"I think a momentous time has come in our relationship," I say to Nathan in the ashy dimness of our bedroom.
"Yes,Ē I say solemnly. ďIt's time for you to go away and let me sleep."
"Well. If it's that momentous, would you like me to, like, say a few words for the occasion?"
"Mmmmm, only if you scritch my back while you do it."
"Okay," he says, scritching. "A few words." I laugh at him.
"Grimalkin. Ridiculous. Object. Nostrum."
"Infiltrate," he contributes. "Rumplestiltskin. E-nun-ci-a-tion."
"Musty. Coruscate. Foolish."
"Rain... raindrop. Moonbeam."
I curl up to compensate for the warmth that his leaving takes away. The room is warm but unfamiliar, and so it seems colder than it is. Iím here for a lot of reasons, but mostly because somebody decided to make the Boston Monument, the one commemorating the completion of the Big Dig, out of light concrete, and Mistakes Were Made. A few causal links and one crumbling statue later, a consulting firm was willing to pay me quite a lot to help fix those Mistakes, and I was willing to move to this oddly heated room in Boston to do it. Why Nathan decided to follow me is another issue, not so straightforward; but here he is trying to find studs in the wall of my new place so he can hang his wall sculptures, and Iím not complaining. He should be able to find a job here, and I can fall asleep to the beep of a stud finder. I imagine ashes falling everywhere, nice white ashes from fine-grained wood, muffling the sound until I hear nothing at all.
In the morning we go shopping for household things plus a new video card for my laptop. Itís muggy and Iím too hot, even in my halter top and shorts. We spend an hour hiding from the heat in a Crate & Barrel near Harvard Square, then walk out into a bright landscape of brick and college students, swinging bags full of colorful plates and pint glasses. Nathan switches both his bags to his left hand with an exasperated sigh so he can hold my hand with his right, and we both smile. He laughs a little bit.
ďWhatís so funny?Ē
ďI was just thinking how we bought plates and glasses, but we didnít buy any plate glass. We should have done that.Ē
ďI doubt they have that there... but we bought eight glasses. Thatís similar anyway. And itís a power of two, unlike some other numbers I could name.Ē
ďInteger powers of two are so last week,Ē he says. He shifts his bags to his right hand, moves behind me to my right, and forces me to shift my bag so we can hold hands the other way. ďWe were stupid to buy this stuff first. Now we have to lug it all the way to Microcenter.Ē And heís right, but the plates I carry are all that keep me from buying a little white kitten from the window of the PetWorld next to Microcenter, even if Nathan is slightly allergic and doesnít like cats. The kitten has green eyes, and it sits calmly and opens its mouth at me in a well-practiced appeal. It blinks, then tucks its paws in and hunkers down for a long session of watching the world. ďCome on,Ē says Nathan, and I turn away reluctantly to look for a video card. I try to fix the location of Microcenter in my mind by looking across the river to the Hancock and the Prudential towers, the only landmarks I really know so far. I was hoping all the walking around would help me learn a few more, but so far itís just making my feet hurt.
We have Chinese food at a nearby restaurant I will probably never be able to find again, since itís not right by the river. Nathan dominates the conversation, talking about companies in the area where he might like to work; and then at home he leads me into the bedroom, pulls the strap from my halter over my head and dominates the foreplay, too. I love it when he does that, and only spoil the occasion a little bit by suggesting we try it from behind, something he usually doesnít like and wonít do this time. So I sit on his lap facing him and move forward and back, then in grinding figure eights, until both of us have forgotten we ever liked anything else; but lying there afterward I think of the white kitten and am discontent. I gaze out across the room. There are dirty towels on the floor, and two of them are monogrammed NSC for Nathan Seven Chelmerton, who is obsessed with integers no matter what he claims.
The next Monday is the first full day of my new job. I get to work at 7:55 AM to find the office still dark, the Xerox machine snoring lightly in the corner. I don't turn on any front lights, just tiptoe by and find my way through the cubes until I get to my own, which still smells like grass because the crazy person before me carpeted the thing with astroturf and of course the stuff started to reify on him, the way more and more things do these days. Just my luck.
