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She normally took her sandwiches from the fridge at 11.55am. Three large triangles made from three slices of bread: cheese and tomato in two segments, cream cheese and cucumber in the other.
He knew she liked to be alone; that she would make polite conversation with whomoever was in the kitchen at the time, then quickly retreat to the chair by the window to listen to what he assumed was a podcast. Unless she was listening to music and laughing, but that would be weird and change his opinion of her completely.
A creature of habit, she always ate a cheese and tomato first, then the cream cheese, and finished with the final cheese and tomato. On Fridays she ate a packet of crisps on the side, sometimes placing a crisp into one of the sandwiches. He liked that about her.
He tried not to walk into the kitchen at the same time every day. Sometimes he’d make sure he was already in there, sipping his tea nonchantly ready to leave with the newspaper already placed under his arm, occasionally stopping to chat. Sometimes he’d walk in at 11.59am and other days he wouldn’t walk in at all so as to remain clandestine. He couldn’t wait until those days ended. He considered these 24 hours of wasted breath, and would listen to U2’s early stuff in the evening when he got home to exacerbate the sadness.
She was everything.
His heart had become a burden. A bag of rocks, drowning the spirit that once wisped within his rib cage like a naïve firefly. The light had been hope. Maybe one day, it would happen for me like it does for everybody else, he pondered He’d been terrified of snakes ever since he was a young boy, so when dealt rejection he felt a python slither around his neck and grip his jugular in relentless pursuit of broken bones and broken dreams, and he could no longer breathe. Love wasn’t worth the pain or asphixiation.
On Wednesday he walked into the staff kitchen at 11.58am to find her sellotaping a piece of A4 paper to one of the cupboards. It was a hot mess of wordart and mobile photography. A kettle, black and white. For sale? Only moderately used and at the reasonable price of £19.99.
“Oooooooh!” he exclaimed with theatrical enthusiasm as he walked over to her homemade poster. “That looks… lovely? You selling?”
“I am!” she said. “Don’t need it anymore, since I gave up the dairy. No tea or coffee for me! And cuppa soups are a bit old fashioned, aren’t they,” she laughed.
My God I love you, his brain screamed. Let me hold you and make you a cappacino with almond milk so that your delicate lactose intolerant body doesn’t curdle.
“I’d like to buy it! I was just saying to the lads this weekend that we need a better kettle. The lads I live with. You know, housemates.”
She dropped the sellotape, accidentally.
He allowed himself to stare. Her eyes: wide with surprise and too much mascara. Her lips: open and stunned like a a freshly blown up lady doll in need of an inaugural penetration.
“That’s excellent news! So I guess the best way to…”
“Actually you know what, I should think about it. Because, you know, I already have a kettle so technically this would be an upgrade. Yeah, I should definitely think about it.”
A lesson in ‘playing it cool’.
She nodded. “No problem. Stan, is it?”
He gasped at her knowledge, and nodded back. And imagined them side by side in a parallel universe, a pair of nodding dogs in the back of a surburban family’s car; together forever. He grabbed his phone from his pocket and started to punch in the digits she’d written underneath the photograph of the kettle. He’d only had the phone delivered that morning so she was the first contact inside, which felt good. Like she was pissing on his address book, marking her territory. Don’t worry – I won’t get any other girl’s numbers! he said in an imaginary conversation between them, later that day.
He waited 6 hours and until he was safely home to send the first message. Best not to overthink it, he thought. Just hit her with a simple hello, a hey or a hiya, and then take it from there.
“Hi there!” He pressed send on the phone’s keyboard. Breezy, fun, an exclamation mark! Fuck. He’d forgotten to say his name.
“It’s Stan, from the office?” Send. Damn. He’d sent a question mark instead of exclamation, and instead of a chirpy greeting had implied an exsistential crisis, somehow seeking confirmation from her that he was who he believed he was.
He watched the phone for ten seconds, waiting for the response. A small tick next to the message generally signals that messaged has been received, and animated bubbles underneath show that the recipient is typing a reply. Neither of those things had happened yet. He looked at the handset for a further seventeen minutes and then got up to have a shower.
As he was getting dressed into his pyjamas the phone made an unexpected noise.
BA BA BAAAAA BOM CHA CHA!
What in sweet heaven was this? A spunky salsa outro that his phone must have automatically assumed he wanted to hear. Coincidentally he’d been to a salsa class just 10 days before, with his aunt Megan. She was dying of cancer and had a list of things she wanted to do before she passed: salsa was one of them, so he obliged.
“Hey! U good?”
She’d hopped to informal straight away, it seemed. This could be fun, as opposed to agonising and emotionally exhausting. Previous attempts at texting girls hadn’t been particularly successful. In the last two years one girl had become very angry that he’d found her number on her mostly-private Facebook page, and another made it clear that she was just hoping for friendship, five messages into their conversation. Third time lucky?
“So about that kettle? I think I’d quite like it please! Mind made up!”
An immediate reply.
“Great! Is there anything you want to know about it?”
“I honk it’s fine! I trust you! J”
Shit. He was only just getting used to autocorrect and that despite your best intentions sometimes your fingers say one thing whilst the phone says something completely different. Like ‘honk’. How awful. Honk is slang for ‘smell bad’. He’d essentially just revealed some serious personal hygiene issues.
“Sorry! Think! I THINK it’s fine! Not honk. Embarrassing J”
Was this too many smiley faces?
Another immediate reply.
“LOL! I did wonder! Don’t worry I do it all the the time J. Anything else I can tell you about the kettle, guvnor?!”
She’d smileyed back AND called him guvnor. This seemed fine.
He tapped a response.
“Hot n steamy?”
“Haha! Well I guess you could say that it is!”
Another typo. He’d tried to say: “Got instructions?’ She didn’t appear to be too offended though.
He tried again. “And also… does it have instructions?”
“I’ll check. But it works in the same way that most kettles do. You plug it in and then press the button down until it boils.”
He received a follow-up message from her almost instantly.
“Oh, and you have to add water first.”
“So when shall I give it to you?”
“Tomorrow? You can drop it off at my dick.”
Another typo. “Sorry, desk! Not dick, desk! New phone L”
His fingers were too fat to type just one letter in isolation: his hands were sweaty and the tips were slipping all over the place while his eyes popped out of his head in disbelief. Captain Screw-Up, armed and ready for duty.
“LOL. Great, will. Do. See you then. If I’m not too hungover from my friend’s drinks this evening J”
This felt like an actual conversation.
He tapped and sent. “We’ll have fun!”
“Sorry. SORRY! I meant WELL have fun. I mean, have fun tonight!”
“Wow, LOL. You’re not having much luck today! Catch you tomorrow, Stan.”
Well, that was a shambles. And he’d somehow added an x at the end that he hadn’t pressed. Perhaps it was an autofeature. The phone’s operating system making incorrect conclusions about his future texting habits and levels of intimacy with the end receiver. He’d never put a kiss at the end of a text before and hadn’t intended to start today.
A minute later his phone salsa’d again.
“U too. x”
He went to sleep with a smile on his face that night. No U2 needed.
In the morning he woke up to his phone screeching like a rooster, another autofeature, he guessed. It must have been pure coincidence that not only was Rooster his Chinese star sign but also that had been his nickname at college, due to the red spikey hair of his punk phase. The sound was familiar: it was the noise all the cool kids would make as he walked down the hall to Business Studies.
He picked up the phone and flashing in Arial Font was a message.
GOOD MORNING, STAN! HOW DID YOU DREAM? SEND SOMEONE YOU LOVE A MESSAGE TO SET THEM UP FOR THE DAY AND SHOW THEM YOU CARE!
His telephone wanted him to send a message to somebody he loved. This would have been a lot easier if he had the kind of relationship with friends that involved texting, wasn’t an only child and both his parents hadn’t already died.
He unlocked the screen of his phone with a thumb press. Looked at the only converstion saved, and the last message: “U too. x”. Would it hurt, to try? Send another message to see how her evening had panned out? She was going to tell him to leave her alone at some point anyway, may as well be now.
He typed in “Good morning…” and pressed send. But just as he pressed send he realised that another word had been added.
“Good morning, Guvnor!”
Why did that happen? Because she’d used the word yesterday, perhaps? He was unsure how advanced technology was these days but his best guess was that all text in every conversation must be saved and then recommended at relevant contextual points. She’d called him Guvnor yesterday, so perhaps the predictive algorithm was following the same pattern. Whatever the reason, it had made him look foolish. He put his phone back down on the bedside table and pulled down his pyjama bottoms and pants, ready to start his morning routine.
BA BA BAAAAA BOM CHA CHA!
“Hello, you! Hope you had a nice night? I had a couple of drinks but was home by midnight! J x”
“All shandies, I presume?!” he typed out. And tapped send. Send. Send. Send. Tip-top reception but still, the message refused to send. He tried again. No joy. Send. Nope.
