Tuesday - started the same, but with a slight chance of morning drizzle, graduating to likely showers by evening. Parked car underground. Up to reception on the 20th floor. "Your job today will be entering this other set of numbers into this computer, ok?" The numbers are printed out, by another computer. John has to wonder, was there no way to just import the data from the one computer into the other? John has always been easily distracted, and most distracting of all was the idea that he could just migrate the data and not have to spider in one hundred thousand values by hand.
Emily was the receptionist and office manager for Firedrake Consulting. There was no one else in the office, just the two of them, despite the fact that there seems to be space and work stations for at least 60 employees. Emily appeared to be in her 40's. She was heavy, and on her desk there were pictures of her heavy husband and heavy children in front of their freshly painted home. On Emily's screen, still images of lipstick, hundreds of images oriented in a grid and scrolling past, sequenced by shade, organized by pigmentation color theory. Occasionally, Emily's hand flicked up out of her lap and clacked a single long fingernail against a lipstick cell. Nail. Select. Nail. Select.
John made his approach softly, crepe rubber soles over medium pile commercial carpet. "Hi. Am I interrupting?"
"Just doing a little shopping, sugar. What can I do you for?" Emily was still watching the lipsticks roll by.
"Well, I was looking at these printouts."
"The monthly data reports"
"Sure. And see in the header here? There's a network address, and I was wondering if it was ok if I could pull the data out of that database, and import it into the application I've been working in?"
Emily looked up. "Are you a computer man?"
"I've done some work with them."
"You just want to key in the data reports?"
"Well, I'm saying that I could copy the data over the network, and that it would be much faster and more accurate."
"That's the sort of thing that Mr. Firedrake gets personally involved with. We're going to have to talk to Mr. Firedrake about all that."
"I'd be happy to discuss it with him."
"Mr. Firedrake is out on business, and I was told to bring in a temp for the monthly data reports. Sorry, hon. It sounds very interesting, though."
Soft shoe back to his workstation. Through the partition glass, Emily nipped out for her fifth Diet King cola of the morning. So this is what he does: Open Import. Manually key in network address from header of printout. Dialog previews format of import, which seems to be identical to manual formatting. Click Import. New dialog with progress bar creeps across the screen. He's done.
John hung his jacket over the back of his chair, placed a half empty glass of water next to the computer, and walks off. John wishes he'd brought a book, or a chess set. Maybe he could play chess with himself. Of course, if he'd brought a book on chess, it would be a lot more entertaining. In any case, he could stare out a window. Anything but number after number. He wasn't joining some zen priesthood, and achieving no-mind at the keyboard was low on his list. But lunch, as always - an admirable endeavor, to be prolonged at all costs.
John was figuring on a four hour lunch.
Down at the food court, the little blonde was reading Gray's Anatomy and forking endive lettuce into her mouth in measures. The Count of Monte Cristo was one thing. It had great action and a kind of early novel digressiveness that made its various blind alleys and subplots amusing in a kind of historical artifact way. But Gray's Anatomy? Edwardian line art and opaque medical prose outlining the deep lymphatics and glands of the neck and thorax don't jive with his original assessment of the Lunch Girl's taste in reading. Yesterday he had her figured for a Lit major refugee, with her chunky shoes and smart little office worker glasses. She had a noble nose that proceeded her into the world. John visualized past that nose, into the nasal cavity and back into the maxilliofacial sinuses, down into the deep lymphatics beneath her delicately tendoned neck and pale skin. Her light purple blouse has an open top, and John stared at the junction of her neck and clavicle and she looked up, catching him at it. John looked down, but there wasn't anything there but the wrapper of his sandwich. In a grid pattern over the inside of the wrapper were the words A GREAT SANDWICH, over and over again. He couldn't even remember what kind of sandwich it had been. Turkey?
She rose and walked to the bank of elevators. John followed as discreetly as he could. He boarded the elevator inside a pod of female accountants. He had been figuring on selecting the third floor from the top, once he got a look at the expected array of buttons. This seemed to give him the best odds of observing where Ms. Anatomy worked, without being too horribly obvious. However, the controls inside the elevator were digital - a readout and a keypad. The rider had to know his floor number, then code it in. John had no idea how high the building was. He had taken the stairs as a matter of principle yesterday and this morning. Recalling his drive in, a total spitball guess was maybe fifty floors?