I have a few emails, one from an acquaintance in town who thinks he might know of some job openings for Nathan. I forward that one, and just as I hit Send I get a new message from my sister. I scan it, then hit Reply.
Re: Weird job
Well, if I were the city planners I wouldnít be so happy about my monument slowly crumbling into mice and running away either! (As for why this is happening, everyoneís best guess is that a family of mice got mixed into the concrete-this was 30 yrs ago when they finished the Big Dig, and they didnít worry much about biomech then.) Iím not sure but Jackson (my boss) acted like this was a huge contract for BioFix to land... and at least I majored in the right stuff for them. As for job security, yeah. Weíll see how it goes. Todayís the first big brainstorming meeting, so wish me luck.
>Darryl just got implanted with the new zooming phakic IOLs and so far so
>good, no astigmatism or anything.
WOW. I think Iíd be scared to let anyone mess with my eyes, especially for that much money, but having extra visual powers would be neat. Let me know how it goes, especially the zooming.
I fill out some paperwork for my new health insurance plan. At 8:35 the cubes are suddenly overrun by people, a couple of whom smile at me in passing, and at 8:44 they charge off toward the meeting room en masse. I follow them, sort of sucked along in their draft. We all funnel into a meeting room holding maybe twelve people plus Jackson, who immediately fires up a slide show; timeliness is definitely the way of things at BioFix. He shows a slide of the pockmarked statue and cites a lot of statistics I knew already, such as the rate of erosion of the statue-about 3 mice per night, or 5 ounces of concrete-and some things I hadnít known, like that the city poisoned some of the mice last month and found only twisted lumps of concrete near the poison in the morning, their shapes vaguely suggesting animation. Jackson has terrible teeth, crowded into his mouth and coming to a sort of point near the front. He tells us that the erosion happens mostly at night, which I also knew, and thatís the end of the presentation.
"Okay team, I think almost everyone here has been part of an engineering brainstorm ah, effort before." Jackson beams about the room at all the people I will have to get to know. They are mostly in their mid-30s or younger and they look pretty sharp. I may need to buy some new clothes. "So Maria will be on the whiteboard writing down ideas, ah, try not to shout all at once and as usual, no criticism. For now. You're all part of this process, so speak up, and I'll just stay out of the way." His teeth are driving me crazy. I scan the room to find somewhere else to look.
"Block them in," says a thin blonde man. "Just shellac the whole thing."
BLOCK THEM IN (SHELLAC? EPOXY?), writes Maria. She has frizzy black hair that looks like wire against the whiteboard.
"Or let the damage continue--hey, it's always an option. Write it down! Let the damage continue."
Thereís a nihilist in every group.
"We could just keep fixing it in patches; well, that's a lousy idea but..."
"Keep poisoning them as they come out, like the city started."
"Can we poison the whole thing at once? Yeah: just pour mouse poison into it, if concrete is porous enough."
"Well, we can easily test that."
"Find whatever wino is imagining this into happening and remove him."
"Make the mice happy so they don't leave."
"Make them happy? Like rub cheese into the thing?"
The group laughs, but I don't. Itís screwy to talk about mice or even mouse animus as being separate from the monument, and as for the wino, I doubt there's even a human agency involved; itís all the same, the monument itself is unhappy. Itís trying to solve some problem it can only solve by becoming a little animate, by having behavior. Which--a flash of inspiration finally hits--can be observed and analyzed. Of course.
"Tag the mice," I say loudly, and heads swivel toward me.
"What do you mean?"
"We can tag the mice to find out where they go, what they do. If we can track them and the paths form any coherent pattern, maybe we'll know what it is they want."
I hear a male voice mutter "Mice aren't coherent", breaking the first rule of brainstorming and earning my dislike forever, but itís too late. TAG THE MICE AND TRACK PATTERN is on the board, and I am part of the process. Even so, though, what problem could a monument have?
PIGEONS, writes the Maria in my head.
As I leave work the crescive moon is already high in the sky, about half full and tipped up to the left. I could walk but I take the subway home instead because Iím in the middle of Boyís Life by Robert McCammon and want to spend every minute reading that I can. When I get home I say hi to Nathan, who is leafing through What Color is Your Parachute?, and check my email.
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.comI try to place Steve M, and decide heís probably the sandy-haired guy who sat in the corner to my right and didnít say much. He seemed nice.
So I think Iíve seen that stupid slide of the monument pockmarks four times already. Anyone want to bet weíll make it to 20 before we escape this contract?
Half an hour later Iím putting clean sheets and towels into our closet when I hear a noise and look out the window. We're on the fourth floor and we have quite a few three-story buildings on this side of the place, so I have a good chance of being able to see what it is. Sure enough, a lovely black woman is climbing out of a trapdoor on the next roof over, wearing a yellow bikini and carrying a yellow towel in her other hand. As I watch she spreads the towel on the shingled roof and lies down on it, no doubt providing a lovely view from Nathan's study, which faces the same way. With her dark skin she looks like a chocolate-lemon confection. I glare at her and go back to my closet, because she is gorgeous and glossy in a way I'll never be; but I look again, and the man who follows her out a minute later makes me decide the sight is worth the inferiority complex. He has a beach bag and a very small red Speedo that shows me everything. When Nathan comes in with an armload of clean towels he sees me looking and comes up behind me to see what it is.
"Interesting neighbors we have," he says with his arms around my waist. "What do they think they're doing out there?"
Glinting in the moonlight, I think, but I don't say it.
"Theyíre not that crazy. Itís probably more comfortable to be on the roof than in here with all the windows open."
He nods. "Yeah. It's nasty in here."
Iím feeling a certain relief that he hasn't been staring at the woman, and I turn around and hug him for that instead of answering his question. Itís perfectly obvious what theyíre doing anyway, with their beach towels and paperbacks and tanning lotion. Theyíre moonbathing.
Iím at the gym when I actually meet Christine a few days later. Itís been a couple of weeks since my last gym fix, so Iím feeling weak and getting grouchy thinking of how sore I'll be in a couple of days. One at a time my major muscle groups are checking in with me: lats okay, biceps okay, abs... okay, those are wishing I hadn't taken two weeks off. The gym doesn't seem overly trendy or too out-of-date; a good thing since my company subsidizes membership to the place and Iíve already signed up for a year's membership. There is one other woman there who looks as strong as me in the free weights section, but not stronger, and her abs have nothing on mine; so Iím feeling good as I head back to the women's locker room, dreaming of more defined hamstrings. That's when Christine falls in gorgeously beside me, sweaty from a run on a treadmill but still breathing pretty easily. She's about an inch taller than me and far more curvy, which puts her at five nine and probably 135 pounds.
"Hi," she says, "didn't you just move in on Radcliffe Street?"
"Yes... I did. Are we neighbors?" I said stupidly, knowing perfectly well that we are but unable to admit to looking out my window at her. I donít exactly have a crush on her, but I think of the man in the red Speedo and I feel like Iím in fifth grade again. I canít stop looking at her skin, which has just a slight silver sheen over the chocolate.
"Guess we are now. I'm Christine," she says. "Dmitri and I live right next to you in 36. We've got the top floor." She's wearing a wedding band, so Dmitri must be the stallion I see on the roof with her every night. What a lucky stallion.
"Oh, we're at 34, Nathan and I," I say, getting things backwards. "I'm Tess." It's short for Tesseract, but that is something I seldom advertise.
We're standing right in the way of everyone trying to get to the snack bar, so we move into the locker room together.
"Well, it's really nice to meet you. We usually try to send cookies or something to new neighbors but our lives have just been insane lately, so..." She puts her hands out helplessly, vapidly even, meaning: what can you do?
She's left me only one place to go in the conversation, and I go there. "Nobody ever has enough time. But I'll probably see you around if you come here a lot." I smile.
"Well, I'm here every afternoon at 6:00. I'm glad I had a chance to meet you", she says, and is gone to a far locker. I open my own locker and stare into it, wondering why someone who cares so much about neighbors would move to the middle of a city where not many people give a shit. Most people also wouldn't want to eat some random neighbor's cookies, especially if they'd gotten a good deal on rent and figure other people would love to see their apartment empty. So okay, she's a little stupid, but those legs...
