(with apologies to Rod Serling)!
Loving Deborrah was effortless. Seamless too in the way she blended into his life. Occasionally he hankered for more. But he knew what that was, and that was a quite different reality.
He had tasted that reality before, and found that the sweetness turned bitter over time.
Anyway, outside of this reality they would never have made a pair.
He pushed the keyboard away and used the mouse to shut down the computer. The kettle had already boiled, but now his eyes settled on the bottle of Grants, and suddenly he had a choice to make. Not much of a choice. He poured a cup of hot strong tea with a squirt of lemon juice. Then he opened the whiskey and filled the cap, letting it overflow generously into the teacup.
All relationships end. Even those made in heaven and cyberspace. This one was ending too, and it was no less painful than any that had gone before. Part of his mind marveled. His writers mind pushed through the crowd of milling, panicky thoughts, intent on recording in cold detail the death throes. It was the writer who took over the eyes and ears. His cold, and soulless personality that filled the chair, and hunched arrogantly over the monitor. Looking for clues.
His right hand a pointer, skittered across the screen. Underlining, marking in red. Question marks. Exclamations. Cruelly searching for insincerities, and finding them with grim certainty. “I miss you.” “I love you” “Talk to me.” The mouse skittered, highlighted, deleted, leaving raw text. Devoid of human emotion. ………………………………………………..
The writer found what he was looking for. Grim satisfaction thinned his lips into a tight smile. Hours passed. He pulled file after file, letter after letter, reducing each to a flat babble. Until the bottle was empty.
He needed a shave badly. Deborrah was gone. He’d seen to that, one way or another. It should have been easier than this. She’d only been a “net bunny” . A cyberspace pickup. Like himself, a solitary soul traveling a digital world with a digital companion. In a short twelve months they had traveled the world, visited museums, art galleries, cybercafes. Even ventured together into the darker reaches of the World Wide Web, where it was scary but still safe.
He found himself smiling fondly. Remembering her chatter, and the shorthand communication that had become a part of their reality. And remembering the best times too, when they just stayed “home” sharing intimacies.
He could not remember who had first typed <ily!>in twenty point upper case letters.
It was a perfect relationship in so many ways.
Anyway, it was all too late. He told himself it was logic that made him pull the plug. Best not to hesitate. There were just too many realities to consider.
In the physical world it was a no hope relationship. Aside from a thousand miles distance. He was nearer to fifty than she was to thirty. He was serious while she was funny. And he’d had enough of love…..too much.
It was a stupid notion. Stupid, ridiculous, and pathetic. Easy enough to be sucked into it in the real world. Easier still in the safe cotton-wool world of cyberspace, where people are pixels and conversation is text on a screen.
And I Love You is compressed into <ily!>.
Anyway, she was gone. “The number you have reached is not connected…..”
“Wrong number” He muttered and dialed again. Carefully. “The number you have reached is not connected. Please check………” He jammed the handset back into its cradle, feeling lost, and angry.
Had she answered he would have hung up quickly anyway. He’d only called to …….to what? Hear her voice? He had never heard her voice.
“Oh who am I fooling?” He snarled, in a voice loud enough to shock his own ears.
The house was a mess. He knew he was going to the dogs at top speed. For the past three weeks he had hardly lifted a finger. The modem still sat on its side against the fridge where he had flung it. Crumpled balls of paper, inked with half started half-hearted stories, poems and letters, littered the floor.
And the face in the mirror was derelict too. He tried a cynical smile-wink at it. “Think how you’d look if she’d ditched you!”
It didn’t work. “THIS is reality!” He snapped, impatient at his own apathy. “Get a grip!”
But he just couldn’t get a grip, and was glad there was no alcohol in the house.
He turned on the TV, and switched off the telephone……………………………………………
He surfed the Pay TV channels. Disinterested. Flicking from one to another.
Channel 4. “Oh Samantha….Derwood’s been acting like a jackass…no, I thought it appropriate that he become one…..”
Six, …..”Green acres is the place for me…..”
Seven,……”A dimension of sight……A dimension of sound.”
Eight, …….”And you have just entered……”
Something strange. “Huh?”
Nine, …….”the twilight zone”
Back to six. …………”…..the twilight zone”
Nine, “……the twilight zone”
“What is this?” He muttered. He dabbed the Standby button. The TV stayed on. Slowly he raised himself from the chair, jabbing at the red remote button. The TV stayed on.
Rod Serling in his undertakers suit stood in front of a floating door. The remote refused to function, and Serling, intent on saying his piece glared from the electronic world into the real world. The real world?
