The Invitation

Part One:

A number of years ago I invented a parlor-game called Trinities.
Each player had to take someone … and describe them in terms
of a household of three persons, who can be of any age
and of either sex.
– W. H. Auden

Phillippa had been speculating about her new next-door neighbour for some days now. Ever since he first moved in, in fact. She’d watched the burly robots rolling in and out of the residential unit with their neverending stream of cling-film cartons, whilst pretending to dial up something innocuous from the wallstove. One of them had collided with a doorjamb, knocking over its tottering load, only to reveal a pile of musty old faux-plastic printouts. Was it possible that that was what all of them contained? Could anyone be quite that hardcopy-focussed?

There’d been a certain amount of discussion about him (it seemed it was a him) at the dinnertable, too. Lucy, her smart-mouthed seventeen-year old daughter, had remarked that one of her online tutors had reported that a writer was moving into the area.

“Amy asked if we’d be accessing any of his posts, but old pooh-face put the little suck in her place,” she said, shifting the protein-tube to one side of her mouth in the manner affected by the coolest of her girlfriends. “He said that we’d be better off not accessing any of them, since they were full of filth and bad language … that sounded pretty good to me, but it turns out that none of them are on P.A.”

More and more fascinating! Phillippa (Phil to her friends: though never, curiously enough, to her ex-husband, who’d insisted on addressing her as Pie – Pecan Pie, Honeypie, Cherry Pie, depending on his mood and the state of his digestion - throughout the course of their sixteen-year legal coupling) began to think she’d have to find an opportunity to meet this mysterious purveyor of words too venomous to be included on the public networks. Luckily Lucy’s hacking abilities hadn’t developed much beyond the odd downloaded fantasy game as yet.

These smaller domes were, admittedly, notoriously smallminded and intolerant of difference – but in that case why would any freethinking webposter shift to one in the first place? Finally she’d decided to go over (with a home-dialled pie – there was, one had to admit, a smidgeon of truth in the nickname her husband had chosen for her) and introduce herself. At the very least it would have the effect of assuaging some of her curiosity.

“Who knows? I might even invite him to dinner if he seems at all presentable …”

Actually she’d pretty much determined on issuing such an invitation if he showed the slightest disposition to accept it. Phil was much more bored by her life out here in the sticks than she was prepared to admit even to herself, let alone to the remnants of her always select circle of friends and acquaintances. The move had been more to get away from her ex (and his new, super-swishy and successful younger astrophysicist girlfriend) than for any more potent reason, and this small provincial dome in the plains outside Chriseis City was proving as dull as the direst of his prognostications.

“I give it six months at the outside before you’ll be begging to come back, Cutey-pie, and you know it’s too far for me to take the tube every day to visit Lucy. Every ten-day, for that matter …”

“Then you shouldn’t have started screwing your freefall dance partner,” she’d been tempted to riposte, but had contented herself with a Buddha-like smile. Distance from him, though unobtainable in any definitive sense, was certainly one coherent motive for shifting so far out from the central core.

That had been the pattern of most of their marriage, actually – dire warnings from him, which had mostly turned out pretty accurate, but which she’d felt compelled to ignore because of the insufferable air of self-satisfaction which invariably accompanied them. Her Cassandra complex, he called it. So far she’d been able to resist the temptation of looking that up or – worse still -- asking him to explain just exactly what he meant by it. He would so enjoy telling her, the pompous little prick!

So that was why, at 09.45 hours, Southern hemisphere-time, on a Third-day morning, Phil found herself standing, apple-pie in hand – in both hands, actually, since she’d been unable to find a bachelor-sized pie-recipe online – outside the front door of her new, as-yet-unseen neighbour, getting up the nerve to try his frontdoor buzzer.

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