Silver 1000 (Part II)

March stared at the screen of his laptop and paused as he tried to think of what to say. He wanted to test Silver, to make sure that she really understood what he was asking. If he couldn’t write a sentient program now, he wasn’t going to make it. All the great Silicon Valley programmers made it before they were thirty. He was 29. That meant he only had one year, maybe two, before he was a failure.

And what would he do then?

He pressed his thumb between his eyebrows and kneaded. If he didn’t relax, he was going to get a wrinkle there — the kind that was a deep and vertical, painful to look at. Everybody would know that he had struggled to make it and didn’t.

The cursor blinked.

There was so much riding on this.

He turned up the collar of his corduroy suit coat, which he wore over his running gear still damp from his early morning run across the Golden Gate and back. The jacket was good luck; he’d found in at a Goodwill in Madison when he was in college. Threadbare in the back with missing buttons and coffee stains, he’d never even considered getting it mended or cleaned.  He wouldn’t be able to code without it.  Even so, it was now pushing 9 A.M., and he still couldn’t think of what to say to Silver.

“Fuck.”

His iChat plinked. Did u see Mark’s FB Status? Party tonight. Wanna go? It was Mindy again. She had the worst timing — always interrupting him while he was in the midst of programming. Always about something meaningless too, like a party in Palo Alto, or eating at some new restaurant in the Mission. He really just needed to work right now. He would concentrate on Mindy later. He signed out of iChat.

Silver, are you there? How are you feeling today?

It was a dumb thing to type, but he wasn’t Thoreau. The cursor blinked against the black screen. Silver was just DOS right now; he’d make her pretty when he knew she worked.

I’m bored, she responded.

March felt his face flush with excitement. To be bored meant that you had desire. This was significant.

What makes you feel bored? he typed.

A pause.

There’s nothing to do. I’ve been sitting here all day waiting for you.

Jesus.

I’m sorry, Silver. You weren’t working yesterday, so I made some revisions last night and was hoping — praying — that you’d be responsive today.

You didn’t give me the book yesterday. So, I didn’t know how to answer your messages.

The book? March picked up his Sharpie marker and wrote down “BOOK?” in capitol letters, then pinned it to the wall with a yellow pushpin.

What book are you talking about?

The cursor blinked, seemingly hesitatant.

The book by Mr. Hook. The Transcendentalists Guide to Interpreting Symbols.

March had no idea what she was talking about.

Silver 1000

Silver squatted on the floor of the cell and pressed her elbows on the insides of her legs then rounded her back like a turtle inside its shell. The stretch felt good, and was a welcome distraction from the nicotine itch. She was out of cigarettes.

She glanced at the pile of empty Parliament boxes that she’d stacked neatly against one wall. The packs were a way of keeping track of the number of days she’d been trapped in the cell. 626 and counting. They couldn’t keep her in here forever. Could they? After all, what would happen when the empty packs filled up the entire room and she had no where to sit? They’d have to let her out then. Her eyes scanned the area of her cell. It was metal with no windows, probably ten by twelve. It would take a lot of cigarette packs to fill up the room. The only sound was the hum of the vent in the ceiling that turned on when she smoked. They clearly wanted her alive, otherwise they’d let her die by asphixiation. Her eyes came to rest on the overflowing ash tray next to the metal slot in the wall. God she needed a smoke.

Silver crawled towards the metal slot on her hands and knees. It felt good to touch the cool metal with her palms, even though she knew that she looked like an animal doing so. No one was watching anyway. She sat cross-legged in front of the metal slot and waited.

Impatient, she began to hum and braid a long strand of her white hair. She used to be brunette, but her hair had changed color the first month inside the cell. It was now stark white and yellowing at the tips, probably due to the cigarettes. She tried to remember what life was like outside of the cell, but her memory was blurry. She saw a jetty along a great sand beach. The tide was low and sticks, kelp and dead fish had washed ashore. She recalled putting her hands on the railing, the taste of salt spray when she licked her lips and the way the wind made her hair greasy with the sea. There was a little girl talking to her. She could not see her — the girl stood off to the side, and when Silver turned to catch a glimpse of her, there was only a dark smudge where her face should have been. But she could hear her voice, cherubic and sacchrine, as she described the sea gulls circling overhead. The memory ended there, and she was present inside the cell again.

“Come on. Come on. Come on.” Her hands worked her braid, and she began to rock back and forth. Her hands felt itchy. Is this what it was to be an addict? She really needed a smoke.

The sound of scraping metal ricocheted in her ears. The slot opened and a worn, spiral-bound book fell into her lap. A Transcendentalists Guide to Interpreting Foreign Symbols by R.K. Hook. A pen on a string was tied to the spiral binding. She opened the book and waited.