'Here, that's great, lad,' mumbled Derek, barely audible over his grandson's babbling. His eyes remained inches away fr...


   'Here, that's great, lad,' mumbled Derek, barely audible over his grandson's babbling. His eyes remained inches away from the blue glow of his computer screen. He was Googling donkey shows.

   Derek's grandson Harry was reciting the fourth division table out loud, making sure his grandfather could hear every result. Although Derek's hearing was starting to buckle under the pressure of passing time, he never let on to the kids that it wasn't bad enough yet that he couldn't hear the television unassisted because then he couldn't pretend not to have heard them when they asked a question he didn't want to answer or brought up a subject he didn't care to discuss. He was happy for Harry to read the table out to him, as long as he didn't start reading what was on the computer screen.

   'Charlton nil, Crystal Palace three,' Harry practically shouted across the room. He accented certain syllables in a way that Derek had heard many teenagers do in recent years, putting on some accent he was never brought up with just to fit in with friends that Derek can never imagine himself choosing when he was Harry’s age. Harry was fifteen, an age at which boys are normally loth to spend time alone with their grandfathers; but since the death of Ethyl, Derek’s wife, Harry’s mum has never been the same. She spends one half of her time staring into space, and the other half crying and yelling incomprehensible curses at Harry without reason. Grief has turned her into a wreck, a shell of the mother she once was; and as such, Harry avoids her like the plague.

   ‘Chelsea two, Bromley three,’ he shouts, typing a text message into his phone.

   Ethyl’s death was three years ago now, and although Derek still grieved for her, he had dealt with it in a far different way than his daughter. At first, he had sunk so far back into his shell that he feared even leaving the house. He would lock himself in his bedroom and hardly explore the house at all. When the mail came, he would throw it straight in the bin, fearing that it might hold more bad news he wasn’t ready for. Danger lurked around every corner, in every cupboard, in the face of every stranger that wandered past in the street. He read books, he wrote short poems about the pain he was feeling, and he lost two stones in those months.

   Then he found a present that his daughter and her son had bought him the Christmas before Ethyl died. Still boxed, never even looked at for longer than a few minutes, it was a laptop computer that Derek had no idea how to use and no idea what to use for. He unwrapped it that day, and invited his grandson round to teach him what to do with it. He’d heard somewhere that you could send letters to people on the other side of the world for free, in seconds, using one of these; and he wanted to learn how to do that, and then more.

   Over the weeks that followed, Derek gradually discovered the Internet. Having become a terrified skeleton following the death of his wife, he fattened up again into a chubby explorer, emerging from his shell and surfing everywhere from the Amazon to Expedia, from Adult Friend Finder to Flickr. He found out about karate and yoga, LCD screens and time travel, cats and literature, religion and India and hacking and boilers and Canada and wars and pregnancy and everything else that exists in the bottomless pit of the blogosphere. Even stuck inside his house, he was freed by the world inside his computer screen.

   And after it dragged him out of his shell, the Internet dragged him out of his house. He arranged French lessons for himself, cookery classes, a writing club, a skydiving trip, and holidays to every European city you or I could name off the top of our heads. He learned to play guitar (although not that well), he bought a games console that he never even played, and he went to plays he never even knew had been written. He even fucked a prostitute, a lovely young lady who it turned out had been in the year above his own daughter at the very same school. And now, the same Internet that had brought him all those new experiences had Derek discovering his favourite new topics yet: donkey shows and Tijuana.

   Derek had always heard that curiosity killed the cat. But for him, curiosity killed the pussy. The terrified wretch he had become was slaughtered mercilessly by his newfound thirst for knowledge.

   ‘Grimsby four, Man United one,’ mumbled Harry.

   ‘YES!’ Ejaculated Derek, at the top of his rusted lungs. Harry jumped out of his skin, and Derek couldn’t stop coughing until his laughter broke through as the more powerful convulsion.

   ‘Is you alright, granddad?’

   Derek looked up from his laptop screen. Still chuckling and coughing and spluttering and guffawing, he met Harry’s eye across the room that hadn’t been tidied or vacuumed for the last three months, what with Derek spending so little time in it; and he said, ‘Yes, son. I just like Grimsby, that’s all.’

   But it wasn’t that. It wasn’t a love of Grimsby at all. It was the amazing price that Derek had just got for a return flight to Tijuana, Mexico.

You may also like

No comments: