After setting up my new 3D printer, the first thing I thought to print was a girlfriend. I imagined her voluptuous figure – persimmon shaped breasts, taut bottom, wavy blond hair and eyes the colour of summer skies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally into outer surfaces. Her personality was to be – caring, helpful and intelligent. Her clothing stumped me though and I hoped the dress I printed stayed on her forever, saving me the cost of going clothes shopping. I was a uni student who spent my last dollar on a 2 year lease plan just to get the printer. I could have printed her naked but decided that was taking things a little too fast.
That’s when I remembered Gregory and the 200 dollars he owed me. I thought if I could get that money back, the dread of shopping with my new girlfriend might be bearable. Hell, we could probably even see a movie and grab some munchies. Gregory was always broke though, despite him being the instigator, the one to say let’s go out! or how about we order a pizza? or your place will do for the party. It was only later on, when payment was needed, that he’d open his wallet to reveal a black hole.
Gregory had been bragging about a new job for weeks but his stinginess remained a constant, sort of like the stains from bird droppings on an abandoned car. I’d lost count of how many times asking him for my money back. If only I were a pickpocket. If only I could print a pickpocket. Yes! I remembered one of my favourite shorts and clicked on The Hitchhiker.
I couldn’t bring the pickpocket, who described himself as a finger smith, from Roald Dahl’s story back to life as that would be plagiarism – frowned deeply upon at uni but rife on the internet. In any case, I needed a pickpocket with less class than a fingersmith, like one of those thieves that prey on tourists in Barcelona, somebody with a permanent three day growth, glazy eyes, who cared not if his jeans were ripped – somebody who appeared to be unassuming like Gregory or me but with a hidden talent to boot. That way, I wouldn’t raise suspicions when introducing the pick pocket to Gregory as a uni friend or even an overseas student.
I made my pickpocket thinner, shorter, smaller and weaker than me, cunning but not too clever, just in case my new character got out of control and I needed to rein him in. Above all though, I concentrated on the fingers, long and thin, flexible with fingernails that melded seamlessly into the fingertips. With my digital blueprint set, the printer grunted and got to work, beginning at the feet. Bones, tendons and flesh grew before my eyes; designer runners way cheaper than those from a factory outlet came to the fore. In a seemingly random pattern the printer moved upwards; ankles, calves, thighs, hips appeared momentarily to be covered by my made to order, ten year old, navy blue jeans. Then came the gut which I made a little flabbier than mine. I’d always wanted an inwards belly button and gave him one. The upper torso soon covered his ribs and raspberry jelly like heart. His arms were long and thin to match his fingers but also strong and strained like steel wire.
I hoped the printer was of adequate quality to connect the neural circuitry of the brain. Just one cell out of place and I might have an orchestra conductor or somebody that likes to give the finger instead of a pickpocket. Or, what if my pickpocket was formed with high morals and considered stealing to be a no no? Before I had a chance to properly contemplate my creation, the frayed tips of my pickpocket’s black hair were finished off and the printer ceased. My designer pickpocket stared at me. ‘Thank you for creating me,’ he said. ‘Creating me as a whole, not resigned to a life of eternity described by words, left to readers’ imaginations, whenever they could be bothered to focus solely on me.
‘No problem,’ I said.
‘What’s your name?’ my pickpocket asked smilingly.
‘Andrew.’ I said and stopped at asking my pickpocket’s name. Of all the things, I hadn’t given him a name.
‘What’s my name then?’ The pickpocket’s smile turned sour. ‘You labelled me pickpocket but didn’t give me a name.’
‘I’m sorry.’ I sighed. ‘Who would you like to be then?’
‘I’m not sure – enlighten me.’
‘Come and sit here.’ I tapped the seat next to me. ‘You can be the first ever literary character to name themself.’
I searched for boys’ names which in turn lead to baby names.
‘I’m no baby,’ the pickpocket said. ‘I’m 20 years old.’
