Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The 21st century family: A short story for the new year

I wrote this story a few years ago, but somehow it seems even more relevant today.

Mother is in the kitchen making the family meal. She has a cookery book open on the table, and as she reads down the page with a floury finger, she glances over at the blackboard sitting on the fridge to see if an ingredient she has run out of is on her chalked up shopping list. Good. She smiles to herself. It is. Then her attention is distracted by the calendar on the wall next to the blackboard. She mustn't forget her pottery course that starts during the week. She's looking forward to that. She always meets nice people at these courses. Oh and yes, on Friday she's going to the ballet. Alone probably. She smiles ruefully and looks through the kitchen door to where father is sitting, laptop on his knees, typing furiously, jabbing the keyboard with his heavy fingers. His face is expressionless, but the speed and violence of his two pronged attack on the computer suggest heavy matters are going on in his Internet world.
Her thoughts are interrupted noisily by the entrance of Emily (In a relationship with Stephen White. From London, England. Born on May 18, 1996. At least that's what her Facebook page says).
"Mum, where's dad? I need to ask him something?"
"Where do you think he is, pet. On the Internet. Surely you can see that from here!"
"Yes, but where is he?"
"How, should I know, lovey! Have you tried his usual haunts?"
"Yes, but he's not been on Flickr, or MSN or Pinterest, and I couldn't find him on Facebook! He hasn’t even done a blog post since he came home...."
"Well, sweetie, you could try just going through that door and asking him yourself. You know. Speak to him? In person?"
"Oh come on, Mum," scoffs Emily scornfully. "That's sooooo last century! Get a life, won't you?"
"I thought I had one," sighs her mother, looking wistfully over at her calendar.
"Oh, I know!" Emily exclaims suddenly. "He's started a Twitter account now. He's probably tweeting. I should have checked!"
"Twitter? Tweeting? Isn't that what birds do?" Mother asks, slightly bewildered by her husband's apparent metamorphosis.
Emily shrugs her shoulders exaggeratedly. "Maaaarm! When are you going to get...."
"...with it. I know." Again Mother smiles apologetically at her daughter. Emily’s thoughts have already changed track, though.
“I’ll just send him a DM...” she decides happily, and bouncing out of the kitchen she heads upstairs to her bedroom.
Mother’s eyes follow her, a thought struggling over her face. “A.....DM?” She wonders if she even speaks the same language as her daughter anymore. More or less used to her husband’s internet addiction, she knows that if she wants to talk to him, she has to dial his mobile phone number – this being about the only way she can break his concentration from the screen in front of him. Her daughter, however, makes her feel even more alien in her own home. DM’s? Tweeting? Whatever next?
Just then the front door to the house opens again, and Justin walks in (Single. From London. Born on October 5, 1994).
"Hi Mum," he mutters, grabbing a handful of raisins from the packet on the table.
"Justin! Where have you been? I've tried calling you four times and sent you three Whatsapp messages! It was your dad's birthday yesterday and you didn't even come home to wish him a happy birthday!
"Sorry mum. I left my phone at Dave's. I couldn't call. And anyway, I was in the middle of a serious international gallactic battle!"
"Yes, dear, I'm sure you were, and may the best side win, but even that shouldn't have stopped you from letting me know where you were. There is still such a thing as an email, you know."
"Oh come on, mum....anyway, I did wish dad a happy birthday. I did it on Facebook. Didn't you see? Oh no, of're not there yet are you?"
He smirks slightly at his long-suffering mother.
At that moment, Emily rockets back into the room.
"Wow, mum! Dad's having this amazing row on Facebook. D'you want to see? It's getting quite vicious!"
"I thought he was on this Twitter thing?"
"He is, but you can link it to Facebook of course," Emily's look says it all "and that's what he's done. Anyway, take a look at this! It's wicked!"
Mother is torn between looking at her daughters iPad screen and stepping through the kitchen door and asking her husband what on earth is going on. The iPad wins.
What she sees bemuses her. The slanging match going on between her silent partner in the lounge and someone called David Malkovsky (In a relationship with Anastasia Chownyk. From Kiev. Born 15 January 1962) about the Ukrainian question is loaded with expletives, ugly threats and virulent remarks. And she hasn't heard a thing. Except for the two-pronged jabs at the keyboard of course. It seems like years since the two of them have had any conversation lasting more than a few seconds, and this one has to have been going on for at least an hour. Totally without her knowledge!
Looking at her offspring, she is suddenly amazed that they are even still speaking to her. Verbally. With their mouths and tongues, that is. Her husband only seems to communicate in grunts these days, or through the Internet. Her children, on the other hand, know far more about his life than she does, even though she spends most of every day in the same house as him. And the reverse is probably true too, she realises, as Emily skims down her Facebook profile displaying comments and 'likes' made by her father.
Mother makes a decision. Throwing down her tea towel and washing her floury hands, she grabs Emily's iPad from her daughter's protesting clutches.
"Right then, you two. Show me how to make one of these Facebook accounts. It's obviously time, as you so succinctly put it, that I got a life!"
And with silent regret, she glances over at her calendar, mentally crossing off some of the activities listed on it. If you can't beat them, you have to join them, she supposes. And then she envisages the long evenings ahead - sitting with her loved ones, in hopefully companionable silence, but all the while getting what they call 'a real life' on the Internet.
Watching as Emily and Justin argue over the details to put on her profile page  ("Should she be married, or just in a relationship?"), she smiles at their shared enthusiasm ("And let’s just put her birthday and not the year. We don’t want our friends to know she’s that old!"), and wonders when it was that her children last did something together. Will this be the last time? And what is she getting herself into now? She squashes the doubts resignedly. This has to be the way forward if she wants to share any kind of life with her family.

Anyway, what was the saying from that long forgotten movie? "Resistance is futile".


  1. Hi Val - sad, but probably true for many ... Happy New Year .. we'll email you and comment here - the rest ... for now unlikely! Cheers Hilary

    1. Thanks, Hilary! Yes, it's all too true for many. Have a great new year!

  2. Lovely but sad story! Happy New Year to you and yours, wishing it didn't have to be electronically sent, but that's life!! Xxxx

    1. Maybe we can change that this year, Fran. I hope so! xxx

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks TT :-)) Glad you enjoyed it! I don't write many short stories, but have had this one lurking. A few small changes to update it and Bob's your uncle!


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