Danny was middle aged, a time in life where nothing was racier than marshmallows in cocoa. He took the children to music lessons, he let his wife do his laundry and he watched as his job crumbled in the economic gloom of recession. Thank God then for twitter and that birthday present his wife had bought in. In the maelstrom of electronic messages he could live a new life where he was exciting and where the women seemed to swoon and flirt. And Penny seemed to like him, maybe even fancy him. No advancing grey hair, or redundancy was going to get in the way of his escape. With Penny he could run away and start again.He could stop being middle aged. Shame it was all in his confused head. A misread message here, a wrong word there and it was so easy to misconstrue everything. But then Jenny, his wife, finds the messages and Danny’s life spirals out of control as reality sets in. This was his real life, not some fantasy on twitter. Meanwhile a string of women’s bodies appear. A murderer stalks the countryside with no clear motive but unerring success. Danny’s world was a million miles from these murders but the two worlds would collide in time and all because he was on twitter. All because people aren’t always what they seem in the electronic world.
‘Hi hun, what’s up with you. Xxx’
‘Bloody hard day at office… again. How’s you?’
‘Oh sad for you. Hug +++. Yeah good day. But dropped the milk all over the kitchen floor. Dog liked it. Xxx’
‘Clumsy. You are ditzy.’
‘Yeah, that’s my middle name so don’t wear it out. Xxx’
‘At least the dog cleaned it up.’
‘I wish. Then I had a shower and almost slipped getting out. Me bad today. Xxx’
‘Oww, did the towel fall down?’
‘great I’ll check the webcam feed later. I am excited already.’
‘You wish. It wouldn’t be a nice sight. Xxx’
‘Let me be the judge of that. Drop the towel again please.’
‘Enough already. When I’m good and ready. Any news on the job front? Xxx’
‘No, it’s totally depressing. Need to pound the streets really. See what the weekend brings.’
‘You going to town then? Xxx’
‘Me too. We could meet for coffee. xxx’
‘Can I collect those hugs?’
‘But obviously. Xxx’
Danny was genuinely scared yet also excited. There were so many images in his mind as to how Penny would be despite having seen several pictures of her. He hoped she lived up to expectation or else the emotions would come crashing down with all the pain and especially shame which would follow.
It was Saturday and the café was small and plain but she had suggested it as it had been a childhood favourite. Of course from her point of view it was safe too, crowded and difficult to move in. Indeed Danny had found it quite difficult to squeeze into the booth: the table legs deliberately reached out to the chair, making knee injury inevitable. The floor was clean but there was a greasy hue to every breath and Danny was sure the cockroaches were leading a caviar and champagne lifestyle behind the deep fat fryer.
Still he enjoyed a good fry up and the calories would help feed the adrenaline rush. He sat quietly as the fat people moved around him, carrying the shopping bags and paraphernalia of town life – mobile phone, chunky bracelets and pierced belly buttons. Crickies it was November and navels were still abundant. Worse still they were at eye level where he sat.
Danny stared at one, semi-hidden in a roll of post pregnancy fat when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up and saw his angel.
And the voice was perfect, slight yokel accent, not too high pitched and screaming innocence.
“Hi, sorry I’m can’t get up easily,” Danny replied as he tried to raise himself and failed in painful; fashion.
“Don’t worry, I would not expect you to. I’m common as muck me.”
Maybe she was but Danny would not allow himself to see that. She was plump and had some obvious folds around her midriff despite her loose, concealing blouse. He did not mind, it was different to what he currently knew and that was good. She certainly had a bust size to match the waist size and like all men that excited him; could be G or even H, certainly different to the B he was used to. Her hair was lovely, slight blonde but possibly dyed; he needed a blonde in his life. Eyes were stunning, pools of lust in the morning glow of sexual arousal Danny was now experiencing
It was all physical, missing the deeper features which a human a woman. Penny was an insecure and introvert person who basked behind the safety of a cooker and small scale life in a small scale town. This did not matter however to Danny though quite what he was wanting was not clear even to him
“You want a cuppa? Cake?” Danny asked.
“No, I’m fine. Just doing some birthday shopping today. Wow, it’s great to meet you. You look exactly like your picture which is good else I would have been embarrassed to shout out in here.” Penny replied.
“It’s good to meet you too though it feels like I have known you for ages.”
“Yes, it does,” Penny flashed a smile; it reminded him of a young Princes Diana before she was corrupted by royalty and media. Danny loved the smile. It was just as he wanted and now everything was perfect to fulfil any perverted fantasy he had.