‘Alright,’ I said in annoyance at my daftness. ‘Let’s just search the 100 most popular male names of all time.’
The top five of James, John, Robert, Michael and William would have made any parent proud. Even Ernest that scraped in at 100 would have suited my pickpocket.
‘You’re only at 22,’ my pickpocket stated.
‘Don’t worry about me,’ I said. ‘You’re in need here.’
‘Choose one for me.’
‘How about 41 – Justin?’
No,’ my pickpocket scoffed. ‘Just in time, are you kidding? Why don’t you search for unusual or should I say original names?’
‘But I need you to blend in with my friends, not to stand out.’
‘Wouldn’t an obscure name distract your friends, giving these fingers of mine what they need?’
‘Yes.’ I sighed in agreement and keyed in unusual boys’ names.
Names from Birch and Decimus to Hopper and Severus, presented themselves. I wondered if their parents had lost a bet or were under the influence of illicit substances at naming time. Then again, they may just have been genuinely out there. As to where? The debate will rage on.
‘No,’ my pickpocket was adamant. ‘How about pet names?’
‘What’s so funny?’
‘You’re not a pet,’ I said, still laughing. ‘You’re a character.’
‘Feels all the same to me.’
‘Alright,’ I said. ‘I’m going to the toilet. Hopefully when I return, you’ve chosen a name.’
After flicking through a MAD magazine, a remnant from a generation with more time to sit, I left the toilet seat warm and returned to my pickpocket.
‘I’ve chosen,’ he excitedly exclaimed.
FERAL in bold capital letters filled the computer screen.
‘What do you think – An – drew?’
‘Alright,’ I chuckled. ‘Although you have drifted off names into types, wild ones at that.’
‘Aren’t I a type?’ my pickpocket, sorry, Feral said.
‘Feral it is then.’ I said with fake enthusiasm.
‘Seen as how you have been so kind as to let me name myself, what have you designed me to do?’ Ferrel rubbed his long flexible fingers together then handed me my wallet. ‘Sorry, just had the urge to practise.’
Although I had created Feral, I couldn’t bring myself to trust him. I checked my wallet to find nothing missing.
‘Oh,’ Feral said with a grin.’ Found these as well.’
He handed me a condom which I was sure to be lost. He also passed me the access code to dad’s apartment and how both items would have saved me heartache last Friday night if I could have found them. I’d probably even have had a girlfriend, Lea, and the idea to print a girlfriend would have never crossed my mind in the first place – I’d still have needed cash though.
‘My friend, Gregory,’ I said and pointed to the wall where a picture from my 18th birthday displayed Gregory in fine form. ‘I’ll give you the present tomorrow were the words I remember most. Almost two years have passed and no sign of a present. He also owes me 200 dollars and I need your help to get it back.’
‘So, you want me to steal 200 dollars from your mate.’
‘No.’ I said. ‘Just want you to return it.’
‘And how can you be sure he’ll have that amount of cash in his wallet? Doesn’t everybody just tap and go these days.’
‘I guess but the pizza shop only takes cash and Gregory gets pizza every Friday night.’
‘We best get going then.’ Feral licked his lips. ‘I couldn’t think of a better meal to begin my unreal life.’
I laughed. ‘Me too.’
We made our way out the door and followed an imaginary waft of crusting dough, melting mozzarella, roasting capsicum, the tips of onion beginning to burn and warming tomato of the pizza shop. I began to forget the mission we were on and concentrated on what my stomach incessantly told me awaited. Feral and I walked so fast that the usual five minute walk became three. A punt kick from the Pizza shop, Feral breathed in deeply just as I did; the wafting aroma had become reality.
Once inside the pizza shop, Gino greeted us. ‘How goes it, mission man?’
‘Same old,’ I said.
‘Who’s your mate?’ Gino asked as he spread tomato paste, from an overflowing ladle, over freshly rolled dough.
