W101 – Paying Attention
Day Twelve: Dark Clouds on the (Virtual) Horizon
Today’s Prompt: Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation.
Today’s twist: include an element of foreshadowing in the beginning of your post.
After what happened with Christine, Paul was disgusted with himself. How could he have let that go so far and get so out of hand! He was haunted by the look on her face when she first saw him, when she recognized such an unfamiliar, familiar face. Now that it was all over he would do anything to take it back, undo what he had done. If only…
He avoided his computer, his phone, his tablet, and even the TV for the entire day. The mere thought of social media was too much to bear. But it was pointless, never mind impossible, to escape. Everywhere you went there were links or plugs to Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Pinterest boards, and mindless chatter about who posted what, about what, when, and how. It was annoying, it was time-consuming, but worst of all for Paul, he saw it to be reckless.
Who are all these people putting everything about themselves out – pictures, states of mind, intimate thoughts, daily activities, friendship webs, etc – into this invisible space we call the internet? We’re always being told to be aware that once it’s out, it’s out there forever, but who really even takes heed to that? Who even cares that they could never take back all their over-sharing? Life according to Paul: no one cares.
After dinner that evening he took a walk around his neighborhood admiring the latest landscaping his neighbors had put their backs into. The right landscaping made a house more elegant or serene, more alive, harmonious, comfortable, peaceful, but then again the wrong placement and it just all looked messy, overgrown, and abandoned. His walk took him to the local café several blocks from his house where he decided to indulge in a nice warm cup of hot chocolate perfect for a cool fall evening. The temperature was just right. Everything seemed right, at least when he was able to get Christine out of his head. He took a seat at a small table outside on the patio next to a large planter of flowers, some still in bloom others on the brink of their seasonal decay. The café was unusually busy for a Thursday, which did bother him, noise in real-time was no trouble. Obsessed now with the idea of landscaping he was immersed in dreams all his own about what he could do to make his house one of those houses. It wasn’t long though before his dreams were interrupted by the recklessness he thought a walk would take him away from.
Not more than six feet away sat a table of girls, probably freshmen in college. He saw them approach, enter and take their seat, but so in his thoughts was he that the ramifications of their presence never quite occurred to him. But then they began to babble about their new coach and her twitter feed. He could them as they sought out the woman’s personal information: selfies, videos, recent tweets. Paul couldn’t decide if he was more annoyed that their coach had put herself out there like that or that these girls felt so privileged in their short insignificant lives to bully another person’s personal life in their own private time. He despised this new world into which he had no choice but to participate, and yet he was becoming ever more inspired to live it very intentionally, that is he could choose how he would participate.
Paul had a book with him. It was small enough to fit inside his jacket pocket so he brought it with him thinking he would need something to keep him busy if he did visit the café. While at first he was more than content just sitting there taking in the last of the season’s warmth, beauty, green and activity, now he found himself very distracted by these girls and afraid his cover would be blown. The book was the perfect cover. Christine came to mind yet again, but this time he was not hurt by the memory. The presence of this group instead reminded him why he had done what he’d done in the first place; all over again he was pissed off at Christine. Not only did he not want to take it back anymore he wanted to do it again. But it was too late, he couldn’t even come near her house now.
“Oh my God, did you see Ariel’s post yesterday?” asked one of the girls in a loud annoying voice.
“Yesss! That dress looked so stupid and her boobs were like -”
“Jumping out! I know. I don’t even know why she bothered with that. Like who wants to see that?”
“Wait, wait, you guys check this out. Deshawn just posted this 47 minutes ago.”
“Oh I saw that. The video of him teaching his little brother to dance? Yeah, that is so cute.”
“Awww,” they all erupted in unison commanding the attention of every other café-goer within any distance of earshot.
Paul wanted to throw his drink all over them, except that now there was barely enough to cover one girl, let alone five. He wanted to scald them the way their persistent need to know everything about everyone else did him. Paul opened his book and pretended to read; there was no chance they’d know he wasn’t. There was no chance they were even paying attention to anything that was going on around them. It seemed to Paul they were really only interested in what was going on in everyone else’s lives and/or on the internet. Their innocent immature female banter meant nothing to him, all he could see and hear was their tweeting and twittering, Facebooking about.
So over the course of the next 45 minutes Paul logged every last detail he could from their chatter. He learned that Carol hated their new coach for making her run an extra lap for using her phone before practice ended. Nina’s boyfriend was being a dick and wanted to hang out with his boys that Saturday instead of accompany her to her sister’s 12th birthday party. Charlotte’s cat was now fat thanks to her mom and she was going to share a picture of him on Facebook. Mimi was going to post an anonymous message on Ariel’s blog telling her her dress was a bad choice and she looked kind of slutty, all the other girls laughed at this. Trisha was busy scoping out her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend who was apparently in her English class. He also learned several of the classes most of the girls were taking this semester and that they were all on the same soccer team. He listened as they secretly stalked their classmates, teammates, and various associates. They were able to keep track of various people because people were sharing their every move.
Suddenly, and for the first time all day, Paul wished he’d had his phone. It would have been perfect to record their conversations and ensure there was nothing he missed. They were finally on to their homework and silent after those 45 minutes, which Paul was grateful for since it meant less for him to memorize. There would be time to know more. He tossed his cup in the trash and without a passing glance to the group walked back to his house smiling the whole time. His worries about Christine had dissipated to an itch of a memory, she was old news and he was glad for it. Surely that day would revisit him again but he was not the least bit missing it now.
Note: The previous story is fictional but based on and inspired by a conversation I overheard of a group of young women at a cafe. I wrote it last Fall as part of a series of short suspense stories I was inspired to start last Summer and continue to work on. When this prompt came up I wondered what conversation I’d heard that sparked me and then I remembered this, and off I went to find it. What did you think? Suspenseful enough? Did the foreshadowing get your attention? Does it have you thinking? Could it be improved? Your feedback is welcome! 🙂
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