Penstemon Stromboli peered round the curtain at the UPS man as he struggled up the drive with the package. She didn’t recall ordering anything and certainly nothing so large. Though she thought, as the delivery man checked the label and his little handheld device, what with the ridiculous excess packaging it wouldn’t surprise her to find it was something as mundane as a saucepan or yet another unnecessary item of clothing that her daughter had purchased.
Penny waited by the door until the man knocked, not wanting to give away how she had been watching him from the moment he climbed out of his van. That curtain twitching was something her mother did, not her. No, she just happened to be looking. That said there was no reason to give the man an excuse to assume she was that sort of woman.The knock was on the cheery side of confident. As Penny pulled the door open a crack she was met with the full LED wattage of the serially well trained courier. ‘Hallooo! Am I in the presence of,’ the man checked the handheld, ‘Delphine Stromboli?’‘No.’‘No?’ To say he looked disappointed would be like suggesting puppies enjoy negative reinforcement. ‘Oh.’‘She’s my daughter.’‘Oh!’ Hope restored, the man – Barry Tigger according to his lapel badge – beamed, ‘and would mother like to accept this package on behalf of her pride and joy?’Penny hesitated. If this hail and well met fellow knew only a scintilla about her relationship with Della he would know just how many things were wrong with that question. Reluctantly she nodded. ‘I suppose so. What is it?’‘What…?’ Barry leant forward in a sort of conspiratorial way. ‘You know, in my job, that is the question I ask myself all the time. I mean ALL.. It’s what keeps me sane, you know, speculating. I knock at the door and am greeted by a range of humanity. In those few seconds I have with the customer I can try and assess what exactly they might be ordering. Take you, fr’instance…’Penny instinctively took a step back. The last thing she needed was this jolly tradesperson deconstructing her personality on the basis of their fleeting acquaintance. Maybe he had seen her behind the curtain. Oh god…‘… clearly a sophisticated, well educated woman with a variety of interests. It could easily be…’Barry’s gaze met Penny’s and for a second she wanted him to continue but then sense prevailed. She pulled the door back. ‘Perhaps you’d lean it against the wall.’He nodded, grateful she thought to be relieved of the burden of coming up with something plausible and flattering. ‘Can you sign, please? Just your name here.’She took the slightly tacky device doing her best to hide the moue of distaste that tickled her lips involuntarily. ‘There.’ She handed it back and looked at the parcel. To her surprise Barry hadn’t gone as he too studied it. ‘The label says it’s from Clone Co. Maybe Delphine has bought you another daughter.’Penny felt rather than saw him step away, sure he was smiling, knowing he meant well, knowing she was expected to proffer some sort of witty riposte. But the horror of a second Delphine invading her space, a replica of her selfish, indolent, demanding, draining daughter was too much. She lent back on the door to close it and as it clicked shut she slid to the floor, her eyes never leaving the box.Two hours later a key rattled in the lock and Penny rolled away to allow a surprised looking Delphine to enter. She dropped her bag and bent to her mother’s side. ‘You ok?’ She asked with little of the concern others might have expected. ‘Why…?’Delphine’s gaze followed her mother’s shaky finger. She took a moment to register the package and then a smile gradually grew across her face. ‘Ooo, it’s come then?’ She stood and hurried through to the kitchen returning with a knife. With an expertise borne of a life spent shopping online she sliced open the taping and exposed the inevitable padding.Penny watched these manoeuvres from her prostrate position. She wanted to say something, to ask why she felt the need to have a sister. What good would come of it? She looked up to see Delphine looming over her. ‘What do you think, mum?’Penny squinted at the figure that Delphine’s delicate disrobing had revealed. Was that Delphine, Mark 2? She coughed and managed to say, ‘Why? Why another sister?’For a moment Delphine looked surprised then she laughed, a rolling roistering rollicking sort of laugh that continued as tears formed on her lids. She bent double to try and regain her composure and as she stood she reached behind Penny to turn on the light.Penny gasped. The figure in front of her, a figure that was gradually animating as the charge from the batteries began to work their miracle wasn’t the spitting image of Delphine. No, not even close. The mannequin that in less time than it took Barry to deliver it would be alive and waiting to have its software installed wasn’t Delphine, it was Penny. Her daughter had cloned her mother.Penny turned to look at Delphine still standing over her, still brandishing the knife with which she had removed the packaging. Once again she asked, ‘Why?’‘Why? Because mother dear, this,’ she waved behind her, ‘will be the mother that I’ve always wanted, the mum I’ve always deserved.’ She took a small step forward. ‘The question isn’t why, it’s what? What are we going to do with you?’