Read by Sabina CameronThis is a story about a man who was missing something, and how he found it.
Jacob couldn’t find the remote. This was always happening to him. Although hardly a forgetful man, Jacob felt that he spent a disproportionate part of his life searching for lost things. He would absent-mindedly leave out half-finished cups of tea, to the point that in every room, including the shed, there was a beverage slowly festering.
This didn't trouble him anywhere near as much as missing a vital object that wasn't in its usual place. He had hunted high and low for house keys, only to find them in a pocket of an old coat, and mobile phones somehow found their way into the fridge. But these were all nothing compared to the loss of the TV remote control, the regular trauma of which was stupefying.
One day he was frantically rummaging through drawers and cabinets in the hope of finding the errant channel changer. His plight was worsened by the fact that his television was stuck at a ridiculously high volume.
The noise was deafening. Jacob clapped his hands over his ears to shut out the din. He couldn't think above the noise and his own frustration. It hadn't even occurred to Jacob to ask himself where he last saw the remote because he was too busy tearing his house apart, throwing items out of cupboards, scattering cushions on the floor, all the time cursing the God of Lost Things, who seemed to be smiting him with alarming regularity.
The remote itself was wedged down the side of the sofa and seemed resigned to its fate amongst the assorted buttons, boiled sweets and fluff that usually lived there. It was about to convene a meeting to discuss the cramped sleeping arrangements, when Jacob's hand descended from the heavens and plucked it back into reality.
Jacob collapsed onto the sofa, utterly exhausted. As he did so he knocked over a cold cup of tea, completely soaking his leg. It was then that he vowed that this really needed to stop happening.
Jacob’s latest quest for a lost thing had utterly devastated his flat. He looked around at the chaos and sighed; it would take hours to sort everything out. He got up from the sofa, dragging his soggy leg behind him, and began to pick up everything that had been carelessly thrown to the floor. The first strewn object he reached for was a small plastic bag: its contents were safely sealed inside, and on the front a sticker read "Duct Tape, Masking Tape, Whatever."
This gave Jacob an idea, and such was his desire never to lose a single thing ever again that he immediately implemented it, without thought of practicality or consequence. He tore open the bag, grabbed a roll of silver duct tape and began to use it to strap the remote control to his forearm. Jacob figured that this was the best way not to let it out of his sight. He also thought it looked pretty cool.
Once fully satisfied with his plan's outcome he began to look around the house for other pesky items he could tape to himself; he used the adhesive roll to stick his house keys to his palm, tape his mobile phone to his face, his iPod to his armpit and a teaspoon to the end of his index finger. It was when he was securing his wallet to his hip that the roll of tape ran out. Jacob still needed to plant his pocket calculator and passport somewhere so he left for the nearest DIY shop in his zealous thirst for more tape, safe in the knowledge that it was next to impossible for him to lose anything else again. Ever.
It was fair to say that Jacob was not the most practical of men, and was utterly lost when faced with the layout of a large DIY warehouse. His leg had yet to dry so he mechanically shuffled down the aisles in search of more duct tape. After ten minutes he found a selection on display and was about to grab several rolls when he felt a presence behind him.
It was a store assistant. A female store assistant, and despite her drab polyester uniform Jacob thought she was one of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen. Her name badge said "Alice".
"Hello," she said, staring at Jacob, who was covered head to toe in tiny gadgets and silver tape. Jacob was struck dumb and couldn't think of a thing to say to her.
"I've been watching you walk around the store," she told him, "I wanted to ask you something …"
Jacob's heart leapt in anticipation. What could she possibly want with him?
"Are you ... are you a robot?" she asked.
This wasn't what Jacob was expecting, but it struck him that Alice was being perfectly reasonable; he must have looked more machine than man.
Jacob realised the folly of his actions. He wasn't a genius who had solved all his problems once and for all, he was just a nutter with stuff taped to his arms and legs. Jacob did not want to embarrass himself in front of a woman whom he undoubtedly wanted to get to know better, so decided to reply in his best robot voice. He felt that Dalek was too unromantic, so he went for the softer, lilting tones of H.A.L from 2001.
"I am pleased to meet you. My name is Jacob," he replied in a sing-song mechanical drone.
"And what does J.A.C.O.B. stand for?" Alice asked him.
Jacob still thought about coming clean and telling her that he was just an ordinary man who had a distressing habit of losing objects at inconvenient moments, but something in his brain told him to play along and devise a suitably convincing acronym.
"It stands for Japanese ... Android Companion Or ..."
Come on, Jacob told himself. Just say the first word that you can think of that begins with the letter B.
Alice's eyes brightened and she told Jacob that she was delighted to meet him. "I've never met a real-life robot before," she said, and Jacob wondered what on earth he'd got himself into as he returned a sincere, but suitably synthetic smile.
Alice was seized with a strange curiosity about Jacob, and she fired dozens of unrelenting questions at him. Did he have an owner? Was he worried about rust? And what was he doing that evening?
Jacob wasn't entirely stupid; he knew when he was being asked out. He agreed without hesitation.
"My programming will allow me to accompany you to the Rose and Crown tonight," he said.
"I hope you don't mind," Alice said, "I find you fascinating."
Jacob could only smile. He had no idea how robots flirted. He was certain that they didn't kiss, although he once had a friend at university who owned a poster of two androids copulating. Further improvisation was required in order to make the evening a success.
When they arrived at the pub Alice ordered a drink for herself but stopped short at ordering Jacob a pint. Of course, he said to himself, robots don't drink.
Alice's questions continued. She was a psychology student who should have been working on her dissertation, but needed the money from stacking shelves. Her specialist field was "The Effects on Human Personality and Intelligence in The Technological Age (1978-present day)". Could Jacob remember being assembled? What did it feel like?
At closing time he shuffled her home.
"I enjoyed tonight," she said, and kissed him on the fleshy part of his face. The warm organic skin caused her to recoil. Jacob pointed to his cheek to reassure her.
"Synthetic skin-based polymer," he said before she kissed him again and asked him out for another date.
*The romance between Jacob and Alice bloomed, and after a while Jacob became a dab hand at keeping up the charade; toilet breaks were explained away as oil changes and forty winks was simply Jacob's stand-by mode. However, it didn't take long for Jacob to realise that he had boxed himself into an android-shaped hole. The impracticalities of simple everyday tasks were many. If it wasn't for Alice, Jacob would have given up on the plan; instead, he found sleeping next to impossible and an aborted stint in the shower had rendered most of his taped-on electronics useless. But he still felt the need to continue life as a robot, if only for her sake.
One day Alice asked him a question. The question that always crops up in a relationship, the one to which there is no correct answer; "What are you thinking?"
"Binary," he replied, in a moment of genius.
Alice had told him all about her life, talked about gigs and her favourite movies. But the robot in him was getting in the way; he longed to tell her the truth so they could have a proper conversation. More than anything he wanted to laugh at her jokes. Laughing was strictly against his programming.
Then came Movie Night; Alice had invited him around to hers to watch a DVD. He sat stiffly, as machines do, while she lounged with a bowl of popcorn in her lap.
Jacob's stomach rumbled. "Software upgrade," he told her before thinking he should never have agreed to visit. It was much easier keeping up the act in public.
The film began. Since robots are not supposed to appreciate or comprehend entertainment Jacob stared at the screen blankly. Alice seemed happy with that, content with just sitting together quietly. If only it could be like that all the time.
Jacob recognised the film. It was about the friendship between a boy and an alien. After a while you think the alien is dead, but he's really not and there's a happy ending although it's still a little sad because the alien goes back to his own planet and ...
Fuck! Jacob thought. It's ET. I always cry during ET!
Soon it would all be over. Robots do not cry, they don't laugh at their girlfriend's jokes, they don't love, they're just machines. Alice would notice him crying, kick him out and never speak to him again. The movie score began to swell; so did Jacob's eyes. The crack in the dam was slowly appearing.
Alice paused the film. "Just going for a cup of tea," she said heading to the kitchen.
Jacob needed to make a decision; he asked himself what a robot would do but the only one he could think of was the Terminator and that wasn't appropriate in the circumstances.
He looked at the door, then he looked towards the kitchen where his new love was making a cup of tea, tea which robots can't drink.
Jacob tore at the tape binding the gadgets to his body. Clumps of leg and arm hair were also removed but as each item dropped to the floor he began to feel lighter. The burden of being a machine was slowly being stripped from him.
He heard Alice's kettle boil followed by the clink of a spoon. But Jacob was no longer worried. He felt free to be himself, and to hell with the consequences.
Alice came back into the room. She stopped and looked at Jacob, who was half-naked without any of his attachments.
"Hello," he said in his normal, human voice.
“Finally!” sighed Alice. "This robot business was giving me far too much material for my psychology dissertation. I could have written a PhD on you by now."
Jacob took that as a compliment. Alice moved close to him and they kissed for what felt like an unusually long time, perhaps because Jacob was still slightly adhesive.
This is a story about a man who was missing something, and how he found it.
(c) Darren Lee, 2013
Lee lives in London and his many influences range from Haruki Murakami
and Dan Rhodes to Ian Fleming. He has been a regular contributor to www.musicOMH.com and has had several stories published by Open Pen. He is also included in the Lovers’ Lies and 50 Stories For Pakistan anthologies.
Sabina Cameron trained at ArtsEd and since graduating has appeared in Waking the Dead for the BBC, The Bill for ITV, and most recently she filmed the feature The Arbiter which is currently in post-production.