Eamonn Marra

Dog Farm, Food Game

I met Abby when we were both sad, on the sad part of the internet. Some people don’t realise there is a sad part of the internet, and others claim that all parts of the internet are sad, and that happy people just don’t spend that much time on the internet. They’re both wrong, the internet is not inherently sad, but there are some parts that are sadder than others. Sad people attract each other and form a whole internet galaxy held together by gravitational sadness. The sad part of the internet is where sad people feel normal. It’s easy to fall in love on the sad part of the internet. It’s easy to connect with others who feel the same internal dread. It’s easy to be charming when all punctuation is flirtatious. First you favourite each other’s depression jokes—humour that is hilarious to the sad, but scary to the happy—then you message casually, then obsessively, and then you have cam sex.

The first time we had cam sex it was fast and silent. We didn’t want to speak so the others in our respective houses wouldn’t hear what we were up to, which is how we kept talking for our entire relationship. We turned on our webcams, and soon her top was off and I typed ‘wow’ on my keyboard. I pulled my pants down around my knees and got my cock out of my underwear. I tried to find a position for my laptop where my cam would show both my cock and my face, but it was impossible in that moment.

‘Do you want to see my cock or my face?’ I typed.
‘Are you going to feel bad about whatever I don’t say?’ she typed back.
‘Cock then.’
I tipped my laptop screen forward to focus on that, then further forward again so my double chin wouldn’t be in shot.
‘Can I see your . . .’ I said.
‘No, not today,’ she said.
She played with her nipples and put her fingers in her mouth, then it was over and I came into my hand and showed her my handful of cum.
‘Was that good for you?’ I asked.
‘Yeah. It was great,’ she said.
I went and got myself cleaned up, and when I got back to the computer she was still there. She was still beautiful after I came, even with her clothes back on, sitting in a pile of messy sheets, waiting for me.
‘You’re beautiful,’ I said.
‘I am not,’ she said.
‘You are honestly one of the prettiest girls I’ve ever met,’ I said.
‘You’re just saying that because I made you come,’ she said.
‘Am not,’ I said. ‘I’m ugly. You’re way too pretty for me.’
‘I’m as ugly as a hairless cat,’ she said. ‘You’re like a big handsome dog.’
‘Let’s agree to disagree,’ I said.
‘I’ve been reading,’ she said. ‘To make someone like you, you’re meant to tell them a secret the first day you meet them.’
‘I already like you,’ I said.
‘Well I think we should tell each other secrets now,’ she said, ‘so we keep liking each other.’
‘Okay, what’s your secret?’ I said.
‘You have to go first,’ she said.
‘Because I know you already like me.’
‘Do you not already like me?’
‘Okay. I have to think.’
‘Take your time,’ she said. As I was thinking, she sent me a photo. In it, she was wearing a red-and-black chequered shirt and cut-off jean shorts. She was lying on the ground covered in puppies—eight of them. She was laughing and had longer hair than she had now, but she looked the same apart from that.
‘Cute,’ I said. ‘Where did you get all those puppies?’
‘My parents breed them,’ she said. ‘But in a good way. It’s not a puppy-mill. We’re responsible breeders.’
‘That is really cool. Are there any puppies around now?’
‘No, we got rid of them all. We’ve got seven dogs though. Three breeding pairs and my one.’
‘Okay, I’ll type it all in one go so it might take a while,’ I said. Her eyes glazed over as I typed and I realised she was checking other websites. ‘Here it goes. I went to an all-boys high school, and when I was sixteen it had been three or four years since I had really talked with a girl. So when I started going to parties, there would be these girls there and everyone was acting like it was no big deal. And eventually everyone would get drunk and then people would start making out, and I wanted to be the one to make out with a girl but I had no idea how to do it. I didn’t even talk to them, so I’d hover around the people kissing because I thought maybe she would stop kissing him and start kissing the next closest guy, which was me. It was like I was queueing up for a pash.’
It took minutes for her to respond. I was worried that I had scared her away with how pathetic I was but then she said, ‘Cute. Did it work?’
‘No, of course not.’
‘Is that really a secret?’ she asked.
‘Yeah—well, I’ve never told anyone that before.’
‘You should. It’s cute and funny.’
I sent her a picture of me at sixteen. I had hair down past my shoulders and was wearing an oversized suit jacket over a Ramones T-shirt. ‘Would you have kissed this?’ I asked.
‘Probably. I kissed almost anything,’ she said.
‘When did you have your first kiss?’ she asked.
‘Only like a year ago. A year and a half ago’
‘Well that was my first real one, but I’d had like pecks before then.’
‘What about you?’
‘I don’t remember. When I was fourteen or fifteen I’d get drunk at parties and kiss everyone. I would have kissed you if you were lining up for it.’
‘Damn. I was queueing in the wrong place then.’
‘What’s your secret?’
Three flashing dots appeared on the screen which showed she was typing. Then they disappeared. ‘I’ll let you know tomorrow,’ she said.
‘That’s not how it works. You have to tell someone the first day you meet.’
‘But you already like me,’ she said.

