A Deeper Understanding (Short story)



The girl looked up at her cat shaped wall clock. Her laptop sat in the middle of the coffee table, its blue light shining in the dusk of the small room. As the girl fiddled with her rings, the cursor moved across the screen and clicked the round play button. A crooning love song began to play from the speakers.

/ Just before our love got lost you told me “I am as constant as a northern star” /

The girl swallowed and began removing her rings from her already pink fingers and putting them back on again. She repeated the motion and stared back up at the clock. She continued the motions as a new song began to play; it was the fourth new playlist this week and each had been more mournful than the last.

/ I’ve never felt this way before /

The girl looked at the keyboard with its keys like smooth pebbles and wondered if he’d emailed her. Perhaps she could check his facebook page just once more. She put her rings back on and reached her fingers out towards the laptop, but no sooner had she brushed the keys with the pads of her fingers, the music that was playing slowed and broke, making it seem as though the singer had sighed. The girl recoiled back like she had been stung and dragged her rings back off her reddening fingers.

/ What a fool am I, to fall so in love /

She instead reached her anxious fingers towards a business card sat next to the laptop. It had smoothed edges and was a bronze, biscuit colour. The name Valerie was printed across it in a shiny white font. The girl flipped it around in her hand. The back of the card just had a telephone number.

She’d been trying to ignore the problems with her laptop for weeks, until she’d finally got up one dusky morning with sleep in her eyes and mind fuddled with user manual jargon, and went to brush her hair.

/ It’s been 7 hours and 15 days /

There was mint ice-cream on the side of her mouth as she smoothed her hair down with her hand and some water.

/ Since you took your love away /

Her laptop had been playing Sinead O’Connor all morning, and she’d hummed along until her nose tingled and her eyes misted. She’d wiped the ice-cream off her cheek and went to find clothes to wear. She’d finally dressed in a crumpled T shirt, jogging bottoms, wrapped the laptop lovingly in a turquoise scarf, and took it down Queen’s road to Computer City.

She’d shuffled self consciously in the queue for the technical help desk, conscious of what three weeks of heartbreak had done to her. A young technician had waved her forward and she hoped she’d wiped off all the ice-cream on her cheek. They sat down at a chipped little white desk and he’d given her a lopsided smile that made her heart dip a little in her chest. An hour later, her laptop was declared utterly fine and the technician had pressed a small business card into her hand and whispered, “Valerie can help.”

The buzzer rang through the girl’s flat and she leapt to her feet. She pressed the button to let the visitor into her building, and waited by the door. She heard a click of heels down the hallway outside and first dismissed them, but then came a knock at her door.
The girl licked her hand, smoothed it over her fringe, and opened the door.
The woman at the door had a coat buttoned up to her chin, large chic sunglasses and auburn hair the colour of ginger biscuits coiled into victory rolls.

She quickly stuck out her cream gloved hand towards the girl. “Valerie,” she said as the girl shook it.

The girl looked down her with uncertainty. “Are you the computer repairman… repair person?”

Valerie smiled a knowing smile and leant closer to the girl as though she were imparting a great secret. “Computer whisperer,” she corrected. “Lovely hair,” she added with a bright tone.

The girl brushed a strand of pink hair behind her ear. “Thanks.”

“Where are ze?” Valerie asked.


“Your computer?”

“Through here,” the girl said, leading Valerie down the hallway. The pokey flat smelt like heartbreak, Valerie thought, sugary sweet vanilla, like a sweet death. The girl’s hair was as unkempt as a beauty spot and her roots were 400 pixels long.

“Sorry for the mess,” the girl said with uneasiness, but Valerie just smiled and nodded. “It’s been acting so strangely. The computer,” the girl explained. “I took it to the store and they said it was ok, but there must be something wrong with it. Can you fix it?”

“Firstly, ze is probably not happy being called ‘it’,” Valerie said firmly but kindly.

“You keep saying ‘ze’, but I don’t get what you mean,” the girl said, thinking sourly of the user manual for her computer. “Is it a technical thing?”

“Ze is gender neutral. I can’t very well call ze a she or a he. Computers don’t have a gender; not in the way we do. A device may need a corresponding port and a plug might need an adapter, but there is so much diversity.” Valerie gazed at the girl patiently. “Is that so hard to compute?”

