Dating websites were the greatest disappointment the internet had to offer.
On the 17th of November, tomorrow exactly five years ago, Paul Putney's life ended. He quit his job as a senior director with one simple email and apart from the funeral of his wife and three children, seven days later, he hasn't left the house once. He couldn't bare going to the mall or the pub because his neighbours and former friends would remind him of the tragedy, so everything he needed he ordered on the internet. Sainsbury's delivery service, Amazon and e-bay never let him down.
The first day after the accident, he removed all batteries from the clocks and watches in the house. They were all frozen at different hours of the day, and wandering through the bedrooms, the corridors, the drawing room, the kitchen, Paul used to glance at them and pretend that time was moving on. The past five years had been like one disturbingly long day that wouldn't end until Clara came home with the kids.
At times, he'd take a nap in Little Danny's bed, wear Clara's dresses or masturbate on her knickers, so that he'd have to do the laundry before they got home. But the day was endless, and Paul was prone to boredom. There were plenty of porn websites, of course, but soon the mechanic movements of waxed and lubricated bodies somehow emphasized how cold and lonely he was. The chat rooms were better, they were filled with ordinary people that were up for dirty talk. But ButterFlyGrrl ruined it for him when he asked her whether she was alone. “Nope,” she answered, “I'm @ the school computer.” He logged out and suppressed the thought that he might have been chatting up Steph, his thirteen-year-old daughter.
Paul stared at the clock in the kitchen, and saw that it was only eleven in the morning. He had a whole day of loneliness ahead of him. There was no laundry to be done, the fridge was filled with vegetarian burgers for Johnny, fat-free desserts for his wife and healthy foods for the whole family. There were no chores left to do. He'd been a good houseman. It wouldn't hurt anyone if he'd go online and look for a friend, a female friend, to help him waste his time. It would only be until Clara came home. She'd always said he was free to do whatever he wanted, as long as she didn't have to know about it. He was only human, and it had been such a long time since she'd last touched him, rubbed her naked body against his, let him smell and lick her. It was unbearable how much he missed her.
So Paul got out his credit card and opened accounts at Skipdinner, Dating Direct and Adult Friend Finder. He uploaded a picture Clara had taken on St. Monica beach, during their honeymoon. Not because he took pleasure in using their souvenir to arrange adultery, but because it was the happiest and sexiest photograph he could find of himself. Clara wouldn't mind. If anything, he'd be doing her a favour, because he wouldn't be pestering her for sex all the time when she got home. It made him sad to remember how she'd sent him to his room as if he were one of her children, the day before the accident, because he'd tried to touch her up in the kitchen while Steph, Danny and Johnny were watching television in the drawing room.
He was disappointed to find that most women on Dating Direct insisted on meeting in a public place. In order not to appear dodgy by refusing to buy them dinner, he made appointments, but never showed up.
The Skipdinner population was more willing to drop by, but after giving them his address, he often pretended not to be at home. With horror, he'd sit on Steph's window sill on the second floor and watch an antique Fiat 500 park on his flowerbeds or a blonde tart in a leopard fur coat locking her moped to his fence. Those who came by bus or taxi, he let into his lair. He offered them vintage wine and joked that they were supposed to skip dinner. He made them laugh and take of their clothes. He did what they came for, but felt all the more empty when they left.
“I'm hungry now, so I have to ask you to leave before dinner,” he said to one particularly affectionate lady. He had hoped her visit would make time pass quicker, that she would bring him closer to Clara's return, but while he gave her the grand tour of the mansion (“I'm a widower, but I've only just come to terms with it.”) the clocks seemed to move backwards sooner than forwards.
Yes, dating websites were the greatest disappointment the internet had to offer. Paul made himself a spinach lasagne and had a fat free yoghurt for dessert, before he cancelled his dating accounts.
It was Google Ads that gave him the idea. It wasn't sex that made time pass – he'd timed it when he just started going out with Clara, and even in their good days the deed hardly ever took longer than half an hour. You couldn't fill a life time with sex. It was the hunt that made the world go round. Everything he did in this household – laundry, ironing, ordering the groceries, vacuum cleaning, cooking and washing up – he did in order to seduce Clara. That's why those thirty minutes a week could fill his life. In order to make time speed up, he didn't need a sex partner, he needed to convince someone that wasn't up for it into opening up for him. Opening up wide, so that he could... Paul ran up the stairs to his bedroom and selected a silken nightie that would soon need to be washed.