I let her get away with it, because the mention of tomorrow was exciting. It was a promise that this was going to keep going.
That night, after eleven hours of talking, we recorded a video of ourselves brushing our teeth. I can’t remember whose idea it was. I brushed with my right hand, and held my phone to my chest with my left hand recording the reflection in the mirror. She was left-handed so she did the opposite. I wore a green T-shirt that was the same colour as her bathroom wall. She wore a red jersey that was the same colour as my bathroom wall. I brushed for so long that my gums bled and I smiled through the blood, which matched my walls and her jersey. She sent me her video and I edited them together side by side. We both spat more times than necessary and twice our spitting synced up. I uploaded the video to YouTube as unlisted and sent her the link. I never watched it on YouTube, only ever on my computer, so I could check the play count and see how many times she watched it, assuming she never sent it to anyone else. She had watched it seven times by the next time we talked.

Before I met Abby I had a coping strategy to get through every day. I would binge-watch a TV show on the television. It needed to be something with several seasons and long episodes so that finishing it seemed impossible. Then, once I did finish it, it would feel like I had achieved something. While watching TV, I’d play a video game on my computer. It would need to be something that needed constant attention, but didn’t make you think much. Some sort of timed puzzle game where you have to match objects. And while I was doing that, I’d browse the sad part of the internet on my phone. Because of the game and the TV I wouldn’t be able to give it enough attention to process the sadness, but it gave me a sense of human connection. I had to do these three things constantly, because as soon as I stopped one, space in my brain would open up to dangerous thoughts. I didn’t let myself try to sleep until I was so exhausted that I could fall asleep as soon as I closed my eyes. If I lay in bed before that moment and tried to sleep, space in my brain would open up to dangerous thoughts. As soon as I woke up, my mind would start screaming at me about all the things I hadn’t done and needed to do, and the only way to stop it would be to put on the TV show, play the game, and browse the sad part of the internet. I hadn’t answered my phone in a month. I hadn’t checked my emails in a month. I hadn’t gone to university in a month. I was going to keep doing this until things made sense again. Then I met Abby.

With her in America, and me in New Zealand, we were only awake at the same time for part of every day. So to combat this, we developed our own time zone, one where we would never have to be awake without each other. We arranged the time zone so it wouldn’t work with any other schedules, so no one could take the other away from us. We set the clocks on our computers to it. Our 9am was NZT 7pm and EST 3am. We would talk for thirteen hours every day until our 10pm, which was NZT 8am and EST 4pm. That gave us eleven hours to sleep and to do anything else we needed to get done. Every morning, I would wake up at 8.30 (our time), get dressed and check the count on the teeth-brushing video. In the first week she watched it on average five times a night.

After a week of our time zone, my flatmates started knocking on my door. ‘We haven’t seen you for a week, is everything okay?’
‘Things are good. I’ve just got a fucked-up sleep schedule right now,’ I told them. And things were good. Abby was good for me. Before Abby, I would spend all day lying down. She made me want to sit up. I looked ugly lying down and I wanted to look good for her. She made me want to change my clothes every day. She made me want to talk to another person, even though we always typed.