It takes a few minutes to stop thinking about Christine, but I manage it, and head home with my Walkman on. When I'm about halfway there the newsperson starts blatting nervously about some group of acid-heads in Waltham who managed to get on a very, very bad trip and turned some highway intersection into a giant mouth, which was by then slowly shrinking under the withering blaze of disbelief from the many annoyed drivers who are now going to be late getting home and are used to going through that intersection, dang it. And yes, it's freaky enough what's happening--the boundaries between the living and the inanimate slowly becoming blurrier, the energy it takes to get from one to the other decreasing every year. Lately, human imagination has often been enough. The older people are taking it the hardest, worrying about some horror-story ending where nothing stays as people make it and the world oozes back and forth between flesh and mud, forever. Me, I majored in the stuff in college and now I just live my life. The cities will stand for a long time, I think. So many people believe in them.
The blatting continues, now solemnly reminding listeners that if enough people could just believe in the same positive thing the world could be changed overnight. If we just believe, if enough people just believe... but hasn't it always been that way? I turn the radio off and believe in walking. I believe in mood swings and good weight equipment and what Christine and Dmitri must look like when they fuck. And that the pavement below my feet is solid, solid, solid. I think of my favorite movie quote: You know, where I come from, ďmay you live in interesting timesĒ is not exactly a blessing.
My workload at BioFix increases as I learn my way around the place. By October, the job ranges from fieldwork to running finite element analysis on the monument to see where the points of greatest physical stress are; the idea here is that the erosion might be occurring primarily in those places, although just looking at the thing this seems unlikely to me. It's been three months and my idea of tagging the mice is one of only three efforts the group is still pursuing, and although Iím not assigned to that part of the project, I have a feeling the management remembers where the ideas come from. I've had a lot of arguments with people who think there's a human agency involved, some wino who's imagining or dreaming the whole thing and making it happen. There have been studies showing that certain animals--wolves and cats for sure, maybe bears--can change reality at least a little to suit what they think is true, and I remain positive that we'll find our answers in the monument and the mice alone. But nobody else is sure of this, and I'm afraid my insistence is making me look like a jerk around the office. Especially if the wino people are right.
Being at home is getting uncomfortable since Nathan doesn't want to hear about my work as much as I need to talk about it. So I spend a lot of time at work and at the gym, where Christine continues to exert her near-gravitational force on me as she chatters about her life with Dmitri and as a dental hygienist. Like me, she orders her life around work and sex. Mine, lately, has been more about lack of sex, and since we're girls we end up talking about this.
"Why isn't he doing his duty?" she asks me one evening as we're doing bench presses. "A lot of guys wouldn't slack off with a girl like you around!"
"Thanks," I say, watching her muscles slide past each other. "I don't know, I think it's just the stress of looking for a job. Mostly. He still has enough money to go for a while so I think he isn't feeling much pressure to look hard."
"Ufff. Your turn", she says as she puts the bar on the rack. "What does he do anyway? When he is working, I mean."
"Programming," I tell her, and as I say it I feel a definite twinge of unease. Programming, and he knows all the right languages. It's just unreal that after three months he's really been unable to find even a stopgap job. I lie down on the bench. "I don't think he's really trying," I confess. "And he doesn't seem happy, and I'm not doing a good job talking to him about it either."
"Maybe he's not happy. Maybe this don't seem like home to him and he won't settle down and live. The city and you have got to come to some agreement before you can do that settlin', and it sounds like he's not getting there. Come on, three more, you can do it. But if Dmitri pulled that kinda act, I'd slap him around fast."
I finish my set slowly and more or less collapse on the bench. "I ought to," I tell her. "I'd slap him around if I thought it would do any good. But if he won't do it on his own, I'm not sure it's going to be any good anyway."
"Maybe it's not," Christine shrugs. "That wouldn't be the worst, if you find that out now and not after you got one of these." She peels back her lifting glove to show the wedding ring. Her hands are as beautiful as the rest of her. It's a good thing she's married and I'm involved, because I don't even know how to make a pass at a woman. I'd probably mess it all up. And my life is too complicated as it is.
