ATSF's technosoap for the digital millennium in twelve chapplets
Meg managed to get her marking sorted into the correct piles and mark two more scripts before the girls arrived back from the shops. That left her with about ten to do before the new deadline for Heather the next day.
“When on earth will I manage them?” she sighed inwardly as she stood up ready to go and prepare dinner.
“Mu ... um. We’re back!” Brid shrieked. “Food’s on the table,” followed by what sounded like an elephant stampede two at a time up the stairs, running along the corridor and the slamming of Brid’s bedroom door.
Meg arrived in the nick of time in the kitchen to catch a wandering green pepper falling off the table aided and abetted by Dipity. He scooted off the table and through the cat flap at the sound of the door opening leaving Seran looking first at the shopping bag with its semi-spilt contents and then at Meg.
“Really! Haven’t I got enough to contend with without ...,” she didn’t finish her sentence as she felt the boom of the bass beat from The Crooze through her feet before the blast of their voices filtered through the walls.
“Oh! No! Save me from it all!” she pleaded through gritted teeth as she attacked the shopping. Seran put her head on one side as Meg pulled out the salmon fillets.
“Ah ... ha! So Dipity thought he’d be getting some of these, did he?” she said in a low voice confidentially to Seran. “Not a chance!” she pronounced emphatically.
At that moment Tom was dragging Peter unceremoniously into an off-license. Peter looked decidedly uncomfortable when usually he just looked blank. Tom had droned on and on since they’d got in the car. Peter knew as much about Tom’s childhood and family history as if several researchers had spent months putting together a documentary about it.
“... Right! Well what’s your drink, then? Don’t worry about what we might be eating. We don’t stand on ceremony ... and ... ehrrr ... um ... well I don’t know what we’ll be eating ... so maybe we’d better get a bit of everything ... wine? beer? other?” Tom peered at Peter for the first time and noted the wild distracted look.
“Ah ... ha! This would be a challenge for Meg,” he mused, never associating The Terror’s present demeanour with himself.
“Red ...” was as far as Peter got in the first reply he dared to frame.
“YES! Great choice ...you choose two bottles of some red and I’ll snatch some other stuff to cover all ...”
Tom hesitated as a distant memory of Meg floated through his mind saying “Get what you like” and the aftermath when he did just that. He’d turned up with a bottle of Tequila that was on special offer—influenced heavily by the salesman who had reminded him how good Tequila Sunrises were. It became evident that he should have interpreted the instruction as “Get what the other people will like” naturally.
Women seemed to have and understand so many different things from what he’d always believed were normal conversations. They had their own code which, however much he tried to decipher, was elusive and made him feel bemused, inadequate even. Code after all was his area of expertise but women seemed to work from different bases—universes perhaps.
“... tastes?” offered the salesman glancing nervously from a demented-looking Tom to the closest he’d seen to a vampire scouring the red wine section. “... near where 'Bulls' Blood' was, of course ...” he thought to himself.
“Tastes,” murmured Tom trying to come to grips with some conversation he’d obviously missed from the sales guy. He was expected to say something to him from the expectant way the guy was looking at him.
“Yes. Lot’s of different tastes aren’t there—but no Tequila. Thank you.”
Both Peter and the salesman looked hard at Tom who had turned to the beer section.
“......Dum...dum-ter-dum..der.dum (der-der-der)...Der....dum-ter-dum...der.dum (der-der-der)... Derrr ...dum-ter-dum.. der der der der err der der ta dumteedumteedum. Dum...dum-ter-dum der.dum(der-der-der)...Der....dum-ter-dum...der.dum (der-der-der)... Derrr ...dum-ter-dum.. der.dum der der der dumtee dumtee dumtee dumterdum. Dee dee deedee dee, dee derdumderdumdee dee dee.......”
Meg was juggling preparing vegetables and marinading the salmon while tripping over the cats and joining in with Rameau on the classical music station. She’d balanced The Crooze to some extent but every now and then the bass beat seemed to penetrate to her annoyance. Dipity had sneaked back into the kitchen to watch the salmon fishing opportunities. He moved quietly across the kitchen, sitting first on the mat by the back door and then looping round to his favourite chair on the other side of the room. Meanwhile Seran completed the loop in tandem but from the opposite end. And so they switched with one eye on the salmon and the other on each other. They settled down in the respective positions once the marinaded salmon was put in the fridge. The baroque rhythmic vegetable chopping session wasn’t of interest.
Brid came in and scooped Dipity up from his chair, sat on it herself, dumped him on her lap and tickled his ears expertly. She’d decided to make one last attempt to get herself and Faith out of the dinner.
“Da da dada da, da dada dada dada ahaa ...”
“I’m sure we won’t contribute much to this dinner..Faith and me ... it can’t be that important. I hate stilted small talk. It’s so ...” she searched for the words to describe her strong emotions.
“Da da da-ah da-ah ahaa ahaa dumteedumteedum .. .Adult? ... der dum der dum (der der der) ...”suggested Meg hitting rather below the belt.
“Mum! Honestly! You know you can’t stand it either," parried Brid.
“Ummm ... yes ... possibly but you have to acquire the knack sometime so ... dumdeedum da da ...”
Brid pulled a face and Dipity responded with one too.
“It isn’t fair. You’ll use us as your talking points to provide your small talk and expect us to sit there and take it. So what can we do that will be okay—talk about our respective parents, I don’t think?”
Meg reached over to turn the radio down. She stopped crooning and cutting the vegetables simultaneously. She unconsciously waved the knife in the air towards Brid.
“Ber ber ber Paaaaaaa, ber ber ber Paaaaaaa” The Crooze reverberated in the background.
“Well, in a way I suppose you’re right. It does make things a little easier having you there at the beginning and yes, we will probably refer to you. What are we meant to do- ignore you? ...”
Brid opened her mouth but Meg continued.
“... I suppose we could substitute the cats on your chairs and use them as safe talking points except it isn’t acceptable, is it?...or have you any stuffed animals left in your room anywhere we might borrow to help this dinner guest, this guy your Dad’s trying to get to know, label us as completely insane? ...”
“Now I’ve started her off ...” Brid thought, knowing better than to interrupt the flow.
“What are the alternatives then? Pretend you don’t exist ... that you’re out of the house ... that it's your Dad and me playing The Crooze fit for the whole street to hear?” Meg crescendoed.
“BERber BER err-er, BERber BER err-er” The Crooze were right on cue. Faith was obviously enjoying her favourite track.
“... don’t you offer to go out, either. Your Dad invited this guy home for a bit of family atmosphere - goodness knows why—but he has, and that’s what he’ll get—poor thing. We come across as weird what-ever we do. Are there any parents of your friends you’ve met that you rate as even okay?”
“Ah a direct question that gives me the in,” thought Brid.
“Well, yes. There’s ...”she hesitated no one coming to mind immediately as the obvious choice. “... Gary’s parents.”
“And what’s so different about them that teenagers think they’re okay?” Meg was genuinely interested in the answer as Gary was top of her list as a difficult teen—so how could his parents have the answer?
“They’d pay us to get out of the house so we wouldn’t embarrass them - cool huh?” Brid had slid off the chair and was making her escape to report back to Faith, knowing the tirade the answer would bring.
“You minx. Right that’s it. You and Faith will be the objects of ...”
“BER BOOMber BER BOOMberr-er ... Berboomb ...” The Crooze pounded loudly as the kitchen door was opened and then shut very quickly, cutting Meg’s response off.
“Bringgg Bringggg,” caused the cats and her to look round at the phone.
Tom had finally realised once back in his car that The Terror was a captive and couldn’t get out of coming to dinner. He didn’t have to babble on. Peter—usually happy with silence—now found Tom’s lack of verbal diahorrea disconcerting. He kept looking at him sideways.
“Manic!” he concluded.
“Shifty!” Tom concluded of Peter.
The Terror actually did look terrified as Tom swerved into another parking space as they drove out of the car park and slammed on the brakes.
“Better just warn Meg how many minutes she’s got before we arrive. She’s a stickler for timing in the kitchen and cooking,” he smiled as he adjusted his hands-free and pushed his mobile button.
“Meg. Me. Just leaving the off-licence so we’ll be there in about ... 10 minutes," he said confidently as he checked his watch.
“Yes. Got everything just in case. No, No Tequila ... really! Other special offer? Don’t think so. Can’t remember him mentioning any. Had you mentioned something else then? Did I miss something again? Good. Right. See you soon.”
Tom grinned sheepishly at Peter as he disconnected himself from the mobile and started the engine.
“Frightening really. We sound increasingly like my parents did. I suppose you’re counting your blessings that you’re still footloose and fancy free! Not for long though, I’m sure. Got a ... ummm ... a ...” Tom began confidently and then degenerated. He had been about to ask about a girlfriend but then realised that he didn’t know Peter’s sexual predilections at all and that assuming he’d be fixed up with a woman might be an insult. Life was harder now, he reckoned.
Peter glanced at Tom cringing, expecting the end of the question.
“... a ... any hobbies?” fluffed Tom.
A tinge of a smile passed over Peter’s features. His own father would never have managed to dodge that chasm.
“Music?” Peter offered to tempt Tom off again. He wasn’t sure whether he preferred the babbling or the silence now.
“Ah! Yes! Music...I used to play the...”
Meg was panicking as usual. She wasn’t a natural cook and didn’t really like meeting people for the first time under these circumstances.
“Anyway,” she reminded herself, “the Thai meal Friday will be wonderful.” She felt a twinge of guilt and wondered why. It gradually dawned on her that she was happy to accept Tom’s bribe of a meal as a matter of course when she’d laid into Brid for exactly the same idea of bribery by Gary’s parents.
“No wonder teenagers are confused,” she thought ruefully. “When are things double standards or not? Umm, pretty big issues for them at their age. They're just beginning to sort out their orientation in the world.”
She became aware of the cats looking at her poised as she was with the paring knife in the air - off in one of her reveries. She glanced at the clock and tried to concentrate.
“Right. Time for a drink beforehand to ease us in, then dinner about 25 mins later—that takes us to 8ish so the roasted veggies need to go in at ... say ... 7.30ish and the salmon at 7.50ish. So table, drinks, glasses, salad, Damm! Table - monitor box, marking, chaos!”she mumbled distractedly to herself.
“Brid. Brid ... ggg ... eeeettttttt !” she shrieked upstairs against The Crooze to no effect.
She rarely went two at a time up the stairs now but she took a deep breath and charged.
The house was eerily quiet as Tom ushered The Terror in ten minutes later.
“We’ll just move through here,” he said guiding his guest through to the lounge, “and settle down with a drink. What would you like?” he said now on auto pilot thinking that soon he could abdicate to Meg and Brid. This non-work chat wasn’t easy. Work, yes, he must remember to raise the dreaded issue and do his voluntary bit. He MUST also concentrate in meetings from now on.
“Fruit juice, or water?” suggested The Terror.
Tom’s face darkened momentarily in utter surprise.
“Fine! You just make yourself comfortable.”
He clanked his way to the kitchen with two carrier bags full of wine and beer.
The sight that met his eyes was nothing he could have imagined.
Some strange young woman with green and orange hair was bending over a large box that was near the back door. She was giggling and there were more hysterical giggles coming from the floor behind the box. Dipity was on the work surface nearby peering down at the back of the box. Seran was looking at him with her characteristic look, her head slightly on one side.
“Ummm. Errr ... ummm ... hello!” he managed weakly.
Faith straightened and turned nervously at the sound of a male voice.
“Faith, get this bloody thing off me!” Brid’s voice came from behind the box.
“Bridget!” bellowed Tom
“Oh hell! Now I’m for it,” the disembodied voice floated back.
Faith had tears of laughter in her eyes. She thought she was the only one that caused her parents grief.
Tom was in two minds about whether to go over and bend over the box which would mean he would invade this unknown phenomenon’s body space, or walk out to find Meg who might provide the answer to the goings on.
Faith was not one to take the initiative and hung her head looking bashful.
“Hello I’m Brid’s father. Shall I see if I can get her out?” he offered moving a little closer.
Faith said nothing but nodded her head and moved out of the way.
It was as Tom moved towards the box that the writing on it started to make sense.
“My monitor!” he murmured in disbelief, “What is going on? Brid, where are you trying to put it? ”
Meg burst in through the kitchen door at this point.
“Really Tom, hurry up and get that out the way and I could do with some help with the food.”
“Mumummmm. Mummmm,” came pitifully from behind the box.
“What IS going on?” demanded Meg of a bemused Tom.
“I haven’t the faintest idea. I’ve just arrived,” said Tom leaning down to push the box away from Brid. He gave a heave that sent the box careering across the kitchen floor to hit Meg who was moving towards her distressed child’s voice.
“Ohh. Bloody hell!” exclaimed a startled Meg.
“Meg!” Tom said in a low ‘children present’ warning voice.
Faith leapt at the box to help control it. This was just as well as it wobbled dangerously. Tom’s instinct was to grab it as well.
Brid, released from being pinned by the box, got to her feet giggling again.
“Meg?” asked Tom bemused, looking at the box as if it were alive. He didn’t know what emotion to show but knew that any would be wrong.
“Tom, it’s on wheels, you twit. How do you think we were moving it? Take the weight as we balance it again”
Tom was red in the face from taking the weight.
“Wheels?” he blurted.
“Yes, those garden things for heavy pots, of course,” snapped Meg.
“Can I help?” a strange voice said behind them all. The Terror was standing in the doorway. Four guilty-looking faces turned to look at him.
The kitchen was really overcrowded now. Dipity launched himself onto the monitor box and fell through the top, scrabbled to gain a foothold and flopped over the side running under the table surrounded by a scurry of the polystyrene bits.
“Ohh ... aaa ... Ohhh!” Tom struggled with the box as it lurched unevenly on its wheels.
“More this way, Dad!” shrieked Brid
“Watch out for ... Oh ... !” Faith weakly started to say.
Too late Tom trod on the cat’s water bowl, teetered uncertainly and sat on the floor in the puddle that was forming, the box leaning heavily against him.
“Hiah! I’m Meg,” Meg threw in Peter’s direction. “Help! Yes! PLEASE.” She scowled momentarily at Tom over the monitor box. “That monitor has caused more trouble today than everything else put together!”
“Right, girls out—and boys get that monitor wherever it is meant to go—but not back into the dining room! ... and ... you’ve got 2 minutes,” Meg directed grabbing Faith by the elbow and escorting her towards the doorway, flicking a directionary finger at Brid.
Faith seemed to be using Meg as a human shield from The Terror but at the same time Brid and Faith were exchanging a glance that Meg couldn’t quite fathom.
“We could help, too,” piped up Brid.
“Out. Now! Table needs laying!” Meg continued to ease Faith out while The Terror stepped backwards to allow them passage.
“Really, Mum, I’m sure four would be better ...,” Brid whined ineffectually as she passed Peter on the procession to the dining room.
Ten minutes later things seemed to be under control. Peter and Tom had manhandled the monitor up to his office. They’d got comfortably ensconced in an environment they were both happy in—gadgets. They were swapping the new monitor for old and discussing the pros and cons of the different models. Brid and Faith had laid the dining table, and had then dashed upstairs. Meg was watching the timings in the kitchen.
“Tom? Tommmm?” Meg shouted up the stairs. “Does Peter want a drink before dinner?”
Pushed into remembering to be a host, Tom trundled downstairs into the kitchen.
Meg was bending over peering into the oven. He grabbed her waist affectionately.
“Hello, my little ...”
“Owwww ... uch! Watch the scratches, please Tom” Meg involuntarily squirmed in pain.
She lifted her top to expose the nasty wounds.
“Oh Meg, what happened?” Tom’s tone was suitably concerned.
“Far too long to go into now—later, much later,” she mumbled peering back into the oven.
“Orange juice and beer for me,” he said absently as he reached into the fridge to get them. Both Seran and Dipity appeared from nowhere as soon as the fridge door opened.
“So what’s the low-down on Peter then? What’s all the fuss about?”
“Ah! .. .Ummm ... Yes,” Tom said turning in mid-door opening. “Trouble at work. He’s a very talented programmer who doesn’t get on with anyone ... of any age, in fact. He also keeps strange hours so he doesn’t coincide on site with the rest of his team for meetings, progress and bug fix information. There’s a lot of resentment around him and as I haven’t worked with him, I’ve been asked to sort it out!”
“You!” gasped Meg unable to keep the incredulity out of her voice. “Sorry, Tom, but it’s not as if you have a track record or even any background in personnel!”
“Precisely, and I have to address this before tomorrow apparently.”
“Who’s team is he in then?”
“Sue, ummmm, yes, well, then. I can imagine the problem.”
“You can? Amazing! What ...”
“Salmon! Watch the cats!” Meg hissed as she flicked a tea towel towards the half-open fridge door where Dipity had manoeuvred into a position and was deftly hooking one front claw into the fridge with Seran sitting innocently as look-out between him and the humans.
The cats scattered into the hall and up the stairs. Tom retrieved two beers and some orange juice and shut the over-tempting door. He handed a beer to Meg with a flourish.
“Better get back to The Terror ... nick name,” he added in response to a raised eyebrow.
“About 10-15 minutes so don’t start doing anything up there that will take longer or be at a stage you can’t break off,” warned Meg knowingly.
“Right!” Tom shut the fridge door on the orange juice carton firmly.
“Oh Tom, Brid and Faith are a bit miffed about being used as extras around your business affairs and didn’t really want to join us for dinner but I’ve forced them. So I reckon the best thing to do is base as little conversation around them as possible and get Pee ... The Terror ... off into the sitting room or back to your office as quickly as possible after eating.”
“Ah! Fine. Okay then!” Tom winked at her as he headed out of the kitchen.
“Strange,” he thought ascending the stairs, “if the girls don’t want anything to do with us, why were they so willing to help us set up the monitor in the office? And I had to insist they got out since there wasn’t room for all of us. Women. We don’t stand a chance of understanding them! Ummm ... wait till after dinner to talk to Peter, I reckon ... but must ask Meg what she would do. Ummmmm ...” Tom mused and instantly forgot everything once he saw the new active monitor with Peter deftly playing the equivalent of a symphony on the keys.
Life Bytes is written by Santa Fe and Sanity Claus