We tried talking aloud once, midway through the second week. We whispered into our laptops so no one else could hear and it was weird. We had to get right up close to the computers, and the webcams picked up our acne which had been a blur until then. We both hated our voices, and talking caused too much anxiety to be worth it. She said she sounded like a little kid because she talked naturally with lots of up and downs like she was singing. It was cute and not bad at all but I couldn’t convince her of that. I hate my voice because I speak in monotone all the time and I always sound bored. If I try to add energy and add some inflection to my voice, I feel like I’m performing and I get stage fright.
After our failed attempt at talking, the only time I heard Abby’s voice was when she talked to her dog Daisy. Daisy was the only dog that I saw, because she was the only one who was allowed in Abby’s room. She knew how to get in herself—she stood up on her hind legs, pushed the handle down and leaned on the door to open it.

‘Come here, Daisy,’ Abby would say in her singsong voice whenever Daisy opened the door. Daisy would sit right on top of Abby and put her head on Abby’s shoulders. ‘You’re a good girl, aren’t you Daisy,’ Abby said. Daisy wasn’t a breeding dog like the others, and was Abby’s responsibility. Abby got Daisy when she was a kid so Daisy was now getting old. She had grey hair around her mouth and couldn’t jump all the way up to Abby’s bed anymore. So when she wanted to get up she’d put her front paws on the bed, and Abby would lean over and pull her up by her armpits.

‘When we got her, her name was Gretchen. So that had to change because Gretchen is a terrible name, and since she was mine I got to choose, and I was a kid so I called her Daisy.’
‘Do you not like the name Daisy anymore?’
‘It’s fine, it’s just a bit generic. It’s better than what Dad would have called her. He called the last dog we got Charisma. That’s a stupid name.’

We only turned off our webcams once a day, at 5pm (our time), because Abby didn’t want to eat in front of me. I ate baked beans on toast every day because they were fast and cheap. I listened at the kitchen door to make sure my flatmates were not in there before I went in. I put an entire can of baked beans in a bowl and put it in the microwave for four minutes on high. Beans exploded and stuck to the roof of the microwave, and I cleaned them up with a paper towel. I ate them with four pieces of toast. The beans at the bottom of the bowl would always be kind of cold. About once a week I’d go to the supermarket after our day was over and buy seven cans of beans and three loaves of bread. I only ate once a day.

‘You never told me your secret,’ I said one night after our food break.
‘You’re my secret,’ she said.
‘I told you a proper secret,’ I said.
‘You are my proper secret,’ she said. ‘If you tell someone a secret it means they’ll like you, and if you make someone your secret they’ll like you even more. Do you like me?’
‘Yeah I do.’
‘Then it worked.’
‘I told you a real secret though.’
‘Yeah, about that, I actually lied the other week,’ she said. ‘I didn’t go to any parties when I was fourteen or fifteen or sixteen or seventeen. I only kissed someone for the first time earlier this year.’
‘Because I wanted to be the type of girl that you wanted. Is that a secret enough?’
‘But I didn’t really want them, I don’t know what I wanted. I just wanted someone.’
‘Do you want this?’ she said and undid a button of her shirt and pulled it open. She traced her fingers around her collarbones.
‘Yes please,’ I said.

She pushed her computer to the end of the bed, and leaned back against her headboard so I could see her whole body. She was wearing a baggy blue shirt and pink underwear. She put her knees up and spread them apart. She put her hand on top of her underwear and rubbed.

‘Wow,’ I said. Which is what I said every time we started having cam sex.

She pulled her arms inside her shirt and fumbled around, then took her bra out of one of her sleeves.
I pushed my laptop on an angle so she could see my cock throbbing inside my underwear.
She leaned forward, I saw her breasts inside her shirt as she typed on her computer. ‘I want to see your body,’ she said.
I pushed my laptop back to the edge of the bed. I positioned myself so my neck was up and stomach was sucked in.
She undid another button on her shirt and pulled one side down to reveal her naked shoulder. She leaned forward again.

‘Love that view,’ I said.
‘Take your T-shirt off,’ she said

I took it off, which I hadn’t done for her before. I was bloated from the beans; I tried to pull my stomach in and I made sure I was facing the camera exactly front on so that she couldn’t see my body’s depth.