The next morning I walk to the actual monument site, where Iím supposed to meet my coworker Steve and affix stress gauges to the monument at various points. The monument looms in the middle of a round courtyard with benches around it, and grass around that. A few other people are there, some tourists actually looking at the thing and a couple of homeless people sitting on benches. But no Steve, and Steve has the specs for our job this morning, so I make my thin-gloved hands into fists in the pockets of my jacket and try to be casual, watching the tourists watching the moth-eaten statue. A couple of them go up close and look at the pockmarks. After a while I hear footsteps behind me and turn to see Steve holding takeout stuff from Finagle A Bagel. I glance at my watch. It's 8:12.
"Sorry I'm late," he says. "I had cat trouble this morning. I brought you a coffee, and some stuff to go in it--I have no idea how you like it."
"Thanks," I tell him, which is ridiculous since I usually hate drinking coffee before lunch. But it was a nice gesture, and Steve has a great smile, and they say it's good to challenge one's habits from time to time. "Cat trouble, not car trouble?"
We move off toward the statue, Steve unfolding a piece of smart paper from his coat pocket. There's a list of places to put the stress gauges, and I'm standing kind of close behind him trying to read it over his shoulder and get cream in my coffee at the same time.
"My cat was mad at me," he explains to the paper, looking sheepish. "See, I have this window that opens directly onto my porch, and I have a cat door built into the bottom part so the cats can go up there. But for summer I take the door part out so that there's just an open window, because they like it better. But summer doesn't last forever, right--winter comes--and then I have to put the door back in. And then"--he gives me a significant look--"then they don't want to go through the door. And so I have to push them through it back and forth a few times until they figure it out and come in. But last night one of them stayed out in the cold all night because she didn't want to push on the door, and I didn't notice her. And when I opened the door this morning she just yowled and leaped on through and wouldn't speak to me. So, I couldn't leave while she was that cold and mad at me, and that's why I'm late."
"Of course not. So did she forgive you?"
"I hope so." Okay. If the cat can be magnanimous, so can I.
"It'd be pretty funny if you get home and find her outside again."
"God. She'd better not. It'd be just like her to do it, too, now that I think she has the door thing figured out."
I grin, liking his story, and liking a guy who cares that much about his cat's feelings. We turn to the chart and start to work, but a lot of the gauges are placed high on the statue, and we only get a few gauges up before we have to break it off so that Steve can run back to work and get a ladder. I sit guarding our equipment. The little wires coming from each stress gauge are taped to the concrete all the way down to the pedestal, where they connect to a zillion-input multimeter. Maybe it's just the extra caffeine in my system but the urban October air suddenly bursts into a million crisp little sparkles and Iím unaccountably happy, looking across the park to the streets. I've always loved cities, their energy and prosperity, the safety of each person's anonymity in a crowd. I sit on the pedestal looking down at the soft brown shoes I bought last weekend for $300, an act perfectly justified by that beautiful thing they call a high salary, and wave my feet in the crackling air. I smile. I think about the ladder and how Steve's ass will look from down here when he's up on it, and then guiltily about Nathan, who hasn't had sex with me in about three weeks and still isn't trying to find a job. I tried to talk to him about it last night and it turned into a fight about money, which worries the hell out of me. He can't possibly be happy just drinking coffee and doing nothing. But my coworkers come back before I can drive myself crazy thinking about it.
"Tess! You look like one of the three Fates with all those wires in your hand." That's Richard, the nihilist from the brainstorming session, who has helped Steve carry the ladder here.
"Yeah? Which one?" I ask, probably flirting more than I should but unable to resist.
"Which one?", asks Richard, just as Steve says "Clotho, of course!". The two of them look at each other.
"I didn't even know they had names," says Richard.
"Yeah. Clotho is the young beautiful one, Atropos is the old crone who cuts the threads, and there's a middle-aged one, um..."
"Lachesis," I supply, and he snaps his fingers.
"Right. Lachesis." Now we're both grinning at Richard, who backs off with his hands up in mock surrender and grins back.
