Seeing as how I have your attention, I’ll mention now that the story you’re reading is actually one of four separate stories comprising ‘Once Upon a Time in SL.’ This one is called The man who had an affair with his wife. I completed it during last year’s NaNo. The second story – The man who dated his boss (without her knowing it) – I started last November and completed earlier this year. I’m working on the third story – provisionally titled Griefing is good for you – right now. The fourth story doesn’t have a title yet.
I’m sure you feel you needed to know these things.
So here’s the next instalment of The man who had an affair with his wife. Since it’s a Saturday, you get a slightly longer extract. I’m generous like that.
In fact, Carbon’s very first evening with Swellen was still an overlapped login with Len. For Carbon to encounter her he needed to be in the same place as her; for that to happen, Len needed to be logged in so that he knew where she was.
It also needed to be some place public and popular in order for Carbon’s presence there to be non-suspicious. In the end, he opted for Mick’s, the dancehall he’d already entered into Carbon’s picks. He made the suggestion to Swellen about twenty minutes into Len’s session. “I don’t know why, but I fancy going dancing tonight.” “Really?” she replied, “Because there’s a gown in Steel I’ve been coveting for several days now.” “Then let’s do it.” He even bought her the dress. Half an hour later, they were walking up the red carpet to the main entrance, hand-in-hand.
Once established on the dance floor, however, Len’s gay spirit quickly abated. He became morose. He became depressed. Problems at work, he told her, and then rattled off a fifty line account of a difficulty he was having with the squash club and their resistance to converting one of the centre’s courts into a bar. “Oh dear,” she said. And he followed that up with at least twice as much text on a problem he had with a longstanding employee who’d started work at the centre long before even his predecessor had taken up post. “I honestly think he thinks the place belongs to him. He has no respect for me. None. I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried to be his friend but he just treats me with contempt. Is it my fault I don’t know how to service the pool filters? Can I be blamed for not knowing exactly where the socket holes are on the tiered seating? Just because he knows something about nearly every piece of equipment we have he thinks that gives him the right to sneer at me. I would love to see him attempt to complete even a tenth of the paperwork I have to get done every day. He wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“Ugh,” she said. “That sucks.”
Which led nicely into a rant about email, and just to make it that extra bit dull and infuriating he made it an 80% facsimile of a rant he’d already vented in her direction not a week earlier. “No-one ever thinks of the respondee these days. [Like email was some sort of traditional form of correspondence mutated by recent societal changes.] No-one ever thinks to themselves, ‘Is this question I want to ask a good use of the time of the person I want to ask it of?’ No-one ever considers the time they put into writing the email versus the time it’ll take the poor bastard on the other end to actually reply to it. I have one line emails fired off at me that can sometimes take an hour to respond to in full. One line. This week one of my instructors emailed me with, ‘Why are my balance classes being moved to Thursday evenings?’ and I put together this long reply about low turnout for lunchtime classes and how there was a competing demand for the main hall from a local college and so on and so on, and then she came back at me with, ‘I meant why Thursday evenings and not Tuesday evenings?’ Why couldn’t she just have asked that in the first place?! Why?! I’ll tell you why: because no-one cares any more about the other person. No-one thinks.”
And, in the meantime, Carbon Holloway dropped down onto the end of the red carpet outside and strolled purposefully in. He stood leaning against the bar at a point near to where they were dancing and he kept his focus fixed on Swellen’s head. In case you don’t know, the point that you’re focused on in Second Life – the thing that’s in the centre of the screen – is advertised by a big set of coloured crosshairs with your name over them provided you have the ‘see lookat’ option turned on in settings. It’s a way of knowing what other people are looking at; in particular, it’s a way of knowing when you are being looked at and who is doing the looking. Anyone can turn off their own crosshairs if they don’t want others to see what they’re looking at, but Len left this option in Carbon’s settings turned on. He wanted Swellen to know she was being watched by him. He also wanted her to suspect that he knew she knew she was being watched by him.
Len’s ideal world scenario was that Swellen would actually initiate first verbal communication with Carbon rather than it having to be the other way round. About halfway through the email rant he got his wish and the ding-ding of an incoming message sounded off:
Swellen Carlton: Are you enjoying the show?
Len’s heart skipped a beat. That is to say, Len’s driver’s heart skipped a beat. Perhaps it’s time we allocated the real life person a name. Let’s call him Chris. Chris’s heart skipped a beat. The next sentence he typed in would be the official start to his deception. Now that it was about to begin, his mouth felt a little sticky and his fingertips cold. He reminded himself that this was what he wanted. The sooner he got started, the sooner it would all be over and Len would be a free man again. He took a deep breath and typed in his opening line.
Carbon Holloway: Oh gee, did I forget to turn off my crosshairs?
Swellen Carlton: Don’t make out you didn’t know they were on.
Carbon Holloway: Well look, see, I am only just over a day old.
Swellen Carlton: On your second time round…
Carbon Holloway: As a matter of fact, it’s my fourth.
Swellen Carlton: OMG seriously?!
Carbon Holloway: What? Is four bad?
Swellen Carlton: *Two* is bad.
Carbon Holloway: Oh dear. I was hoping I had at least nine lives in here.
Swellen Carlton: That doesn’t suggest a great deal of commitment to the fourth.
Meanwhile, Chris kept Len’s work-based grievances going, copying and pasting lines from a pre-prepared text document whilst Swellen took her turns with Carbon. “We’ve got a science fiction convention in the main hall next weekend. A collection of Atari games consoles, a showing of ‘Weird Science’ and some walk-on part from a 1980s episode of Doctor Who doing autographs. I mean Jesus Christ we don’t even merit a proper companion. This guy had two lines in a Colin Baker story. The place is going to be absolutely packed. All I need on a Sunday morning: clogged corridors, queues for the toilets and the biggest concentration of prediabetic men within a ten mile radius.”
“Oh no,” she said and added a sad smiley at the end.
Carbon Holloway: You haven’t asked me yet why I was watching you.
Swellen Carlton: I’m afraid to.
Swellen Carlton: It’s the sort of question that usually receives an unoriginal answer.
Carbon Holloway: Ah.
Carbon Holloway: Would that include any reference to your stunning beauty?
Swellen Carlton: If that’s it – just ‘stunning beauty’ – then most definitely yes it would.
Carbon Holloway: I need to try harder, huh?
Swellen Carlton: A lot harder.
Carbon Holloway: You might at least notice that I’m only looking at you.
Carbon Holloway: There are plenty of women in here.
Swellen Carlton: True, if you like flexi-prims.
Carbon Holloway: Ha!
Carbon Holloway: Methinks the beautiful Swellen is less kind in spirit than perhaps I’d originally considered.
Swellen Carlton: I see. You’re calling me a bitch?
Careful, Chris told himself. You know how she’s sensitive to criticism. You know how she can suddenly turn. If Swellen rejected Carbon now then the plan was not completely dead, but it would probably require the creation of yet another avatar.
Carbon Holloway: Er… I don’t think I know nearly enough about you to form any impression even close to that!
Swellen Carlton: It’s certainly a downward turn from ‘stunning beauty’.
Carbon Holloway: But you see, I only wanted to tell you you were right.
Carbon Holloway: A great many ‘old SL’ avatars in this room tonight.
Carbon Holloway: Hair that disappears inside bodies.
Carbon Holloway: Skirts that move like pieces of corrugated iron tied together.
Swellen Carlton: lol
Swellen Carlton: You bitch :p
Carbon Holloway: Hahaha
Swellen Carlton: I wonder if anyone has ever – or will ever – categorise these avatars?
Carbon Holloway: How do you mean?
Swellen Carlton: Well it seems to me that there have been different periods within avatar evolution.
Swellen Carlton: These flexi-prim beauties you’ve so aptly described are what I sometimes loosely think of in my head as ‘second generation’ avatars.
Swellen Carlton: Besides the flexi-prims, there’s often a dark tan, heavy make-up, high-heeled shoes and so on.
Carbon Holloway: Bling?
Swellen Carlton: Sometimes bling.
Swellen Carlton: Though even when bling was a thing plenty of people knew it shouldn’t be.
Carbon Holloway: And what did ‘first generation’ avatars look like?
Swellen Carlton: Well of course that would be the default clothing layers you got in the early days of SL.
Swellen Carlton: Assuming, of course, that you don’t regenerate quite so fast that you weren’t around in the early days.
Carbon Holloway: Oh I was there.
Swellen Carlton: So then: that ‘painted on’ look.
Carbon Holloway: Right!
Swellen Carlton: The ‘cleverness’ of first generation design was all about the overlap.
Carbon Holloway: The overlap?
Swellen Carlton: Yes.
Swellen Carlton: So, for example, the jacket layer could overlap the pants layer – only a little, mind.
Swellen Carlton: And the dress layer could overlap the pants layer – plus it could spread out and away from the body.
Swellen Carlton: So a man’s suit jacket could use at the bottom just a touch of the dress layer to give the bottom edges just a hint of outward flick.
Despite everything, Chris was intrigued by all of this. Here was a side of Swellen he’d not yet seen.
Carbon Holloway: This is fascinating.
Carbon Holloway: You’re like an SL fashion historian.
Swellen Carlton: Noooooo lol
Swellen Carlton: I just waste time thinking about pointless stuff.
Carbon Holloway: But one day might not all of this be important?
Carbon Holloway: One day might not books be written about exactly this sort of subject?
Swellen Carlton: That all depends, I suppose.
Swellen Carlton: On how Second Life is judged retrospectively.
Swellen Carlton: I mean, in terms of its importance.
Swellen Carlton: I’d like to think it will be considered important.
Swellen Carlton: But then don’t we all prefer to imagine we’re part of something big?
Len’s pre-prepared text would soon be running out. It was time for Chris to think about logging him off and keeping the conversation going with Swellen as Carbon, and this seemed like a particularly good moment (after all how could the discussion possibly end without at least a brief consideration of what third generation avatars were all about). “So anyway,” he was saying, “the new PA should be installed by next Thursday. If I’d have known it’d take quite this long I honestly don’t think I’d have bothered. I really thought all this sort of thing could be done wirelessly these days, but the amount of cabling they’ve had to do is astronomical. The old system really wasn’t all that bad. It was a bit low bandwidth, I suppose. Customers did used to complain they couldn’t hear a single word in the pool area. It’s not going to be all *that* much better with the new system, but with the volume turned up a little people there should just about be able to make out individual words. Anyway baby, I have to get to bed if I’m going to make this 8am meeting with the regional manager tomorrow morning. Hope you have a lovely rest-of-evening!” It took over a minute before Swellen replied and Chris found himself feeling more than a little bit miffed at how attracting her attention away from Len had proven quite as easy as it had. Finally, she said, “Oh! You’re logging honey? That’s too bad! Sorry, I was talking to someone. I hope your meeting goes well! Try not to get so stressed about work!”
Len sent his usual string of final pleasantries and the standard signoff of Xs and Os, and then he was gone.