‘Mmmm,’ she said, undoing another button. She slowly pulled the shirt to the side, to the edge of her nipple. I pulled my cock out of my underwear and let go of it, showing it standing up firm. The door creaked and she pulled her shirt back, jumped forward and slammed her laptop shut.

I put my T-shirt back on, and put my cock back in my underwear and tried to stop touching myself.

A minute later she called me again and I answered. ‘Was just Daisy,’ she said. She was sitting cross legged in front of the computer. ‘Where were we . . .’ She opened her shirt quickly and flashed a breast. Then she closed it again.

‘Wow.’ I pulled my T-shirt back off and pushed my laptop back to the edge of the bed.

She moved back against the headboard and spread her legs apart again. Daisy was there with her front paws on the bed, next to Abby, waiting to be lifted up. ‘Not now Daisy,’ Abby said and pushed Daisy down off the bed.

I touched myself through my underwear. Daisy’s tail wagged in and out of the corner of the screen. I leaned forward and tried to not let my fat hang as I typed on the computer. ‘Sorry, Daisy is distracting me,’ I said. ‘Can you get her out of your room?’

‘Just ignore her,’ she said. ‘She won’t tell anyone.’ She sat back down and put her hand inside her underwear. Daisy put her front paws back on the side of the bed. Abby pushed her off with her foot.
‘I’m sorry, I just can’t. It’s weird.’
‘She knows how to get back in, she’ll just open the door again.’
‘Maybe we could do this another time then?’ I said.
‘There are dogs everywhere here. If you like me you have to get used to the dogs.’ She pulled her shoulder back into her shirt and buttoned it all the way up to the top button. Daisy put her feet up on the side of the bed and Abby leaned over and pulled her up.

The conversation for the rest of that day was stunted and we spent most of the time sharing links to funny sad pictures instead of talking. Then we stopped talking completely. We stayed on webcam, but didn’t interact. The webcam video was tucked away in the corner of the screen as we browsed the sad part of the internet.

The next morning (our time) I got up and saw she wasn’t online. I checked the video view count, and for the first time it hadn’t gone up since the night before. I thought I had ruined everything, but then she came online. I tried to call her but she rejected the call.

‘Sorry, I’m about to eat,’ she said.
‘What are you eating? I asked.
‘If I went and made some toast now could we eat together?’

Dots appeared to show she was typing. Then they disappeared, then she said, ‘k.’
I rushed into the kitchen. One of my flatmates was in there.

‘Well well well,’ he said. ‘He lives.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I’m okay.’ I threw four pieces of bread into the toaster and set it to two so it would be done fast.
‘What have you been doing?’ he asked.
‘You know, just depression stuff,’ I said. He looked at me and looked concerned. ‘I’m kidding. I’ve been working on something. Something for uni. I’m catching back up. I’m actually quite happy right now.’
‘Good. We’re here for you if you need to talk.’

The toast popped; it had barely been warmed. I put big lumps of peanut butter on each piece, then tried to spread it. The bread ripped in several places. ‘I’ve got to go,’ I said and took the plate into my room.
I ran back to my laptop and called Abby again. She answered this time. She was sitting cross-legged on her bed with a small plate with a single piece of toast on it, thinly spread with jam and butter.

‘Have you already started?’ I asked.
‘No. I don’t eat much,’ she said.

I felt very ashamed of my four pieces of warm bread, thick with peanut butter.

