When the box arrived, Aileen left it on the kitchen counter for days.
Eventually, she could ignore it no longer. She used her best knife to free it from the sticky-tape restraints. The plastic within broke easily. She threw it—and the unread safety warning—in the fire.
Picking up the doughy contents, she settled in her chair and unfurled it. A hissing noise startled her before she remembered that the advert had said it was self-inflating.
The baby swelled on her lap, filling from the toes first. Puffed out pudgy legs and a narrow torso. The final dent in its delicate head pushed out with a tiny pop.
Aileen inspected the merchandise. The merchandise inspected her in return. The makers had not given the baby doll a sex. It was as smooth as action man between the legs. The catalogue said the buyer was free to chose the gender, and updates could be made for £5.95 plus postage at the owner’s cost.
“Hello,” said the baby, wiping its mouth and prodding its cheeks. Examining its inflatable body.
“Hello,” said Aileen. What else could she say?
“I’m hungry,” it said, “do you have anything to eat?” It grabbed its left foot in its right hand and stretched until the toes were in its mouth.
Oh, how cute! Aileen thought.
“Let me check,” she said, placing the baby on the floor and going to the kitchen. She rifled through the cupboards. What did she have that a baby could eat? A half eaten packet of cheese crackers caught her eye. The top one was soft, that should be perfect.
Aileen held the biscuit in front of her as she entered. “Baby, is this okay to eat?” she said.
But something was wrong. The baby’s foot was deep in its mouth. Unfeasibly deep. It’s lips were wrapped around the ankle, jaw working up and down as it suckled with ferocity.
“Stop!” Aileen cried as she ran to the child. “What are you doing?”
The baby looked up at her, but did not pause. The leg was disappearing a millimetre at a time into its mouth. Aileen knelt down beside the baby and tried to pull the leg out. It had hold like a pit-bull. She put her knee on its forehead and used this to lever the leg away. With a squishy wheeze it came free, but the foot was gone. The leg ended abruptly mid-calf and air gushed out of the hole.
Hot tears welled up in AIleen. Why did it do that? She hadn’t even had a chance to name it. The baby flailed, tried to grab hold of the stump, but its deflating body could not maintain a grip on the leg.
Aileen watched until the last of the air escaped.
She rolled it back up, securing it with two elastic bands. She would send it back to the mail order company as faulty. How could they distribute something so obviously not up to ISO quality standards? She would have to put this behind her. Yes.
Aileen pulled herself up from where she knelt and went to make tea. She ignored the pile of unopened boxes still waiting on the kitchen counter.