Lydia Swartz

Chapter 1: bestiary

She has every right to not pick up the phone. She is not required, by reason of disability, to let other people determine when and how she shall communicate. She still has every right to be stubborn, arrogant, and obnoxious. In fact, I tell myself, the endlessly ringing phone should make me happy.

It is evidence that my Dana is still my Dana: my hard-ass survivor, my muscular femme, she who does not suffer fools gladly, and she who considers most of us mortals fools.

As soon as I cancel the call, the handset buzzes. That will not be Dana. That will be one of the geniuses in the window offices at the north end of the building. There have already been many calls this morning from the north end of the building. One of the geniuses has picked up a computer virus again. Sometimes I suspect it is communicable by their touch on the keyboard. Sometimes I think it is the mechanical manifestation of the surgical extraction of any common sense that comprises the final qualification for their Mastery of Business Administration.

If all I had to do was maintain hardware and software at my job, I would be happy. I could be the introverted geek with the technical sense of humor that only other geeks understand. I could tuck my collection of science fiction convention t-shirts into my freshly washed and ill-fitting jeans, and that would be that. I could save my real life for outside of this building. I could preserve all my real worrying for Dana.

This time the readout tells me the call is from Rollo, the closet case with the beautiful Italian wife. He is always the last to call. He thinks if he waits for others to discover the problem no one will suspect him.

Rollo assumes I am slow because I wear a badge that states my name in smaller letters above “Tech Support” in bold type. Among all the subhuman wearers of that plastic badge, Rollo assumes, I am the lowest. I am, he has decided, the mindless, shame-filled party dyke. Rollo supposes I am terrified that my horrible secret, which only Rollo has guessed, will be discovered. This is why Rollo always calls me rather than one of my lucky cohorts. Even if, by some fluke, such a subhuman as myself should guess his terrible secret, I would not dare to unmask him.

Rollo has never visited my cube to see the pictures of Dana I openly display. Rollo is too stupid and scared to notice that nobody at work cares. It would strain Rollo's brain to guess the part I am not open about—the part where I beat and fuck cuter boys than he does. Rollo is incapable of envisioning the world a big-boned, hook-nosed, swarthy-skinned, buzzed butch cipher such as myself might inhabit.

Rollo is also too dim-witted to realize that I can put spyware on his machine as easily as he can download some cheesy boy-boy cruising program. He does not imagine, and it does not suit me to tell him yet, that I know he surfs for pathetic, prematurely aged, rough-trade street boys here at work, where his beautiful wife and his perfect children cannot watch. But I can watch and I do watch—with smug horror. I also capture particularly sordid photos and chats and forward them to my subhuman peers.

If I were kind, I would be more worried about the biological viruses Rollo picks up when he is not at work cruising online or at home telling lies to his beautiful wife. But I am not kind. He used that up the third time he infected the entire executive suite and several customers' networks with a virus from his despicable secret surfing.

Stupid humans.

The phone will not stop buzzing. Rollo will be indignant by now.

Fuck it.

I cannot put it off any longer. I have to go see Rollo and the stooges. I have to finesse it again. I have to take my ration of contempt, which they think I am too dim to notice. Then, finally, I can run the fucking diagnostics and wipe their technical asses. That is my job. If I am good at it—and I am, in fact, one of the best—they will never need to suspect how good I am at it.

Meanwhile, Dana could be dead.

Or, Dana could be having one of those rare good days that are so good she can imagine all days are good. She could be awash in bonhomie and cheap American beer and softball dykes at the LEZbian bar.

Or, she might have found where I hide her car keys. She might have managed to get her antique Datsun running. She could be halfway to Canada by now, off on an adventure. Perhaps I will get a call from Dana when she finally runs out of gas and realizes that she forgot to bring money and that she doesn't remember how to get home and that her temporarily excellent eyesight has returned to the usual gray blur and that she is not quite sure where she is or how she got there but can I please come and get her.

Or, Dana might be immobilized with grief for the dog she found poisoned 10 years ago. She might not remember me. She might mistake me for her ex or her hateful aunt.

Or, Dana could be and probably is listening to the phone ring while she watches another rerun of Law and Order, too engrossed in the story she has seen five times before to pick up the phone. After all, it is only me. Besides, don't I know that Dana does not like to talk on the phone since the aphasia set in? Mean Shar. Selfish Shar. Shar the bitch.

By the time I get to the north end of the building, I have worked myself into a rage.

Rollo dips his chin when I come in and looks up at me through his long, dark, curly eyelashes. He mistakes my irritation for envy. He mistakes the flash of pity in my expression for attraction. I gaze at him with what he thinks is lust. Actually, I am wondering whether he will kill himself on the morning he looks in the mirror and realizes that age has taken away the only ticket he thought he had to every good thing.

"Shar, my beautiful angel," he says because we both know I am neither. "Shar, I will be your slave for life if you can help us with this nasty insect."

As if I would want such a high-maintenance, skill-free, self-absorbed slave. As if I don't pick up on the "us." As if I have no idea where these "insects"—insects, get it, like bugs, ha ha, Rollo is clever—come from.

"Shut up, Rollo," I say. He laughs. How cute! Plain, broad-beamed closet cases who wear plastic name badges cannot be rude to adorable, overpaid closet cases who have window offices. It cannot exist. Therefore, I can say anything. I can say, “Shut up.” Or “Fuck you,” Or even, “Nice giraffe!”

Nevertheless, Rollo does shut up, which is all I wanted.

I take over Rollo’s keyboard. Yep, sure enough. Rollo has managed to pick up the latest nastiness designed for stupid MBAs who open graphics in the privacy of their window offices.

I undock his laptop and slide in a loaner. Rollo, you pencil-dicked dumb shit, do you think you can possibly restrain yourself for as long as it takes me to disinfect your latest mess, without infesting yet another machine? I don't say that.

"I'll be back soon," I mutter over my shoulder as I leave, shooting him some undisguised hostility. He mistakes it for jealousy, and twinkles at me.

I shut my handsome master's office door. He likes privacy, he has explained, so he can concentrate. Counterintuitively—Rollo loves that word—a closed door makes him a more effective team player.

Team player. Now, that is funny.

I am back in the warren of IT cubes, listening to Rammstein with my headphones on, typing a little harder than the keyboard requires as I run the disinfect programs, when the phone buzzes.

Why didn't I just turn the fucker off?

I look at the caller ID. It's the prefix of the hospital clinic where Dana's docs work.

I rip my headphones out as I stab the Talk button.

An annoyed, nasal voice announces some name I don't catch and says that Dana asked her to call me. Dana fell, she says, and she arrived by ambulance about a half hour ago, and...

"I'll be there," I say, jumping up so suddenly that I start a small avalanche of disks and pens off my desk. "Tell her. Tell Dana I'll be right there." I snap the phone shut before the annoyed voice has a chance to respond.

A luckless coworker emerges from his cube at that moment and catches my eye.

"Pete, let me show you what I'm doing about the north end virus," I blurt. Pete tries to protest, but it’s too late. He is doomed. I already have hold of his elbow and I'm steering him into my cube.

I tell Pete everything he needs to know, perhaps a little more quickly than it is possible to take in, and then I tell Pete, "I gotta go. Dana's in the ER. I'll call."

Before Pete can get a word out, I'm down the stairs (elevators take too long), in my car, and off cursing into traffic.


© 2009 Lydia Swartz. You're welcome to read, but do not use elsewhere without permission.