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I am at my PC looking for a girl called Alice. Only she isn’t really called Alice, I know that. But that’s what she calls herself on this website. I call myself Jean-Luc. I like the sound of it. People think I’m French, which helps.
I first met Alice a few weeks ago. I liked her profile picture. She’s got dark curly hair which hangs around her neck, and the way she holds her head in the picture makes her neck muscles stand out really tight, and I like that. She has big brown eyes too. She’s 23. I’m 23. The world is 23.
The night I first found her I was feeling pretty down with myself. I had a fight at work with this guy who has started freaking me out with stuff, and I just lost it. I lost it big style. He starts freaking me out with all this shit about the Jennings’s order, and how it was all fucked, and it was all my fault, and really I’m saying: No. I didn’t even complete on the Jennings’s order, and he’s like effing and swearing and using the C word and everything, calling me the C word, and how it was my (he said this) that it was my shit in the pipe and it would be my hand that clears it.
The first time I see Alice I think she’s really cute. She’s sitting there in her room in a little pink slip and I can make out a shelf behind her. A corner of a bed. A teddy bear with a T-shirt on him with a big red heart. It looks bright there, and I think it looks cosy. A proper girl’s room.
This is how it goes. You enter Free Chat. You ain’t allowed to see anything in Free Chat. You see their faces, but that’s all you see. Once I saw a girl naked in Free Chat but I reckon she’d just finished in a Private with some other bloke and she was all a bit high on whatever it was she’d been doing and maybe, I don’t know, maybe she’d had a big earning session because she didn’t care or anything she just lay there and showed everyone what she had, in Free. The only thing is, Free Chat only lasts like two minutes. So I was quick I can tell you. Guess we all were. That’s the other thing with Free: you have to put up with all the other guys, trolling around.
Got to hand it to the girls though: they’re all really nice with everyone. Guess they can’t not be.
That’s what I liked about Alice. I’d had this shitter of a day and she just made me forget about everything. I’m in Free alone with her and soon get kicked off when the two minutes is up, so I log back in and she’s like still there alone, and I think we hit it off really well. She’s a nurse. She’s studying to be a nurse I think. There’s a lot of these girls say they’re students, doing this to make some extra, pay the rent, that kind of thing. It beats stacking shelves, says Alice.
I load up my account with 50 quid. That’s a lot of money in anyone’s book, but it lasts only like 15 minutes on this site. This site burns through money. You never have enough in your account.
That night I spend 50 with Alice for the first time and we don’t do anything but chat. She’s telling me about her day, and I’m telling her about mine, and before I know it, this clock appears and I’m on the count-down and it says I have to re-load my account to continue, but I don’t. So Alice and I say goodnight.
But I’m stoked. So I go to this free site I use and I found this film and I pulled myself off real quick after that I can tell you, and I smoke a cigarette out the window afterwards and flick through some TV but it’s all shit, and I eat some crackers and I drink some Coke and I can’t get Alice out my head, so I log back in and when I find her, I see that her sign’s gone red, that she’s in Private, and I wait a while, which turns out to be a real long time, and I’m thinking whoever this bloke is can afford more than 50 a go. So I leave her some feedback, and end it with three x’s and a smiley face. I hope she remembers me.
I didn’t get to see her for a few days after that. But when I log-in next time she’s in Free, and she remembers me. She’s all smiles. She says thanks for the feedback and blows me a kiss. I say I’ve been looking at her Profile. How much I like it.
Her Profile is like one of those questionnaires you see in magazines, only it’s about sex. Favourite position. First time. Wildest fuck. That kind of thing. It says she’s Sagitarius, that her favourite food is Italian, her favourite drink is Champagne and her favourite position is roast duck – which I’d never even heard of before. So I ask her and she tells me. She says she likes it like that best of all, that it makes her cum like mad every time, and I tell her I’d like to try it with her, and she laughs. One day, she says. One day.
For a moment we have nothing to say to one another. Then she pipes in with ”so what do I like?“ I tell her what I like and I can see she’s thinking. Maybe she’s thinking of doing it with me, I don’t know. I don’t think so. But I can see she’s listening. She’s nodding. Smiling and nodding.
Then this bloke comes into the room. Not the real room, the chat room. And she starts chatting with him, being all smiles, and I can see her still looking down the camera at me. I know she’s looking at me and trying to get rid of this guy. But I get thrown out of Free and by the time I get back she’s gone into Private.
