Read A Thousand Small Explosions Online
Authors: John Marrs
Christopher sat at the antique wooden desk in the box room at the rear of his two-storey apartment.
He turned on both computer screens and his wireless Bluetooth keyboards, then adjusted their positions until they were perfectly parallel to each other. He opened up his emails on the first screen and on the second, he flicked though several programmes before going online and clicking on the Where’s My Mobile Phone? programme he’d downloaded some months ago. Twenty-four different phone numbers appeared on his screen, but just two flashed in a bright green to indicate their users were on the move. That was about usual for the time of the evening, he reasoned.
It was the penultimate phone number that piqued his curiosity. He opened a map in his toolbar and added a red ring to indicate where the user was. Her phone’s GPS system offered up her current location as the street where she lived. ‘Perfect,’ he muttered, happy with himself.
Based on her typical pattern of behaviour, Number Seven would have just finished a shift at the no frills Soho chicken restaurant where she worked until around 10pm. She would then have caught the bus home. He predicted she would be settled in her bed within the hour before her second job as an office cleaner began in central London at 6am. Between those hours was when Christopher’s work could begin.
When narrowing down his choices, he had factored in how he might reach them. Number Seven’s flat was just a twenty-minute walk away from his house and he knew fairly well the distance between his and every one of their homes. He’d learned from the error of others like him that there should be no pattern to the location of his marks - keep everything random on the surface but in order underneath. And over time he’d worked out whose property he’d be best to drive to, who’d be best served by bike and which locations would be better reached on foot.
His attention was diverted from the red circle on one screen to the primary of his dozens of email accounts. The email from Match Your DNA had remained unopened since it appeared in his inbox four nights earlier, when he’d been preoccupied by Number Six. But on seeing it again, he became curious as to the woman his biology was determining as best suited to him. At least he hoped it was a woman because he'd read stories about people being Matched with someone of the same sex or with people decades older than them. He didn't want to be loved by a queer or a geriatric; in fact Christopher didn't really want to be loved by anyone. He’d wasted enough time in brief relationships throughout his thirty-three years to comprehend the amount of effort required to satisfy another person and it wasn’t for him.
Yet for all the drawbacks a potential Match Your DNA presented, he was still inquisitive as to whom his would be. He glanced out of the window and into the darkness of his garden and allowed himself to imagine how amusing it might be to carry on with his project while pretending to live a normal, pedestrian existence as one half of a couple.
He opened the email. Amy Brookbanks, 31, London, it read, along with her email address. He liked the fact that she hadn't given her mobile number out; it showed caution. So many of the girls on his list hadn’t shown that degree of foresight and it had – and would continue to be - their downfall. He decided that when he returned home later that night he would drop Amy an email and introduce himself, just to see what she had to say for herself.
In the meantime, as predicted, on his other screen, the location of Number Seven’s telephone number had stopped flashing and remained stationary. Satisfied, he turned both monitors off, locked up the room and made a beeline for the kitchen cupboard where he kept his packed bag. He put his freshly disinfected cheese wire with the wooden handles in the bag along with his pay-as-you-go phone with her number taped to the back of it, his gloves and his Polaroid camera.
As Christopher slipped on his gloves and overcoat, he glanced at the camera. It wasn't an original from back in the 1970s because the paper required for each print would’ve been too easy for police to trace. His camera’s paper was widely available and the camera itself was digital, containing up-to-date features like coloured filters. Each Number on his list had used a profile picture that had been Instagrammed and as he closed the door to his house, adjusted the straps on his backpack and walked briskly along the quiet street, Christopher knew he wanted his Numbers to look their very best, even in death.
Bethany looked on amused by Shawna and Lucy opening their plastic Aldi bags to remove their miserable looking lunches.
The contents of Shawna’s bag consisted of half a dozen thinly sliced celery sticks wrapped in cling film and a pot of low-calorie piri-piri hummus, while Lucy tucked into a gluten-free seeded roll and a chicken Cup-A-Soup, still steaming from a blast in the canteen microwave.
Bethany took a Tupperware lunch box from her handbag. She’d packed a bag of pickled onion flavoured Monster Munch, a small packet of Maltesers, a doorstop-chunky ham and pickle sandwich and a can of Pepsi. She had no desire to replicate the diets of her thirty-something workmates. “Bugger the bikini,” she thought.
‘So how are things going with that guy you were seeing from the club?’ Shawna asked Lucy, and licked a drop of hummus that’d fallen onto one of her false fingernails.
‘He’s being a dick,’ Lucy sniffed, ‘he told me has was taking me out to dinner last night – which turned out to be Nando’s - then spent the rest of the night staring at the skank working the till. I mean, who does that when you’re on a date? It’s so disrespectful.’
‘Seriously? He is such a player.’
‘I know. He’s coming round mine tonight though; I said I’d cook. What about you? What about that lad with the tattoos from Tinder?’
‘You mean Denzel? He says he really likes me but then I don’t hear from him in like four days. What’s up with that?’