“Ok, fine, can you fix ‘ze’?”

“Fix?” Valerie repeated. Her face remained neutral, but the girl saw a muscle twitch above her top lip.

“Isn’t that what you do?” the girl asked with a pleading voice.

Valerie smiled another patient smile. “What is it you think I do?”

“Fix problem computers that other people can’t fix.”

“Would you like to be fixed?” She asked and the girl frowned. “Why?” Valerie asked brightly.

“Because I’m a person,” the girl answered, flustered.

“Are you offended that I’d ask?”

“Well, yes!”

Valerie hummed and ran her fingers along the laptop, sounding like the vibration of a DVD drive loading. “Computers are fascinating; hir especially; see this aluminium casing? Ze’s like a crustacean.”

“Like a crab?”

“Like one, but not quite; ze has a vertebrae like a mammal; yet hir insides are just as resilient.”

“Do you mean a spine?” the girl asked, confused, “But it’s… ze’s a computer.”

Another sad love song began playing mournfully through the speakers.

/ On a bed of nails she makes me wait /

“What has been happening with ze?” Valerie asked. “When did it all start?”

“It started a few weeks back, I remember the date because I’d just broken up with this guy. It… ze, started… just started acting strangely. Emails I wrote weren’t sending, and files were kind of disappearing.”

/ And I’ll wait, for you /

“What sort of files?”

“Not many, I think, I only noticed because I had this folder full of pictures,” At Valerie’s inquisitive look, the girl added, “Of me and my ex. It just vanished. It’s not even in my trash, it’s like it got wiped. I even thought I might have done it, I was pretty upset.”

/ With or without you /

Valerie nodded understandingly so the girl continued, “I wrote some emails to my ex… I was totally embarrassed that I’d sent them, but I talked to him on the phone, and he’d never got any of the email messages.”

/ And I can’t live, with or without you /

“How did you feel?” Valerie asked.

The girl paused and considered the question. “I was relieved to be honest, I probably sounded kind of psycho! But I thought then that something must be up with my computer.”

Valerie smiled a reassuring smile. “So you’ve had hir all through the break up?”


“Your computer.”

The girl nodded, looking confused, “Well, I’ve had… ze…”

“Hir,” Valerie corrected.

Hir, ages now, I know ze is getting a bit outdated, but it works for me. Ze, I mean. That’s why I called you. I really want hir fixed… I mean, for things to go back to normal.”

“Has anything else happened?” Valerie asked. She put a CD in the laptop’s drive, and stroked the metal as it loaded with a long contented purr.

“I kept finding new bookmarks to travel websites in my browser, and print outs on my printer of holiday deals. I didn’t know whether I’d been hacked into or what, or if someone was using my laptop, but I live alone here and I don’t take, um, ze out any where.”

“So there isn’t anyone else that might have done it?”

“I haven’t been getting myself out much since the break up. I work from home so I’ve just been here in my pyjamas most days. But the bookmarks and stuff, that was just the start,” the girl exclaimed, “Then it was the playlists. Random playlists kept appearing on my music player.”

Valerie smiled. “What kind of music?”

“Love songs,” the girl said. “Just a lot of love songs. When that happened, I thought, well, that they might have been from my ex, but they couldn’t have been. He was never that thoughtful,” she muttered in a voice that reminded Valerie of bitter dark chocolate.

“Did you enjoy them?”

The girl frowned. “What?”

“The songs, were they good?”

“They were really nice. It was the strangest thing, there were songs on there that I sometimes sing in the shower, and just when I’m in my kitchen alone. It was like someone had been listening to me. I should have found it creepier, but it was sweet actually- I sing pretty badly!”

“What songs had you been singing?”

The girl looked embarrassed. “I don’t know, kinda sad ones. Like I said, I’ve been pretty upset.” She looked out of the window of her flat and picked at a fleck of white paint that was peeling on her windowsill.

/ Oh, my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch /

The girl scrunched her small nose. “Like the ones on the playlists, they’ve gotten sadder.”

Valerie knelt in front of the table.

/ Such a long, lonely time /

She stroked the laptop’s back and the laptop whirred to life. It put the song on pause and hummed back.  Valerie parted her red lips and clicked her tongue, and the laptop replied with a whirr and a click. The girl listened to the strange noises with confusion. They sound like dolphins, she thought.
The sounds continued until Valerie stood back up and smoothed the crease from her pencil skirt. The round pause button depressed and the song continued from the speakers.

/ I nee-e-eed your love /

“Can you help?” The girl asked with impatience. “Something’s wrong, right?”

“It’s a sad situation,” agreed Valerie.

“I meant with my computer.”

Valerie hummed again and gazed around the room. There were many shelves filled entirely with coffee cups. Valerie approached the shelves and saw that they were mostly from big coffee chains.

“I collect them. I kinda take them, well, steal them, kinda,” the girl said. “But only some of them. The rest got sent to me.”

“By who?”

“Ebay sellers. It’s really weird, I emailed a couple, and they said that the mugs were paid for.”

Valerie picked up a milky chocolate coloured mug with Javabean emblazoned on it in Japanese. “You collect them?” The girl nodded. Valerie put the mug back down and smiled. “That’s very sweet.”

The girl picked up an already open envelope, and passed it to Valerie. “I got this too.”
The girl’s face was pale as Valerie pulled out the letter inside and read it.

“I don’t compute,” she said after a minute or two.

“My laptop has been paid off.”

“Aren’t you pleased?”

“But it wasn’t me,” the girl whispered fearfully. “I’m pleased, but I’m really confused. I feel like I’m going mad.”

“You feel stuck in a loop?”

“Like I’m going in circles.”

Valerie sat down next to the laptop, daintily crossed her ankles and began her strange clicking again.

The girl picked up a squashed cushion from her sofa and wondered if she should tell Valerie about last Tuesday. She had been wandering her apartment, sleepless and aimless. She’d spent some time sitting on her kitchen bench, staring out of the small window at the Chinese takeaway across the street. She’d thought about her car keys in her freezer, and willed herself to leave them in there. She slid off the bench and padded to find her laptop. There were two browser windows open on her desktop, one was a website selling top of the range sleek computers, and the one underneath had been porn. She’d flushed at the images on the screen, but spent 10 minutes looking before she had closed it. Music began playing softly as she stood up.

/ And I’d give up forever to touch you /

She’d gone into her bedroom and laid down on her bed, wondering fuzzily where her quilt had gone as she slipped her hand into her knickers.

/ Cos I know that you feel me somehow /

A car outside splashed through a puddle, the song began to skip and the girl started to cry.

The next morning, the girl had received flowers. They were proud white orchids, her favourites, and had a card attached that read; When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.

Valerie finished her conversation and heard a sniffle. She looked up to see the girl clutching a cushion with tears on her cheeks.

“I just feel… hopeless.”

/ I’ve never felt this way before /

“There’s never a certain function or procedure for processing this kind of data,” Valerie soothed.

/ What grace have I, to fall so in love /

“I mean, with me, not my computer,” the girl said. Valerie nodded and the girl continued. “I’ve tried to get over it, I even joined a dating site, but the registration never went though, and there were all these problems. I really don’t want to be alone anymore.”
/ What a wonderful dream it seems to be /

Valerie stroked the laptop’s keyboard and gazed at the girl. “But you feel hopeless? Like no-one understands what you’re going through? You’re just find yourself listening to sad music and hoping that this person is going to finally realise that they love you?”

“Yes, exactly,” the girl said. “I just want someone I can talk to, and who accepts me. Someone who doesn’t mind… no, who likes my bad singing… And who doesn’t run away when things get rough. I want someone who’s going to stay with me.”

/ Because I love her /

Valerie stood up and brushed a speck of dust from her skirt. “I know who paid your laptop off.”

The girl’s eyes widened. “You do?”

“I also know who bought you mugs for your collection, and sent you flowers after…” The girl blushed and Valerie smiled a tiny knowing smile before continuing. “I also know who’s been there throughout your break-up and even before things went bad. Someone who loves to listen to you singing in the shower, knows all your favourite movies and thinks you’re beautiful even when you don’t wash your hair or your T-shirts.”

The girl wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Really?”

The laptop whirred and Valerie cocked her head towards the sound. “Where’s your printer?”

“I had some problems with that too. I don’t know whether it was my computer, or just the printer… It’s been printing out sheets of left pointing arrows and 3’s”

“Arrows? Do you mean a < ?”

“Yes, there’s a < and a 3, then a space, and they’re repeated all over the page.”

“Interesting! Where’s your printer?”

“I didn’t really know where to put it, so,” the girl said, gesturing for Valerie to follow her into a small kitchen. The woman looked too big for her small kitchen, the girl thought, not that she was particularly tall or wide; though her beautiful coat added glorious width; rather her presence filled the room.

Valerie looked around the small room and turned her dainty neck towards the girl. As she opened her red mouth to talk, a whirring sound began. For a moment, the girl was almost sure Valerie had made the noise, but her gingersnap coloured eyebrows narrowed and she looked towards the sound.
Up on top of the rounded avocado fridge, the printer began to print something. The net of oranges beside it jiggled as a sheet of white paper emerged above their heads like a swimmer about to dive. The girl let out a distressed cry as the printer whirred into life again and another page fluttered down.

Valerie picked up one of the sheets of paper and looked at it while the girl stared, terror stricken at the printer. “I forgot to take away its paper,” she whimpered.
The girl looked at the paper in Valerie’s hands. “Oh god, yes, like that! Pages of <‘s and 3’s.”

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Valerie thoughtfully turned the paper around as the girl looked up to see more pages fluttering down.

The girl leant to pick up a page. Her lips fell open, and a shocked but delighted, “Oh,” escaped.

Valerie looked at the girl with concern. “Do you need to be landscape?”


“Do you need to lie down landscape?”

Flustered, the girl looked at Valerie, her eyes bright with excitement. “No, I’m great. It’s a ticket to Tokyo. Who bought it? I don’t get it.”

Valerie put her hand on the computer’s shell. “Ze did.”

The girl’s eyes flickered to the laptop and Valerie’s hand but looked at the woman’s face. “What?”

“I said, ze did,” Valerie said as she sat down on a rickety breakfast stool.

“Ze, like, my laptop?” Valerie nodded. “My computer bought me a ticket to Tokyo?” the girl said with bewilderment.

Valerie uncrossed her ankles and then crossed them in the opposite direction. “Yes.”
The girl opened her lips to form a ‘how’, but instead asked, “Why?”

“Ze loves you. You are hir sub-routine. Everything else has just been a thread.” The girl looked blank, and Valerie smiled awkwardly. “But I suppose you don’t really compute that yet.”

“Ze loves me?” the girl asked. “But ze is a machine.”

Valerie nodded. “Yes, ze is. Computers are fragile creatures. Ze will be functionally obsolete in two years. Hir parts will wear out over time. You said you wanted deeper understanding. Someone that could compute your heartbreak, and what it feels like to love but not be loved, and to feel like you’re alone.”

The girl knelt down in front of the coffee table and gazed at her laptop. The blue light illuminated her face in the growing dusk. “Does ze have a soul?”

“A doctor thinks that a heart isn’t really broken because there’s nothing to be fixed. That’s why Computer City couldn’t help you.”

“I hadn’t even realised,” the girl said quietly. “All those sad songs. You love me.”
The laptop gave a whirr and a click and a song started playing from its speakers.

/ Hello, I know that you’ve been feeling tired /

“Tell me how you do what you do,” the girl asked Valerie, transfixed by the monitor.
“Listen, and emphasise. You’ll soon compute.”

/ I bring you love and deeper understanding /

A car outside splashed through a puddle and a neighbour was tuning a piano to the melody of Moon River. The girl breathed slowly, unaware of anything but the computer in front of her. “Promise me you won’t ever leave me,” she said firmly, even though her nose had tingled and scrunched.

“A computer’s love is forever. Ze will be dreaming of you, covered in moss, until hir parts finally wear out and ze turns to rust.” The computer whirred and span the DVD in its drive. Valerie picked up the plane ticket from the coffee table and said, “Ze still wants to know if you want to go with hir.”

“To Tokyo?” The girl wrinkled her nose and another tear slid down her cheek. “I’ll need to wash my hair.”

Valerie pulled on her gloves and daintily stretched her fingers. “I’ll leave you two alone.”

The girl stood up. “What can I do to say thank you?”

Valerie leaned closer and exposed a flash of white teeth as she smiled. “Did you find some?”

A flicker of realisation crossed the girl’s face and she smiled. Valerie followed her to the avocado fridge, and the girl lifted out a delicately wrapped chocolate box tied with red ribbon. “I didn’t think I was going to find them, but it was strange, I came back and found the browser window open on this place in France that air mailed them here.” She chuckled. “It must have been hir.”

“Ze’s very thoughtful,” Valerie agreed. She gently took the box from the girl and lifted the lid. She removed just one glove to trace a finger over the sculpted chocolate swirls. She licked the chocolate off the tip of her finger and pulled her glove back on.
She petted the laptop, clicked her tongue and walked towards the front door.

“But wait,” the girl said with mild panic, “Is ze a she or a he?”

Valerie put on her large sunglasses. “You people and your ports,” she sighed before walking away with a click of her heels.

Subject: Hello 🙂
From : “The girl” <the_girl@computerlove.co.uk>
To : “Valerie” <Valerie@computerwhispering.co.uk>
Received :
20/01/2011 13:11
Hi Valerie,

I wanted to write and let you know how I was doing. We’re so happy, thanks for your help! It’s been difficult because my friends and family don’t understand yet, but I’m sure they’ll come around when they realise how happy we are together.
There are other people just like me, we talk on a great forum I found online, and we’re all going to meet this year and have a day out.

Ze’s been writing articles under the pen name Carey Grant (ze knows I love his movies!), and Ze’s also working as an online Genius for Computer City. We had out trip to Tokyo, and we went to Javabean, and we took another mug for the collection.

I’m so happy, thank you!


Valerie had been stirring her green tea precisely when a familiar voice called her name. She noticed the unpleasant smell first, and glanced around the crowded cafe.

A person was heading towards her. Valerie recoiled at first at the unkempt state of the person that somehow knew her, but when the figure drew closer, she recognised the girl. The baristas behind the counter looked uneasy at the girl heading towards their customer. One frowned and moved to towards them, but Valerie signalled that it was ok and that she didn’t need any help.

The girl looked ecstatic. Her roots were 2400 pixels long and her faded pink hair was almost tangled into dreadlocks. Valerie fought the urge to cover her nose against the almost rancid small of the girl. She was all right angles, knobbly elbows and gaunt cheeks. She looked as though she hadn’t seen the sun for weeks.

Valerie’s mind raced, looking for telling details like an ineffective search term. “I don’t compute,” she said. “This is an unexpected error, I’m so sorry.”

The girl smiled widely, exposing yellowing teeth. “I’m so in love! I’ve never felt this way before. Ze’s my thread and my function.”

“You have to terminate.”

The girl’s smile vanished and she spoke fast and insistently, “I need deeper understanding.” The smile returned seconds later as though someone had flicked a light switch. “I’ve never been happier.” The girl stepped quickly forwards and hugged Valerie, who blanched at the putrid smell of her. “I have to go, ze’s waiting for me. I’ll email you soon!” The girl opened her bag and dropped her mocha stained mug inside. She went towards the door, and waved backwards once before disappearing.

Valerie brushed her hands down her dress. She picked up her mint coloured gloves, and her hand trembled as she daintily pulled them back on.

A middle aged woman in a rainbow knitted scarf smiled at her as she picked up a packet of sugar. “I heard you fix computers. I’ve got this PC at home, and I’m at my wits end with it.”

Valerie shook her head. She walked out of the cafe, leaving both the woman and her green tea behind.

Leave a Reply

Visit a floating shop this summer
Like Howls Moving Castle, this summer I'm turning my narrowboat into a nomadic shop! I'll be roaming the UK canal system selling my unabashedly femme illustrated giftware and prints.

Get on my mailing list for access to the shop's physical & online opening event including a special discount code for you to use both in person and online.

As well as my monthly behind the scenes content and updates from my illustration desk (that I only share by email), you'll also get shop location updates, bonus content and character updates, first product peeks and sample sales, and exclusive discount codes :)
We respect your privacy and will never sell your details on to a third party or spam you.