‘This is Feral.’
‘Hi,’ Feral said.
‘The nicknames you come up with these days.’ Gino laughed. ‘Is he your bush cousin?’
‘No.’ I smiled but at the same time felt a little sorry for Feral as he’d taken great care in choosing his name. ‘He’s a uni friend.’
‘Please to meet you.’ Gino said.
Feral kept quiet.
‘I still remember that guy you told me about once. ‘Gino enthusiastically spilt a dollop of paste onto the bench. ‘The one who always keeps his mouth open.’
‘Flytrap,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ Gino snorted. ‘What a pisser.’
‘That’s nothing compared to Cliff’s nick name.’
‘What’s that then?’ Gino asked.
“Clitoris,’ I said, clamping my lips tight as not to burst into laughter
Gino bent down and let out a roar under the bench, probably hoping not to disturb his customers but the loud vibration of the bench made everybody in the shop gaze his way as if they were before a wild animal enclosure at the zoo, waiting for the exotic creature to reveal itself.
‘I wish we’d checked nicknames,’ Feral whispered to me.
My desire to laugh had passed and I released my lips. ‘We can later,’ I said.
Gino recovered his composure and stood up straight. ‘The usual?’ he asked and his customers returned to their pre roar activity.
‘2 of,’ I said and looked around for a table but the shop was busy, tables crammed.
Feral and I leant on the counter and watched Gino prepare two large pizzas. With stubby fingers, in no way to rival those of Feral’s, but never the less adequate, proficient and skilful in their task, he sprinkled chilli over the tomato paste, then spread salami, ham, green capsicum, dark olives, prawns and mussels in a bite high mound to form the pizza. He threw on a few anchovies and topped the pizza with mozzarella before placing it in the oven and then repeated the process. I could have watched Gino all night if not for my hunger. In any case, fate intervened. Feral wedged his elbow into my ribs and pointed to a table near the entrance that had become vacant.
My mum once said if you wait an extended time for food, your hunger will pass. That may be the case with boiled vegetables but will never happen in a pizza shop. As we sat, I noticed feral chewing on something. He held out his hand and offered me a piece of salami.
‘It’s not what you think,’ he said. ‘I only took a couple of pieces.’
I shook my head. ‘You eat it.’
As we waited, the realisation that I hadn’t programmed any taste for Feral’s tongue, worried me for a moment. At least, I’d ordered the lot which meant whatever he didn’t like could be pushed to the side of his plate.
Not long after, Maria, Gino’s wife placed two steaming hot pizza’s before us. No sooner had she said buon apitito, than I’d hastily burnt the roof of my mouth and tongue with a bit of pizza. A moment later, my insides boiled. The pain of hunger overrode any other pain though and I scoffed down two pieces of pizza before taking a breath. As I came up for air, Gregory walked in.
‘Fancy seeing you here,’ I said with a hint of sarcasm. ‘What’s up?’
‘Girls,’ Gregory stated. ‘Nothing you would know about.’
Feral move along and I motioned with my hand for Gregory to sit.
‘You going to order?’ I asked.
‘I rang before,’ Gregory said as he eyed the pizzas and then looked at Feral. ‘Who’s this?’
‘Feral,’ I said. ‘An exchange student.’
Gregory burst into laughter. ‘What’s the English translation? Frank, Fred, Ferris.’
‘There is none,’ I said.
‘It’s my name.’ Feral frowned.
‘Oh.’ Gregory paused and then stared back at the pizza.
‘Have a piece,’ I said.
There was no thankyou from Gregory. He just grabbed the biggest piece and started eating.
‘How’s the job?’ I asked.
‘Cashed up then?’ I profoundly raised my eyebrows.
‘No,’ Gregory mumbled. ‘I’m scraping through, barely enough to get a pizza. Look, I promise, I’ll have your money next pay.’
‘Alright,’ I sighed. ‘But the interest is piling up.’