Only I get this message from her from the system. Telling me to hang on. That she won’t be long. Not to disappear.
I load up my account with another 50 and wait for her to come free. I smoke maybe three cigarettes out the window before she comes free. I can’t help thinking.
When she’s free I waste no time and click the Go Into Private button and she’s there, all smiles again. She says sorry. She knew she wouldn’t be long with that guy, he’s a regular, and he’s quick with it, and she laughs like it’s a joke we share.
She asks me about the guy at work. So I tell her. I tell her he’s a jerk and how he’s making out everything is my fault to everyone else, and bad-mouthing me in front of people, and I’m like: No, that’s not right, but no one’s listening to me, and it’s like I’m in a jar, a fly in a jar. She says I shouldn’t let it get to me. That perhaps I need to relax. She asks me what I’d like. How she can help me relax.
I say nothing. I’m just looking at her brown eyes and the teddy with the heart on his T-shirt, on the bed behind her. I can see shapes on the wall. Ships I think. White ships on blue wallpaper. She slips a strap off her shoulder and lets it fall. Then the other one. All the time we’re not saying anything, and I’m watching her do this like it’s in slow motion and I’m thinking I don’t want her to go any further, not now, but I can’t say anything. She asks if I’m OK. I say my money’s running out. That I’ve got to go. And she looks really sad. I mean really sad. A bit angry really. Disappointed, I don’t know. She gives me her big eyes and pouts and this cute little wave and she’s gone.
That night I didn’t get much sleep. The Jennings business was rolling round my head. Jennings and Alice. I thought about a time when I hadn’t heard about Jennings and I didn’t know Alice, and it felt a long time ago even though it was only a week or so. I got up and made myself a cup of tea. I looked out the window while the kettle boiled. I could see my reflection and beyond it the reflection of the kitchen, and beyond that the street on which I live, and the yellow streetlights burning, and I think ”why don’t they do the streetlights with daylight bulbs?”.
I chain smoke five cigarettes until the pack is empty, all the time thinking about Alice. I’m thinking about the part of her Profile which says she did it for real with three guys at once, once. I don’t know if I’m jealous or mad. I picture her and I don’t want to picture her. I picture the teddy in the T-shirt on the bed. The blue wallpaper and ships and these three blokes and Alice.
I said I wouldn’t log-on, I told myself not to log-on, but I do and she’s On but in Private. I go back to bed and I think of her with three guys, and one of the guys is the guy from work giving me grief about the Jennings order.
When I wake up I feel like I’ve been asleep a long time. One of those real deep sleeps, not a hangover sleep, but almost like you’ve been held down, suffocated, dead sleeps.
At work, I avoid the guy that hates me. He clocks me once while I’m outside on a fag-break, but he’s miles away across the yard. I make like I’ve not seen him, like I’m just there having an innocent cigarette, which I am, and he disappears. I don’t see him again all day. I watch the construction guys in their yellow jackets. I count the buses. But while I’m there on my fag-break I decide to write to Alice. I go through everything I want to say and hope I don’t forget it before I have time to write it in an email and post it on the site for her. I get excited at the thought of her reading it.
Later, I load up 20 on the account and see if she’s around. She isn’t. So I post the message anyway and eat crackers. All the time after that I’m wondering if she’s read the message or not. I think maybe it was a stupid idea to give her my real name and mobile number. You don’t do that. It’s not what you do. All the same, I keep looking at my phone wanting her to ring or text but she doesn’t. She doesn’t appear in Chat all night either. It takes three days for her to reply. I get a message on the site. She says she really looks forward to spending time to together. She hopes that the bloke at work stops being shitty. She says she likes our relationship just as it is and will never meet anyone in real life. That’s not what she does.
She says see you soon and ends with a winking face and seven x’s.
So I sit at my PC and I go on the site and look for her. When I do, she’s already in Private. So I find this other girl called Savrine, in Romania. Savrine doesn’t speak good English. And later, I dream I’m alone on a ship, on a blue sea.
Robert A. Crampton
Robert is working on a novel called The Thames Voyager and a body of short prose pieces called Cache. He has previously written a novel called The Absence of People, and a book for children called What’s the plan, Stan?, as well as several plays—one of which won an award.