Art Pact 25

I was sitting in the conservatory, staring out at the foggy patches of grey-blue through the plastic roof, when my father rang.

"I'm still having trouble with the Dyson."

"Hello Dad." I said for the benefit of the cameras.

"It keeps pushing out this kind of sludge," he continued. "I've got the notes you left here last time, and before you ask I've read the manual again."

He hadn't read the manual again, I knew this. Particularly because he kept calling it the Dyson. They didn't have a Dyson, that was the food generator in my old flat. They had a Philips KT20, which was the model with the simplest user interface that I could find.

"Hello Phil," I said archly, "I hope you're well, I was sorry to hear about you and Sarah."

"Yes yes," he said testily. "You've made your point."

"Fine, just - would it kill you to start off with some small-talk? Ease into things before you ask me to come over there and show you how to use the thing for the twentieth time? Why don't you ever ask about Sarah?"

"No point now, is there?"

"Oh, thanks."

He sighed.

"You know your mother liked Sarah, and I was - I didn't disapprove. Now come over here and show me how set this damn thing so that it doesn't push out all this sludge all the damn time."

"I don't know," I lied, "I'm pretty busy.."

"No you're not," he said. I reluctantly agreed.

-

"Your mother says hi," he told me, when I got there. Their flat was on the seventy-first floor, but despite that they'd managed to get an internal so that the light in the kitchen was all the weird washed-out white stuff. I didn't know how they could stand it, but every time my mother came to visit me near the ground she always complained about how sad being in the conservatory made her, so I supposed it was just what they'd been used to all their lives. "She sends her best wishes to Sarah, you'd better let her know that you've been given the old heave-ho, you know how embarrassed she gets if she gets things wrong."

"Oh, when was that?" I asked. I'd seen my mother the day before, when she'd tried to set me up with the daughter of one of her ex-colleagues, since (in her words): it's been two months now, you need to get dating again before you forget how.

Dad must have sensed that I was setting him up a trap. He waved his hand vaguely and walked away into the kitchen.

"Come on."

It looked even more ruined than the last time I was there, which seemed improbable. There were dirty skyscrapers of crockery piled on the counter above the dishwasher, which was cracked open and probably the source of the delightful smell of rotting food and stagnant water which filled the room. Every surface was covered in delivery boxes, tea rings, or empty bottles of designer beer, and my feet resisted ever so slightly every time I tried to lift one off the floor, peeling away with a sticky sensation.

"Wow, you've really kept the place spotless. It's like she left yesterday."

My mother's decision to separate from my father for half a year so that she could go on a grand tour of old friends and relatives around the ziggurat while he stewed in his own juices and learned to appreciate her had gone almost exactly the way I (and I suppose she) thought it would. What I hadn't expected was that I would be expected to fill in for her in her role of household technician and dogsbody. I wondered if there were some way that I could tour the ziggurat, or failing that at least find some way of disabling my phone so that it wouldn't receive calls but wouldn't trigger the maintenance staff to come round and replace it.

"Yes yes. Look, you try keeping a tidy house with your Dyson going crazy."

"First off it's not a... never mind. Show me what you've been doing. No, wait, get me the manual first."

He started to dig around in one of the cupboards, then the next one.

"I must have put it down somewhere."

"..after you read it," I prompted. "Because you did of course read it."

"Of course I did! Stop making a big deal of this, just fix the thing."

I pressed a few buttons on the generator, which hummed for a second and then began to spin up a loaf of bread. I watched it working in silence, then reached in and took out the loaf - warm, smelling of delicious carbohydrates which I was forbidden.

"I don't think the thing is what needs fixing," I told him.

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