"Okay, okay. I flunk the mythology class, but I got you your ladder. Gotta give me at least one out of two." He heads back along the sidewalk to the office, chuckling, and leaving us faintly embarrassed in his wake. Leaving me embarrassed, anyway.
"We were up to N17, right?" I say, and work saves us. The talk from then on is all about stress and tape, although the sight of Steve's ass up on the ladder is I could have hoped for, and we're done by 4:30. I take the front end of the ladder on the way back because itís a little lighter, but when we pick it up he asks me whether I lift weights, and I say yes and am happy that he noticed Iím strong.
I walk toward home in my excellent shoes, wondering what to say to Nathan--if anything--and just feeling the energy of the city. It's a long walk, about 45 minutes, and tonight I get a great view of the moonrise which is only 80% obscured by my worrying. Nathanís joblessness just canít be a good thing, and neither can my looking at coworkersí asses; but I think I can blame that one on general lack of sex.
When I'm almost home I see movers carrying a couch out of someone's house to a moving van, and it takes me a minute to realize that they're at 36 Radcliffe. I look up to see Christine and Dmitri standing together on their second-floor porch. By now the two of them have acquired a deep pewter sheen under their natural brown. Their porch light is weak, but they gleam like healthy mink. They've spent a lot of hours on that roof under the moon.
"Hey, you guys," I call to them. "What's going on, are you moving out?"
"We're moving to Roxbury," says Christine. "Going home."
"Wow... I had no idea. Will I still see you around the gym? Roxbury's only about three miles from here."
"Different Roxbury," she says, a hint of something in her voice. "Different city. I doubt we'll be able to come around." And then she looks up, toward the moon.
"Oh," I say. "Well, good luck with everything."
Dmitri says something to Christine, who looked about to invite me in, then turns to me and says impatiently "It's near Chicago. We've gotta get things packed up, so... we'll be seeing you," meaning quite the opposite. And he too looks up at the moon before steering them both inside.
Roxbury. I look up just to feel like part of the scene, because I know where theyíre moving.
Roxbury, if that's its real name, is almost full tonight.
I walk the few feet to my own place slowly, not wanting to talk to Nathan about his slacking, not wanting to lose my only friend at the gym, not sure about much except my new shoes, which are perfect. It's getting colder at night now, and I'm so hungry and stressed that I'm actually relieved to find that Nathan is out somewhere. When he comes home half an hour later with new library books he's in a good mood, and I postpone the talk in favor of domestic tranquility and an early bedtime. Iím exhausted but I masturbate anyway, thinking about Christine and Dmitri fucking doggie-style on an endless cream-colored carpet, then imagining Iím Dmitri. I hold Christineís hips hard and push my cock into her no more than a few times before I, the real me, am shaking uncontrollably and the scene dissolves in my head like spun sugar. A few seconds later Iím seeing a landscape of moon rock and sort of drifting toward it, the sensation draining fast from my hands and feet, and a swift darkness takes me away from everything.
That night I dream about mice, tiny grey mice swirling around my ankles and running past me to hide in a forest that stretches behind me. I donít know what they're running from and they don't touch me or bother me. They seem afraid. When I look to my left I suddenly see this dirty-looking street guy in a wheelchair. He has a bottle in a paper bag in his hand and he's scarier than he should be. Somehow, in the way of dreams, his face changes and I know that he is Nathan.
"What're you doing here?" he slurs. "Usually all I dream about is these damn little mice coming from nowhere... like everything's turning to mice..." and I realize those bastards at work are right, it's this guy doing it, and it's Nathan, and the mice are running from him. I can't run or scream, and the more I try the more I bend toward this wino-Nathan as though to kiss him. But before I can do it my hands fall away painlessly into mice, I fall to the ground as mice, and I run toward the forest on tiny legs but I don't get there either because I wake up gasping.