Bethany shook her head and took another bite from her sandwich. It was conversations like this that reminded her of how grateful she was to have found Kevin on Match Your DNA, even if they were separated by half the world. Before she received an email confirming her Match, she’d been in the same position as her workmates, only she liked to think she was more discerning with her men. In reality, she had dated just as many losers, or as Cosmopolitan magazine branded them, Stopgaps.
‘You’ve got it easy,’ Lucy directed at her. ‘You’ve found your man.’
‘Yes, but it’s not like he’s on my doorstep, is it?’ Bethany replied. ‘I can’t just pop round for dinner and a cuddle, can I? At least you’re actually interacting with these guys, even if they are treating you like crap.’
‘That’s just how men are, though, isn’t it?’ said Shawna. ‘If you’re not one of the millions on that register who’ve been Matched already then you’ve got to make do with what you can get until Mr Right eventually turns up.
he turns up.’
‘So until then we’ve got to put up with a lot of shitbags,’ added Lucy.
Bethany disagreed but kept her thoughts to herself.
‘What I don’t get is what’s stopping you from going over to Australia and living happily ever after with Kevin?’ continued Shawna. ‘Science reckons he’s the one for you, but you’re wasting your days here.’
‘I can’t just drop everything and go to Australia,’ Bethany replied, shaking her head firmly. ‘I’ve got my flat, my career, my family, my cat to think about…’
‘Your flat’s rented, you don’t have a career, you have a job you hate - and I know that because we all hate it – you see your family once every two months and cats are pretty adaptable to living with other people. So when it comes down to it girl, you don’t have any excuse.’
‘It’s not like you’re taking a huge leap of faith either, is it?’ Lucy continued. ‘You were, literally, made for each other. Tell me what you like about him.’
‘He’s funny, he makes me feel good about myself, he’s kind, he has a gorgeous smile…’
‘What about downstairs? What’s he packing?’
‘Lucy! What a question! I don’t know.’
‘You mean you’ve not sent each other a few sexy selfies?’
‘Of course not.’ Bethany felt herself blush.
‘Christ, there’s enough naked selfies of me floating around cyberspace to break the internet,’ Lucy laughed.
‘Well if you don’t do that then you sext, right?’ Shawna interrupted.
‘Yeah, send each other filthy text messages or talk dirty down the phone to each other? Tell him what you want to do to him when you see him?’
Bethany shook her head.
‘What about sexy time on Skype? Or Facetime?’
‘We’ve never done Skype or Facetime.’
‘So you’ve not even seen him on video?’
‘No. I don’t need to.’ The truth is that Bethany had broached the subject of Skyping a couple of times, but Kevin didn’t have a laptop or a smartphone. Shawna and Lucy’s eyes met and simultaneously nodded.
‘It’s definitely love then,’ said Shawna. ‘And if he’s as amazing as you say he is, you need to stop wasting time and get out there and see him.’
‘Or you’ll end up like us,’ added Lucy, her tone suddenly shifting from lighthearted into something resembling a warning. ‘Beth honey, we’ve got slim pickings to choose from because all the quality men have been snapped up by their Matches. Me and Shawna are like the vultures left picking at the bones of what’s been left behind and believe us, it isn’t nice. It really isn’t. If I had a chance to be with my Match, I’d be on the next plane out of here, not sitting eating lunch and coming up with a hundred excuses as to why I shouldn’t go.’
‘I can’t,’ Bethany replied, taken aback by Lucy’s directness. ‘I just can’t leave everything behind and go on a whim. Besides, do you know how much it costs for a flight to Australia?’
‘Of course I do, I’m a bloody travel agent! And it’s not going to cost you that much with the discounts we get by working here. It’s the only bloody perk we have.’
‘No, it’s just not me to do that kind of thing.’
Shawna and Lucy glared at her, both of them with their tattooed eyebrows raised as far as the Botox would allow.
‘I can’t,’ repeated Bethany, and paused. ‘Can I?’
‘I think we should do it,’ Sally muttered, before squirming.
She lay on her back staring at the exposed beams holding up the bedroom ceiling, illuminated by the street lamp outside.
‘It usually takes you longer than that, but I’m not complaining,’ Nick replied, as he removed his head from between her legs and surfaced from beneath the duvet. His hand moved towards the bedside cabinet where he kept their condoms.
‘Not “it” as in sex,’ Sally replied, ‘I think we should do the Match Your DNA test.’
Nick manoeuvred himself back to his side of the bed.
‘Way to kill the moment, babe.’
‘Why now? Before Sumaira and Deepak rocked up for dinner and started talking about it, you were adamant we didn’t need to do it.’
‘Oh baby I still am,’ she replied, and her fingers played with the hairs on his chest as if to reassure him. ‘But like Sumaira says, it’ll give us a bit of added security, just to know. To really know.’
“Bloody Sumaira,” thought Nick, but he didn’t complain aloud. ‘Are you sure this isn’t your way of telling me you have pre-wedding jitters?’
‘Of course not, silly,’ Sally replied and pulled his head down to kiss the crown. ‘But you know what I’m like. It’s okay for you; your parents have been together since the Dark Ages while my mum’s been married three times and my dad is on his fourth wife. They’re both always searching for something they don’t think they have and I don’t want to be like them; I want to know that at least biologically, we stand a chance.’
‘What if it turns out our DNA doesn’t Match?’
‘Then we’ll be mindful that maybe we’ll need to put more effort into our relationship. Like John Lennon said, “Love is all you need”.’
‘Yes but he also said, “I Am The Walrus”, so let’s not hold too much credence to his pearls of wisdom.’
‘So you’ll do it?’
‘If it makes you happy, then yes, I’ll do it. Now can I go back to doing something else that makes you happy?’
Sally caught a flash of his smile and the whites surrounding his deep brown eyes as Nick’s head disappeared back beneath the duvet and between her legs.
The clock radio hit 3.40am when Ellie finally gave up trying to get to sleep.
With a busy day ahead, she’d desperately needed to sleep but her active brain didn’t seem to care. Instead, it raced at the speed of a runaway train with what she needed to accomplish in the next few hours to promote her new App. Under normal circumstances she’d have taken a sleeping tablet that had been prescribed by her private physician but she couldn’t risk feeling groggy when she needed to be on point.
Being interviewed by the world’s press was something Ellie had grown to loathe since reluctantly becoming a public figure. A decade earlier, she was another anonymous worker bee, busy behind the scenes. Then the next thing she knew, the world’s media was both praising her and lambasting her in equal measures.
As public appetite for her story grew, the tabloids sifted through every inch of her private life, examining her past like she was on trial, picking apart her former relationships. They threw enough cash at her exes until they spilled the beans on what she was like as a person, as a girlfriend and as a lover.
As a result, it made Ellie not just wary of the press but of the opposite sex too. And while she was aware it was unfair to tar every man with the same brush, each time she met someone new, her barriers went up and she’d attempt to second-guess the motivation behind their attraction towards her. Were they only interested in her wealth? Did banging a billionaire make for good bragging rights to their friends? Or was she going to make another kiss-and-tell headline in the Sun On Sunday? Ellie couldn’t remember a time when Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Tim Cook had been hauled over the coals for their sex lives, yet it seemed to happen to her quite frequently.
She rolled on to her side and stretched her legs out and she recalled how she’d been forced to employ a legal team specifically to fire off warning shots every time she had an inkling the press was up to no good. Then after half a dozen successful libel cases, she became too costly to lie about so they lost interest in her. Her media team became the go-to guys for all press inquiries, and she turned off her Google alerts and Facebook and Twitter accounts so as to remove any temptation to discover what people were writing about her. Only when absolutely necessary would she step out publicly as the company’s figurehead.
Ellie gave a frustrated groan, threw her sheets to one side, turned on the bedside lamp and made her way to the en-suite bathroom to pee. Suddenly she recalled the email she’d received hours earlier, confirming a DNA Match had been identified. She’d signed up some ten years earlier when the company was still in its infancy and as its popularity slowly began to increase, she had assumed it’d just be a matter of time before she found her Match.
But when the number of registered users had powered through the one billion mark, Ellie was beginning to give up hope. Her Match was either in a happy relationship with somebody else, he was living in a developing country with no access to or knowledge of the test, or he was just not interest in taking it.
So Ellie had grown accustomed to spending her life alone and in recent years, had become too consumed with work to even care. She didn’t need a relationship to make her content or a better person; she could do all that for herself. What could a Match add to her life that she wasn’t capable of finding on her own? Nevertheless, she had to acknowledge that a tiny part of her was interested as to who this person was and what made them tick.
‘Sod it,’ she said out loud, and marched back into the bedroom, opened her email, paid £9.99 for her Match’s details and waited. Two minutes later, an automated response landed in her box.
“Name: Timothy Kelly,” she read. “Age: 38. Location: Leighton Buzzard, UK. Occupation: Systems Analyst. Eyes: Hazel. Hair: Black. Height: 5ft 9in. Contact: (0774) 8620900.”
His description accounted for almost half the men in the Western world, she thought and found herself needing to know more.
“Ula”, she began to type in an email to her PA. “Discover what you can about a Timothy Kelly, a systems analyst from Leighton Buzzard. His email address is
. Email me what you find out tomorrow. Thanks.”
To her surprise, Ula emailed her back immediately. “Does she ever bloody sleep?” Ellie wondered. ‘Has he a job interview with us? I can’t see him on my list,’ Ula asked.
‘Sort of,’ Ellie replied. ‘And make sure you find a photograph of him. Hire outside help if you need it.’
Ellie placed her phone back on her nightstand and climbed back into bed. She turned to lie on her other side and stared at the vacant half of her bed, the sheet just as crisp and unwrinkled as when her housekeeper had laid it that morning.
And for the first time in a handful of years, she allowed herself to imagine what it might feel like to share the space with somebody else.