‘Okay, should we eat then?’ she said.
‘Yeah okay.’ She nibbled on her toast. Chewing dozens of times for each small bite. I folded my bread in half and took big bites, and swallowed it fast. I finished my four pieces of bread before she finished her one. We didn’t talk while eating.
‘That was weird,’ she said.
‘I liked it,’ I said. ‘I miss you when I eat.’
‘Me too,’ she said. ‘But with you.’
‘Let’s keep doing this,’ I said.
‘Okay,’ she said. She put her plate on the table next to her bed.
‘Sorry about yesterday,’ I said.
‘No, it’s okay. I get really defensive about Daisy sometimes.’
‘It’s just, I think I was feeling a bit uncomfortable about my body.’
‘You shouldn’t feel bad. I like your body,’ she said. ‘My dad has always been really mean to Daisy.’
‘I think I’ve always got really worked up about my body. I’ve always blamed my body for my lack of luck with girls.’
‘You’re a big handsome dog,’ she said. ‘I bet lots of girls like you.’
‘I have this weird thing. When I like a girl, I never tell her. I just assume there is no way she could like me. Then when I get drunk, I tell her, but I phrase it as an apology, like—I’m sorry I like you.’
‘I like that you tell me that you like me. Now tell me you like Daisy.’
‘I like Daisy. Tomorrow I’m going to start walking,’ I said, ‘I need to get into shape. My doctor keeps telling me that getting exercise will help me feel better.’
‘I run every day,’ she said. ‘I take Daisy. Dad makes me, he says she’s my responsibility and if she’s not breeding it’s not his job to look after her.’
‘What? When do you run? You never told me that,’ I said.
‘You never asked,’ she said.
‘When do you go?’
‘After we finish talking. For half an hour. Then I go to sleep.’
‘I’ll go then too. So we’ll be exercising at the same time.’
‘Did you know walking isn’t really exercise?’ she said. ‘It doesn’t get your heart rate to the cardio level you need in order to lose weight. It’s pretty much worthless.’
‘I’ll walk up a hill,’ I said.
‘In fact, walking is worse than worthless, because after you trick yourself into thinking you did exercise when you actually didn’t, you treat yourself, and you end up eating more calories than you burned off.’
‘Yeah, maybe I should jog instead. That’s probably a better idea.’
‘The best way to deal with weight is dieting,’ she said. ‘It’s easier to not let the calories in the first place than it is to burn them.’
‘Yeah, I’m trying to eat less,’ I said. ‘Maybe now that we eat together we can do that together.’
‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘You don’t have to. This is all about my own bad feelings.’
‘No, I want to,’ I said.
‘As long as I’m running, and looking after Daisy, my parents leave me alone. They think I’m okay.’

After we finished talking that night, I went for a run for the first time in my life. I could only run for about a minute, then I had to walk for two or three minutes before catching my breath. It was 8am and there were lots of other joggers running at the same time and they all looked at me with pity. I turned around to go home, but the thought of Abby running at the same time made me continue.

I came home and had a shower, and ran into my flatmate when I was coming out of the bathroom.

‘Have you been running?’ he said.
‘Yeah, the doctor said I should,’ I said.
‘I guess that’s good,’ he said. ‘Good work.’
‘Yeah. I gotta go to bed now. Haven’t slept yet,’ I said.

I went back to bed and struggled to sleep. I had too much energy in my blood, and I felt like I had to keep shaking all my limbs. I walked to the petrol station near my house and bought an ice cream. I wouldn’t tell Abby about this because we were only meant to eat with each other.

Abby and I ate twice a day. Each time, one piece of toast with peanut butter. I tried to spread it thin, but it always looked thick compared to hers. It was an unspoken competition who could eat it slowest. We sat in silence, sitting cross-legged in front of the computer, staring at the webcam, with a small plate in our laps. I took small bites and counted my chews: thirty for each bite. By the thirtieth chew, the toast had completely disintegrated and I was chewing saliva, then I’d swallow. Somehow she still always won.

‘Sorry I’m such a slow eater,’ she said, but it didn’t matter because she was beautiful when she was eating. She sucked the crumbs off the ends of her fingers.
‘I am getting better at running,’ I told her. ‘I can run for five minutes without stopping now.’ It was a lie, but it would be true soon.

I stood up and took my plate to a table across the room. I did this so my crotch would be in shot and Abby would see that I had an erection without it looking intentional. She either didn’t notice it or ignored it, so we didn’t have cam sex that day.

