It was late. She had just finished the stack of marking and sat back with a sigh at the little round dining table by the window. Jonny was at the computer, hunched over below his shelves of books- books about all sorts of things; philosophy, sociology, religion, psychology. Over the past couple of years he’d added a collection of books about how to survive in the wilderness, or the accounts of people who had done just that, and he had been reading these avidly- more avidly with every passing day. Until recently.
‘Jonny?’ she said.
There was no response from him. The light from the computer screen flickered across his lifeless face.
‘Jonny, it’s late,’ she said, ‘let’s go to bed.’
He didn’t even look round. He was playing Affrayed. He played Affrayed every evening now, and half the night more often than not. Imogen got up and went over to him, feeling the beginnings of anger, but trying not to let it show. ‘Jonny,’ she said again. He was still completely absorbed, so for a moment Imogen watched the action unfolding on the screen.
Try as she might, Imogen couldn’t see the attraction of Affrayed. Apparently it had originally been something else, some sort of elaborate multiplayer game of hide and seek, but then it had changed- evolved into a huge online game of survival. Imogen didn’t understand how a game could change, but how a game could change was not important. The fact that the game had changed her husband, that was what she worried about. Because he had changed. As each day went by she became further and further locked out of his life, and out of his thoughts. She looked again at his face. His blue eyes were glassy, his scruffy hair beginning to get the sheen of grease that it always had by the end of the day. He looked like he was barely alive. This was going to take some doing.
‘Jonny!’ she shouted, right next to his ear.
‘What?’ he said, blinking like he’d just woken up, ‘what’s happening?’ He looked around as though expecting to see a fire, and then his eyes rested on her again.
‘Nothing’s happening,’ she told him quietly, ‘I just wanted to snap you out of that game.’
Jonny rubbed his forehead. She saw his eyes slip longingly back towards the screen, but he forced them away again. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘I’m sorry, Gennie. What time is it?’
‘Quarter to twelve.’
‘Oh,’ he said. He closed the game with obvious reluctance, and when he followed her into the bedroom he still looked distracted.
Imogen started to get undressed, hoping to attract his attention, but when her body failed to draw so much as a glance from him she gave up and pulled on a baggy old t-shirt. She thought Jonny might at least say a few words to her, but he was just sitting silently at the end of the bed, so she sat down by his side and nudged his knee with hers.
‘Are you alright?’ she asked him.
He continued his silence as though she hadn’t spoken. Imogen looked at her hands in her lap, then at Jonny’s hands, and was alarmed to see they were shaking.
‘Jonny?’ she said, touching his arm gently. ‘Jonny, what’s wrong?’
‘The game,’ he said, ‘Affrayed.’
Imogen took a deep breath to calm herself. She was sick of hearing about it. ‘What about it?’ she asked, as patiently as she could.
‘When I was playing it just then,’ he said slowly, ‘I… I swear it was responding to me without me actually doing anything.’
‘I don’t understand,’ Imogen said. She began to feel frightened.
‘Well, when you came and interrupted me my hands were in my lap,’ he explained, ‘and I think they’d been there a long time. Didn’t you notice?’
‘No,’ she said, ‘why, what… what are you saying?’
‘Think about it,’ he said, ‘the keyboard was on the desk. My hands were in my lap. But I was playing. I was still playing.’