‘What?’ Gregory seemed surprised.
Who was he trying to kid? ‘Look who’s gone all touchy,’ I said then laughed.
As Gregory grabbed another piece of pizza, Feral winked at me. I smiled and wondered if Feral had worked or was about to work his magic fingers.
‘It’s ready, Greg,’ Gino called.
Gregory walked over to the counter and took out his wallet. ‘Hang on,’ he said. It was here before.’
Feral tapped me on the hand and slid me the cash. He’d done it, alright. Two hundred and twenty dollars I counted.
‘He only owes me 200,’ I said.
‘But you mentioned interest.’ Feral grinned. ‘Didn’t you?’
I hastily pulled the cash under the table. Gregory was on his way back and I hoped he hadn’t seen.
‘You’re not going to believe this.’ Gregory sounded all flustered. ‘All the money I had has disappeared.’
‘Again.’ I shook my head as I separated a 20 dollar bill from the other notes under the table.
‘No, it really has.’ Gregory said in a voice all panicky.
‘Here then.’ I handed Gregory the 20 dollar bill. ‘Have your pizza on me.’
‘Your pizza’s getting cold.’
‘Thanks, mate.’ Gregory breathed easier. ‘I’ll pay you back later.’
‘I’ve heard that somewhere before,’ I said and sighed loudly with purpose. ‘Might have even been you.’
Gregory snatched the 20 dollars from me before getting his pizza. On the way out, he stopped for a moment. ‘Can’t stay,’ he said. ‘Becky’s shouting me to the movies tonight.’
‘Becky,’ I said and smiled teasingly. ‘Who’s Becky?’
‘You’ll have to wait,’ Gregory scuffed up my hair. ‘Don’t worry, one day you might get yourself a girlfriend.’
Feral stared at me as if he could read my mind.
Bastard or prick I wanted to call Gregory but my hesitation in deciding on the most appropriate expletive had allowed him to slip out the door.
‘Would you like a gelati?’ Feral asked. ‘My shout this time.’
‘I’m not even going to ask where you got the money.’ I shook my head as I said, ‘yes.’
After our gelati, we walked home. Our full bellies ensured a slow pace. I explained to Feral how my initial idea was to print a girlfriend which ended up in the need of a pickpocket.
Several minutes later at home, Feral seemed nonplussed. ‘So you created me just to use me.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘That’s what a character’s for.’
I want to be a descriptive character again,’ he said. ‘One left to readers’ imaginations.’
‘But I thought you wanted to be real?’ I asked with disappointment in my voice that quickly spread to my heart.
‘That was true but I’ve done all I was made to do. My mission’s fulfilled. I’ve even gone beyond my call of duty.’
I sighed, wanted to say stay but said nothing.
As Feral moved to the printer, I realised the character I’d devised was out of my control.
‘You can’t trust me, can you?’ Feral’s face became solemn.
I reluctantly nodded.
‘Don’t let that bother you,’ Feral said. ‘I can’t even trust myself.’
I felt to blame and just stared at Feral’s fingers.
‘Just do it,’ he said. ‘I will always be fiction and in any case, I’ve experienced more than any character could ever hope to.’
‘You’ve barely lived.’ I gasped. ‘What about your nick name?’
‘Please, ‘Feral demanded politely.’ Perhaps my name and nick name are one? Just send me back to the page. In any case, hope I was of use and get yourself that girlfriend – OK?’
I turned the printer on and put my finger on the delete button. I paused my press for a bit, wondered why creation consumes time but destruction is instant.
‘Not many can say their first meal was their last?’ Feral said. ‘I’m fine with that though. My taste buds have been satisfied.’
‘Thanks,’ I said lamely, feeling awkward, ashamed to express my feelings, my fondness developed for Feral.
‘Go ahead, Andrew.’ Feral closed his eyes.
‘I’ll miss you.’ I sighed deeply and pressed delete.
Andrew Mansell, August 2014.