Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Gadget Whisperer

Mali yawned wide and craned her neck in all different directions, searching for that elusive "pop" of the springs and joints and fasteners in the coils of her spine. A knot had formed somewhere deep between her shoulder blades and she rubbed her back furiously against the stiff, coarse cloth of the car seat to no avail. She spied a sign stating "Rifle 45 Miles" to the right of the road and summoned what comfort she could in knowing Utah was forever behind her.

Her eyes flicked to her companions, mere silhouettes occasionally illuminated in the glow of a passing vehicle. Casey, understandably exhausted, had fallen into the deepest of slumbers the moment they had driven their immense caravan off the lot and now snored with the fervor of a grizzly bear. Joe, too, had succumbed to his medication and wheezed against the window pane a row behind her. Gordon appeared awake, though his eyes were fixed on the landscape beyond, off in his own accented world of tomfoolery and biscuits. And little Parker, having finished his work in his notebook, now sprawled across the expanse of the back seat, drool pooling in the crevices of his shoulder.

With all the night for her's and her's alone, Mali's thoughts drifted across time and space. Absently, she flicked her nimble fingers across the face of the stereoplate. The dials twirled until the static faded into the haunting coos of a familiar Brit, his falsettos spiking and swirling betwixt jagged, distorted percussion.

Ha'come I end up where I started?

Her thoughts trailed to a history she had left behind, a mother and father and brother who still wrote her letters - from time to time. She could smell the citrus of her mother's favorite tea as though a pot were brewing right there in the minivan.

Ha'come I end up where I went wrong?

Her father's cigar smoke, too, now wafted through their vehicle. It burned her nose and she hastily cracked her window, hoping the coolness of the night air would steal the stench from her senses.

I won't take my eye off the ball ag'in,

The scent of her brother came with an audible cringe, a gasp of repulsion so inert and reflexive that Mali hadn't realized she'd done so until the air whooshed from her lungs. She remembered the scent of his room, a cocktail of faint body odor and the ripe sweat of aging books stacked on one another until they tickled the ceiling.

You reel me out then you cut the string.

Amazing, she thought, that he should be the favorite.

You used to be al'right,

Bolero, her elder brother by three years, was the veritable prize of her tiny community. His skill with computers and gadgets was unprecedented, even by the standards of her - graduate cum laude with honors in computer science, MS - father. Just as those in the backwaters idolize a man who can communicated with a car's engine and practically treaty it to run anew, her brother could build, mend, or negotiate with any contraption. It was his destiny to follow in his father's shoes, her mother always said.

So what happened?

Choosing to not leave his parents and baby sister behind, Bolero had opted to take his courses via the internet. For weeks at a time he would retire to his room, emerging only for the barest of necessities, explaining his confinement as the unfortunate product of slaving over manuals and technical terms. Their father would always nod approvingly, suggesting that he had done much the same when he was in school. It was enough for their mother, too.

Did the cat get your tongue?

Mali could recall a time when they were the smallest of brats, she a tomboy and he a spectacled outcast, and their secrets and discoveries were shared with the utmost confidence.

Did your string come undone?

College, she supposed, changes people.

One by one, one by one

With the absence of her brother from the dinner table, evening talks stifled and they three were left to masticate in silence. Her mother would occasionally inquire about her school work, but as soon as Mali had acknowledge that she - yes, was in fact still in school, her mother would dismiss her and resume staring at her dinner plate. Her father never spoke unless it was to agree that their son was prodigious and an ardent worker.

It comes to us all

One night, after many months of contending with her brother's reclusiveness, decided she'd had enough. She decided, against the will of the "Keep Out" poster pinned to her brother's door, to investigate just what was keeping him locked away from all the world.

It's as soft as your pillow

She crept across the hallway, her toes gingerly seeping between ribbons in the plush carpet, her breath caught in her throat.

You used to be al'right

She begged for her parents to not wake, for her plans would be spoiled and she would be sent back to her room.

What happened?

A pale blue light flickered beneath the crack in his door.

Et cetera, et cetera

Nearly there.

Facts for whatever

An outreached hand, craning for the doorknob...

Fifteen steps

"Brother?" Mali whispered as she pushed the door open.

Then a shear drop

The sight would haunt her for years to come. Bolero spun in his chair, his face a mask of disbelief and anger for his premises being violated by uninvited intruders. His hands flew to his groin to cover his swollen shame as he bolted from his seat to snatch his trousers from the bed. On the screen, a pale elf, replete with a bustier and snow white panties, glanced around coyly, as though pondering how she had come to find herself nearly nude in a land of those questing for the very best of equipment drops.


"Thom Yorke's a prick," Gordon muttered, snapping Mali out of her thoughts.

"What makes you say that?" she inquired, her voice shaky from the horrors of that which can never be unseen.

"A lot of people in the Merry Ol' don't care for 'im much," Gordon shrugged. "Full of himself, he is. Spends his whole career with a chip on his shoulder 'cos he got roughed up a bit in grade school. Sorry way to waste a life spent as a rock star if you ask me."

"No one did," Mali replied and turned up the radio, which had by now been swallowed in static. The electric roll of white noise carried them further into the night and on toward Denver.

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