by Sandra Crook
“You’ll soon get the hang of it, Dad,” Tom said. “Then you can order your groceries on line and have them delivered to the door. There are forums you can join, for people with similar interests to yours. It’s an opportunity to make lots of new friends. And if you’ve got any problems, just e-mail me and I’ll get back to you immediately. It’ll be so much easier for us to keep in touch this way.”
Edward slumped moodily in front of the newly-installed computer. “I’d rather see you, son,” he said softly.
Tom sighed. “I’ve explained, Dad. I’m really tied up with this new system design project just now. We’ll keep in touch by e-mail every day. This’ll open up a whole new world for you.”
Edward turned reluctantly towards the screen, seizing the mouse and sliding it in an exaggerated fashion across the mat.
Tom frowned. He hoped this would work out; he’d spent quite a bit of time and money reconditioning one of his old laptops, installing extra memory and a new hard drive. It had seemed like a good idea at the time.
“Hey Tom,” his father e-mailed a few weeks later, “did you know you can read newspapers on line, for free?”
Tom smiled. Despite an initial inability to distinguish between a right, left, single and double click, his father was now steaming ahead.
Maybe that’s where I got my ability from, thought Tom, engrossing himself in his new project once more. Freed from making a regular weekly trip up the motorway to his father’s house, he was making great progress just now. His boss was more than delighted with his efforts.
A few weeks later another e-mail arrived. “Hey Tom, did you know there are symptom-checkers on line? And you can order your medications too.”
“Terrific, Dad, but don’t forget to go for your check-ups.”
The following week, Tom received another message, this time through his Facebook account.
“Edward Johnson has joined a technical forum for senior citizens, and knows just as much as the rest of them.”
Tom grinned and having ‘liked’ the comment, sent back one of his own: “I said you’d get the hang of it. I’ll try and visit this weekend, Dad.”
“No worries kid, always nice to see you, but don’t knock yourself out. Hey, did you know you can play Sudoku on line?”
It was several months later, and only after several of Tom’s e-mails remained unanswered, that he decided he’d better drive up to see his father. Could be, he thought, that there’s a problem with the computer, though you’d think he’d have rung if that was the case.
On arriving at the house, Tom let himself in quietly. There was a light on in the study, and on opening the door he found his father’s body slumped in front of the computer, the curtains drawn, and the room bathed in a blue light from the computer screen.
He’d been dead a couple of days it turned out, apparently having suffered a heart attack.
As he made the funeral arrangements, Tom was surprised just how devastated he was by his father’s death, and at the level of guilt he felt that over the past months the main contact had been through technology and not face to face.
I really should have driven up to see him more often, he thought.
After the funeral, Tom went to his father’s house to start sorting things out. There’d been a good pension and Tom knew there were substantial savings somewhere, so his first priority was finding his father’s banking files. It came as something of a surprise therefore, when he discovered statements from the bank indicating that his father’s account contained only a few hundred dollars.
Switching on the computer, he quickly gained entry to his father’s e-mail account, and his spirits sank when he realised that prior to his death, Edward had mastered the art of internet banking. Over the last few months, several hefty sums had found their way to a number of ‘friends’ in West Africa and South America, who’d promised a variety of benefits if Edward would just forward a thousand bucks here and a couple of hundred there.
Dad had also joined an on-line poker site. It looked like he’d managed to win a fair amount, but there was no sign that the winnings had reached his bank account.
I should have checked on what he was doing, thought Tom despairingly. Who’d have thought he’d get this far with the computer on his own, though?
Feeling slightly guilty, he decided that checking his father’s bookmarked pages might throw some light on the full extent of his recent activities. He opened up the bookmark toolbar.
He was making his way down the list with increasing horror when he heard a key in the door, and a young woman entered the house, dragging a suitcase behind.
“What are you doing in our house?” she shouted angrily, in a thick Eastern European accent.
“Your house?” protested Tom indignantly. “This was my father’s house.”
“Was?” echoed the woman, before a slow smile of comprehension spread across her face.
Tom groaned, his glance flicking back to the bookmarked page which had just opened up on the screen before him.
Copyright © 2011 by Sandra Crook