He finished off his morning routine and sat down for breakfast. His housemates ran in, out and around the kitchen as he munched on muesli and composed another response. The moment had passed for the shandy comment.
He began to type: “H…” And before he could type any further the message autocompleted, as if by magic: “H..ow is the head?
BA BA BAAAAA BOM CHA CHA!
“Totally fine! Managed to remember your kettle at least. Hope you remembered the $19.99 J”
Oh. They were back to the business deal and Shylock wanted her pound of flesh. She wanted to keep things cold, sure. He’d just reply with a formal ‘yes’, then.
He began to reply: “Y…” and then the autocorrect took over. “..es I do! Thanks x”
That wasn’t what he’d intended.
BA BA BAAAAA BOM CHA CHA!
“I appreciate it. Money is so tight at the moment, with Christmas coming. Thank you again, especially since you already had a kettle!”
His heart ripped out from his chest and cried at the handset. I WOULD RUN TO THE END OF THE WORLD AND BACK TO MAKE YOUR CHRISTMAS THE MOST SPECIAL DAY OF OUR LIVES.
He replied: “No probs x”.
They’d exchanged a few more messages that morning, but the curious development was that every time he tried to write a response, his telephone would write something ever-so-slightly different. A change of tone, a few extra words, an additional kiss. It was becoming a nuisance yet at the same time a slight relief, because she was generally responding well to the mistakes. Could this be the start of something? A friendship? Or even better, a forever?
The problem was of course that he was getting so good at texting, he was terrified of speaking in real life. Soon, though! When she delivered that shiny new kettle to his desk and their eyes could meet across 15 inches of plastic and wire.
He’d had one of those busy days. Meeting after meeting after meeting with the odd 10-minute toilet trip thrown in between. By the time he arrived back to his workspace at 4pm the kettle was already there, with a note.
“Hey! Thought you might want this today. You can transfer the money into my account! Sort code: 08-76-22 and account number 37662544. Thanks! J”
So that was it. The end of their exchange. There was nothing more to say. No further reason to send text messages at any time of the day. He went home that night and listened to U2’s most powerful ballads on repeat. It was good while it lasted. The python tightened its grip on his neck as he sobbed himself to sleep.
The rooster woke him up again early the next morning. It was an irritating yet strangely comforting sound.
GOOD MORNING, STAN! WE HOPE YOU HAD A FANTASTIC SLEEP! WHY DON’T YOU START THE DAY BY SENDING A FRIENDLY FACE TO THOSE YOU CHERISH?
But it was too late. She’d already given him the kettle and he’d transferred the $19.99 when he got home. But wait! Eureka! He hadn’t TOLD her that he’d transferred the money! He picked up his phone from the side table and a notification popped up.
MAKE MESSAGES EASIER AND MORE EFFECTIVE EVERY DAY! WOULD YOU LIKE TO TURN ON AUTOMESSAGE, STAN?
Who knows what the peppery hell that even means. He pressed the ‘yes’ button.
He started to type out a new note to announce his swift money transfer.
“Good morning…” but the letters were deleted as soon as wrote them. A new message was retyped. “Morning, Guvnor!”
This again. Sure. The message began to type itself.
“Morning Guvnor! The $19.99 has been transferred to your account, safe and sound!”
He guessed he would have said something similar, given the chance and a second opinion.
BA BA BAAAAA BOM CHA CHA!
“Oh my gosh, thank you! I couldn’t find you yesterday, was looking for you everywhere! I hope you like your new kitchen equipment. x”
He started to reply, he wanted to tell her all about the milky Ovaltine he’d enjoyed last night.
“Very much! I had the best…” Once again the phone interupted. “…Irish coffee last night. X”
“Ooooooh. Sounds lovely! That’s my favourite too, when I’m feeling naughty J So what are your plans for the rest of the day? X”
He looked at the phone. Watched as the buttons voluntarily tapped by themselves. Left it to the expert.
“I… plan to ask you to go for a drink with me?”
It went there. The phone went there.
She was typing.
Two minutes later his phone beeped.
BA BA BAAAAA BOM CHA CHA!
A surge of adrenaline shook his entire nervous system, his body cold. Sweating.
“Yes. That would be nice. Maybe Thursday?”
And all of a sudden the python loosened it’s grip on his neck, and he could breathe. The firely started to flutter. In fact he was sighing now, and smiling, watching the world from kitchen window, thinking maybe this is my time to have what everybody else has. Maybe he’d send a message back, maybe he wouldn’t, but it was out of his hands now anyway, and that was the best thing that could possibly be.