This week’s InMon prompts include the phrase “suspicious click”. That prompted the first few lines of this story, but the rest of it came slowly, as I deliberated what it was that hid behind the mysterious attachment. The resulting story is one that some may find disturbing, but I hope you will take the time to persevere with it.
Struggling to Communicate
Geoffrey opened the email with a single suspicious click. He’d been caught before – Lionel liked to send him loud videos and embarrassing photographs – so the email entitled “check this out” made him wary.
“There was a time when we didn’t send each other stupid things on a whim,” he’d told Lionel on the phone last time a stupid forward made people from neighbouring cubicles stand up and glare at him. “Postage stamps were expensive and going to the postbox put a sort of idiocy filter on even your behaviour!”
His brother had just laughed. Called him a “stick in the mud,” which was Lionel’s way of laying on the age difference between them. Five years had never seemed such a chasm as it did now they were approaching fifty. Geoffrey felt old. Lionel still went out to nightclubs, spent what money he had on drinking and partying. Not something Geoffrey approved of, mind you. It seemed to him that this made Lionel a dirty old man.
The email opened up. The text just said the same as the title of the message, but there was an attachment. “Lindsey.jpg”.
Probably porn Geoffrey thought. He wanted to delete it, but couldn’t quite bring himself to. Lindsey was the name he and Alison had wanted to call their first girl. Had called their first girl, but only for the purpose of a few letters scratched into a piece of stone. Lindsey had never drawn a single breath, and he and Alison had never breathed her name since.
It made the dilemma of the attachment even worse. If it was porn, he would never forgive himself for looking at a girl called Lindsey in that way. She’d be seventeen now. He felt something swell in his throat. Old enough for boys to be looking at her just that way. He swallowed, feeling a mixture of despair and anger washing over him.
Geoffrey picked up his mug, took a swig of cold coffee. He couldn’t bring himself to open the attachment, but deleting it wasn’t an option either.
He closed the email program and opened up a spreadsheet. Work: that was the solution. Numbers swirled across the screen, forming themselves into faces: Alison’s when they discovered she was pregnant; Alison’s on the day Lindsey was born; Lindsey’s scrunched up little features, too blue and too still. He didn’t know anything about babies, but he knew this was wrong. The faces were sharp but the numbers were blurred by tears. He took another swig of coffee and picked up the phone to call her. Alison’s voice would calm him. And she would know what to do with the email.
But he couldn’t tell her. Alison liked Lionel. She said he just struggled to communicate – an accusation she’d levelled at Geoffrey enough times too. The numbers on the phone’s screen caught his eye. 7/12/13. He hated the stupid American phone system. The sun was shining and the thermometer in the car this morning had read 28 degrees. It was the twelfth of July, not the seventh of December.
Twelfth of July, he thought. He couldn’t believe he’d made it almost to lunchtime without realising. He opened the email program again and clicked on the attachment.
The picture opened slowly on the screen. Lionel’s head and another man’s appeared first. They were looking at the camera and smiling. Behind them, a blue and orange logo said simply “Sands”. As the picture loaded, he saw that Lionel and the man were holding a giant cheque: the kind they used on TV. It was payable to Sands and signed with his brother’s elaborate signature. The amount on the cheque was staggering.
At the bottom of the picture, there was some writing, put on with a picture editing program.
Happy 18th Birthday to my beloved and much-missed niece.
Geoffrey looked around. No faces had appeared over the walls of his cubicle; the colleagues who had heard bad sound effects and dubious music from Lionel’s previous emails were oblivious to this one. His fingers thick and his vision blurred, Geoffrey dialled his brother’s number.
Sands is a UK charity which helps and supports those affected by the death of a baby. The characters in this story are entirely fictional but sadly their situation is not. If you have a little spare in your charity pot this month, please consider a donation to Sands. You can view their website by clicking on the logo above, and make a secure online donation there.
Whatever force or power gave us Sebastian, I’m grateful for him today and every day.