‘Did your parents ever do things that messed you up, but they never really knew?’ Abby asked when I got back to my bed. ‘Like things that hurt you real bad and they never realised how much?’
‘Yeah, definitely,’ I said. ‘I’ve been thinking about this for a while. When I was a little kid, I really wanted a desk. Because my parents got my brother a desk when he started school, when he was five, so I would have been three and I wanted one too.’
‘My one is about Daisy.’ Abby said. ‘We actually originally got Daisy as a breeding dog. We got her all the way from Canada to widen the gene pool.’
‘But isn’t Canada right there?’ I said.
‘Yeah but it’s a whole other country. We had to do paperwork and everything.’
‘Anyway Mum told me, “You don’t need a desk, you’ve got this coffee table,”’ I said.
‘But what happened was, she was only two or three, and we organised a breeding partner for her. And she got pregnant, and when the puppies were born they were completely white with red eyes.’
‘Because in my bedroom there was a coffee table. It was painted bright green and it was really smooth. I used to sit there and touch it and feel how smooth it was.’
‘They were all blind. Dad took them and shot them all. I heard the shots from my bedroom.’
‘So I thought that this coffee table was mine and I really loved it. Then when Mum and Dad got divorced, Mum took the table with her to her new house.’
‘And the breeding partner dog, he had perfectly fine puppies with another dog, so the problem was with Daisy.’
‘And I was fine with it, because Mum’s new house was empty so I thought it was okay for me to let her borrow my coffee table for a while.’
‘Dad was so angry. We had to pay thousands of dollars for her to come here and she was worthless to him.’
‘So my table was in the lounge at Mum’s house. Then one day the table disappeared for a while and it came back sanded down. They got rid of the green paint and varnished it.
‘But Mom convinced him to give her another go, so the next year she bred again, and the same thing happened. All white with red eyes again. And he shot them all again.’
‘I was so annoyed no one asked me. Because it was my table and they changed it and got rid of the smooth green paint without even asking me.’
‘And I loved Daisy, more than any of the other dogs, I guess because we got her right when I was the perfect age. I called her Daisy from the beginning, but Dad called her Gretchen still. He wanted to shoot her too.’
‘I didn’t make a fuss because it did look nice varnished and it was better suited in the lounge than in my bedroom.’
‘I cried for days and days and Mom and Dad had a big fight, and Mom convinced him to let Daisy stay. But Dad told me she was my pet, and my responsibility, and he wouldn’t walk her or feed her or take her to the vet.’
‘Then when my stepdad moved in—he always put his feet up on it and would move it around. And I never liked him anyway, but that really annoyed me, how disrespectful he was about it.’
‘They got her spayed so she couldn’t accidentally have any more pups. I had to walk her every day. And I had to feed her. Dad wanted me to pay for her food myself, but I didn’t have any money so he said that I’d just have to give her half of all my food. And I did for a while. Mom was furious when she found out Dad told me that.’
‘Then one day I came home from school and the table had gone completely and there was a new one. And no one had consulted me about it. And I said, “What happened to my table?” and my stepdad laughed at me and said, “It wasn’t your table,” like it was his table.’
‘Dad still hates her. When I went to college last year he told me I had to take her with me. But Mom let her stay and looked after her. Since I’ve been back she’s with me again. That’s why I got so defensive about her last week.’
‘But the table was there before he was, and it was mine. And now that I think about it, it probably wasn’t mine, it was my mum’s, but it still made me feel useless, like me and my things weren’t important. I think that was the day that I stopped feeling at home in that house.’
‘My story was worse,’ she said.
‘Yeah, it probably was,’ I said.

Then one day, after five weeks of our time zone, she said, ‘I have to go back to college next week.’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘What does that mean for us?’
‘I don’t know. I need to start sleeping at proper times soon though.’
‘Will you still talk to me?’ I asked.
‘I’ll try.’
‘I need to go back to school too. I have probably failed the year but I’ll talk to my teachers and my doctor and see what I can do.’
‘Please do,’ she said.
‘I am going to miss you,’ I said. ‘You’re looking good today by the way.’
‘Am I?’ she said and smiled. She pushed her laptop to the bottom of her bed, kicked up her legs and slowly pulled her shorts off.
‘Wow,’ I said.

She leaned forward to type, and I saw her bra through the hanging neck of her T-shirt. ‘Sorry,’ she said. She shut her laptop. She didn’t come back online that day.

The next day she sent me a message. ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to block you for a while, just until I get things sorted. Please don’t delete me.’ Then she appeared offline.

I checked the view count on the brushing video every day. It went up by one every day, but I wasn’t sure if that was from me checking on it, or her watching it. I paused the video before it even started playing, so I didn’t think it was me. Some days it went up by two, which was a nice feeling. Then it stopped going up at all.