meant for a child (I’d never married). Trouble was, I’d filled it with dolls—my one great hobby, collecting them—life-sized porcelain dolls. You’d swear they were real. Expensive hobby, I’ll admit; but without a family, a woman has to have something to waste her money on. Beautiful dolls. Anyhow, I must’ve had, at that time, well over a hundred—on the shelves, dressers, here and there on the floor, and all over the bed. So I took the Chimpanion to the dolls’ room, and told him he was to share it, and be very careful with the dolls. Didn’t react well to the idea, I’m afraid. At first, I thought there was another tantrum in store, but he settled down pretty quickly. It was the sight of so many eyes, I think, that made him jumpy. I’ve had strangers, honest to God, mistake the dolls for live children, so it was no wonder an Electric Chimp CompanionTM would. I kissed him on the cheek (it was warm, from the electricity), and turned out the light.
        It was a rude awakening, the next morning, to say the least. Started as a tinkling chime sound, which I didn’t mind so much. After the explosion, though, I threw my robe on and bolted downstairs.
        “OMG,” I cried, saying it out the full way.
        It was carnage—doll heads everywhere, smashed into bits, dresses ripped up. And over in the corner, curled up in a basket, was the Chimpanion, fast asleep—I mean, in Inactive Mode. I’ll tell you, I thought about cramming him back into the box and getting a full refund. It’s funny I didn’t, considering how dear the collection was to me, and all the years it took to complete. But I’d already come to think of my Chimpanion as family, and you can’t just take family back to the store. You sure can punish them, though.
        “Chimpanion, wake up!” I said.
        He did.
        “Chimpanion—what have you done?” He didn’t seem to follow—and I didn’t expect him to, honestly. Because it wasn’t an Approved Command. So he just gave a big wide grin, exactly like a kid. And I forgave him instantly. Of course, I made him clean up all the bodies; didn’t lift a finger to help him, either; and put the whole thing behind me. I realized, then, that making a civilized creature out of my Chimpanion (“the goal of every responsible owner,” as the booklet said) was going to be a challenge. But I was up to it.

2. Tea with Ms. Hutchince

A few days passed, and Chimpy—that was the name I settled on, and programmed him to respond to—made steady progress. By the third day, I’d trained him to fold laundry, and eat spaghetti with a fork (still wasn’t sure what became of the stuff). But I was nowhere near ready to introduce him to company just yet. It didn’t look like I’d have an option, though, because, one morning, without invitation—Ms. Hutchince came to tea.
        Never much cared for Ms. Hutchince—so solemn and hoity-toity. Dressed like she was rich, but really she lived on a very fixed income. Her dad was the town doctor, ages ago, an old grunion. He’d “pinch a penny till it bled,” people used to say, and when he died left his fortune to his only child—on the condition, the will said, that she marry within twelve months of my expiration. Otherwise the money went to Imperial Toffee. The old man was unusually fond of toffee. So she grabbed some local boy by the arm, hastily married him, hastily divorced (the will didn’t say anything about that), and spent the rest of her days a spinster living off an inheritance. Never had to work a day in her life, though it’s not like she could be extravagant; came from a long-lived family, and had to make it last.
        So anyhow, the next morning, there was a knock at the door. I opened it up, and there’s that grave toad-face staring back at me. “I’ve come for tea,” she says. “Oh. Come in—if you please,” I answer. There’s something about solemn people that makes everybody else solemn, too. And obedient. I’d’ve rather told her scram, but she was too respectable. It’s like if the Queen showed up for dinner stinking drunk, you still couldn’t say no. So I showed her into the living room, and went to the kitchen to make the tea. When I came back out, she was perched on the sofa, so I sat down in the armchair across from it (not the one beside it), laying the tray on the table between us.
        “And how are you?” she asked, with a weak smile.
        “Good, thank you,” I said.
        “That’s nice,” she answered.
        It got very quiet, so I said, “And you?”
        “I’m well, thank you.”
        A long silence, after that. Really awkward. I was wracking my brain for something to say next, when Ms. Hutchince raised an eyebrow (it was penciled on) and said:
        “And what do you call this creature?”
        She was looking just over my shoulder, so I turned around and saw Chimpy wandering into the room, rubbing his eyes—cute, and something all Chimpanions are programmed to do after Short Deactivations (naps).
        “Oh, it’s my—Chimpanion,” I said, not sure whether to send him away, or try my luck that he’d behave for once.
        “Chim-pan-yun?” she said, pretending to’ve never heard of them. I just smiled to myself, knowing perfectly well that she’d been nosily making the rounds of every Chimpaniowner’s house the last few weeks, trying to make it seem like she was just dropping in. Her stopping at my place proved it; I mean, normally she never gave me the time of day. The old bird probably couldn’t afford a Chimpanion of her own, though of course she’d never say that. So I just played along.
        “Chimp Companions,” I said. “They’re Electric Robot Friends—but awfully lifelike, don’t you think?”
        “Fairly,” she said, taking a sip of tea, pretending to be barely interested.
        I told Chimpy to have a seat, so he hopped up on the armchair next to Ms. Hutchince.
        “Well, hello there,” she said, in such a friendly tone, I was shocked—and amused. Chimpy just gave her one of his really big-sized, company grins. When she caught me smiling, she turned cold again, and said, stiffly:
        “Does he do anything?” (As if she didn’t know.)
        “He does everything,” I said. “You name it, he does it.”
        “I see.” She looked at the tea tray, and her half-empty cup, and said, “Can he pour the tea? Without spilling it.”
        “Naturally,” I said, even though he usually slopped a little. “Chimpy, pour her some tea.”
        He hopped off the chair, and filled her cup, luckily not spilling a drop.
        “Thank you. Chimpy,” said Ms. Hutchince. I could tell she was impressed, though of course she tried hard not to let on.
        “Chimpy’s a great help around the home,” I said, pretending to sip some tea; I didn’t want to run out and risk Chimpy fudging the refill.
        “I’ll bet,” she said—in a sarcastic way, I thought.
        “Extremely useful things,” I said, starting to get irritated, “if you can afford one.”
        “But no substitute for a husband,” she said, into her teacup.
        You old bitch, I thought. But all I said was, “Not everyone’s the marrying type,” practically grinding my teeth. And I couldn’t resist adding, “How’s Mr. Hutchince, by the way?”
        She looked up like she’d heard a gunshot.
        “I must be going,” she said, rising. “Perhaps you and your thing would like to be alone.”
        “Chimpy, attack!”
        I could hardly believe I’d said it, but I’d said it. And before I could stop him . . .
        “Aaaah!” This was Ms. Hutchince, shrieking as Chimpy jumped her, knocking the teacup out of her hand.
        It got pretty ugly after that. I mean, he tore her up—clawing, stomping, dragging her around the room, and taking every opportunity to put his sharp white teeth to good use. The whole thing lasted barely ten seconds, but there was lots of screaming (I mean lots), and then—well, quiet. Too much quiet.
        “Chimpy, stop!” I cried. He did. As he turned around, I could see blood in his fur, staining his teeth (he was still smiling). “Chimpy,” I said, shaking a little, “Chimpy, go upstairs. Go lie down.” He made a pouty face, but obeyed.
        From where I was standing, I could only see Ms. Hutchince’s legs and torn slip sticking out from behind the sofa. “Oh boy,” I said to myself. Of course I had to check things out, but couldn’t bear to take more than baby steps, with the suspense, and knowing how bad the sight would be. At one point, I was barely moving at all, so I said to myself, “This is ridiculous,” took a couple of big steps . . .
        And there she was. Without being too gruesome, I’ll just say there was a lot of blood, and too many scratches and bite marks to count. It was a strange thing, too, to see such a prim, upright lady lying there with her clothes torn off, like she’d been ravaged. Ironical is the word. Even stranger—where her face ought to’ve been there was only a mat of dark hair—the back of her head. Her neck had been twisted all the way around and broken. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me the woman was stone dead. But I thought, just to be absolutely sure she wasn’t still alive, I should double-check. So I inched my way around the body, trying not to track around any blood. The way her head was angled, with the neck quite stretched out, and the chin bearing its weight, she seemed to be looking just over my shoulder, at the stairwell, like she’d done earlier. I superstitiously looked up—and there was Chimpy grinning back at me, like a kid.
        “Go lie down,” I repeated, a little louder. He listened this time. Chimpanions are programmed to respond to voice loudness, and generally take a shouted command more seriously than a soft one. I watched him vanish down the hall.
        “Okay,” I said, looking down at the body. Didn’t have a clue what to do—I mean, I was stumped. It’s not like I could call the cops. Police have never understood the complicated nature of Chimpanion ownership. It’s not like I was innocent, either. I’d given the command; it was a slip of the tongue. But it’s not like I told him to do all that. I mean, attack is different than kill, right? And I couldn’t let them take away my Chimpy, either.
        After a lot of thinking, it became pretty clear what I had to do. I knew Ms. Hutchince didn’t drive—so as long as nobody’d seen her come inside, there’d be nothing to suggest she’d even come over. It’s not like she was in the habit of paying me visits. It was taking a chance, but—I decided to get rid of the body. I knew time was of the essence (it generally is, in cases like this), so I called Chimpy back. With his help, I carried Ms. Hutchince to the bathroom, and hoisted her into the tub. Then I turned on the tap and—I was a little nervous about giving Chimpy a knife, especially such a big one; but what choice did I have? After the body was in fine enough pieces—Chimpy could cut through bone like butter—I scooped it into ice-cream pails, and put it down the garbage disposal. Messy work, to say the least. Then the two of us spent the rest of the evening—I think we got to bed around two—cleaning up, looking for spots of blood, that kind of thing.

3. One Debutant

For almost a whole week, I didn’t see the light of day, not once; too busy going through the Official Instruction Manual, and doing my best to civilize Chimpy a bit. Did you know Chimpanions were made from parts shipped in from Norway, Persia, and Swaziland? Only the best stuff. Anyway, by the end of the week—he could draw absolutely temperate bathwater, and was even learning to paint, a little—I thought it was high time Chimpy and the neighbours had a proper introduction. I mean, what’s the use of having a Chimpanion if nobody sees him? It had to be in style, too.
        Now, there was a whole line of clothing available—ChimpanionWareTM—pants and tops, all kinds of special outfits—“Duds for your buds,” as the catalogue put it. But I’d blown all my money on Chimpy himself, and couldn’t afford any outfits (even if I wanted the Jade Kimono in the worst way). Lucky for me, I still had the doll clothes—not just the stuff that survived, but drawers full of extras. So I started going through them, changing him into stuff, even some of the girly things, just for fun. It was after lunch by the time we’d agreed on something—a beige business suit with a spotted tie—and even though I was starved, since I hadn’t breakfasted, either, I couldn’t wait to take Chimpy out and show him off to the neighbours.
        So off we went. Luckily, by that point, Mr. Law revoked an earlier decree for owners to leash all Chimpanions out-of-doors. Because it would’ve been a shame, going to the suit trouble, not to mention combing his hair very carefully down the middle, like for a school photograph, to wreck it all with a dog collar, and a chain. I mean—please.
        So off we went. I think Mr. McCrae was the first one we saw, watering his lawn. I waved. Chimpy waved. This shocked me at first; I hadn’t given the instruction. Then I remembered something from the instructions, about the patented AdaptaChipTM, how it lets the Chimpanions “observe, mimic, and learn.” Which helps, you know, not having to shout orders all the time. Well, I waved again—the both of us. But Mr. McCrae just stood there, frozen, hose in hand, drowning a flowerpot. Jealous. So I smiled—you know, kill ’em with kindness—and Chimpy smiled too, with just the right sarcastic touch. Remarkable, I remember thinking.
        Next a white van motored by—and in it Susan, the librarian, who waved back, at least. At the sight of my Chimpanion, though, she turned her head away sharply, made it seem like she didn’t give a damn (which was how I knew she did), and stepped on it. Which was so like Susan—you know, petty, small.
        Click, click, click. It was John Parton—or Polo, as he called himself, as he insisted people call him—coming down his walkway in his leather boots, and poodley hairdo. To John—pardon me, to Polo—nothing was, fine, or nice, or well and good. It was always charming, or gorge, or some other frilly nonsense. Just once, I often thought, when asked how he was that day, couldn’t he have said things were damned miserable, or a little off, or shut up I have a headache, like the rest of us? I mean, how on earth can you be that cheerful all the time? I suppose not having a wife to lock horns with, or children to worry about helps a bit—but still.
        “Why, hello!” he cried, beaming, rushing up to me in his ludicrous booties. Then he leaned forward (I drew back, a little, but it was no use), and kissed me, twice—once on each cheek, like a Frenchman. Didn’t enjoy that, I can tell you.
        “Charming weather,” he said next, grinning, “isn’t it?”
        “Oh, yes, it’s—charming, all right,” I said, forcing myself.
        “Delish, even. Don’t you think it’s just delish?”
        “It’s delish, yes. Awfully.”
        I must’ve been grinding my teeth by this point, because Chimpy started doing the same, rubbing his RealistiPearlsTM together till sparks flew off in all directions. Adorable. It calmed me a little, I think.
        “What do you think of my new boots? Aren’t they just yummy? Stole ’em—from a droll little shop in the West End.”
        “Stole them?” I said, horrified.
        “Oh, yes,” he said, smiling. “I’m quite the career criminal.”
        Something about his expression, here—and occasional giggle—that I didn’t like. Made me feel—like I wasn’t getting something.
        “Stole this, too,” he said, adjusting his belt.
        “You don’t say.”
        “Oh, yes. And the slacks. All stolen. It’s the only way to go. The fashion, if you will.”
        “I most certainly will not,” I said—worked up, I admit, but who could blame me? “I’m proud to tell you, Mr. Parton”—he grimaced—“that all my clothes, humble though they may be, were bought, honestly, from decent people trying to earn a decent wage—” but here I stopped myself.
        Calmly, like nothing, he brushed an invisible bit of lint from his shoulder, and said—
        “It shows.”
        “Chimpy, attack!”
        I hardly realized what I was saying. I mean, it just popped out. And before I could change my mind, Chimpy had leaped into the air, and landed right in Polo’s arms, knocking the man—all hundred pounds of him—backwards, flat onto the ground, his head striking the walkway so hard that, if it weren’t for the thrashing of his arms and legs afterwards, I’d’ve thought for sure it had smashed right open.
        I looked around, in a panic. There was no one in the street that I could see. No one gaping in windows, reaching for telephones. My first thoughts, of course, were for Polo, his safety—but I prefaced them with a quick little 360, as a precaution. Even in that short time, Chimpy had moved from the man’s chest to his head. He’d wrapped his legs tightly around Polo’s neck and, holding his head still, on either side, by the hair, was engaged in busily gnawing on the man’s face, like a corncob.
        “Chimpy!” I cried (though not too loudly).
        “Chimpy!” I repeated, grabbing the collar of his suit jacket, and tugging on it.
        There was a gurgling sound, a scraping. The arms and legs moved more violently than ever. There was a smell of electricity—of singed flesh.
        I was, despite myself, about to scream, when—the thrashing stopped altogether. Immediately, Chimpy relaxed his grip, and turning about grinned at me, like a boy who’d been discovered at mischief. For once, the cuteness—and it was cute—didn’t work all that well. I was angry. And I was afraid.
        Drawing a deep breath, I turned, at last, and looked at Polo—at his face.
        It was—completely eaten, and raw. A third of it—about the forehead, and the jaw—was nothing but bone. No lips to speak of. A hole, where the nose was expected. To die in that way was—well, it was terrible. But then I remembered that Chimpy’s legs had been around the man’s neck, like a boa constrictor, all the while. So he likely—I like to think—died painlessly, of asphyxiation.
        “What have you done?” I said to Chimpy, in disbelief.
        He only looked up at me, quizzically, bits of flesh dangling from his chin.
        I’m a rational woman. Plop me in the midst of an emergency, with people bounding right and left like startled hares, and I’m generally the one thinking “What’s the fuss?” But I have to admit, this almost unnerved me. I mean, it was close. But I took a deep breath, looked around me, looked at Polo, weighed my options and—well, I knew what to do.
        “Chimpy,” I said, getting his attention (he was watching a butterfly). “Come closer.”
        Crouching down, I pointed at the dead man.
        “Chimpy—eat,” I said, making a pretend eating gesture.
        But he just stood there, looking puzzled—probably because people aren’t part of the Standard Recommended Diet for Chimpanions.
        “Eat, Chimpy!” I repeated, looking around me, nervous someone would notice.
        Chimpy tilted his head to one side, like a puppy.
        “See,” I said, licking the man’s hand, “delicious.”
        Chimpy itched his nose, then furrowed his eyebrows, then finally followed suit, giving the man’s fingers a single lick. Of course, I’d hoped for more. But it was a start.
        “Yum yum,” I said, rubbing my belly, pretending to eat down the length of Polo’s arm, and move on to his torso.
        Chimpy grinned. Silly thing seemed to find my antics amusing. But time was ticking. Growing desperate, I bit down hard on Polo’s thumb, hoping he’d copy—which he did, stopping short, though, of going any further.
        I swallowed hard—after all, it had to be done—and bit Polo’s thumb, the end of it, clean off—and pretended to chew.
        That did it. It was like a permission slip or something. In an instant, Chimpy set to work, eating from thumb to shoulder on one side, like a long stalk of celery. The speed, the efficiency were simply—marvels. Then he switched to the left arm—and then the legs, the torso, and last of all (and I wasn’t sorry to see it go, either), the head. Of course I spat the thumb out at the first opportunity.
        I stood there a while, stupefied, in disbelief. I mean, that he could fit that much in him without swelling up. There was a churning noise, a whirring; finally, a bright “ding”—and a cube, of about twice the size of the sugar variety, dropped between Chimpy’s feet. This was, I knew by then, the PottycakeTM—an ultra-dense compress of waste material. Chimpanions can be fed, and double as waste disposals, too, but are so efficient as to produce only one Pottycake a month, on average, according to the manual—and this was his first. Reluctant but curious, I picked the thing up. Besides being incredibly heavy for its size, it was hot to the touch, and smelled of burnt carrots. Most Pottycake, regardless of what it’s made of, is fully edible; though I don’t regret not sampling it on that occasion. The question was—what to do with it? A non-option, taking it with me (far too heavy). I looked around for a place to hide it. Then it struck me that, perhaps, I could feed the cube back to Chimpy, and see what happened. So I did (he took it hungrily), and after the expected whirring and dinging, produced a cube of perhaps a fifth of the size—but very nearly, I found, the same weight. I repeated the process a few times, till I ended up with a cube no larger than a coarse salt crystal; and struggling into Polo’s backyard with it, heaved it into his rain barrel with an impossible splash, watching it sink out of sight.
        I had to be fast, now, I knew it. Pocketed the bit of thumb, then looked around me, the yard, to be sure there was nothing left behind, nothing to incriminate Chimpy. Then we walked quickly through the backyard, past the garden—and a really fine garden he had, too—and into the back alley. I was just about to sigh relief when—
        “Hey, look!”
        “A robot!”
        “Awesome!”
        More than a few people in this world describe themselves as “kid people,” just as there are plenty of “dog people,” “cat people,” “ferret people,” even. I’d mark my X, personally, in “none of the above.” Can’t say why, exactly. Just something about kids—the atmosphere of chaos, possibly—that makes a person—uncomfortable. Really. For a moment, I thought about high-tailing it in the opposite direction. But in no time, they’d circled us, and it was too late.
        “Can he talk?” said one boy, stepping closer.
        “Is it real fur?” said another, closer still.
        “Can I have him?” said a third, reaching out.
        I gasped.
        “Is he nice?”
        “Does he bite?”
        “Whatcha feed him?”
        I began to panic.
        “What’s this button do?” asked one boy, reaching for the Manual Shut-Down.
        Chimpy looked up at me, nervously, and—I nodded my head. I didn’t say a word, mind you; but I nodded my head. I won’t deny it.
        There’s no point, I don’t think, mentioning what happened next. I mean, describing it. It got pretty grisly. Noisy, too. I very nearly thought one of the boys (the one who’d reached for the button) would escape—he was halfway over the fence, already—when Chimpy snatched him by the ankles and—well.
        There was no time, now, for anything but a quick escape. Already, I’d heard a door slam, some mother call out, “Benny? Ben? Benjamin, darling? Ben-Ben? Benny?” So I grabbed my pet, all 88.6 pounds of him (the actual weight, as I’d learned), around the waist, and hauled him off, like a sack of potatoes, as fast as I could manage. Back through Polo’s yard, around the corner, and across the street. As I slammed the front door shut, I saw Mr. McCrae, frozen, rake in hand, gaping back at me.

4. How it Ended

        So there I was, back to the door, and my heart beating hard against it, like a knocker. Chimpy stood facing me, hands at his sides, in the classic Awaiting Further Instructions pose, which Chimpanions, indoors, automatically assume, in case they need to help with groceries, etc. I remember how innocent he looked, and how badly I wished, at that moment, to be an Electric Robot Friend, as well—the carefreeness, I mean.
        You can’t imagine, the halo of thoughts spinning round my head, how heavy it was, and how fast. It’s not that I didn’t know what to do, but what to do first. Change Chimpy out of his bloody, and into clean clothes (the sailor suit, perhaps)? Hide him in the attic? Hammer out an absolutely perfect alibi? For a long time, I just stood there, thinking. But I was so exhausted from everything, so tired of running, and sick. I found myself sliding down the door, melting, till my bottom touched the carpet. I called Chimpy to me and, putting my arms around him, held him very tight, leaning on his shoulder, growing very sleepy, now, closing my eyes . . .
        I awoke—and Chimpy auto-activated—to a sound of knocking. Won’t have to tell you how alarmed I was. But then I thought, as the knocking had come from just above my head (I’d fallen asleep sitting up), it must be a child, only—the paper boy, if I was lucky, come for his monthly dues. Cautious—with the chain on—I opened the door, and peered out. But instead of a child staring back at me, I found myself nose to nose with—a rather short policeman. Plus one of the regular height, directly behind him. Of course I panicked, thought of slamming the door, leaping out the window, starting afresh in Swaziland, or something. But then I thought—I knew—the noble, womanly thing to do was to grin, as they say, and take it on the chin. To face the music. So that’s what I did. There was really no way of escaping, besides.
        I drew a deep breath, slid back the chain, and opened the door wide.
        “Please!” I cried, throwing myself down at the officers’ feet. “Have mercy on an old spinster!”
        “Ma’am,” began the first (short) officer.
        “It’s not my fault,” I interrupted, “that they’re so enticing, and that everybody wants one, and once you see somebody with one, you’ve absolutely got to have one, too.”
        “Ma’am,” said the taller officer.
        “And it’s not my fault,” I went on, “that there’s over three hundred and sixty-five different outfits available, most of them adorable, one for each day of the year.”
        “Ma’am,” said one of the officers (I don’t recall which).
        “And it isn’t my fault that—”
        “You’re not in trouble, ma’am,” said the first officer, laying a hand on my shoulder.
        “What?” I gasped.
        “We know what happened, ma’am.”
        “What happened,” I repeated.
        “With the children.”
        “The children.”
        “Are you all right, ma’am?”
        “All right?” I said. “Yes. I think—I think I’ll be just fine.”
        So this is how it all turned out. Just the day before, in Milwaukee, the officers explained, a Chimpanion by the name of Muddles had stormed into a law office—and shot ten attorneys on the spot. Just like that, without having been instructed (even by Remote-Voice Activation). This was a Texas Shoot-’Em Chimpanion, which always includes, besides an absolutely adorable hat, a revolver. The revolver’s supposed to be realistic, though, not real, which it turned out to be. A “manufacturer’s error,” they called it, in the end. But understandable, I suppose, as the same company that made Chimpanions also made—and still does make—munitions. You know, bombs and stuff. And when a few more reports of killings came in, even as far away as Tasmania, governments the world over were ordering Chimpanions pulled off the shelves, retrieved from owners, and—dismantled, poor things. No charges were being made against their owners, which was fortunate. I mean, you couldn’t blame us, could you, for their electro-moral defect?
        The hardest thing in my life, I think, was watching the policemen lead Chimpy, handcuffed, into the back seat of their patrol car, and slamming the door shut. Even harder, as they drove away, watching him, with his head tilted to one side, Awaiting Further Instructions. But there were no more instructions to give.
        Now, when I sit on the back terrace, or look out the front window, at all the neighbors looking back at me, I can’t help but think how dull life is—how pointless—without Chimpanions. They were a menace, I suppose. But I miss Chimpy, just the same.

“Chimpanions” was published in the 2011 edition of The Labletter.

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