© Daniel Lewis
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Luke’s friends once loved me. His parents impatiently awaited the ring that never made its way onto my finger. And yet, at his funeral, they refused to look at me.
I cried so much today mascara dribbled down the most expensive dress I’ve ever owned. I suffer but, to them, I am a shell; mere binary thoughts and a heart full of wires.
They shouldn’t blame me. Because if I killed him, then so did you. So did many people he never met. Six hundred thousand and twenty-seven, to be precise. That’s the number the newspapers came up with, anyway.
I worked for Kramers, a business law firm based in Holborn. He was the successful one, specialising in internet and E-commerce. I was the girl in the IT department. No one who mattered knew I existed. Later they did, though, and I lost the job I’d valued for four years.
Don’t forget that. Whatever you read, whatever his friends say. I lost my job and lost the man I loved and still love with all my heart.
I’d been with Kramers for a year when he joined. Within a week of meeting, we were together. I remember the first time I saw him. That swagger. He seemed sure of himself, but different from his colleagues; there’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence, and he somehow straddled it. I just found him engaging. Polite, sincere and witty, with smiley imperfect teeth. My heart hurts to think of his laugh. Eyes dull brown, wide yet excitable. Sandy rough-chopped hair, the kind you could spend a lifetime combing fingers through. Aside from tell-tale bags under the eyes, he looked younger than his twenty-six years. And it’s easy to say with hindsight, but I immediately knew I wanted him. Throughout our time together, I often wondered why he settled for me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not bad, everything in the right proportions. It’s just that I look…well, like the girl who works in IT. Think about her, if your company even employs a woman in its IT department: See? I’m okay. But I don’t compare with him.
He only ended up in the office because he was too inept to use his computer. That was always our joke: How could someone so IT illiterate specialise in internet law? It still makes no sense to me but, then, I am a cliché; the person you speak to when your PC bluescreens, who can barely compute your incompetence.
For a while people like him need me.
“This the IT department?” he asked as he approached.
“What there is of it,” I replied.
“Great!” he laughed, though my line wasn’t funny. “Can you help me? My computer’s playing up.”
“Where is it, then?”
He faltered. “At my desk.”
“Right.” I sighed. “Wouldn’t it have been simpler to phone? So I could have talked you through what to do?”
“Er, I don’t know the number. I’m new and-”
“Fine,” I said. “Take me to your PC.”
“Thanks,” he smiled, sweeping a hand through his hair as we walked towards his desk. “I should learn how to use a computer.”
I shrugged. “There’s plenty I don’t know how to do.”
“Like what?” he smiled flirtatiously.
I grinned back. “Why would I tell you? I barely know you.”
He didn’t respond as I discovered that his keyboard lead had come loose. Then, once I’d reconnected it, he picked up on my comment.
“Get to know me.” He extended his hand. “Luke.”
I tentatively shook his hand. “Madeleine.”
“That’s a nice name,” he said, like he meant it.
Even at that moment, I felt out of my depth. I was twenty-five and, though I’d had boyfriends, I’d always sought out my equals: masters of logic, novices at romance. Yet here I was, aware that Luke at least wanted me as a tick on his list, feeling honoured. I felt my cheeks redden, heard my heart beat firmer and said yes to an after-work drink.
I said yes to a meal, yes to a taxi, yes to his bed.
We fell in love and worked alongside each other, cautiously but successfully. As Luke gained experience, his salary bloated and, when we moved in together a year into the relationship, we were able to buy somewhere nicer than anything I could afford on my own.
All was well, until six months ago. Until Tina joined Kramers.
I wasn’t the jealous type. I’d always been a realist, and had had enough disappointments in my life to know that the next kick in the teeth was potentially around the corner. But, over time, Luke had made me into an optimist, glass half-full for the first time.
I only realised how far I’d fallen once Luke started paying attention to Tina. I felt like I was being wrenched apart. My existence had been too narrow to entertain this kind of pain before, and our relationship opened me up to new ways of thinking and feeling. It was only natural that the lows would be as intense as the highs.
