UKArchive



UKArchive ID: 11512Coffee and computers by thegeeza
Originally published on April 11, 2005 in Fiction

When people use the anonymity of internet chatrooms to be who and how they want to be, it's sometimes easy to forget there are real people behind the data streams.

3,196 words.






Chris Kenwood looked at his computer screen. It was otherwise dark in his room and he had to squint at the monitor because the many hours of watching had tired out his eyes. He scrolled up through the lines of on-line conversation, searching for clues amongst the text and animated emoticons. He was sure she really liked him. He could feel it in his water. The coy emoticon really was indicative of what she thought. He made her laugh; he could tell by the frequent use of “lol”, which denoted she was laughing out loud.



There had been no reply to his latest question for twenty minutes. He sent a message asking if she was there. He waited patiently, not paying any attention to the fact he had to get up for work in three hours.



Chris considered that the world had passed him by somewhat. He had no rip-roaring tales to tell from boozy stag nights or alcohol-fuelled rugby tours. He had been out with two girls before, but they started, coasted and finished in the predictable pattern that had become his life. He had finished college, started working and then one day he would retire, watch television and finally die. He sometimes considered life was some kind of perverse punishment, giving him glimpses of happiness but keeping real life just out of reach.



Chris Kenwood was a funny guy. Everyone liked him, but he had the impression that if women were asked if they fancied him, they would cringe and say: “Oh no. He’s a lovely guy, but I don’t fancy him. He’s … not that sort of bloke.”



Speaking to girls was always something that terrified him as a young man. To put himself out on a limb and expose his inner self was far too difficult a concept to put into practice. The two girls he had courted – Lisa Harris and Doris Blemington-Brown – had both initiated the relationship, as well as terminated it. It was obvious to him that if he had asked out any girls, they would have laughed, or at the very least told him they would prefer not to ruin their friendship with anything complicated. He had to face the fact that he was ugly.



The coming of technology had been able to change his whole way of thinking. He could see from his nephews and nieces that young people could bounce around one another, flirting with minimal risk behind the safety net of a mobile phone or a computer. He wished texting and internet chat rooms had been around twenty years before. A few stolen cans of beer or shots of vodka would have given him the confidence and the chance to go for the girls he coveted the most. He had always thought he was funny, and this had been proven by the reaction to his online personality, but he was still holding the dark secret of his ugliness close to his chest. Behind the anonymity of the screen, he could live the life he had always sought, could change his name, have any image … and if things didn’t go to plan, he could just switch it off and start again. He could cast his net far and wide – right across the globe – and did, in fact, have two female chat friends in Venezuela and Colombia.



He had spoken to many women on the net and shown them the picture of his handsome brother, Charlie Kenwood. When the next message on the screen said “So, can you show me what you look like,” he had selected Charlie’s picture more from habit than as a rational response.



He stopped. He didn’t send it. He liked this one. He really liked this one. Another message appeared telling him that she didn’t care too much what he looked like, and understood if he didn’t want to show her a picture. He considered what to do. Another message came, asking him to forget the question, as she didn’t have a picture of herself to share anyway. He made light of the request and continued cracking jokes and asking questions about her.



The thought of sharing his real image stalked his thoughts until it was nearly 4am and he could barely keep awake. As they were exchanging their almost ritualistic “goodnight” messages – which involved sending images of roses and red lips – he selected the “send picture” command and browsed to a real photograph of himself. He hovered around the “Send” button, swallowed hard and pressed it. On the screen he could see that she was considering whether to accept the download of the picture. “I would like you to see me,” he sent. “It doesn’t matter what you look like,” she sent back. “Please look at it,” he sent.



He watched as the screen showed a diminishing bar, indicating the transfer of the file. He hovered over the “cancel” button, able to stop the photo at any moment. He thought about it, but it was too late. A message appeared: “File transmitted.”



He watched the screen, but there was no comment. He sent: “What do you think?” There was no reply. “Are you still there?” he sent. Nothing. She went offline.



***


Throughout the following day, it felt as if his insides were made of lead. He could not escape the feeling of total and utter inadequacy. The hiding place in his own room, where he could do the things he wanted to do, be the person he wanted to be, through this incredible but convenient electronic medium didn’t seem so amazing any more. He could not just switch off the computer and go make a cup of tea. The feelings produced from these little visual icons and strings of words were very real and they stung as hard as any real-life rejection he could imagine. Offline. He couldn’t put his feelings offline.



