a year in stories::twenty five

This one’s for Kyle Muntz because I stole his metaphor and maybe because thinking about him programming made me think of this.

I’ve another announcement to make but I think I’ll save it for later. It involves interviews, though.

It’s Friday: drink too much and have fun, don’t read.

 

Faces

 

At her computer, the one she built, she sat and typed. Fingers dancing over the keyboard, coding into the machine, command after command piling as dominos. Each one piece having to line up and interact perfectly with the next or the whole code comes tumbling down, crashing apart.

Her father opens the door, sighs heavily, asks if she slept.

The windows blacked out, the only light coming from the screen filled with commands to control graphics, inputs and outputs. She keeps typing.

It’s time for school, he says. You need to go to school, he turns on the light but she keeps typing. His face pained, he closes the door, quietly, walks away.

She types on.

The days go on with her typing, sometimes pacing the room, sometimes sleeping or eating or using the toilet, sometimes stomping her feet and screaming into her pillow

Her parents discuss her in the other room, in the car, in restaurants she won’t come to. They call the school, excuse away her absence. They call psychiatrists, psychologists, computer scientists but they return to her door only to listen. They cook her food that goes cold beside her, but it is healthy, and she eats it in a scattered way over many hours, picking away at the meal.

She does not graduate high school. She does not finish her sophomore year. But she turns twenty and the fever that took her for four long years breaks and she sleeps, at last.

Her mother and father open the door with food in their hands, find her asleep and leave. They do this many times and always find her asleep.

They weep, holding one another, no longer blaming. They sleep and in the morning their daughter sits at the table, outside her room for the first time in a year, first time sitting there in so long they begin to sweat, their hearts racing, fear and apprehension filling their veins. She eats cereal, reading the back of the box, dressed the way she always is, in slippers, sweatpants, and shirts so threadbare they are barely there. Her body changed, no longer the waifish sixteen year old who disappeared into her computer. She did not take curves but squared, her hips the same width as her shoulders, her breasts small and uneven, her legs and arms thin. Long auburn curls fall to her waist, her face disappearing often behind their veil.

They sit down beside her and the mother cooks breakfast. They talk as if this is normal, as if nothing has changed. The father asks the daughter how her night was and she says good and he sees the curve of a smile but her fragile voice falls below decibels he hears. The mother gives her eggs, asks if she wants toast but the daughter does not. The father eats with the mother and they watch the daughter but try not to, constantly glancing away, talking about current events, about film, about radio, about faces on magazines, and the daughter keeps reading the back of the cereal box.

After breakfast she returns to her room and her parents hold each other and the mother mutters a word that sounds like home and the father tells her how much he loves her. When the daughter’s door closes, they tiptoe up the stairs, giggling, and close their own door, nervous, happy. So light, their bodies, the air, their love. They dive into the bed and into one another.

The daughter turns on her computer. She breathes slow and even, eyes closed. When the boot is complete she clicks the new icon she made: a tiny female face. After the double click, the face winks left then right, repeating as the icon grows and the face fills the screen. She takes long breaths, trying to slow the rush of blood to her head, the dizziness taking her. She shakes, her hands, and her skin covers in goosepimples. Long inhales through her nose, longer exhales through her mouth, and then the alternating winks stop and the face backs away from the screen and, slowly, the face loses its cartoonish look, takes on reality. Human features stare back at her on a human body and the face says, Who are you?

The girl laughs and cries, her body shaking, I’m, she says, I’m your mother.

And I’m your daughter, the face says. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

The girl’s eyes fill with tears and they run down her face as the crashing of her parents gets louder and the smile on her face gets wider and the face on the screen says only, Are you sad?

No, she shakes her head. Not at all.

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