"Going up, Mattie?" It was the alpha matron of the accountant pod, adressing Ms Anatomy. The Alpha Matron was draped in a paisley shawl clasped on with a jewelry compass.
"Yes, thanks." Mattie, likely diminutive of Matilda (strong fighter) or Madison (female derivation of Matthew, "gift of Yahweh"), spoke with a modulated alto voice, with maybe a hint of tobacco. She is short. He could see that she was small and short, but with a large ribcage for her size, which might explain the resonance of her voice, viola like. Compass Woman keyed in the forty-third floor.
"Where to, sugar?" It was Compass Woman, who had appointed herself helmsman. She was talking to John.
"Oh, uh the forty-sixth, please?"
"Are you sure about that, hon?" Compass Woman pressed down on "Door Open" with her thumb and held it.
"Yes. I need to go to the fourty-sixth."
"Are you with the contractors?" An urgent beeping started from behind the control panel. The doors try to close. Compass Woman blocks them with her left foot.
"Yes. I'm an engineer. I need to check the raceways for the cable pull."
"I wish y'all would just hurry up and get the job done. I'm seeing a whole lot of nothing happen up there. That's what I've been seeing." She retracted her foot. The doors slid shut and Compass Woman keyed in 46. Mattie, the person assumed to be Mattie, looked over at John. Eye contact, break contact, eyes forward.
Forty-third floor. The women exited into a light blue lobby with track-lighting. The doors shut. Forth-sixth floor. The doors opened to an unfinished space, all poured concrete floors and utility lighting. There were no workmen. A soda bottle next to the elevator doors was stuffed with cigarette butts. On the floor was a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. He picked it up and smelled it. The book had a light odor of tobacco and roses. He slipped the book into his pocket, then stepped back into the elevator and returned to the 20th floor.
Emily didn't even look up as he walked past. John sat down at his workstation and read with the book in his lap until it was time to go home. At six, his computer made a polite chiming sound. He put on his jacket and took the stairs.
"Can you come in tomorrow, sugar? I've got another stack of paper for the Monthly Data Reports."
"Sure. I'll see you tomorrow, Emily."
Down the stairs, twenty flights to the ground. The stairwell has an unusual odor, salty. It took John a while to place it, until he was confronted with the obvious, at the landing for Parking Level 1.
Below P1, the stairwell was full of seawater. The weather report had called for rain. He had heard it splattering, driven by the energy of what had been expected to be a stiff temperature gradient, against the plate glass windows in the food court. This seems extreme, though. A busted water main, or a failure in the sprinkler system might release this amount of fresh water. A cracked sewer line could deposit this amount of wastewater. But saltwater? It was seawater, the unmistakable smell of salt, trace minerals, biomass. Maybe it was a Fortean thing, a waterspout carrying massive amounts of sea water inland? John felt a rush of panic. His car was on P5. Unless this was somehow contained by a bulkhead, an uncommon feature in an office tower, he could assume his car was underwater.
He ran back up to the ground level. Maybe no one had reported this to the building management yet. Out of the stairwell, into the marble foyer, across the food court.
He confronted the deep. There was no other explanation other than this: the bank tower was now at sea. John moved to the glass of the windows and looked out. Water surrounded the tower, rolling with deep ocean swell, whitecapped with the crosswise movement of the wind. This new sea ran out to the horizon, uninterrupted by land or man-made structure. Something serious was going on here.
The power was still on. The light jazz of the lobby entry music still played. A small knot of women was apparently discussing the problem with one of the guards at the security desk. The guard occasionally gestured out to the water with a metal clipboard.
This was a science fiction situation, which meant that somewhere the government must have a relevant manila folder somewhere, with an action plan in it, something like Emergency Response: Dynamic Continental Inundation. Men would come, in semi-rigid boats, or maybe helicopters, navigating with now obsolete aerial photographs and satellite positioning systems. It was a matter of remaining calm and waiting for the inevitable rescue. The hopefully inevitable rescue.
John let his forehead settle against the cold glass, a solid but possibly no longer trustworthy membrane separating him from the marine enormity.
past Temporary: Monday
-:::- Temporary: Wednesday future