‘Chris?’ said a voice. ‘What’s wrong with you, mate?’



He turned and looked at his colleague. ‘Nothing, John. I’m alright.’



‘You don’t look it,’ said John. ‘If I didn’t know better, I’d say you had women problems.’



‘You mean, like rag week?’ he grinned. John laughed and went away. Chris’ smile disappeared. Humour. Forever the joker.



***


He sat at home and watched television. All the while, the computer called at him. Just see if she’s online, it said. It must have been a mistake. Her computer broke down. The internet company screwed up. Just see if she’s there! Make sure it was because you’re ugly. You know that already, so you can’t lose anything.



He switched it on, but refused to go online. He didn’t care. He checked his email. Someone else could’ve emailed him, after all. No new messages.



He wondered if she was online. Perhaps he could quickly check. Maybe if he went online but sent no messages, it would show her that he didn’t care. Maybe he could send her Charlie’s picture and say the other one was a joke. Maybe he would send her a picture of something nasty, like a road traffic accident, and some horrible words to go with it. Perhaps he could manufacture something else that might set off other emotions. How many emotions could he take her through? It could be a game! He could bring her to her knees through the power of words and pictures.



He decided to go online and to see what would happen. He looked at the list of contacts and saw about half were online. All those online personalities, each with their own little quirks and agendas. She was online. He waited. He went to the toilet. He made a cup of tea. He waited.



“Why did you go offline last night?” he sent.



She replied saying her network link had frozen and she could not connect to the internet. He asked how she was online now. She said an engineer had fixed it. The words puzzled him, but she quickly changed the subject and asked how he was. They exchanged normal pleasantries – an almost routine set of questions and answers much like a defined protocol that would facilitate a more meaningful conversation once completed. The messages stopped. He imagined her talking to a host of other people. He asked her. She denied it. He imagined other people sitting with her, laughing. He asked if she was alone. She said she was. He asked her if she had got his photo before the internet connection had gone down – giving her a chance, but knowing full well it had been transmitted. There was no reply. He repeated the question and she replied that she had received it. He waited for the damning condemnation of his appearance, but she never offered any.



“I’d like to meet you.”



He stopped dead, looking at the screen, mouth open.



“In real life that is.”



He took his hands from the keyboard and waited.



“Are you still there?” it said.



“Yes,” he sent. “Why do you want to meet?”



“Because I really want to,” she sent.



It was easy playing at relationships on the screen. Letting the arteries of the internet carry truths and fallacies from global node to global node, but a face to face meeting was something else. There was no time to think, no place to hide, no “off” button.



“Did you like my photo?” he keyed onto the screen. He wondered whether to transmit the message. She could see he had typed something but had stopped short of sending it.



“If you don’t want to,” she sent … and then there was a pause. “You don’t have to meet me.”



He deleted the message he had typed and replaced it with: “I’m scared.” Again he looked at the “Send” button and willed himself to press it. He couldn’t summon the courage to follow through with such an emotional response.



“Please talk to me, Chris,” she sent. They rarely used real names.



He pressed “Send”.



There was a pause. She replied, “So am I. I’ve never done this before.”



“Did you like my photo?” He looked at the words, ready to be sent.



“What is it that you want to say?” she sent.



The emoticons were gone. This was real. He was sure this was it.



He clicked “Send”.



“I didn’t look at it,” she sent back.



“Why?” he sent.



“I don’t need to know what you look like. It doesn’t matter.”



He wanted to accept the answer, but he found it so hard to believe it was true. He had conditioned his thinking over too many years. “You think I’m ugly. Why do you want to meet me? Do you want to laugh at me?”



“Chris – stop it. That’s silly.”



He realised his heart was pumping hard and his hands felt weak. He had to try. His human desire for companionship smashed against the barriers built to defend his feelings.



He typed out “ok” and clicked “Send.”



A smiley face emoticon appeared on the screen, with nothing else. He waited but she said no more. “When? How?” he sent.



“I need to go – I have to make coffee,” she sent. “I’ll send you an email with a suggested time and location. I have to logoff now. Bye. XXX”



“Why?” he sent.



The screen said the message was not delivered because she had gone offline. He checked his contact list, and she was in the offline section. His email inbox was empty. He waited and watched, but she was gone.



His mind flooded with a thousand thoughts. Was she messing him around? Why did she have to go? Make the coffee? Was she secretly married, but pretended all this time to be single? His darkest thoughts believed her to be a man or a child, or worse still, a police officer, luring him into a honey trap. No one would believe he didn’t know she was twelve! The child pervert loner. He panicked and deleted some pornographic images he kept for lonely nights. The police might be here any minute now. The millions of people trawling the net for friendship now suddenly seemed very real. He imagined men and women sitting at desks, dining room tables, laptops on their knees, in libraries, internet cafés, at work … typing into computers, communicating, being real people in real places.



He pulled the plug from the computer and it instantly fell silent.



He watched television. Out of the corner of his eye, the computer monitor kept taking his attention. The blackness of the screen contrasted against the light grey plastic frame. It lured him. It invited him. It stood imperious on the desk, arrogantly taunting him … you will be back, you can’t live without me.



He could not concentrate and after some hours, he yielded, rounded the sofa and turned it on.



His email programme started and the voice of Homer Simpson announced he had new mail. It was from her. It asked him to go online as soon as possible. When he did, she sent him a message asking him if he would meet her straight away.



“It’s gone eleven!” he sent.



“I really want to see you.”



He looked at the screen and pulled his lips around with his fingers. This must be some kind of practical joke. He shook his head when she put an address on the screen. It was in the High Street.



“I thought you lived in Manchester?” he sent.



“I always tell people that,” she sent. “I don’t like people to know if I live nearby.”



It seemed reasonable. “In the High Street?”



“There are flats above the shops,” she sent.



“Will you be alone?” he sent.



“Yes. The people that I share with have gone away for the weekend.”



“Why tonight?”



“I can’t wait any more. I’ve waited too long. Tonight would be much easier.”



He sat in front of the screen with a decision to make. Stop it all now, which would end this relationship for good, or go for it. He thought about how she could be anyone: an old man, child, policeman … absolutely anything. He remembered that she didn’t have a photo, but thought that was a good sign as if she was masquerading as someone else, it would be more of a cover to have a fake picture. His house was warm and it was cold outside.



“Please, Chris,” she sent.



He reached for his shoes. “Ok.”



“You’ll have to come through the shop. The door will be open. XXX”



She went offline before he could reply. He looked at her offline status, expecting it to change. He put his coat on and was ready to leave. The computer still showed her as offline.



He walked down the deserted High Street and looked at the door numbers. He came to 17 and stopped. It was a Starbucks coffee shop. He looked through the window into the dim interior. Small lights along the top of the coffee bar cast shadows that made Chris feel very uneasy. There was no side entry. The flat above appeared to be in darkness. He touched the door into Starbucks and found it was not locked. He thought an alarm might go off, and there would be people falling about laughing as he sprinted away from the scene. He prepared himself and stepped into the shop. He closed the door carefully behind him and looked around.



The smell of coffee caught his nose and its everyday smell made the situation feel less fraught. He walked a few steps into the shop and called out “hello,” very softly. There was no reply. Surely, she would be waiting? He looked around and saw the only thing moving was a flashing green light, on a machine behind the counter. He considered leaving quietly and writing off the experience as an unfunny joke.



The rushing sound of steam made him jump backwards in fright. He saw a cloud rise and dissipate above the machine with the winking green light. He looked over and saw a mug under the machine with froth just above the rim. The smell of the coffee became stronger and he inhaled its smooth aroma. He walked gingerly towards the counter, looking around for signs of life. There was none. He went behind the counter and regarded the freshly brewed drink. He checked his surroundings before picking it up and taking a sip. The movement of scrolling words across the LCD display caught his eye as he swallowed. He peered closely at the small letters.



“Hello, Chris! Semi-skimmed cappuccino – just as you like it!”



Chris smiled, remembering how he had told her about his favourite drink.



‘Hello?’ he said. There was no answer. He looked at the LCD.



“I’m really happy to meet you at last. XXX.”



He looked around tentatively. There was still no sign of anyone. He looked at the machine again. “You can speak to me,” it displayed on the screen. “I can hear you.”



He looked around. ‘Umm, okay, if you can hear me … can you show yourself?’



Nothing. The screen’s message said, “I’m here, Chris. You can see me.”



‘Where?’ he said to the machine.



“I’m right here,” said the message. “Don’t you like me?”



Chris looked at the machine’s label: “Saeco”. That was her nickname on the internet. He shook his head. Machines can’t talk. Only people can talk. It must be some kind of joke. He looked around for the pranksters. He was alone.



