Violent Interruption – TLWM 5B

Brad pointed his chin in Jane’s direction as she entered from the kitchen. “We still have time to run up to Wisconsin.” His family had a lakeside cabin.

Jane shook her head, as she walked over to her chair. “Can’t go.” She lifted his jacket from the chair, continued without looking at him. “I’ve — got some things I need to do tomorrow.” Computer lesson at Crasob, driving lesson with Wings. She turned, smiling as she flung the jacket back at Brad, who caught it before it landed on his face.

Throwing the jacket behind him, Brad replied in a tone that suggested he was going to continue offering suggestions until he heard yes. “When are you done? We can head up after, I’ll make you — “

PAP-PAP-PAP. Brad and Jane flinched at the unmistakable sound of gunfire from outside the building. She had lived long enough in Chicago to recognize the shots came from a single small hand weapon, non-automatic (meaning this probably wasn’t a gang incident), at least two blocks away, street level. Brad opened his mouth but Jane raised a hand to silence him as she listened. No return fire; a police siren, a second, approaching their building from the other direction, blue lights strobing into the darkness outside Jane’s apartment window, PAP-PAP the same weapon firing again, the squad cars accelerating like rockets as their sirens blared, the roar of engines racing away from Jane’s building, the blue lights disappearing into the black night.

Jane sighed, finding no comfort in the knowledge that the Chicago of this new, very different world was just as dangerously violent as the city she remembered.

“Don’t understand why you still live down here,” Brad shaking his head. He had purchased a condo in Naperville the year before; every time she visited him there, she marvelled at how quaint, how safe, how revoltingly stale his new home seemed. “Sure you don’t wanna go to Wisconsin, get away from all this?”

“I don’t think going up to Wisconsin this weekend’s such a good idea.” Jane sat in her chair, holding a large mug of herbal tea with both hands, hoping Brad wouldn’t press the issue any further.

Brad exhaled loudly, puffing his cheeks as he looked off to his right. Exactly as Jane had remembered him doing before she stepped through the Looking Glass. He leaned forward in the couch, his eyes meeting hers. “You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”

It took a moment, although not a very long one, for Jane to realize what Brad was about to do. But long enough to prevent her from stopping him from reaching forward, grabbing her right hand with his left, then leaning to his left as his right hand reached down into his pant pocket.

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A Disappointing Night Out – The Land Without Mosquitos 5A

Jane Summers felt a touch on her elbow through her denim jacket as she exited the auditorium. With the crowd pushing her forward, she could only turn her head to the right. Looking at Brad’s face, she couldn’t tell whether he was concerned or annoyed.

“You OK?” She could barely hear his voice above the excited hum of the people around them. She squinted, decided to let her facial expression speak to her confusion.

Brad drew closer to Jane, put his arm across her shoulder. He was taller than Jane, than most of their friends. He brushed his black hair from his smiling face. “You weren’t into the concert at all tonight.” He moved them to the side of the crowd, stopping when they reached the concrete wall. “Really, I couldn’t figure out why you even bothered going, you were such a downer.”

Jane frowned, looked away. “Sorry. Had a lot on my mind lately.” She looked up at Brad. “Thought a concert would — I don’t know, help me relax.”

“Well next time, let’s go to a movie, or stay in.” His face was stern, like a disappointed parent. “Some less expensive way to help you get over your bad mood.”

Jane stared at Brad’s face a moment, as the crowd jostled past him on their way out of the auditorium. “Look, I told you what was — ” she lowered her voice — “what was going on.”

Brad pursed his lips, held up a hand. “Oooh — not here.” He jerked a thumb behind him. “Let’s go out of here, back to my place.”

“No.” Jane grabbed his coat jacket. “I want to go home.” Brad raised his eyebrows. “My place, the apartment.”

“Never heard you refer to it as ‘home.'”

For the first time that she could remember that evening, Jane smiled. “Yeah. It’s been a weird week.”

They rejoined the crowd, the flow of humanity slightly thinner than before they had stopped. Brad pointed out that his apartment was actually closer than hers, but Jane insisted, he could come if he wanted and she actually wanted to be with him, but she had to get back to her place. Now.

Twenty minutes later, Jane opened the door to her apartment, Brad sweeping in behind her. She turned as she took off her jacket, saw Brad adjusting his hair in a mirror on the right-hand wall to the front door. She asked if he was hungry.

Brad nodded enthusiastically as he took off his jacket. “Only had time for a granola bar between the time I got home from work, and having to pick you up.” He walked into her living area, threw his jacket on the couch like it was covering a stain. “Want to order a pizza?”

Jane stopped her reflexive answer, then replied that pizza sounded really good right about now.

Brad walked over to the sofa, picked up his jacket and flung it across the room, landing in Jane’s favorite chair. He threw his body down into the cushions, raising his arms so that they rested on the back, then quickly shifted his legs so that they rested, left leg over right, on top of the coffee table.

Facing Unpleasant Truths – TLWM 4C

Dr. Patel hummed softly, titled his head back to glance at the ceiling. “We obviously have a problem here, Jane.” He lowered his bearded chin, his eyes making contact with Jane’s. “Your memory says one thing, but physical evidence tells us something very different. Have you thought about how to reconcile these two stories?”

Jane shook her head. “I stopped thinking this was some elaborate bad dream a couple days ago.” She raised her right hand, tapped her temple with her index finger. “I don’t want to think I’m crazy, doc.” She lowered her hand, resting it with the other in her lap. “I’ve never had thoughts like these before, I’ve never — ” she swallowed — “seen a doctor like you, before today. Sorry, I don’t mean that personally.”

Sumeet smiled. “No offense taken. Go on.”

Jane leaned forward in her chair. “But here’s what I do know about me, doc, and that’s I can face unpleasant truths. Arjie at work, he tells me I’m wrong and if he gives me proof, then fine I’m wrong. Brad tells me I’m out of line on the phone with my mother — ”

Dr. Patel raised his right hand slightly. “Brad?”

Jane flicked her head. “Boyfriend. