Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Wrong Telletubby

By Adam Macqueen, Christmas 2010

Richard’s son stopped speaking to him a week after he died.

He had got into the habit of logging in to Facebook first thing every morning, when the weight of what had happened made it difficult to do anything, just to see once more the last thing his son would ever say to him.

Luke Davies cant wait to hit the surf this w/e!!!!!
23 October at 23:08
Comment/Like


And then on the day of his funeral, after he stood and watched his child disappear impossibly into the ground, he got home and fired up the computer only to find he had taken his final message with him. His face was still there, grinning out of some overcrowded fresher’s-week bar crawl complete with the remnants of his year-off tan and the wispy beginnings of a goatee beard he would never get to see in real life. And his name was still there, and the photos he was tagged in that had become so familiar, and the news that he had changed his location to Loughborough and become a member of Loughborough University and the Department of Modern Languages, and the Athletics Soc. and the Indie Soc. and the Windsurfing Soc., and he was attending Fresh’n’Wild at the Union and the Poly Bop in the Cellar Bar and was now friends with dozens of people Richard had never heard of. And there was even a message from the very same day from someone called Hal Barnett asking if “NE1 got spare car space down to Plym on sat??????”, but his status update was gone. Kaput. Disappeared. His son had gone silent.

Richard supposed they just cleared themselves after a while. Now he thought about it he had put one up when he first joined – “Richard Davies is not sure about this newfangled technology!” or some such, and that wasn’t there any more, even though he didn’t remember deleting it. He only had a handful of friends – he’d only really joined the thing because he thought it would be a good way for him and Luke to keep in touch after he moved out – and most of them never bothered to update their status things either, apart from Bob at work who seemed to put some rubbish about what he was eating or doing or watching on telly every couple of hours, till he’d even thought about deleting him as a friend except he knew he would notice.

He sat staring at the computer screen for so long that the white light that bleached his face dropped to a dull grey and then switched itself off completely and he became aware of the shadows and the cold around him and the fact that he hadn’t switched a single light on in the house, let alone the central heating. He twitched the mouse to bring the computer back to life, and clicked at random on one of the links in front of him: the Windsurfing Soc.

And he was so glad he had. The first thing he saw beneath the logo was a message from someone called Alistair Thorne – he remembered an Alistair from the funeral: a nice lad, he had come over to talk to him and Luke’s mother specially.

As many of you know, the Society suffered a terrible loss last weekend when Luke Davies, one of our newest members, drowned in a freak accident at the BUCS event in Plymouth. I know all members will join me in passing on the Society’s deepest condolences to his friends and family.
A party from the University will be attending his funeral in Guildford this Saturday at 3pm; I will be going on behalf of the society. There are still places in the minibus for any of Luke’s friends who would like to attend – contact Dr Buckland for details.
I’ve also started this tribute page for those who will not be able to attend so they can leave their memories of Luke.


Richard clicked on the link and let out a sound that was somewhere between a gasp and a sob: here was his son again, in a photo he had not seen before, in his wetsuit, grinning and waving at the camera on a shingle beach with sails in the background. The beard was a lot more impressive. This must have been taken on the day the accident happened. It was like he had been given another chance to see him.

He scrolled down, his eyes misting as he read through the messages beneath. There were dozens of them.

I only knew Luke a few weeks but he was one of the nicest people to me in the first week, showing me how to work the cooker in our kitchen and rescuing me in the bar more than once like a true gentleman! I can’t believe he is gone and I will miss him so much

I was at school with Luke for five years and was lookin forward to seeing him at xmas; can’t believe I will never see him again. He was such a great bloke, neva had a bad word for anyone and was a real team player – we played rugby together in the First XI that took the Charter cup for the first time in four years. But more than that he was a great laugh and a superb guy. RIP buddy

RIP Big Man. Never see his like again

Just heard the news I am so gutted. Raced against Luke many times but only managed to beat him once – and that was because he was having treatment on his ankle at the time! He was true sportsman – one in a million.


He recognised some of the names; one or two of the pictures looked familiar. But there were so many people here who he had never heard of, people from around the country, around the world even – there was a chap here writing from Malaysia – and his son had touched every one of their lives enough that they had come here to pay their respects to him.

He left the computer to blow his nose, splash water on his face and get himself a whisky. He wasn’t certain he actually liked whisky, but he generally had a bottle in for occasions that demanded it, and this was surely one of them.

Once he had located the bit where you could leave a message – he knew it was right because a little picture of himself came up beside it – he took a good twenty minutes or more to compose it properly, half-worrying that there would be a deadline on these too and it would go out there half-finished, making him look demented. In the end he kept it simple:


Hello everyone this is Luke’s dad. Just wanted to say how much these messages mean to me and our family. Luke was so loved and touched so many people wherever he went. I will miss my son so much but it is a great comfort to me to come to this page and read all your memories of him. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.


He took out the bit about “our family” before he pressed Comment. Denise had always hated him speaking for her. He sent her the link to the tribute page instead. She was on Facebook – though she kept some of her pages protected – but he wasn’t sure how to send links, so he ended up emailing it to her instead.

After then he sat up looking through Luke’s photo albums for a few more hours until he’d finished the whisky and he suddenly realised it was three in the morning and he still hadn’t switched the central heating on.

--

When he checked the page the next evening three of Luke’s friends had added messages after his one. He didn’t recognise any of the names, but it was very nice of them all to send their condolences.

--

He went on checking the page every morning before he went into work. It did him good to see Luke’s grinning face first thing, gave him something to get out of bed for, and he could hardly look at it in the office after what he’d said to the youngsters about not using Facebook or Twitter or any of the other ones during working hours. Besides, if he started looking at it at work he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to do anything else.

On the Tuesday there was a short message from Denise at the bottom of the page –

As Luke’s mother it gives me great strength to read the messages here thank you all god bless xx


– so he knew she’d got the email. She hadn’t written anything back to him, but the counsellor had said there would probably be elements of blaming the other, and it wasn’t as if they’d exactly been having many civil conversations before the accident. Although he had to admit she’d been a tower of strength at the funeral.

--

Towards the end of the week he got a private message. He knew because a little icon he’d never noticed at the top of the page lit up red and when he clicked on it it said he had a message from someone called Sadie. She was a friend of Luke’s from university – the girl he had helped with the cooker – and she said how sorry she was not just about his death but not to have had a chance to talk to Richard at the funeral as well. She told him a bit more about what Luke had been like at university – apparently a whole bunch of them had gone back to his room on the first night after the bar had closed and he had cooked everyone cheese toasties and made so much tea that she had felt guilty and taken him round some of her spare teabags the next day and they had been good friends from then on. She wasn’t on the same course as him but they’d hung out, as she put it, lots ever since, and she’d seen him just the night before he went off on the windsurfing trip and how excited he was about it and how he’d shown her his new wetsuit and all his equipment all laid out and ready to be packed.

It wasn’t clear from the message whether they’d been boyfriend and girlfriend but he’d got the impression she’d probably have liked to have been. Whichever way it wasn’t for him to ask, so when he wrote back he tried to keep it quite chatty and said how nice it was of her to get in touch and how much he appreciated it, and how it helped to hear about how happy Luke had been in the weeks before he had died and everything he’d been up to. And then he said please keep in touch if you’d like to, and she wrote back and said that would be nice and then added in an apologetic sort of PS that she’d already been down to visit her own parents twice since Luke had died even though at the beginning of term she couldn’t wait to get away, but losing him made her feel totally different and more appreciative of each day. And he wrote back to her and said if that was the lesson that Luke’s friends took away from him dying then perhaps something good could come from it after all, and when he switched the computer off there was a part of him that really believed it, too. Which was progress.

The lad from the windsurfing club wrote to him too, a week or so later. His message was a bit more stilted and formal, but then the insurance claim and the investigation into the accident was still going through, so that was understandable, especially since he was writing partly in an official capacity to say that they were going to put up a commemorative panel in Luke’s memory in their clubhouse, and he would very much like both Richard and Denise to come to the unveiling the following term if they were able. Richard wrote straight back and said he couldn’t speak for his ex-wife but he would definitely be there, and he went out the next day and bought a diary for the following year to put the date in, which meant he was Looking Ahead, and that was definitely progress too.