‘Okay, okay, whoever you are. Very funny. Let’s see you.’



He jumped as the machine made a hissing sound. “Don’t you like me? Am I ugly?”



‘Whoever you are, show yourself, this is getting stupid.’



“I think you are attractive. Do you like me? Touch me. Touch my chrome.”



Chris backed away from the machine. It blasted steam in his direction, scalding his hand.



“Where are you going, Chris? Don’t leave me!”



Chris watched the words scroll across the screen as he backed off. “Kiss me, Chris … Kiss me!”



As he reached the door, steam blasted out from all over the machine and it made loud sucking noises. The smell of coffee was over-powering. Chris opened the door, stepped outside and let the door close behind him. He pulled up the zip on his jacket and looked around the deserted High Street. The night air felt very cold against his sweaty face. His hand smarted. He looked through the door of the shop and everything appeared normal. There was no noise or movement anywhere inside. He could taste coffee inside his mouth and nose. He coughed, and it smelled of coffee. He took another look around and set off for home.



***


When he closed the front door, the flicker of the computer screen made him nervous. He had not turned it off before he left. He could see Saeco was online. He clicked on the name and selected “block”, which would prevent her seeing he was at his computer. He checked his email and found 143 new emails in his inbox. Each one was from Saeco, each one was titled: “I love Chris Kenwood”.



As he moved to delete them, Homer Simpson announced that he had new mail.



**end**


© thegeeza (thegeeza on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 11512
Archived comments for Coffee and computers
bluepootle on 2005-04-11 09:28:34
Re: Coffee and computers
Hah! And you have to wonder what would happen to him next - how do you get rid of that kind of stalker? I almost wish there was more to read, but I can see why you stopped there and left it as a 'twist in the tale'. I was looking for the 'twist' but didn't guess that, and that's fairly difficult to do nowadays with such a jaded readership out there! Good one - well written (of course).

Author's Reply:

Hazy on 2005-04-11 11:51:44
Re: Coffee and computers
LOL... been there, done that. Met people via the internet. Felt all those emotions. You told it so very well and was written brilliantly.

A fave read for me.

Erm, btw, you aren't trying to tell us something are you??!!

Hazy x

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2005-04-11 12:28:59
Re: Coffee and computers
I thought it was well worth reading and I don't doubt the quality of the writing, apart from a little stiffness at the beginning (and the explanation of lol struck an off-note). However, I didn't really think the pay-off was strong enough, nor was there enough meat in the build up - clues say that we could look back at the end and chuckle about. (yes, I know about having to make the coffee 🙂 )
so it's excellent execution, material a bit thin for this one.

Author's Reply:

KDR on 2005-04-11 13:44:25
Re: Coffee and computers
"Have to make the coffee", Chris KENWOOD... very droll. 🙂

I'm not really sure what to make of this one, actually. I mean, I did like it: it was very accurate in some places regarding emotions and how you can be hurt by someone online, especially when you considered it to be a bit of fun and essentially meaningless. But, for me, I couldn't see how a Starbuck's coffee pot could open the doors and all that stuff.
They're nothing like us Subway ovens, after all! 😀

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-11 14:08:20
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, BP
"Stalker!" How un-romantic of you.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-11 14:11:08
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Hazy - and thanks for the fave read.
And yes ... I am a teapot.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-11 14:16:06
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, John, and glad to see you back and around.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-11 14:19:51
Re: Coffee and computers
How do you know they don't feel? 😉
The point was that you don't know what's at the end of an internet chat. Of course, factually, it couldn't (without some supernatural element or some kind of electronic collaboration) happen - although machines are put online these days to re-order stock automatically - but the point was virtual feelings cannot exist.
Thanks for reading and commenting!
Steve.


Author's Reply:

Claire on 2005-04-12 00:12:12
Re: Coffee and computers
The title caught my eye as I always have coffee with my computer. This reminded me of the film Electric Dreams with the mad PC. I'm now singing the song to it... 'together in electric dreams... we'll always be together... together in electric dreams...'

Where was I? Oh yeah! Canny story here. Nice start up, had me wondering where you were taking it, and it was certainly not the ending I was expecting. Fancy that... a psycho PC... 'we'll always be together... together in electric dreams...'

Author's Reply:

shangri-la on 2005-04-12 11:26:30
Re: Coffee and computers
I thoroughly enjoyed this, I think you did a great job of painting the sensitivity and low self esteem of this character which I think many will relate to. I love the twist at the end, totally unexpected, the coffee machine kinda reminded me of HAL 🙂

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-12 13:36:44
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks for your feedback, Claire - glad it brought back some memories!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-12 18:14:28
Re: Coffee and computers
Glad you enjoyed it, shangri-la.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

Kat on 2005-04-13 00:40:39
Re: Coffee and computers
I think you did a great job here. The tension you set up, and the emotions of Chris (Kenwood!) were brilliant, and as shangri-la said, many could/can relate to.

Had an existential feel for me as well. I used that word about Claire's work this week too - I'm not even sure exactly what it means! 😉 But I know it when I FEEL it!

Particularly liked,

'His human desire for companionship smashed against the barriers built to defend his feelings.'

Tip top notch!

Kat 🙂

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-13 09:36:51
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Kat. Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2005-04-13 11:20:03
Re: Coffee and computers
A lot of good things about this - good characterisation, someone who strikes a chord with virtually everyone here who spends so much time communicating through a keyboard. The main character's reactions were very natural, too. I didn't see the twist coming at all - a big plus point! Both unusual and entertaining - thanks! And, it's not really so far-fetched...you can get plagued by phantom phone calls which turn out to be computers half a world away reporting faults and re-ordering stock. It's only a small step beyond....

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-13 14:04:44
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Roy.
I agree - technology progresses at such a fast rate, if you consider 100 years ago, that we certainly do not know what is around the corner. As the developing world get access to more and more technology, I'd think the changes will multiply exponentially!
Thanks for reading and commenting,
Steve.


Author's Reply:

discopants on 2005-04-14 14:41:52
Re: Coffee and computers
It took me a while to get round to reading this (mainly because it's over 2000 words and requires me to set aside some time) but it was worth the wait.

It kept my attention and explored the emotions of Chris particularly well. Being the practical type, I also wondered how the coffee machine opened the door but if it was all controlled remotely by computer then it could be possible.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-14 18:16:37
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks for reading, Disco ... yeah, over 3000 words is a big ask!
I considered saying the machine was online for stock re-ordering, and perhaps controlling lights and doors etc. - but I didn't want to crowd practical details in, to let the reader imagine why - or not to care ... perhaps I could place that information in somewhere.
Thanks,
Steve.

Author's Reply:

jay12 on 2005-04-15 00:04:40
Re: Coffee and computers
Hi Geeza,

This is an excellent read. The characterisation was so good he certainly was very 3D. I never spotted the twist at the end. A great read indeed nd a warning to all of us who use the internet to chat!!!

Jay.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-15 09:35:22
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Jay ... you never know what you're gonna get on the internet!
Thanks for reading and commenting,
Steve.


Author's Reply:

Jen_Christabel on 2005-04-15 17:27:15
Re: Coffee and computers
As my story revolves around an internet 'stalker' I was drawn to this and found it a great read :o)
JayCee


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-04-16 11:21:35
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, JayCee ... glad you enjoyed it.
Steve.

Author's Reply:

Squeaky on 2005-05-02 12:39:17
Re: Coffee and computers
Hey i recognise that guy!!!

Originally i didn't like the ending of this, because i guess i was hoping for a conventional tragedy type ending. Messenger and it's ilk can a cruel tool in the wrong hands...of course it can be a tool where both parties can read and send out misleading signals unwittingly...without the intention of deliberate malice.But some do use it for that very intention.

I think i like the ending...or at least it's beginning to grow on me, but i don't know whether i like Messenger anymore.

Enjoyed reading this one as well.

Squeaky


Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-05-02 22:16:34
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Squeaky.
I think chat software is dangerous and only really works if both people agree with what they are doing / understand what is at the other end. It seems easy to get the feeling of playing a computer game, when in fact, there is a real person on the other end.
Thanks for reading and commenting again.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

eddiesolo on 2005-06-26 00:49:47
Re: Coffee and computers
I enjoyed this Geeza,

Never use chat rooms myself as I'm chuffing useless...no doubt Hazy and Tai will confirm last night on UKA'S. I post at the wrong time then get all confused...doesn't take much.

I liked the twist at the end...well written

Regards,
Si:-)

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2005-06-26 19:24:58
Re: Coffee and computers
Thanks, Si.

Author's Reply: