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The Gadget

I am upset because my girlfriend, Tina Labrue—or Laboo, as I affectionately call her—has once again chosen her fancy gadget over me. I sit on my blue rocking chair and read a magazine. My chair is in its forward-leaning position so that I can also keep tabs on Laboo as I read. I can see her over the top of my magazine—her button-up black sweater, her lemon-sized hoop earrings, the slight leftward lean of her nose. Her cheeks are concave, as if she'd slept every night of her life on her back with a tea-cup resting on each cheek. I turn the page of my magazine.

Laboo used to work in an office, but when her company hired too many people, she was put "on the beach," meaning that she continues to get paid even though she stays at home and does little or nothing to help the company. Her company insisted that her beach status was temporary, but she has been on the beach for 119 days. Not many 119-day things are considered temporary. A broken femur, maybe.

Since she has been on the beach, Laboo has become obsessed with an electronic gadget that her company gave her to help facilitate her "work" for them. She has never let me touch the gadget, but I have been able to determine that it is a very fancy gadget and that it is probably capable of sending emails and playing video games. Its keys light up bright blue when you touch a button or some combination of buttons. She plays with it alone, sitting on a yoga mat on the hardwood floor, typing furiously with her thumbs, peck, peck, like two tireless chicken heads. She is typing on it now. The apartment is small and if I were to lean forward, I could touch her face. Or, if I persuaded her to look at the ceiling, I could fill those concave cheeks with a touch of water and make two petite birdbaths.

Laboo stops typing on her gadget. For a moment, the apartment is silent. I break the silence to point out to Laboo that two people who are dating can do other, more intimate things with each other, but she is unflinchingly unmoved. She smiles briefly, so fast it's almost subliminal, and then she is quickly back to typing with her thumbs. I consider the possibility that I might not have been ready to move in with Laboo. If her apartment had a quarter-mile long hallway between the bedroom and the kitchen, for instance, I think cohabitating could work. But her apartment is small. To get anywhere, we have to crawl over each other like restaurant lobsters in a tank. There are only twelve steps between the bedroom and the kitchen. Three steps to the bathroom. The bathroom is so small that I can turn the light switch on and off while sitting on the toilet. Sometimes I sit on the toilet much longer than is functionally necessary and flick the light switch on and off. I find it oddly soothing.

This is not what I expected when I moved in with Laboo four months ago. We had been standing on the steps outside her apartment, having just survived a half-dozen one-acts put on by a local theater group, when she pulled out a shiny new key to her apartment, beckoning to me with it as if it were her curled index finger, and saying it was time to take things to the next level. I'll be at my new job, she said. You'll have the place to yourself most of the day. And besides, she added, you're always over at my place anyway.

How could I refuse the key? It was the nicest thing anyone had ever offered me. Within a few weeks, I'd broken the lease to my apartment and moved in.

Now, the circumstances are beginning to have a negative effect on my work. I haven't given any work to my editor in almost four months, 119 days, almost as if my brain has also washed up on the beach. I barely have enough concentration to write a sentence, certainly not enough to write a long sentence, not a grammatically correct one anyway; however, it should be noted that in my opinion such sentences are overrated.

I am so disillusioned with words that I have begun to "draw" my novel on my laptop using only numbers, letters and symbols. Here is a drawing from chapter seventeen:


    O                                           / /
   <==-}  ->                 . - - ._ . -^- ( ,}
    )'                         /{              (    \d
   ./\,                      /    ) - . _ . - >
  /  /                            \`\        / '

Sometimes after being inside too long I feel white and brittle and thin—like an oversized matzo cracker—and I half expect Laboo to slide me into the space behind the bedroom door where the ironing board usually goes. When I get like this, I walk to the park and sit on my favorite park bench, at the peak of a small grass-covered hill. The hill overlooks a jogging path where joggers chase their ambitions along the pavement. An endless parade of them jogs by like a special breed of eccentric ants. Some wear colorful spandex, some run bow-legged, some are bare-chested and have fabulous muscles.