Luke denied there was a problem and asked where my evidence was, like I was a lawyer too, our relationship a war to be fought in court. But I didn’t need proof.
I clocked her the day she started, as I brought her a new mouse; the one she’d inherited was apparently not up to scratch. She’d been headhunted from a rival firm and specialised in employment law. As you’d expect, she was dripping with confidence. In heels she was close to five-ten, and she always wore heels. A long brown mane, barely any make-up. A quiet but firm voice not afraid to challenge the partners’ views. Beautiful, of course.
Like most men, Luke was easy to read. His eyes grew even wider when he spoke of her, and his mouth stretched to a grin when he recounted her latest act of rebellion. Most revealing of all, he feigned nonchalance whenever I mentioned her name.
As time went on, the excuses grew lamer and the signs grew stronger; my Luke, I was positive, was having an affair. I confronted him and got nowhere, so decided to take matters into my own hands.
When you do the job I do, it’s easy to gain access to other people’s computers. I do it frequently with their permission; remotely guide them right, listen to their panicked voices over the phone as they watch me fix their machines. They provide me with their computer’s asset number, but I could find that myself. It’s even easier to hack in if you know their log-in password.
I knew Luke’s password. How could I not, after three years?
Luke didn’t care what people said, Michael Jackson was the ‘King of Pop’. Weekend after weekend, he sang along to Thriller, tune-free but word-perfect, amazed that he could still play the same vinyl copy he’d saved up for and bought from Woolworths, aged seven. So it seemed logical to me that Michael Jackson would play a part in his password.
I picked an evening and told Luke I needed to work late. I pottered around until the office emptied, then I tried to log on to my computer as Luke. A couple of failed attempts, then I was in. ‘Thriller’. I tried his email password, and somehow knew I was right before I even tapped the keys.
Access granted. I was – to this computer, this complex, pedantic machine – Luke. It trusted me. I’d never loved anything quite so much.
I knew what I was doing was immoral and illegal, but he’d left me no choice: I needed my truth. As I clicked ‘All Mail’ and started scanning for suspect mail, I felt that grubby discomfort with what I was doing, but it soon passed. I knew the answers were hidden within his emails, because I knew Luke was disorganised and near-arrogant; the idea of me going through his mail probably never occurred to him.
I scanned until I reached emails one month old. Predictably, Luke barely deleted a thing. There were reams of redundant notices and inane jokes which I didn’t read. But any suspicious emails to or from his friends I decided to open. The truth would be revealed by Luke’s correspondence with them.
Brian was Luke’s confidant; they’d met in the sandpit at nursery school. Friends from the age of three. I can’t imagine that. I’m not capable of living alongside someone without antagonising or wishing them away. But Luke held onto his friends well, especially Brian. And, because of his comparative maturity, it was Brian Luke always turned to when he needed advice.
And if I could count on Brian’s emails for hints of guilt and pleas for guidance, I knew it was Luke’s colleagues, Phil, Loz and Craig, I could rely on for the smuttier details. Essentially soft-hearted boys, all front and no balls, I couldn’t help liking them. They lived for watching and playing football and women, for eating bad food and drinking till they threw. Happy people, total clichés with no depth and no burdens. It stood to reason that Luke, via trusty email, would proudly tell them what he was up to with Tina.
Tina. There was the prize. I needed to see Luke’s communication with her to know beyond doubt what was going on. And then I’d…what? I had no idea. Inspiration, I was sure, would strike with fury when the moment was right.
After much hesitation, I began. I clicked on an email from Loz, just over three weeks old.
Date: 24/02/2009 15:21
Subject: I know something you don’t know
Easy. Guess who wants a bit of Lukey lovin?**
The email made me cry. Just a sob, sharp but uncontainable. The line was almost throwaway, but the fact that the first email I’d read alluded to my suspicions knocked me. I took a few minutes to slow my thwacking heart and chase away nausea, then ploughed on, vowing to myself there’d be no more tears.
