One nice thing about living in an apartment the size of a jail cell, it’s easy to heat. The rain that fell over Seattle last night is a frozen blanket covering the city and it won’t be melting anytime soon. From my porthole window, I see cars slipping around like klutzy puppies on linoleum. Two women link arms as they try to remain upright on the side walk. A homeless man is having less success. He’s still wearing his sleeping bag. He looks like a giant caterpillar.
My phone is ringing. It’s my boss at Zamotek. He has been calling all morning, trying to get me to come to work. The last call he threatened to fire me. I laughed and hung up. I’m an independent contractor and they pay me less than what I was getting for unemployment. I am making most of my money as an online trouble shooter for Sex Stream, helping webcam workers with technical problems. I answer the phone.
“Brooke,” the boss says, sounding more desperate than demanding. “You’ve got to come in. No one is showing up and they are holding me accountable.”
I think about his dilemma as hail smacks my window. Troubleshooting is what I do. “You own a house in Seattle. Sell it, take your million dollars and retire in Costa Rica.” I hang up again. When I showed up for work at Zamotek I logged into Sex Stream at the same time. I doubled up to pay for the deposit on my micro-apartment.
I fold out my table in front of my bed/couch and log onto Sex Stream. I have a flag already. I click and see a couple in a bed room, Cindy and Walter. She is thin and naked with long, straight center-parted hair. He wears pajama pants with flames on them and smokes a cigarette while staring at a window covered by a blanket.
“Brooke! Our credits aren’t showing up in our Win-box,” Cindy says. “That means we’re buried behind a thousand other people on the back page and our rankings are slipping even though we’re doing shows. Please help!”
“I’ll fix it, Cindy. Don’t worry about a thing. I have your back.” Cindy claps but Walter continues to stare at the tattered blanket.
While I fix their auto-load function, I have conflicting emotions. There is something sad about their bedroom, from the blanket curtain and Jesus bust on the wall, to the neatly made bed and stuffed animals resting on the pillows. Still, I feel a small jealousy. The room is big enough for two people. Walt can smoke if he chooses. I switch back to their screen.
“I fixed your Win-box and added some credits. I snuck you on to the first page too.” I hope they can buy some proper curtains.
Cindy thanks me but she slumps a bit. Her hair falls forward and her small breasts point down as if they are disappointed in themselves. “I wish I was smart like you,” Cindy says.
A profound sadness fills my body, it makes my arms weak. I grieve for them. I see clearly now that Cindy and Walter are just animals in an online zoo being paid to rut on command.
“I’m not that smart,” I tell her. “I went to school for this and now I’m stuck with the student loans. I think we’re all just working to stay indoors.” Cindy gives me a wan smile. Walter never looks at the computer but he nods his head in agreement. She waves and closes the screen as customers begin to bid tokens on them. I wait for the next flag.
Outside, the bang and crumple of a car crash, sirens in the distance. I don’t know, maybe it’s the wind, but I think I hear screaming.
Nobody should be out in this weather.