I got my loneliness flat-tax invoice, on a sunny day in July. It was a Wednesday.
Oprah preached from the tube in the kitchen, living room and bedroom simultaneously. I studied the comings and goings down the street, from my third floor balcony. Felix scratched and dug in his litter box. I hoped, he didn’t strike oil. My landlord pulled up, and occupied two parking lots. I was about to point that out to him, but then I noticed the man.
He wore a delivery guy’s uniform. His shorts were black with red stripes on the side, his button-up shirt was maroon. He seemed a fat, fair haired, middle-aged man. A big leather bag hung from his shoulder. Not from Amazon, not FedEx, not USPS, not Hermes, or anything I’d recognize. I made a mental note, so I could describe him properly, if a police officer came around to ask questions.
He made his way methodically up the street, towards my apartment complex. He checked his clipboard every time he stopped in front of a building. Eventually, he reached my place. He rang and I let him in, somewhat surprised that he picked my door. His fast steps echoed up the staircase.
I grabbed Felix and held him like a shield. Whatever good that might do… At least, I could throw an angry cat at any attacker forcing his way in. I stood in the slightly opened doorway, awaiting the man. Felix had other plans. He hissed and wiggled out of my arms, I could barely hold him.
Reaching my door, the man sneered. He had seen my struggle. Felix popped his claws and kicked, freeing himself.
The delivery man shoved his card, and a form to fill out, into my hands. I mumbled that I had not ordered anything lately. „Package’s for you, cat lady.“ He said with a bored air, making this my problem, not his.
After my signature was on the form, he pocketed the paper. The man placed a little black package into my hands. It had my name and address printed on it, in white ink. Cool to the touch, it wasn’t heavy at all. It had the size of an answering machine. Without another word, the delivery man left.
MAX J. SMITH. The name on the card was an ordinary name. I closed the door and Felix glared at me, swinging his tail furiously. He was plotting revenge. I knew that expression from his other fits of anger. What would it be? Pee on my pillow? Poop in my snickers?
The card in my hand offered me such a surprise , that I completely forgot all about murderous feline rage. TAXMAN. Odd, I thought. LONELINESS AND SADNESS DEPARTMENT. I read again. The words refused to change into something comprehensible. On the backside, the card was blank. Felix sneezed.
„Gesundheit.“ I said and let the strange card drop into the change bowl, I had on the sideboard.
The package, I reminded myself, had my name on it. Someone wanted me to have this, whatever this was.
Curiosity got the best of me and I tore it open. The black packing paper revealed a snow-white electronic device, smooth, shaped like an expensive soap bar. No cords, or plugs hid in the delivery box. It had no visible power source, the batteries must already be inside. The object had no buttons, only little slots on the side, like gills. It looked like a futuristic smoke detector.
I sat down, with the package on my lap. Felix came to inspect. He sniffed and his tail shot up, right to the side of my nose. Suddenly the smooth surface showed a number blinking in little red dots, and a symbol of a cat gleamed. Five point ninety-nine. „Huh.“ Suddenly it went up to seven point four. A black envelope sat patiently under the object.
I opened it, and was shocked to find a government issued invoice. Three hundred fifty-three dollars, and seventy-eight cents. It took me a while to figure out what I had to pay for.
It was an accommodation flat-tax for singles. A loneliness tax! I felt the couch open up and swallow me whole.
The letter stated, that they analyzed all of my purchased items in the last five years, checked my bank account, my MasterCard, my browser history and my social network profile. I was classified a longtime single, with no recognizable social structure, which made me a danger for the social safety net.
I had a rating printed beside my name in red ink. A capital D. D for despair? And seventy-five percent risk on the sociomedical risk assessment scale.
The device recorded my emotional state, the letter informed. It was forbidden to throw it away, or to destroy it. Punishable like any other tax felony. They ment jail. Jail… My heart tried to crawl up my throat. I felt the carpet shift under my bunny slippers. The oxygen got up and left the room.
Felix pawed playfully at my shaking hands.
Author: Ramona Darabant
R. C. Darabant was born Romania and lives now near Vienna, where she works as a family physician. When she isn’t working, she writes poetry, flash fiction and short stories. She recharges her batteries during storms and night strolls. In her stories, there is a distinct lack of happy endings. It’s not pathological, rest assured, she had that checked.