The waitress arrived and presented Danny his food. He went slightly red.
“Sorry, I was hungry, plus I could not just sit here without ordering something. They kept giving me dirty looks.”
“It’s fine. So how are you? How’s work and such?”
“Fair is the word for the moment. I think I’ve got other the initial shock but some of my staff haven’t got there yet. Been interesting at work to say the least.” Danny replied.
“Yes, I got that impression from your tweets. I read some of the other stuff you put on.”
“Do you, wow. Don’t know why but I kinda thought you didn’t… That sounds odd. I know you chat to lots of people so I assumed… No that don’t sound good either.” Danny spluttered.
“Relax,” Penny reached over and touched his hand briefly. It was only a momentary gesture but Danny was electrified by it. He hoped it was the first of many.
“Sorry. Got all tongue tied. You see I’m not as chatty as on twitter. I guess it’s an outlet for me. I’m quite shy really.”
“Me too,” Penny agreed. “I’m quote a nervous person really. A bit shy and cautious with people. That’s why it’s been really nice talking to you. I feel we really know each other well. It’s been really good.”
“We’re very similar in some ways.” Danny replied. And in some ways they were. He was of course more world wise than Penny yet that did not matter and he could always educate her later in such matters.
“Eat up before it goes cold.” Penny suggested. “I used to work near here. First job after college. Shop assistant. What a surprise. Still doing the same thing but I enjoy it.”
“I’m deputy manager now.” She replied proudly.
“Good, “Danny said between chewing. “As long as you are happy in it.”
“It’s important to work. I like it as it’s a small shop and I can give some personal service. It’s nice to talk to the customers.” Penny said.
“Hands on is important. As you say, there’s a sense of achievement and reward. I don’t think I could do it. I would be afraid of the complaining customers. That’s for other departments to sort out”
“I let the boss deal with that.”
Danny kept eating for awhile and there was an awkward silence. Penny just stared around the cafe whilst he ate, looking at all the people and wondering what lives they led. There were two young girls dressed in black and moodily staring at their milkshakes. A man in his fifties was eating a mixed grill and trying to shorten his life span. And a young couple with more acne between them than a boy band struggled with togetherness as each glanced this way and that but never at each other. It was a good picture as far as she was concerned, a microcosm of normal Saturday in rural town life.
“What are you up to this weekend?” Danny eventually asked after he had desperately searched for a question.
“Come and see you silly. I’ll go out with my mate at some point. Grab a coffee and cake. Chat. Girly stuff. Otherwise, nothing really. Bit of housework. What about you?”
“Seeing you silly. Nothing else planned. Life is boring at the moment and I guess I am kinda frustrated about that. I’m not sure if that shows online? I hope not. ”
“Can’t say it does. But under the circumstances it is hardly surprising you’re frustrated. You have lots of pressure on your shoulders. But that will settle in time once you re-establish your feet, get a job. Then everything will be back to normal. Besides what’s wrong with a quiet life? There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Guess so, but it’s not every week you get made redundant.”
“Aww, poor you. It’s not fair. I’ll give you a hug when we get out of here.”
“Hey I’ve got a lot of hugs to collect I believe.”
Penny giggled and went coy. Danny liked that but did not realise it was more out of embarrassment than seduction. He was now very hopeful this chat was going in just the right direction. Okay, only a first meeting but let’s just read the signals carefully, he told himself. Look for the clues. Is she just a very friendly person or is there more to it. After all here she was, a covert meeting without either of their partners knowing about it.
Deep down Danny really knew the answer. She was just friendly and probably craving some attention. Everything else stacked against him: married, much younger than him. Yes, he wanted to be her friend. He genuinely liked her and the way he could just speak his feelings. It was what friendship should be but his damn masculinity was saying different things and with everything else going wrong in his life it was a struggle to know what was right.
“How long have you been on twitter?” he asked, deciding on a safe topic.
“Oh, about two years. It’s fun but a little wild. Different from real life that’s for sure.”
“It’s different for sure. There are some oddballs on it and some contrasting opinions. You are never quite sure what response you’ll get next from a tweet.”
“You do have to be a bit careful at times.” Penny agreed.
“I’ve only been on twitter about four months and I’ve seen some weird things already and some nasty things too… You know you are the first person I have really trusted. Someone I can just shoot the breeze with, “Danny ventured.
“I know what you mean,” Penny said after a thoughtful pause, “it’s a great place to meet new people and talk in a way you can’t always do. And yep there are weirdoes on twitter but I think you are very genuine and it really sucks what has happened to you and your job.”