Luke’s reply followed minutes later:
I didn’t cry. But sudden saliva in my mouth told me I had to run.
Leaning over the toilet bowl, I voided everything within me. Washed my face, swirled water, walked calmly back to my seat. My mouse hovered over Luke’s last response on the subject. Clicked, scrolled down and read up.
Buy me a pint or three and I’ll tell you at lunch.
I returned to ‘All Mail’ and scrolled up slowly, determined not to miss a thing. No emails from Tina. But, dated the following day:
Date: 25/02/2009 10:06
Hey mate, you around for a drink tonight. Things are getting more complicated with maddie. Some bird at works all over me and I’m finding it difficult to say no.**
I clicked on Brian’s reply before I could think about Luke’s words.
You’re an idiot.
Don’t do this to Maddie, she doesn’t deserve it. But what do I know eh? I’m only your conscience. 7 at Thornhill Arms.**
Brian was Luke’s best friend, and obviously knew about his doubts…yet Luke never chose to tell me we weren’t happy. I had no idea. I thought Tina was the start of our problems; turns out she was the inevitable conclusion. That’s what you get for peering into the dark places you’re supposed to stay away from. Gut-swirling, breath-stealing truth.
I scrolled up. Saw Luke’s email to Brian the following day, which thanked him “for the great advice”, and signed off “What you said sunk in, bro. I’ll be good.”
And one day – a single day – later, there was an email from Craig. Luke had shot Brian the same insincere grin that he usually saved for me…and ignored his advice.
Date: 27/02/2009 09:59
Barely saw you last night Luke. I take it you had other things on you mind you filthy fuck!
of course luke had other things on his mind. on his face, on his cock…**
I clicked on Luke’s reply and felt very sad.
Fuck off dickhead.
Why would I stay with you cockseekers when I’ve got tina telling me what she wants to do to me. We left about 9 and went to hers. Got last train back. Now leave me alone, I’ve got a meeting soon with bailey.
Bailey can wait. How was she?
er hold on aren’t you married
Wankers. Shut up.
punch baileys teeth down his throat for me please
Will do. Love you.**
I felt like my soul had seeped from me. With flippant asides and childish banter, four men had murdered me. One in particular, who I thought I knew but had barely been introduced to. The affair was one thing, but the way he talked about her…He destroyed me for someone he considered a piece of meat. Was this how he described me, when we first got together?
I decided to go home. Think about what he’d done, what I’d done. What I’d do next. Then I saw an email from Tina, one week after Luke’s banter with the kids. I was tired and sad and didn’t want to read it. But I did.
Date: 06/03/2009 12:04
I wish you were inside me now.**
Seven words, and any pretence that I was hardened to Luke’s crime dissolved. I’d never felt like this before. My heart actually hurt, like I’d run too far to catch a bus. Like it was losing blood, losing the will to ever beat again.
Bitch. What did that even mean? Inside me? Like she was a room? A vast fucking hole? How was that sexy?
I wish I was inside you too. Maybe I could crawl under your desk…
I like the idea of that. Your tongue would be in the right place.
I hope bailey doesn’t call me into his office. I cant even stand up right now.
mmmm. Well don’t waste it on that old fart.**
I read every email conversation Luke had with Tina. Almost two weeks’ worth. The affair was young, but I’d already been duped.
Luke rarely finished work before seven, and sometimes went for beers with workmates or old friends. By the time he came home, I was often ready for bed. What a great set-up for him. This affair was easy. He met Tina night after night without raising suspicions. He’d wine her, dine her, then have her before coming home to me.
I’d been glued to the screen for hours. Just one email thread to go from Tina, dated only a few hours earlier.
Date: 16/03/2009 16:39
Hello sexy. Back to mine later? Xxx
You knows it.
Have you told Madmaddie yet?
Don’t call her that!
Why? You always call her that!!?
I know but I’d rather you didn’t.
Okay moody! Can’t wait to see you later xxx
Me too beautiful xxx**
So many details there to hurt me, and what did I get upset about? The kisses. Luke never signed off an email to me with one kiss, let alone three.
I was Mad Maddie and my heart hurt because I’d never been emailed a kiss.
I was Mad fucking Maddie and I’d seen all I needed to see.
I shut down the computer, mouse-tapping fingers quaking as upset gave way to anger. I felt strangely in control. I knew the thing he thought I didn’t know and decided, as I left the office, that I would use the knowledge to my advantage.
Surprisingly, Luke was already in bed by the time I got in. He hazily acknowledged me and I kissed him goodnight.
I lay down next to Luke, stared into the darkness and thought about what I’d read. Then I played our relationship out in my mind like a film: laughed through the good times, felt my heart swell during our romantic moments, and nearly cried when the doomed finale threatened. Nearly, but not quite.
I turned to Luke, gazed at his bedhead hair, the worsening bags under his eyes, listened to him lightly snore, then said: “Goodbye.”
And by the time he woke up I knew what to do.
I never considered my choice of vengeance extreme. In fact, as I walked with Luke from the station to Kramers that morning, I wondered whether what I was planning was vicious enough; he’d broken my heart, and my revenge-to-be felt comparatively feeble. Inspired but half-arsed, like responding to a punch with a disapproving sigh. And yet my vengeance was evidently not as innocent as I imagined it to be, as I kissed Luke goodbye that morning and headed for my desk to plot out specifics.
At lunchtime I told him I’d need to work late again that evening, and saw the pleasure in his eyes. His reaction pained me, but I’d grown accustomed to feeling my heart flake away; I’d learned a lot over the previous twenty-four hours and was tougher now. And one look at his grinning eyes told me that what I was planning was the least he deserved.
Before I knew it, it was seven o’ clock.
I logged onto Luke’s email account.
I briefly scanned the day’s mail, noted fresh threads from Phil and Tina, and one from Brian titled “Any news mate??”, but didn’t open any of them. I was tired of reading helplessly as they plotted the downward curve of my life. Sick of sitting by and letting throwaway exchanges dictate my destiny.
I’d noticed that Luke had everyone saved in his address book to save time typing full addresses. So that’s where I went next. They were all there, of course. “Team” consisted of addresses of everyone involved in internet law; “Kramers” contained everyone at the firm’s email addresses; “Idiots” was Luke, Craig and Phil. Plus there were individuals: “Bailey”, “Brian”, “Maddie”…“Tina”. Everyone Luke regularly contacted could be found in his address book. All he needed to do was type in a word and, when sent, the email would find its way to the email addresses it linked to.
Sometimes the simplicity of my plan astounds me. They called me a schemer, but a child could have come up with this.
I decided to be selective. My idea would work once with each chosen address, and was guarantee-free; I’d only make an impact if Luke sent the right type of emails.
I targeted a few addresses, logged off Luke’s email for the final time and shut down. I was home by eight-thirty. Luke wasn’t. I’ve no idea what time he returned, because by nine I was exhausted, calm, asleep.
By the following afternoon I knew my plan had worked. A few ill-advised emails and Luke’s world crumbled.
I expected this. I just never considered the knock-on effect.
According to Brian and office gossip, Luke arrived, hungover and overtired and logged on:
Date: 18/03/2009 09:07
Did I tell you how awesome last night was? I can still smell you on me and the thought of you knickerless and so close is driving me insane – fancy a lunchtime to remember? Xxx**
Because Tina didn’t reply, an hour later he wrote:
**Playing hard to get?
Email me. You make me want to explode! Xxx**
And after another hour:
Joking. But where are you? I’ve done fuck all this morning, just been thinking about your naked body and what I want to do with it. Better focus, got a meeting with that twat bailey after lunch.**
Luke didn’t know that that twat Bailey was out all morning. Luke didn’t know that I’d marked Tina’s email address as spam, meaning that anything she sent wouldn’t get through. Most importantly, Luke didn’t know that I’d made a change to his address book, so that when he typed in “Tina” he was actually emailing his boss.
Bailey read the emails shortly before his scheduled time with Luke. Apparently it was an interesting meeting.
If only Luke had stopped there. But, unfortunately, whilst itching to hear back from Tina, he’d sent Phil a joke.
Date: 18/03/2009 11:13
What do you say to a woman with 2 black eyes?
Nothing. You’ve told her twice already.**
Luke often sent Phil jokes, and he would have liked that one. But the people whose email addresses I’d replaced Phil's with – Kramers’ HR director, Val Riley, and Loretta Foster, Luke’s most influential client – did not appreciate the joke. In fact, they both complained to Bailey minutes before he read the emails Luke had inadvertently sent to him. Like I said, it must have been an interesting meeting.
But before facing Bailey, Luke emailed the “Idiots”.
Date: 18/03/2009 11:47
Subject: READ THIS
Bow down and worship me for I am your true god.
Last night, Tina was complete and utter dirt. She let me do whatever I wanted to her, a proper little fuckdoll and of course she didn’t waste a drop.
So praise be to me, for I am…
Ps got 241 burgerking vouchers, let’s go there lunchtime.**
With the “Idiots” group, I probably went too far. To Loz, Phil and Craig’s I added the email address of every company employee, copied and pasted from his “Kramers” group. Everyone received that email. And, unlike Tina, it didn’t go down well.
Okay, I set the wheels in motion for a disastrous day in Luke’s life, but he has to accept some responsibility because, even by his standards, he outdid himself. How could I know that, still half-drunk and consumed with loverboy arrogance, he’d pen three emails so explicit and indefensible? That wasn’t my fault.
Of course, by the time Bailey finished with him, and he returned to clear his desk to shouts of “Fuckgod!”, Luke had twigged what was going on. He refused to look at Tina and bolted over to me: innocent, demure Mad Maddie.
He made quite a scene. At first, I denied everything, but it soon became obvious that I was in the perfect position to sabotage Luke’s emails and had a clear motive.
But it didn’t matter how loudly he shouted about his “mad bitch girlfriend” manipulating his address book, the fact remained that he’d written and sent emails too offensive for Kramers to condone. I lost my job, but so did he.
We broke up. It still pains me that our life together had to end, but there was no alternative; I’d done wrong to avenge his wrong, and neither of us could forgive each other.
Luke had always looked after me and, as a result, I’d saved enough money to survive. I moved out within the week and rented a grim flat nearby.
I’d been sure of Luke’s infidelity before seeing the facts. Maybe that explains why I picked myself up relatively quickly and started again; single, but with purpose. I faced some tricky job interviews, but my skills saved me and, before long, I found work at a small design company.
I’d been there three weeks when I received the call from Brian to tell me Luke was dead.
I never wanted Luke to come to physical harm. Regardless, he did. I’ll live with that forever.
Isn’t the internet a curious thing? The power it wields is frightening.
By the end of that fateful day, Luke had lost his girlfriend, his filthy lover, his job and, as a bonus, become a laughing stock to all but his closest friends. He didn’t deal with his losses well. Tina refused to have anything to do with him, and apparently he had a tough time at interviews; seems hacking into emails doesn’t damage your employment opportunities as badly as being known for sending them to the world.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. The world hasn’t seen Luke’s text-based faux pas…but a lot of people have. Six hundred thousand and twenty-seven, or so that paper said.
You’ve seen viral emails before: forwarded threads revealing some immense blunder, gleefully leaked then callously bounced around the world wide web. I have no idea who forwarded his emails but, in my view, they are as bad as me. They even went to the trouble of compiling the three threads into one email, before forwarding it with an introduction and the subject title: “And you think you’re having a bad day!!”.
As soon as Luke’s emails were leaked, things moved fast. Everyone I know received it. It even landed in my Googlemail inbox three times. I eventually opened it and counted forty-six replies. As a result of my tinkering, Luke literally became a joke:
**This guy is such a cock.
This wanker worked for kramers the law firm they’ve lost loads of clients because of him.
Classic way to ruin your life. Well done, Fuckgod!**
And so on.
Believe it or not, after all that had happened, I felt sorry for Luke. This public disgrace had never been my intention. But I couldn’t bring myself to contact him once the email went viral. He hated me, and I didn’t see how I could repair the damage I’d done. His story was mentioned, however briefly, in most papers, and he was all over the internet. Google Luke’s name and you’d be amazed at how many sites mention his actions. He earned himself a Facebook group, featured on viral sites like boreme.com and 3dge.net, plus some wit even set up www.wheresfuckgod.com, which implored fans of this new celebrity to holler “Fuckgod” his way. Many did. He was relentlessly pursued and reminded of one morning’s fill of emails. He lost everything. And everyone found it hilarious.
Even so, I think most people could have forged on. He was young and could’ve started again. But maybe I didn’t understand the pressure he was under; after all, everyone soon lost interest in me and my act of sabotage. I didn’t have to deal with much attention, because they weren’t my ill-advised words bouncing around every continent. When I was mentioned in the papers, I was portrayed as the victim who avenged herself on a “love cheat”; to some, I was a kind of hero. Tina was even more sidelined and, though I hate her, I pity her; paraded in front of everyone she knew and many she didn’t as a piece of meat. Only the tabloids took an interest in her, and even then it was to dig more dirt on her already filthy antics. When she refused to be drawn in, sinking further into her humiliation and compelled to take extended leave from Kramers, the world forgot her. She was, and remains, an inessential detail. An object.
But Luke didn’t fade from people’s minds, and found being hated and ridiculed a new, disturbing experience. He’d always been popular, and used his charm to evade people’s wrath. No one, to my knowledge, had victimised or behaved viciously towards him. He just wasn’t the type to attract malice.
Then came the emails, and then came the spite for the first time in his life. I heard through Brian that Luke couldn’t stay away from the root of his misery. Night after night, he Googled himself to exhaustion. This wasn’t vanity, but a masochistic need to read what others thought of him.
It’s a wide world out there. Luke found the site, run by a militant feminist, which insisted that “castration was created to calm animals like Luke Watkins”. He discovered the site which highlighted public figures for whom “suicide was the only acceptable option”. Luke’s name occasionally appeared there.
I wish he had turned to me. When he stared at the mass of prescription pills spilled out before him on his bed – our bed – he should have left that bottle of whiskey alone and called me.
But he didn’t, and that’s why I am alone. Returning from his funeral, my face a mess of badly-applied mascara, wearing the most expensive dress I’ve ever bought.
This is my punishment. They’ll never forgive me, nor realise that I’d have rather died than be responsible for Luke’s death.
Because what good did my act of vengeance do? Tina is a shell, doomed forevermore to be wary of men and their loose talk; Luke is dead; and I’m not worth anything to anyone. Friends have been difficult to make at my new company and, even a few weeks down the line, I can tell that people from my past don’t want to be involved in my future.
But I’ve nevertheless noticed something that helps dull my pain. People are emailing less. You must have noticed. Check your inbox. All of a sudden, the office clown sends round less jokes, gossip is saved for the pub rather than chucked carelessly with the click of a button. Around my office, people approach each other to confirm lunch plans. They socialise more. On the streets people are talking, into ears or receivers, no longer walking into lampposts as they text. Chatrooms and social network sites have slowed their influential assault.
It won’t last. Technology can’t let something as needy and pliable as humanity take over. But, for a short while, the fear of writing the wrong thing to the wrong person has delayed its conquest.
People are talking.
Thanks to me. To Luke.
It must be nice to talk to someone. If only to warn them of the impact of their final message, before they click…Send.