Six years down the line from a marriage that had been given six months to live by the most optimistic forecasters, it was beginning to look very much as if it had simply been an error of calculation on the part of the latter, for early signs of structural failure were very much in evidence in the household. David’s work required increasing periods of absence from home, whilst Juliette’s professional life was opening up very appealing new opportunities in all areas of her life. At first, she had dismissed these as the normal process of temptation after a few years of very contented and fulfilling – albeit childless – marriage. She and David had maintained the flame that had ignited between them, following their first encounter when he had been arranging a business visit to the Far East in connection with a major transport engineering scheme. They both enjoyed the good life as well, although this was one area in which the differences in temperament did manifest themselves, since David’s inclination tended, unsurprisingly, to be towards caution, whereas Juliette was often seduced by the appeal of flamboyance. In fact, it had been the fifth anniversary dinner, at an extremely expensive Spanish restaurant, that had caused the first major confrontation between them, an event that had left Juliette, egged on by Rioja-induced anæsthesia of her inhibitions, to create what could have been an embarrassing scene in public, had it not been for quick-thinking David’s sharpness of mind.
From that point on, hairline cracks had begun to appear and Juliette’s social life had begun to include other avenues for stimulation. She had no difficulty whatsoever in making acquaintances – although, like David, she was also careful in choosing friends. When she started tapping the keyboard of the family computer during the evenings whilst David was away, to chat with him in various parts of the world, it was not long before she started to leave the machine switched on at the end of her Messenger chat and went on to surf her way into new waters. In this medium, despite her sharpness in the 3-dimensional world, she had been somewhat out of her depth. There had been nothing sinister about her contacts, as she had seen the perverts and morons off very promptly. What she had not prepared herself for was the way in which she would respond to the people whom she came to like – one in particular.
Mark Warner was 15 years older than Juliette and was a freelance software engineer who was doing very nicely for himself in the South-West of England. He was happily married and was father to three children. Like many other people who had discovered the Internet, he had not set out with the specific aim of finding new social territories to explore and the thought of infidelity had been totally alien to him. However, neither he nor Juliette had foreseen how events would develop. Had either of both of them taken the time to look ahead, they would have heard the roar of the cascades ahead of the boat that was carrying their friendship along deceptively still and bewitchingly calm and pleasant waters. Unfortunately, they became so engrossed with each other that neither of them noticed, or even tried to see, that they were drifting at an alarming rate towards marital catastrophe. In truth, whilst the excitement of ‘Net flirtation was intensely enjoyable, neither of them really wanted the situation to get out of control, but neither of them felt the need to test the brakes. It was, therefore, obvious, that this responsibility would fall to somebody else.
As it turned out, it was on David’s shoulders that this landed, in a manner that was really too bizarre to believe.
Late in the evening, on one very cold February day, on the eve of David’s return from Southern Germany, Juliette was reading carefully through an e-mail she had written to Mark when the telephone rang. It was Joline, anxious to find out if her older sister could babysit for her 12-month old daughter on the following day, so that the harassed parents could get out for a few hours for some ‘quality time’ together. As with many a conversation between sisters, the agenda was self-extending and the conversation moved on to other topics. Having acquired a degree of multitasking skill, Juliette was filling in the e-mail address as she spoke to her sister. The address book appeared in the usual two columns on the screen and Juliette highlighted ‘Warner, Mark’. She was about to click on it when Joline came to a particularly hilarious point in the diary of her daughter’s activities, in which she had managed to re-programme Grandad’s video recorder with acutely embarrassing consequences. Juliette howled with laughter and her finger just caught the ‘shift column’ button via the mouse, moving the highlight to ‘Malence, David’. Unfortunately, such was the laughter that Juliette had been unaware of this and the e-mail was duly despatched and, in the custoJuliette mechanical manner, deleted unchecked from the ‘Sent items’ box in the email window.