“I’ll bounce back somehow.”
“I am sure you will. You seem strong enough. Personally I think I would just curl up into a little ball. I’m not great at stress really. I guess that’s why I am where I am.” Penny said with genuine hurt in her voice.
“Question is – are you happy where you are at?”
“I am me, that is what I am. I have my family around me, everything I need.”
“Need or want?” Danny persisted.
“I am me. End of.”
It was a bit frustrating. There was something further there she was repressing, Danny was sure, but she insisted on shutting that avenue, as if she feared what lay beyond. Perhaps she did crave more from her life but knew deep down she would never achieve it, accepting her lot like so many small town girls.
“You have a large family, if I recall,” Danny asked, changing tack but still searching her soul.
“Yes. I’ve got a lot of brothers and sisters. I’m second youngest of five. Four nephews and 2 nieces. God mother to my best mate’s daughter. Five uncles and five aunts. Hate to think how many kids on that side of the family. Big families are great, you are never alone.”
“Bit claustrophobic if you ask me but then I come from a small family. Do they all live in your town or are they spread out?”
“Pretty much.” Penny replied confirming that her entire existence was trapped in one location.
Danny had heard that in some of the more rural towns there were effectively only a handful of extended families who over centuries had interbred and in-bred. Some of the surnames were infamous locally: large almost mafia-like clan structures but with nothing but local pride to lust after.
Suddenly Danny wondered what on earth they had in common except for a touch of shyness and insecurity about life. They were worlds apart yet despite that the talk was special, it bonded them and Danny found that significant, two kindred spirits who needed company well beyond their usual circle.
“I guess you are lucky but I’m not sure how. I like my independence and not being tied to family strings. You seem to be in and out of your sister’s house all the time if I read you tweets right. And I sense you like that. Bit odd to me.”
“Different strokes but I get what you are saying. Did you see the tweets about the barbeque fire. Oh my god what a disaster that was.”
“Yes I recall that,” Danny replied. “Didn’t you fall over whilst trying to fill the bucket.”
“Yep, brother in law wasn’t too please. But I’m clumsy naturally.”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
The conversation died again at that point and Danny concentrated on finishing his cold meal. Penny looked on as he munched. She did not seem skilled or able to make the interaction work; it was if she had not learnt such an ability in her life. Danny was struggling in his mind how to rectify it, find a good new sentence but truth be known he was not exactly a socialite himself.
Cutlery sung to cutlery as they clashed on his plate. The egg was gone except for a hardened yellow patch and the bacon rind screamed ‘eat me’ in its unhealthy way. The tea sulked nearby, cold and oil film in place upon the surface.
Danny eventually cracked the silence as the last piece of fried bread went down:
“Your mate, Alexis, you known her long?”
“Yes, since college. We are bestest friends ever. Do everything together.”
“I bet other halfs don’t like that at times,”
“Us girlies need our best mate. We wouldn’t function well without it. Alex is my left hand. We have such a great time together.” It sounded almost like a teenage girl crush and Danny strived to get it but then most men could never comprehend such things. “Last year we went to London together. It was a ball. Scary too, all the hustle and bustle. So crowded. We got lost several times. Had to ask Japanese tourists for directions. It was that bad but it also was one of the best memories of my life.”
“I bet the tourists have fond memories of that too.” Danny noted and Penny giggled. “You are crazy at times. Makes me laugh.”
“Well that’s good. Laughing is important.”
“True. That’s what attracted me to your tweets in the first place. A sense of mishap and fun. If I recall it was a trip to the beach. I think I replied to a tweet you put out: ice cream melting or something similar. That seems so long ago now. What else do you get up to?”
“Do a bit of fitness at the local village hall. And just work really. Visit my family; you know that large thing you are scared of.”
“Thanks, I’m not scared of it, I just don’t have it. I think you are lucky for that. I see that in your tweets. It’s fantastic to have such closeness. I guess I wish I did have it though there must be lots of baggage which goes along with it.”
“Oh, there’s baggage. Like always having my dolls hidden by my sisters and then fed to the dog. Or having the hand me down clothes, or having less presents than the other children in class. Or being locked out by a spiteful brother in the rain until I caught pneumonia. I could go on but that’s the challenge of family I reckon. Not always fun actually… Bit depressing really.” Her voice trailed away.
“Sounds like you need rescuing.” Danny spoke, not picking up the pathos.
“You want to be my knight in shining armour?”
“Of course. I think that’s a fair ambition for me.”