I crawl over Nathan's sleeping form and get some milk, thinking there is no wino, there is no wino. It's probably even true. Last week we started to see a pattern in where the mice from the statue were going, or thought we did. And yet tonight I have the feeling of things collapsing, as though some malevolent agent is staring at my life and wanting it to crumble. I look out the window at the lights of Boston. I can't see the Prudential Building from where I am, but I can see a bit of the Hancock, and its sheer mass calms me down. I know a lot about the city by now, I could walk to the Hancock any of a dozen different ways. The city, the job, Nathan. I don't want them to crumble, at least not all of them.
This damn apartment is too quiet at night, I think. We need a cat. And then I spend a few more weeks working too hard and trying to hold everything together by force of will alone. It's a solid attempt but it doesn't work.
The plane banks and falls toward Philadelphia from the ocean side, having swung out from the land on its way down from Boston. From my window seat I can see a river and several blue cranelike things down next to the water. Itís hard to judge scale but they look 30 or 40 feet high. Iím still trying to figure out whether they're birds or construction equipment when suddenly I find myself in the scene rather than above it, and the plane is over land and then on the land, bouncing. The grass slides backward outside the window, flat as airports everywhere. I put away my book, which I havenít read much of anyway, and wipe my eyes.
Jackson and Richard are already waiting when I get out of the plane. I walk up to them and we all give a little nod to each other, and then I say ďTaxi?Ē and we go out into the blue stench of the ground transportation area, where about a dozen taxis are at the center of a confused mob of people with suitcases. Jackson cuts right through them and nabs us a Checker cab in about five seconds. This is not so bad. When I land at Logan nobody is going to meet me, because Nathan is going to be a couple hundred miles out on his way back to San Francisco. For now Iím glad to be in a business suit and on my way to a presentation, because I donít have to think about that; itís even better if I donít. I need to think about impressing the Mayor, who's here for some kind of festival and wanted to share our results with some Philly bigwigs. Not that our results aren't going to make the news anyway.
Because our flight was a little late, we get to the conference room with only 15 minutes to set things up. Like minutes before any deadline, they fly, and the room fills suddenly with mayors and other people in suits. Jackson stands up and starts the lengthy process of briefing everyone on the problem. That same PowerPoint slide of the moth-eaten monument is there again-the seventh time I've seen it--along with a chart of increasing concrete volume lost over time. Nine of the fifteen people in the room have coffee. Nathan is probably packing now, jacked on caffeine himself, ripping stuff off the walls like a madman... I should probably pick up spackle on the way home. What a lousy thing to be thinking about. I donít even know if he would have left today if I hadnít asked him how his job search was going. But I did, and he said well, Iíve decided not to look anymore, and then it was just a blur--he wasnít finding himself, he hates the confines of the city, Iíve been fixated on work, and he canít drink the coffee here anyway. All this about 10 minutes before I had to get out the door to catch my plane, and he knew it, the inconsiderate lout. I stood there in my nylons and business shirt listening, and finally said something inadequate like ďWell... I guess we have a problem.Ē
ďA problem?Ē, he almost shouted. More blurring of words, and as I finished getting dressed I probably caught every fourth one or so. If he wanted me to listen heíd have made some sense, felt the city, ridden the T, gotten off his ass, but he didnít; so I shrugged again and said ďIf youíre that upset about being here, I donít know what I can do about it right now. I have to catch this plane, you know I canít stay and talk.Ē I picked up my laptop and headed for the door. In grad school I remember us communicating better, a lot better.
ďCan we talk about this tonight when I get back?Ē But I already had that dead feeling in my stomach that meant I was way too late, and so was he, and the clock measuring how late we were was old and broken.
ďIíll be on my way to SF by tonight,Ē he said, quiet but furious. "Where I knew where I was, where I didn't get lost all the time." And he kept talking, but Iíd gone so numb I couldnít even respond. Couldn't talk. I just walked out in my sensible business shoes and headed toward the subway, and the miles of track to the airport beyond.
Three people have finished their coffee, leaving six out of fifteen, by the time itís my turn to talk. I only have to cover a few slides, but theyíre critical ones. Thereís some fumbling as Jackson sits, I stand and we transfer the laser pointer between us. A diagram appears on the screen beside me.