--

Time passed. Mostly it seemed to go at a glacial pace. When a couple of companionly pints in the Rose and Crown had loosened his tongue and his inhibitions he admitted to Mike and Eleanor that it sometimes felt like he was wading through treacle. And then one day he looked up and noticed that the Christmas lights had gone up in the shopping precinct and it was more than a month since his son died.

He still checked Facebook every day. There hadn’t been any more entries on the tribute page, and he knew all the old ones off by heart by now, but it still gave him comfort to read his favourite ones. He sometimes clicked through to Sadie’s page just to see what she was up to, and she seemed to be getting on fine. She’d got a part in the end of term panto – she was studying Drama and English – and there were all sorts of messages from her other friends but he felt a bit weird reading through them. He was sure she wouldn’t mind him keeping an avuncular eye on her, but he drew the line at clicking on any of her photographs. Unless they were ones that Luke was tagged in, of course, but it wasn’t like there were going to be any more of those.

And then, all of a sudden, there was. Not on Sadie’s page, but around half way down the main page you got when you logged in, lost among all the stuff about what Bob thought about last night’s Apprentice and people inviting him to play Farmville or Golden Gems and the updates from Audi and Genesis Official and the golf club that he couldn’t work out how to switch off. It was way down on the page even though it said it had only been posted 7 hours ago, and it was all he could do to keep his hand steady enough on the mouse to actually click on it.

He couldn’t make head or tail of what he saw. It was just a black rectangle. It looked like whoever had taken it’s flash hadn’t gone off, or they’d pressed the button by mistake, but why would they bother to put it up on Facebook, let alone tag it with Luke’s name? He moved the cursor around the picture to see where Luke was supposed to be, but the square that lit up with his name was just a dark patch in more darkness. He even tried turning the brightness right up on his screen, but it didn’t help him make much out. All you could see was a bit of what might be a chessboard, or a floor covered in black and white tiles, and the rest was all darkness and shadows.



He was hovering over the monitor trying to look at it from a different angle that might help him make out more when he spotted it and thumped down heavily into the protesting chair. He could taste
bile in the back of his throat. He had been looking at the wrong thing.

Posted by Luke Davies, 11 December


It was impossible. It was awful. It was grotesque.

When the hammering in his head had subsided enough for him to be able to think, he tried to convince himself it must just be a horrible coincidence. Could it be that there was another Luke Davies on Facebook, and he had stumbled across him because of crossed wires somewhere in the system? He was always getting things suggesting he become friends with all sorts of people he had never heard of: what if Facebook had decided he ought to look at this person’s photographs because they had the same surname?

No. He clicked on the name, and it took him to the familiar page with his son’s smiling face still staring out from the top of it. And there it was, at the top of the page just above the message from the 23 October that he supposed would stay there forever, the little black rectangle with its impossible date.

He felt like he couldn’t breathe. How could this be happening? It must be a mistake. It had to be. He forced himself to walk away from the computer and the black hole burning in the middle of the screen, went into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of icy cold water which he made himself down in one. The glass skittered across the draining board when he put it down, his hands were shaking so much.

He forced himself to think about it logically. His son was dead. The fact that Facebook said it was him who had put the photograph there just meant someone had posted it using his account. They warned you every time you went on to it about not leaving yourself logged in, and that must be what had happened. Someone was using his computer, and he’d left his Facebook open – because why wouldn’t he, it’s not like he knew he wasn’t coming back – and they’d accidentally put up the photo up on his account rather than their own. It was a simple mistake, and they would probably be mortified when they realised.

Which would be a fine explanation, if he wasn’t looking at his son’s laptop right now. It was sitting on top of the box of things he had collected from the hall of residence the week after his death. He hadn’t had the strength to go through them yet.

There could be another explanation. He went back to his own computer, averting his eyes from the inky blackness in the centre of the screen, and clicked through to Sadie’s profile instead. He had three goes at writing a message to her before he gave up. Her mobile number was on there. It wasn’t too late. Not for a student.

“Hello?” She took a while to pick up, probably unsure about the unfamiliar number.

“Sadie? Hello. Sorry to phone you, it’s Richard Davies – Luke’s dad.”

“Oh!” She sounded taken aback.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, I hope you’re not busy.”

“No. No, I’m just – bit of an essay crisis.” A nervous giggle.

“Oh dear.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he came straight to the point. “Look, it’s just – something funny’s happened with Luke’s Facebook profile, and I’m such an old fuddy-duddy when it comes to this sort of thing, and I wondered if you might be able to help explain it.”

“Ok.” She sounded dubious.

“You see this photo has come up, and it says its been posted from his account. You might have seen it.”

“No… I – I haven’t looked at – I don’t think I’ve checked Facebook today.”

He glanced down at her profile. There were several entries posted during the last 24 hours. But he understood what she was trying to not to say, and he was grateful for it.

“Well, it’s nothing really, I’m sure it’s just a mistake. But I was wondering if he sometimes used, I don’t know, other people’s computers to look at Facebook. In case he’d left himself logged in, do you see?”

“Oh. Right. Yes. Um… I think so, probably. I mean we all use the computers in the library sometimes, even though we’re not meant to.” She giggled. “And sometimes, you know, if you’re round at someone else’s room and you’re expecting a message or something.”

Absurdly, this little insight into his son’s life made his eyes start to prickle. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Well, I’m sure that’s what’s happened. I expect whoever it wasn’t didn’t even realise they were logged in as him until they put the photo up. It’s just the one photo - they probably logged out as soon as they realised. Nothing to worry about.”

“I expect so. What a horrible shock for you though!” She was a nice girl. Thoughtful.

“It was a bit.”

“What was it a photo of? It’s just – you know, I might recognise the people in it.”

“Oh – well – nothing really. That’s the funny thing. It’s just a sort of black hole. I don’t know why anyone would bother putting it up there.”

“How weird.” Her words made him suddenly conscious of how weird this conversation must be for her, and a bit of a fool for making such a fuss.

“I’d better let you go. Sorry to disturb you.”

“Don’t worry!”

“Everything going alright with you?”

“Yeah. Well. You know. Essays!”

“Must be nearly the end of term, isn’t it?”

“Next week. I can’t wait to go home.”

He thought he managed to get the phone down before she could tell he was crying.

--

He made himself forget all about it. He’d even stopped checking Facebook every day, figuring it was time for him to move on like Luke’s friends were obviously managing to. He started playing golf again. And he’d even said he’d go round to Mike and Eleanor’s for Christmas Day because they wouldn’t leave it until he agreed.

And then this.

Luke Davies is cold. So cold.

He just kept staring at it.

15 December at 02.14
Comment/Like


A wave of anger rushed through him. Too right he would comment.

Richard Davies you sick bastard. How dare you?

How could anyone do this? The worst thing was that it must be someone who knew about Luke, who knew what had happened. That message wasn’t the sort of thing you would put if you just stumbled across a stranger’s Facebook still open on a random computer. It was deliberate. It was cruel.

Unless – unless. It had turned cold the night before. He had felt it when he got up for the loo in the middle of the night, and the frost had been so heavy on his windscreen in the morning he had been late for work clearing it off. Was there any way this could be the same thing he’d assumed had happened before – some poor innocent student stumbling into the library wanting to share the change in the weather with his friends, opening up Facebook and not noticing that it was still open under somebody else’s name? Was that even possible after all this time?

His finger hovered over the mouse. He looked at his son’s smiling face, and his own face below it. Calling him a bastard. If he clicked Comment then it would be there for ever. It would be the first thing anyone saw on Luke’s page. His own father, insulting his memory.

He deleted the words, and clicked away from the page for good measure. He was going to have to get Luke’s account closed down. That was the only thing for it.

He was up until four in the morning trying to work out how.

--

Richard Davies This is Luke’s father. I do not know if someone has left the comment above on Luke’s account by mistake. I hope so because the alternative – that someone has been sick and cruel enough to write it as some kind of joke – is unthinkable. I have contacted Facebook about having the comment removed. If it happens again I will have no choice but to get Luke’s account permanently deleted.
16 December at 19:04

Several hours went past before there was any reply.

Luke Davies dad?
17 December at 05:12


--

The counsellor had told him there were four stages of grief he would have to work through before he started accepting Luke was gone: one of them was anger, and in a funny way it was good to have an excuse to give that full vent. He rang work and said he wouldn’t be in for the morning – instead he headed for the police station and refused to leave until he saw someone who would take his problem seriously. In the end he talked to a nice lady sergeant who was very sympathetic but pointed out that there wasn’t a lot they could do unless the messages were actually threatening, and he had to admit that a picture of a black space and a single word, however upsetting, didn’t really count compared to some of the cases she mentioned.

He had even less luck with Facebook. It turned out to be virtually impossible to speak to anyone real in charge of the website; instead he went round and round clicking links to Report A Comment and Report a Photo and getting drop-down menus which offered all sorts of reasons why something might be abusive or offensive but none of them were Someone Is Pretending To Be My Dead Son. He tried all the links for Compromised Accounts because that seemed to fit the bill but they turned out to be all about asking for money and things like spam and phishing which he didn’t really understand but was pretty sure weren’t what this was.

And then, while he was still online working his way through all this stuff – could they tell, he wondered? – came the next message.

Luke Davies is lost
a few seconds ago


The policewoman had warned Richard about reacting only encouraging whoever it was, but he was so furious he couldn’t help himself. He pulled up his son’s profile and sent him a private message – he knew his way round the website by now, that was one thing to come out of all this.

Whoever you are and whyever you are doing this, just stop and let my son rest in peace. It is sick. I have been to the police about you.


He sat for a long time staring at the screen but there was no reply.

--

As soon as he spotted it he had no idea how he had missed it. He had spent so long staring at the stark black words on the page he had taken no notice of the grey text beneath it, save to note its inexorable march into the past: about an hour ago; 2 hours ago; 3, 8, 19 hours ago; Monday at 00:13; 20 December at 00:13. And he couldn’t even swear the little symbol had been there all the time, because he had just assumed it was part of the website, one of the many little hieroglyphs littering Facebook that he didn’t understand and didn’t even notice any more.

But even he could tell what this one represented: it was a mobile phone.

Luke had an iPhone. Denise had bought it for him as a going-away present. It wasn’t with the rest of his stuff which was still sitting in the spare room. Richard tried ringing it, but he just got a message saying the phone was out of range.

If the messages were coming from Luke’s phone that meant someone had stolen it, which meant there had been a crime after all, which meant the police could do something.

His heart was pounding: he felt more alive than he had in weeks. He forced himself to sit down and think things through logically. Luke would have had his phone with him when he went windsurfing: obviously he wouldn’t have taken it with him on the water, so he must have left it with his clothes and stuff when he got changed into his wetsuit. So what had happened to it after the accident?

The first person he thought of was Sadie, but he quickly dismissed her; she hadn’t been there when Luke died. And besides, he seen on Facebook a few days before that she had updated her relationship status with a little red heart next to some new boy’s name, so he wasn’t inclined to go running to her for help. Thinking about it, she had never even bothered to mention Luke using his phone to update Facebook when he had phoned to ask her about it specifically. Maybe someone didn’t know his son quite as well as she liked to pretend to.

Instead he pulled up the boy Alistair from the Windsurfing club. He would know what had been done with Luke’s stuff. Judging by his messages and the dozens of photographs he had posted in the past few days – by mobile, he was spotting the symbol everywhere now – he was off skiing somewhere, but he had put his phone number on there like all the young ones did.

The dialling tone sounded foreign. He got the answering service, which wasn’t all that surprising considering what time of night it was. In the end the message he left was so long and so complicated that it cut him off and he had to ring back to finish it.

While he was waiting he logged on and left another message under his previous one:

I know that you have my son’s phone, and you should be aware that I have informed the police that it has been stolen and they are investigating. I would advise you to stop these heartless messages which can only increase the trouble you are going to find yourself in. And to take a long hard look at yourself.
Luke’s dad


--

“Richard Davies?”

“Yes?” He was so eager to take the call that he ignored the glares from everyone else in the meeting and ducked out into the corridor.

“This is Declan Thorne. You’ve been leaving messages on my son Alistair’s phone.”

“Yes. I wasn’t sure if he was getting them, so I kept –”

“No, he received them. Listen, Mr Davies, I’m very sorry for your loss, but you must appreciate that your son’s death was very upsetting for Alistair as well–”

“No, I know that. I’m not trying to – it’s just–” He could hear himself gabbling, and forced himself to take a deep breath. “I need to know what happened to Luke’s possessions. The clothes he was wearing when he got changed to go out on the water, and the stuff he had with him. You see I’ve been getting these messages–”

“Alistair tells me that he passed everything that was in your son’s locker on to his mother.”

“But did that include his iPhone? Because I think someone took it, you see.”

An icy pause. “My son is not in the habit of stealing, Mr Davies. Especially not from those he considered friends.”

“No, I don’t think it was him, of course, but could anyone else–”

“Now I’d appreciate it if you would leave us to enjoy our holiday in peace.”

He was dialling Denise’s number as soon as the man put the phone down on him. The meeting could go on without him.

--

It took him all day to track her down. It turned out she had already gone to her sister’s for Christmas. Elaine wasn’t best pleased to take his call. In fact she refused to let him speak to his ex-wife until he told her exactly what he wanted.

She was gone for a long time. He could hear carols playing in the background.

“Richard?” There weren’t many tidings of comfort and joy in Denise’s voice.

“Denise, I need to know what happened to Luke’s phone. I know the boy from the windsurfing club gave you all the stuff that was in his locker, but was his phone there? It’s just–”

She sounded bewildered, but mostly furious. “We buried it with him, Richard. You know this.”

His head reeled. “I… I didn’t.”

“We discussed it at the undertakers. How he was going to be in his best clothes, and have all his best stuff with him.”

He did vaguely remember something. Discussions about the watch they had given Luke for his eighteenth.

“Is that all that you wanted?”

“Yes.”

She didn’t bother to wish him a happy Christmas.

--
The phone you have dialled is out of range. The phone you have dialled is out of range. Every time he called the number the recorded woman told him the same thing.

But it was obviously still working for some things.

Dad please dont be angry
23 December at 23:56


im lost and im scared
Today at 01:32


Its so dark down here
Today at 02:26


Dad please my battery is going please come i cant find the way out and its so cold
About an hour ago


The only light in the house was the cold grey glare of the computer screen. The only movement Richard had made in hours was to jog the mouse to revive the computer each time it dipped into darkness.

When he finally leaned forward it was all he could do to force his fingers to type.

Richard Davies where are you?

The answer came back within seconds.

I cant tell its so dark and I just keep going round

He bit his lip so hard that he could taste blood. His fingers drummed on the keyboard.

Richard Davies how do I know that you are my son?

The minutes ticked by.

When I was little you bought me the purple tellytubby for Christmas and I wouldn’t stop crying because I wanted Dipsy


He felt like the walls were closing in on him. It was hard to breathe.

please dad please come im all on my own

He reached out with trembling fingers to find the off-button on the side of the monitor and plunged the screen into blackness.

--
It would be several days before the police conceded to the increasingly noisy entreaties of the friends Richard Davies was supposed to be spending Christmas with to look into his disappearance, and well into the New Year before a uniformed constable bothered to come round to talk to his neighbours. They vaguely recalled seeing him packing his car on Christmas Eve and assumed he’d been going away to stay with family. Pushed a bit more the husband admitted remembering being impressed by how well Richard seemed to be preparing for the journey: it was forecast the mildest Christmas in years without a hint of snow but he’d been packing a shovel and blankets into the boot of his car.

It would be weeks before anyone thought to check Richard’s Facebook account – still longer before they went back through his son’s, and turned up such long forgotten items as the questionnaire he had filled out which included the question what is your earliest childhood memory? But if anyone had bothered to check Richard’s profile for the day after he was last seen, they would hardly have spotted anything out of the ordinary:

Bob Hardcastle fell asleep during the Queen!!! Is this treason????
25 December at 16:44


Bob Hardcastle phew! Now I understand why they call it stuffing!
25 December at 14:23

Sadie Barraclough is loving her presents!!!
25 December at 11:36


Guildford Golf Club seasons greetings to all our members
25 December at 09:50


Bob Hardcastle merry xmas every1!
25 December at 07:47


Luke Davies and Richard Davies were tagged in a photograph




Richard Davies is having a family reunion
25 December at 04:48