“AS I was saying……..” He glared…….” IF I have your attention….YOU have just entered the twilight zone. THIS is your reality Robert my boy.” His face softened. “ So now would be a good time to get a grip. Why did you do it my boy? Cut off her reality like that? You’re an idiot. A fool.”
Rod’s face took on the schoolteacher expression. “ You think you were clever. But you’re only a martyr. And in the twilight zone……THINGS happen to martyrs…..martyrs without cause.”
Serling laughed his odd Vincent Price laugh, complete with reverb.
Roberts mouth had opened wide. He slumped back into his chair, confused. “What’s happening?” Now he wished there was some alcohol in the house.
“Good” Said Rod. “Make yourself comfortable” He flipped open a pack of Luckies, and promptly withdrew them. Looking apologetic. “Oh! I’m sorry! You quit didn’t you?”
Ridiculously Robert thought. “That’s all wrong! Mike Hammer smokes Luckies!”
Rod answered as if the thought had been verbalized. “That’s in YOUR reality son. At least you stopped this filthy habit.” He waved the cylinder and Robert distinctly smelt the acrid smoke. “ But it seems that was the only sensible thing you’ve ever done in your life. You had it all….everything you ever wanted in a woman.”
Robert felt ridiculous talking to a pay TV channel. But could not stop himself anyway. “Yes, but we’d never have…………….”
”Don’t dare interrupt me!” Rod thundered. ”Do I have to remind you that THIS is the TWILIGHT ZONE? And you know that ALL SORTS of strange and horrible things can happen to you if you don’t watch out!…….. As I was saying………….She’s the best thing that could ever happen to you. Just LOOK at yourself! What a pathetic mess! Look at your place for God’s sake…….it’s a disgrace. “ Again he waved the Lucky Strike around, pointing here, pointing there. “Every day that you haven’t had contact with her you’ve regressed a little bit my friend. You’re backsliding my friend. Think about it. Think about going back, and back, and back…….until you become what you are inside my friend…..a bug. A ROACH!
Think about it, boy. THINK………She made you happy. You SAID so. Here…..” Rod pulled a huge roll of paper from somewhere off camera. Yards and yards and yards. His finger traced down the lines……
“And HERE………….and HERE! Who do you think is worried about your life before her? WHO my friend? What a poor and paltry life THAT was! “
Again Rod’s face softened, as only the Serling face can. From one expression to another in a megasecond.
“You take happiness however you can. Get it? And believe me it doesn’t come packaged up all neat and tidy. DO I make myself clear? “
Rod dropped the cigarette onto the floor and stubbed it out with a shiny black patent leather shoe.
Robert felt like a child. An apologetic, confused, beleaguered child. He pushed both hands through his greasy unwashed hair.
“I……” Words were trapped in the back of his throat. He hurrrrhd! it away. “Even if I wanted to…. I … I couldn’t ….she’s not there… It’s like…..she’s disappeared off the face of the earth!”
Rod laughed. This time a kindly I-know-something-you-don’t-know laugh.
“Perhaps…..Just PERHAPS she’s disappeared into the twilight zone.” Then he was gone, and Darren Stevens brayed like a mule as Endora turned him back into a mere mortal with a sweep of chiffon.
The writer turned the TV off , and pushed the telephone switch. His hands were shaking. “Christ! I need a drink!” He muttered. Slowly he punched up Deborrahs number. It rang twice before the answering machine connected. He knew THAT voice well enough.
“Hi. The number you have reached has ……never existed. But if you wish you might leave a message anyway, and I’ll see that SHE gets it!……Oh and by the way….turn on your computer….have a nice day.”
The beep sounded, and Robert almost shouted. “I…..I love you!”
“The number you have reached is not connected………….Please check…..”
Heartsick he did as Rod Serling said, and switched on his computer. The screen exploded into life with windows floating icons. But they were……different. Floating transparent doors, and midnight stars hurtling at massive velocity through time and space.
“Oh Christ!” He shouted in forlorn panic. “Have…? I have finally snapped!”
Graham Whittaker is a retired journalist who now spends his time ghostwriting, and taking on advertising projects. He has written many books of poetry over a 45 year career. Spending much of his time writing novels, and op-ed pieces, he also teaches creative writing with is writing partner of over 25 years Dora Bona. Born in UK in 1948, Graham became a journalist with the local paper in his home town of Withernsea in Yorkshire at the tender age of 14, writing the 'hatch, match, and dispatch" columns. Emigrated to New Zealand and worked with the Auckland Star, and the New Zealand Truth. He is always available to offer help and a shoulder to lean on for new and upcoming writers.
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