ďHere you see the original site of the memorial statueĒ, I say, circling the red laser dot around the outline of the pedestal. ďTo begin our final analysis of the problemĒ-Iím distinguishing between this and all the other things we tried, most of which were far more expensive-ďwe placed live-capture, tunnel-style mousetraps in various places around the monument, here, here, and here. We also put up low plastic walls to discourage the concrete mice from leaving the area any other way than through the mousetraps. Over the course of six nights, we captured twenty concrete mice. All were adult and appeared to be in good health.Ē
I click and a new slide appears, a photo of Maria crouched over a cage with something small in her hands. ďEvery two hours, we placed tracking collars on each mouse captured during that time period and released them in the vicinity of their original capture. We then monitored the transpondersĒ-click-ďusing this software you see here. This is our team member Steve Mundi on the second day after the first captures. You can see the interpolated lines taken by each mouse, and even here I think you can see how theyíre all heading southwest.Ē You actually canít see it too well on this slide, so I trace the line back and forth with the laser pointer. Click.
ďIn this slide you see the courses traced by all twenty mice over a five-day period following the first night of capture. Remarkably, eighteen of the twenty migrated to this same small park, Munro Park, while two of the transponders were lost on Highway 93 where we assume two mice were either run over or lost to predation. So we have an incredibly coherent trend in mouse behavior. Why might they going to that park? Because thirty years ago Elron Concrete had a mixing yard there, and Elron Concrete was one of the major providers of material for the Monument. What we presume is that the original mouse animus, housed at the time in normal mice, came from this mixing yard. To put it in the simplest possible terms, the statue has been trying to go home ever since.Ē
ďPlease-if we could hold off on questions just for a second, thereís one more thing I want to show you. With the help of Mayor Gonsalves, we prevailed on the city to let us move the monument temporarily to test our theory.Ē Click, the empty pedestal in the original location; click, the statue standing on the grass of Munro Park without its pedestal. There are trees in the background and a hint of water showing between them. Jackson is giving the Mayor a toothy smile. ďHere in this new site we monitored it closely for further damage, leaving infrared cameras trained on it all night as for the original monitoring. As we had hoped, erosion damage immediately dropped to zero, but we saw something even we didnít expect. Watch this video, taken the first night in Munro Park, and youíll see what we mean.Ē
Click. My throat is getting dry now but this is the good part. The camera image is grainy and dim, but the white blur in the lower right corner is definitely a mouse. The blur moves, hesitates, and runs left toward the monument, which comes in from the left of the screen. In a series of jerky motions it climbs to the shoulder of the statue, finds a pockmark, and simply melts back into the statue, leaving a smooth spot. The film pauses and zooms in; a murmur runs around the room of suits. ďAs you can see, at least some of the mouse animus is choosing to return to the statue now that there is no conflict between location and material, a phenomenon we had no reason to expect or hope for.Ē And from then on the meeting is the kind I most like to be in, the kind where happy clients are asking good questions that Iím answering well. I'm comfortable in front of the room and writing things down, although itís all history to me already: the problem is solved, the city will find a way to let us move the statue permanently, and BioFix will probably get more contracts now. Thereís some kind of business dinner at which a lot of business cards are exchanged, and when the plane takes off Iím still high from the meeting, looking out the window for those blue crane things and thinking sorry Philly; itís not you, youíre a great place, but Iím in love with somewhere else.
In my strangely empty apartment Iím going to sleep for about 12 hours, and then Iím going to buy some spackle, fix up the walls and cry for as long as it takes. Then Iím going to head to PetWorld and see whether they still have any white kittens like the one I saw last summer. When the moon comes through my living room window Iím going to spread blankets on the floor and lie naked in the white glare. I'll think about all the things I canít deal with tonight, turning my skin just a little silver and maybe figuring out what to do next. In my daydream, the white kitten comes and curls up next to my side in the moonlight.
But for now, Iím exhausted and not thinking much about anything. Most of the cabin lights are off. The plane bellies on through the darkness until suddenly it banks, spilling Boston out before me in miniature on a sheet of black velvet. For a frightening moment I don't recognize any of it. But I search the shining night until I find the Hancock and the Pru, the two great towers that pin my city to the ground, and suddenly I know exactly where I am.