A Ha'penny Dreadful for the Digital Age
What a tangled web we weave.
'Jeez! I'm well aware it's the bloody twenty first century, thank you, Franco!'
He spent rather longer than necessary in choosing one of the three almost identical bottles of red wine from the rack on the sideboard.
'Dad's just a little upset that we found out like this, bit of a shock that's all,' she smiled at her son and squeezed her daughter-in-law -to-be's hand, prompting Emily to join the frosty conversation before it turned into another full blown row between Franco and his father.
'It was actually quite romantic,' ignoring the huff from Frank senior, 'You know we met online, so Franco thought it would be cute to surprise me!'
Emily smiled at her fiancé, 'I was reading my book – the latest murder mystery by Shir…..'
'A book? How very traditional!' He smirked at his son, 'See? Technology can't replace everything!'
Emily blushed before continuing, 'I was reading my book, on my, erm, on my iPad, when all these notifications popped up!' She held up her phone, 'I took a screenshot, see? '
Franco senior made a show of searching for his glasses, even though he knew they were in his shirt pocket, before squinting at the small screen.
Emojis of hearts, a diamond ring, a yellow face with a pair of lips sucking on its cheek, utter rubbish!
'Franco is feeling: nervous'
An animated Gif of a cartoon character going down on one knee.
A scrolling banner, 'Will you marry me Emily Knight?'
'Aw, that's lovely! See Frank, very romantic, just a modern version of how you proposed to me?'
'We asked our parents first, told family first, we didn't let every Tom, Dick and Harry with a bloody computer or phone know at the same time!'
'Ok, Dad, we get the point! We are truly sorry you're upset but that's just the way we live our lives now, times have changed since you and Mum got together!'
'Everything's online now', Emily beamed, sensing the atmospheric thaw, 'We found our venue on line, ordered the food, sent the invitations, picked the music, got a 3D seating plan with everyone's avatars, we've even started designing the flat with an App, kind of like a digital mood board!'
'It all sounds so exciting!' Mum joined the fray, 'And so convenient! Remember all that running around we had to do, Frank?'
'I remember that was part of the whole deal, no digital malarkey, no mood boards, just passing through catalogues and walking around shops together, picking everything from pans to wallpapers, that's what made it special!'
Pressing the advantage, Emily beamed again, 'There's even a new App that designs wallpaper based on your personalities!'
'Let me guess, it takes a selfie and prints it out on a big, long roll?'
'Not quite, Dad, it's really cutting-edge design. Digital Wizard Designs, A.I. stuff. Collects all your online data, preferences, search history, social media etc, and actually creates artwork that's unique to you! Brilliant!'
'Imagine wallpaper based on your search history, Frank?' His wife winked at Emily, 'Our walls would be covered with naked girls playing baseball!'
'Frank couldn't help but laugh, 'And yours would be firemen working out while eating cupcakes!' He winked back at his wife.
Ice broken, the rest of the evening passed discussing plans and preparing for the wedding.
Five hundred miles away, a computer program noted Franco and Emily (Rossetti_F.E.24541W) had taken and posted twelve new photographs and ordered an Uber at 23.11 hrs. The data was processed and the design altered.
Thirteen months later, Mr and Mrs Rossetti moved into their new home.
Weekends and evenings spent redécorating, moving furniture around and finding places for their accumulated belongings.
Saturday morning the first box arrived from the design company. Each roll carefully labelled. The design had no repeating pattern, but once hung in order, each drop would seamlessly link, producing a very unique feature wall.
Instructions stated each roll was developed and printed as data was collected, each would be forwarded as soon as practicable; many clients waited until their order had been completed before hanging, others wished to hang each roll as it arrived, watching their personal story evolve with each new exciting delivery. The choice was obviously theirs.
Franco carefully opened the first roll, the thick paper showing mere inches of the overall design. To him it looked slightly like silver feathers interwoven around a dark grey background, not nearly as exciting as they'd promised.
Emily, however, was impressed, seeing a delicate interpretation of a tree, slender branches holding leaves, each leaf a unique part of their personalities. Branches and twigs coming together to weave a tapestry showing their lives. It was simply beautiful.
Expensive, no, very expensive, bloody squiggles, Franco teased as he held up the design against the bare walls.
'Can't wait to see it all finished!' Emily hugged her husband, 'Guess what you're doing tomorrow?'
'Does it involve watching our story unfolds with squiggles and wallpaper paste?' He grinned as they went back to unpacking the box.
The programme noted social media posts that the design had arrived and been liked, positive feedback, #cantwaittoseeitup!
'Do you ever look at something, Dave, and see an image that's hidden, something suggested by shapes or patterns?'
'Like seeing animal shapes in clouds, or the Christ in the Turin Shroud?'
'Yeah, kind of,' Franco placed another two beers on the table, standing back to stare at the two lengths of wallpaper he had so far put up, 'This is like that, all those random squiggles, but the more you look at them, the more sense they seem to make?'
'Yeah, I see! That one there...looks just like….whatsitcalled….just like...ah! Got it! Just like another bloody silver squiggle! You need a break my friend, back to the real world next week, bring you down from Honeymoon overload!'
Franco took a deep swig, smiling at his friend, feeling a little daft.
His eyes drawn back to the design. Something a lot deeper than squiggles in the patterns, something almost mesmerising. Probably just looked odd with the two pieces, he was sure it would be fine once he finished.
*Three point five hours logged into PS4 with DaveRulz365, a further forty-five minutes Googling 'hidden shapes in patterns'. Progress was logged.
'Look! See? Just there, top left, by the curly twiggy bit? Just like an F!'
Emily was beginning to regret hanging the paper in sections, poor Franco was becoming obsessed.
The low battery level, and his pestering, forced her from her novel (always at the juicy bits, too!).
'I'm going to bed love, I'll plug this in and finish my chapter, you coming?'
'I noticed it before; when I was hanging that mirror, if you catch it out of the corner of your eye, sometimes you can see the inner meanings!'
'For God's sake, Franco – 'inner meanings' now? It's just bloody wallpaper!'
Franco was shocked by her outburst, she was, after all, the one who wanted this, saw the beauty in weaving their lives into the pattern, why was she getting so angry because he was beginning to appreciate the design?
'Go read your book, Em, I'll be in in a bit, love you.'
'Love you too, night love' Emily shook her head and left her husband staring at the wall.
@EmilyRossettiKnight bookmarking page 204ISBN97814943398033.
Two feet down and he'd found a stylised version of his old school crest, the logo from his first bike, the name of a long-forgotten school crush.
He'd discovered that the silver finish to the design was slightly embossed, some squiggles catching the light from the left, others from the right.
Those that he believed he'd deciphered, referencing his childhood, were left-hand biased.
He took a step to his left and the pattern seemed to shift, two to his right and now he was looking at a completely different image, remarkable job!
Each slight movement caused the pattern to swirl and change, resolving into a new image, a different storyline.
He went back to the large wall mirror, bobbing his head up and down, left and right, watching the patterns evolve in the reflections.
Then he saw it, plain as the nose on his reflected face. E.M.I.L.Y.
Eyes focussing on his wife's name, the surrounding swirls suddenly coalescing into an obvious image.
A young girl, sitting on a park swing, hugging a stuffed animal, an elephant, yes, there it was!
His eyes followed the branches. Emily smiling a toothless on the second row of a school photograph, looking closer, the swirls forming words now.
A diary entry. One of the first electronic entries Emily had committed to the internet, meaningless and childish as it was, complaining of maths homework and the smell of tobacco on a music teacher's clothes, but there, clear and precise.
The more Franco stared at the text, the clearer the design became.
He followed the Emily thread down the wall. Her electronic life woven into the design.
Half an hour later, Franco knew more about his spouse's adolescence than he ever had. Hopes, fears, teenage angst and teenage fumblings, spread out on his walls for all to see!
His own life, with the shift of his position, became crystal clear!
He couldn't wait to show Em, relive childhood memories, tease her over old boyfriends.
He also longed to see the next installment, college years, starting work, the day they met? Who knows what would be revealed in the pattern?
Emily couldn't see.
Just squiggles, pretty branches and silvery leaves.
But there! The holiday you had in Portugal with your friends? That bar in Carvoeiro where the waiter chatted you up?
Your first driver's license picture, you hated your fringe?
And more, so much more than she'd ever shared with him, secrets she'd confided to her diary, messages she'd sent to lovers and enemies, grief and love written in plain sight!
But Emily couldn't see.
His words laughed off as a bad joke, he'd obviously hacked her profiles, guessed a password or two, and was playing games with her, getting back at her for the extravagance in her chosen décor.
She'd played along until the memories he'd stolen became too personal, things she hadn't thought about for years, buried secrets that should remain buried.
Finally she snapped. Enough! Ok, you've made your point, very clever! Ho bloody ho!
Franco and Emily slept apart for the first time in two years that night.
#EmilyRossettiKnight changes passwords on all known platforms.
Franco couldn't contain himself when the next package arrived, three rolls.
The patterns merged seamlessly with the two other drops, years of their lives added to the tale, new discoveries about his wife's life, newly discovered pieces of his own forgotten past! Fascinated, Franco spent much of the day enthralled as the patterns unfolded in his mind.
University years, reams and reams of research and revision, alcohol erased nights suddenly reviewed, texts sent and received, rejections and conquests, boasts and promises.
Photographic glimpses of his life through the eyes of his friends and colleagues, commentary on his soul (or lack of it) from the viewpoint of girlfriends and lovers.
Each and every cyber-reference to his life, the good, the bad, the explicitly embarrassing, now woven into his matrimonial home décor!
Shy, hardworking, studious Emily.
The walls told a different tale.
Wild, outgoing, risque Emily. Working her way through the male (and a few female) student body!
Surely not his Emily?
But there it was in silver and grey detail.
Not only was she a wild-child, Emily seemed to be developing a bit of a dark, rather nasty side!
Texts and emails plotting revenge, planning humiliation, manipulating those who could make her world better or poorer. Confessions and aspirations, curses and schemes. A path through college littered with broken hearts and used and discarded friends.
Post-graduate Emily, conning her way into jobs and hearts, flitting from relationship to relationship, no thought for the heartache poured out into the ether, no cares for the grief and anger of those set aside in order she progress in her life.
A life now unfolding on the walls of her matrimonial home.
*Search of Facebook,Twitter, Alumni +sites for links to E.Knight*
The more he learnt about Emily, the more he wondered how he could've fallen for such a shallow, devious woman. The wall had shown him her true self.
At home, she portrayed the loving, bright, newlywed. Devoted and seemingly worried about the way her husband had been acting lately.
Every conversation, no matter how innocent, eventually returned to the life Franco now swore he saw in the patterns. Arguments replaced laughter, coldness sought to banish their love.
He was, quite simply, not the man she had fallen for, gaunt, haunted, he stared for hours at the walls, muttering curses under his breath, giving her looks that could kill, before leaving the room to spend lonely hours on his laptop.
Emily was worried. Even more so now she was pregnant. She'd tried to break the happy news to Franco but after only a few words he would go off into a rant about some fictitious aspect of her past.
Eventually she had given up, taking any excuse not to be in the flat with him, seeking out the company of friends and family, portraying the excited mum to be, the thrilled father unavailable, again, working all the hours God sends to get their home ready for the baby.
Weeks passed without them speaking, Franco waiting for the next delivery, the new secrets to be revealed, more pain and anger to be unleashed upon his soul. How could he have been such a fool?
@EmilyRossettiKnight *searches on mental illnesses, delusions and medication in pregnancy.
The next package brought their story to the now. Three more rolls, the pattern grew.
Glimpses of the girl he no longer knew, searching through dating sites, looking for her next victim, conning her way into his life.
Months of texts and emails, photographs, status updates, #inarelationship!
The wedding plans, flat hunting, interior designing, purchasing a fake life.
What did she want from him? Money? Surely not, she actually earned more than he did.
Worse, was he just a toy, a plaything to show the world she was respectable?
Then the third roll. Electronic love letters.
Heartbroken, Franco read through a year's worth of deceit and lies.
Emily loved another, had never loved him. Using their relationship to hide a disgusting affair with an apparently much older married man!
Her lover, unnamed, but obviously someone he knew, lived nearby, shared many of their haunts and interests, sought out stolen hours with the woman he thought he'd loved.
The last branch of the pattern. The child growing inside her, mocking their fake lives.
One line of text: How do I tell him the baby isn't his? Should I tell him?
The ultimate betrayal. His life was unravelling as quickly and as surely as the pattern was solidifying, what next?
Divorce, confrontation, mockery, heartache….revenge?
*Searches for family lawyers, divorce, paternity test, private investigator*
The penultimate roll arrived the following morning.
He waited till she had gone to work and rang in sick.
Not far from the truth, the sickly stranger looking back at him from the bathroom mirror frightened him.
As grey as the walls, dark eyes filled with pain and anger, skin as taut as badly-hung wallpaper.
He didn't bother hanging the paper, merely unrolled the length onto the hallway floor.
Crawling along the pattern, tears falling to darken the weave, punctuate the tale.
Intimate texts, meetings planned, is he there, can you get away….
More deceit. Communications between lovers, worried that the cuckold husband had discovered their lies, knew about the child.
Desperation forcing options. Should they run away together. Start New lives, should they come clean, face the outrage?
In this day and age? Franco wondered what could be so outrageous about an affair, even if both parties were married, even with a big age difference?
Jeez, were they aware this was the bloody twenty first century?
The words echoed in his mind.
Familiar words, taunting him, just out of reach.
A dinner party?
Someone mocking him, annoyed at him for being with Emily?
Franco desperately went back over the pattern, seeking threads and branches that would prove him wrong.
This simply couldn't be real?
But the pattern was clear, everything made sickening sense to him now!
The paper curled back into a roll as the front door was slammed.
Franco running down the stairs, tears in his eyes and a loaded gun in his pocket.
*Uber ordered at 0958, home street to parental address.
Emily picked up the phone, tempted to hit decline at the unrecognised number. Worry about her husband's health made her accept the call.
Her heart sank.
'Mrs Rossetti, I apologise for calling you during working hours, my name is Beth Lerwick, I am the quality control manager at Digital Wizard Designs….?'
'I'm sorry?' Emily struggled to place the name, relieved it wasn't a medical emergency.
'You recently ordered some bespoke wall coverings from our firm?'
'Ah, the bloody wallpaper again! Sorry, Ms Lerwick was it, how can I help you, I'm at work and haven't got…..'
'Mrs Rossetti, I can only give you the firm's sincere apologies, and of course, a full refund. Digital Wizard prides itself on the highest standards of product and customer services, we recently won the industry….' The panic in her voice grated in Emily's ear.
'What is this about?' Emily snapped.
'It would seem there has been a technical fault with your order, a glitch in the programming and printing process if you will….'
An image of Franco's troubled face came to her.
'Get to the point…. please!'
'Again, DWD accepts full responsibility for the error, quite unlike anything we've produced, never in eight years…'
'Ms Lerwick, Beth, please, whatever has happened just tell me, it's wallpaper at the end of the day, nothing that can't be replaced! Not exactly life and death is it?'
'Apologies, the programme that forms the pattern, weaves your story as the advert says….oh sorry, yes, my point is that, somehow, the data has been corrupted. The first two rolls are fine, perfect, I checked them myself!'
'But, there's a but coming….?'
'It's the book, the ebook you were reading? I'm so sorry, but this glitch has taken the plot of the book as RL, woven it into your story, I'm sorry to say anyone reading that pattern would think……'
Emily's mind raced through the plot of the latest murder mystery novel, still bookmarked on her tablet, a tale of lies, infidelity and…...worse, much much worse!
Emily was on her way out of the door, Ms Lerwick still frantically apologising over the abandoned phone, when Franco climbed out of the taxi, hand reaching into his pocket, as he ran up the steps to his father's house.