“I’ll bear that in mind thanks.” Penny replied casually as she killed the conversation again.
Danny looked around at the cafe occupants. It was a busy place, making money at a time no-one else could. Comfort in food was the only certainty in times of financial hardship; actually comfort in food was a great escape from many woes. Danny looked back at Penny and wondered what she was running away from. Then he looked down on his own round belly, enlarged through marriage and complacency.
“So,” he stated, “now we’ve met am I still worth talking to?”
Penny stared hard at him, not quite understanding the question, or where it had come from. She didn’t see a timid person in from of her. She saw a firm male figure in whom she could be subjugated by and that was all she ever yearned for in anyone around her. Alexis was by far the stronger female between them and Sean was a dominant, traditional male figure. She knew exactly where she was in life with them.
“Of course I will. You are special. I feel confident around you and that’s unusual. So I will keep tweeting whether you like it or not.”
“Thanks. I certainly feel I have connected to you. I’m not sure why and I don’t mean that in a rude way. I mean having someone who has the same personality as me, gets the fears and challenges that brings. Does that make sense?”
“Yes it does and thank you. Look I must go now; I’ve got to get some shopping done.”
“Sure, me too, I need to get home.” Danny said scrambling for some money. He really was not sure quite how this was ending. Was it just a farewell or would he sneak something a bit more meaningful out of it. He could not read any signs and was too embarrassed to take any action himself.
Penny rose and Danny followed. He paid at the counter as she watched. Good, she was not rushing off. Outside it was cold and people rushed past on their way to the same old places they had been last week. Danny and Penny clung to the edge of the pavement, avoiding the endless flow of carrier bags and prams.
“It’s been great. I really enjoyed meeting you. You are as nice as you are on twitter.”
“You too. So… can I claim my hug.”
Penny leaned in and hugged him. As far as she was concerned it was a simple sign of friendship but for Danny there as so much more. He saw escape and freedom whilst the sensual well of emotion deep down continued its cancerous growth. Meantime real life waved goodbye. He squeezed tight.
“Next time I want to see the feather boa!” he said afterwards.
“Ohh, you wouldn’t want to see that on me.”
“Trust me I do.”
Penny looked but did not speak, not knowing how to respond. Flirting was different on twitter, safe, but here it felt invasive. She considered if she was misreading anything. Silly girl, she thought after a while, I’m married, he’s married, no need to worry.
“Okay. I’m off. Have a good time. See you soon.”
Penny walked away. Danny decided to walk in the opposite direction even though that was not where his car was parked. In his mind he was busy evaluating the conversation, looking far too hard for any clues as to whether there was more going on.
She had said she liked him, really like him. That was a well known code for sex wasn’t it. But on the other hand she had not flirted with him like on line. In fact her tone throughout had been rather deadpan. Did she think he was uglier than she had hoped? Had she recognised the age different. Or was her real life self far more timid than her online persona?
Danny had often wondered, as have many others, if people were true to their selves on twitter or were they extensions of their own fantasies. Under the veil of invisible keyboards it would be all too easy to disguise traits or allow repressed ones to grow. Yet Penny seemed genuine enough, if slightly quiet and dull. In fact Danny now realised that on the whole she never really asked about him, instead he had to offer that information and he had to lead the dialogue
Stupid boy, he thought, she is reserved and you know what that is like. It takes time to build up confidence. This would be a slow burn case. Besides on the positive side she never really talked about her husband and he sensed that the meeting was clandestine in nature. And what sort of signal does that send out to any man on heat?
Danny smiled and planned his route back to his car. Yes, this had been successful. Suddenly his phone beeped. It was a tweet from Penny, a private message.
‘Hi, thanks for meeting. It was fab. You are a lovely person. Xxx’
That would do for now, he decided, that would do.
She had chosen the top carefully, slightly loose and revealing. She did it on purpose because somewhere, deep down in her mind, she yearned for something different, something which could change her life. Yet on the other hand, she didn’t want anything. She had a great husband and three beautiful children. She lived a nice life in a detached five bed house. She was confused, a lack of direction and a hint that someone else could offer her new experiences.
She stood by the car. The rest of the car park was deserted but she was not surprised. This was a favourite spot and little used nowadays. It was discreet and the place where she had courted so many years ago.
A car’s headlights shone in the evening air. It lit the trees and hedges in sequence as it drove steadily towards her. She fingered her phone.
‘Party time for me. As you promised.’ She typed and then put the phone away.
Copyright© Andre Clinchant. All rights reserved.