Rate & Review
Written by Olga Ponjee
Translated by Camilla Maltas
There’s a box at the front door. It wasn’t Nicky, according to Nicky, but I haven’t ordered anything online.
Here we go again – internet safety, screen time, sneaking onto sites I’ve forbidden her to visit – I slice the box open. But there’s no invoice. No order number. Just a mummy encased in bubble wrap and under all those layers, a body made of blinking lights.
Toy of the Year! shouts the packaging. RoBeat sings, dances and talks!
‘Mom…’ says Nicky, but I’m too tired to see anything but an admission of guilt. I send her to her room.
‘We’re not done yet, young lady!’ sings the RoBeat. I’ve accidentally pressed his right foot, the recording button that’s meant to ‘stimulate the young enquiring mind’. My voice echoes from its abdomen. Mechanical joints creak back and forth.
There’s nothing in the system, says Chloe from Customer Service, just a list of my previous orders: energy drinks, Dreamzzz tablets, instant noodles on a holiday discount. One child, two sick parents and three part-time jobs, that’s how I manage.
Chloe asks if I want to rate the call for internal assessment purposes, but all of a sudden I’m tired again, too much weight for my bones.
I key in a random number. Sorry Chloe.
‘We can keep him,’ I say to Nicky’s door. ‘He can play 25 tunes for your fine motor development.’ I press the right foot. ‘Please?’
‘Please?’ parrots the RoBeat.
But Nicky is like me, she won’t let me get away.
‘That’s not your voice,’ she says.
It’s two o’clock, three o’clock, the no man’s land between Dreamzzz and reality. I can’t place the sound, which side is calling. I drink water in the bathroom. My head feels encased in bubble wrap.
I kick something over on my way back to bed.
‘Nicky?’ I say.
‘Nicky?’ says my own voice, the voice that isn’t mine.
I hadn’t left him there, in the middle of the room. And yet he’s staring at me, blue sparks for eyes.
‘One, two, three, rainbow dance with me!’ sings the RoBeat.
The next night he’s on the cupboard, then in Nicky’s room. Her screams pull me out of bed. I yank out the batteries.
‘We’re not done yet!’ shrieks the robot. Rollercoaster colors, plastic limbs convulsing, its voice unraveling in electric shreds. And yet I feel something human, something clutching at me for help, something stuck in a plastic skin.
‘Efficiency! Speed! Customer-friendliness!’
Batteries. Pills. I must be hearing dreams.
I ask for Chloe at Customer Service, but no one seems to know her. There are a lot of internal transfers, says a boy called Frank. Better matches between talent and department.
‘Anything else?’ he asks.
‘Anything else?’ echoes the line and suddenly I’m there again, trapped in colors, light, too little skin. Electricity in my veins until I’m too tired to dance.
‘Ma’am?’ says a voice, a faraway voice, a voice asking if I’ll rate his service for internal assessment purposes, please.
Olga Ponjee (she/he) is a Dutch screenwriter and amateur bricklayer, gardener, seamstress & dragking. Partner of two, mother of three, sleeper of little. Ponjee’s flash fiction, Rate & Review, was translated by Camilla Maltas.