At night, I sleep restlessly and uncomfortably, despite Laboo's recent purchase of an air conditioning unit. She says we should sleep with it on low to save money. I say that would work fine if I could actually sleep when it is on low, but I cannot. She says that I'll get used to it. So I wait for Laboo to fall asleep first, and then I turn the air conditioner on high. I watch her when she is asleep, and, to be frank, I do not think she is sleeping well either. She does not use curse words when she is awake, but she talks in a stream of curses in her sleep. During these episodes I shake her gently awake and then stroke her back to sleep, starting with my hand at the top of her forehead and moving the pads of my fingers down around her ear like a comb. "Everything's going to be okay," I say. "Everything's going to be okay."

Now, from the comfort of my blue chair, I watch as Laboo talks into the gadget. This is new. I've never seen her talk into the gadget before. She gestures with her hand, and she's sitting so close that her fingers brush against my knee. She does not seem to notice. My heart sinks. In the race for Laboo's attentions, the gadget has already been winning for the last several weeks. For it to suddenly gain the ability to work as a phone seems downright unfair. I wonder if the gadget is capable of doing other, more personal things with Laboo. Could it, for instance, cook her a Baked Alaska? I want to believe that it can't, I want to believe that I'm special.

I resolve to sleep on the sofa each night from now on until she asks me to come back to our bed. I remember when, before we were living together, Laboo and I savored our time together: when one of us went to the bathroom at a restaurant, the other would go too, just so we could be together on the walk over. I think about how our sofa, a holdover from our college days, will smell of ass and beer, and that during the moments before sleep, with my faced pressed to the cushion's fabric, I'll think mundane pre-sleep thoughts and smoke the couch-cushion smell like a pipe.

I cough into my fist, and Laboo looks me directly in the eye. For a moment, I feel glorious. I have figured out the way to make her thumbs stop tapping—a small victory for me over the gadget. Laboo puts the gadget down and opens the window and then puts on a yellow bikini and sits on a beach towel that she carefully places on the bed and gets a six-pack of diet cola from the fridge that she places on the beach towel next to her and then she opens the latest Harry Potter and begins to read. I stay seated in my blue chair. The gadget rests on the yoga mat. We both sit and wait for the whole thing to unfold, like a stare-down between two men who've just left a saloon with an agenda. I curl up the magazine and hold it in my fist like a police baton.

I make the first move, a quick swat at the gadget with my magazine. The gadget deftly deflects my blow and then, its screen becoming a yawning mouth, the gadget bites onto my hand. I am stunned. The gadget makes quick work of my hand, pausing only to spit out my wristwatch. Within seconds, it has chewed up to my elbow. The gadget slows its pace slightly at my elbow, mostly to negotiate the tricky right-angle turn of my elbow nook. I endeavor to scream, but I'm hypnotized by the beauty of the gadget in action: its flashing blue lights are mesmerizing and the speed with which it chews is awesome. As it approaches my shoulder, I wonder which direction it will take: will it turn up my neck and eat my face or first go for my torso? Either seems equally likely.

It occurs to me that Laboo might have an opinion on the matter and I look away from watching myself being consumed by the gadget and turn my attention back to her, but she still sits in her yellow bikini with her head buried in her book. She is not aware of my current partially-eaten status. She hasn't even opened one of her diet colas; she lets those cans sit in a puddle of their own sweat. I could say something to Laboo, get her attention, and I almost do, but before I can, the gadget tightropes along my collarbone and dives down and takes large bites out of my torso. It is only then that I notice that the gadget is slowing its pace somewhat, getting full, maybe, and I settle into my blue chair knowing that it might be awhile before I completely disappear.

 

P. Terrence McGovern is a native of Newtown, Connecticut. He is a former writer for the Harvard Lampoon. He recently graduated from the University of Florida MFA program and moved to Brooklyn, NY.

 

Photos courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.

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