by Ed Malin
Life wasn’t so bad. It was just what Michelle expected, basically, every day over and over again.
That is, until she learned she could talk to buildings. And then, there wasn’t much use for people.
Now, haven’t you ever had a moment in a famous place, like the Acropolis in Athens, or Hagia Sophia Basilica in Istanbul? Didn’t it make sense, when someone remarked “if these stones could speak?”
Shelle, for that is what the edifices called her when they called her, was very much aware of the feelings of real estate.
Whenever a neighborhood was rezoned, she knew. When out of a pit emerged a foundation and what was known in the industry as a long-term sustained erection, Shelle sang in the shower.
This is all very exciting for our protagonist, but how does it affect me, you might ask.
Don’t you know, Shelle helped build a lot of the nice things you might have taken for granted?
It started like this. One day, Shelle was hurrying to work and came this close to getting hit by a bus that sped through a red light. As the dust settled and she could blink again, she wondered, “why the hell did I want so badly to get to the 28th Floor and file briefs?”
Indeed, the more she thought about it, she worked very hard to stop good things from happening. Perfectly reasonable occupation to have. She paused next to the vacant lot across the street from her office, where she was still standing. If her cubicle was anywhere near a window, she might see it from up there. Now was the first time she really got a look at it.
“Wouldn’t it be great,” she thought, “if there was a video game place right here? Bright colors, happy music, a place to get rid of some of the aggravation? Maybe a place to improve hand-eye coordination.”
That is just the kind of thing my day job is about. Doublespeak. Just saying what I mean would be so much easier. And it would probably only take half the time, and then what else would be left to do but have fun? She thought this as she entered her office and rode the elevator. She thought this all through the work day. Numbly, she found herself leaving her cubicle, taking the elevator down, and walking out into the darkness like she usually did. She wasn’t prepared for all the bright lights. For the second time that day, she had to rub her eyes and wait for them to start functioning again. It was really bright, all the lights from the Electric Palace.
There had been no palace there before. It was not a savory place to be at night. But now, wandered in to a glowing bunch of games and beckoning noises. She bought some snacks. She bought some tokens. Actually, first, a uniformed attendant gave her a complimentary, first-time gift certificate. She walked out holding a small, stuffed cat which was sitting on a stuffed motorcycle. She had absolutely no use for this toy, and she loved it. Isn’t it easy to get attached to useless things?
The next day, she sat at her desk thinking of lunch. She knew her dry cleaning needed to be picked up, and that she would have to go out around noon because if an waited until she was done with work they would be closed. This made it more difficult to get a good salad. These thoughts may have prompted, but did not completely mitigate, her shock when she passed The Green Machine. The place (why had she never been there) was on the way to where she was going. In the front was an organic salad bar, including smoothies. She made a note to try the wheatgrass later. In the back was an environmentally-friendly cleaning business.
As the days passed, Shelle didn’t always need to read the newspaper to understand what kind of buildings were needed in her city. If she put away her busy work, she could hear buildings talking to her. Some had very good acoustics indeed. But it wasn’t just good concert halls and amphitheaters in far-flung urban locations that she could provide. More MRI machines. Access to mammograms. And shuffle check was she sipping a smoothie when some people didn’t have a nearby place to get healthy food? Sure, the corporations had made the argument that it costs too much to build was now irrelevant. Shelle could drastically decrease labor and material costs.
I drove halfway across the tri-state area – 1 1/2 states! This is what a co-worker told Shelle. Shelle had an intuitive sense of what was being sought after. It was an arts and crafts mall in Southern Connecticut. But situated in an old factory, of which there were plenty. A place for young and old local people to be employed for all things. What was there to do? What wasn’t there? Restoring old hats, for example. Good thing fashion was subject to change.
Another thing that American workers could definitely do: take older has guzzling domestic cars and swap out the engines with electric and by the versions. Some said it wouldn’t work. But if you were going to drive around an SUV or other suburban tank, why not drive another vehicle that might be large but better for the environment.
Shelle did not visit the facilities where this work was done. It was happening in Mississippi and in Ohio and wherever else it needed to happen.
Even if she couldn’t go there, she could hear the sound of doors opening.
At the end of a few months of this, Shelle lay down at night and closed her eyes as happy as she’d ever been. Her toes tingles with the joy of creation. She wanted to sing, and started with a sustained hummm.
The night nurse wrote in her log that patient Michelle de Loggia stopped breathing at 1 AM on November 1st. 10 weeks on a respirator and a feeding tube. The nurse asked her colleague for any more background information. The patient had been on her way to work one morning when she was hit by a bus, one block from the office. What a shame. Perhaps. The nurse recognized the name of the corporation. They had been in the news for a severe wave of layoffs. If anything, the corporation’s public statements of mourning and support for Michelle’s family had helped distract some of the negative publicity. They had even paid medical expenses, until a distant relative emerged with a living will that showed the patient did not wish to have her life prolonged in this way. a quick search online showed this relative at a press conference demanding we search our souls for any good that could one of non-stop dreaming with a dysfunctional cerebellum. Well, how could she know?
That plaintive hummm of the flatlining vitals.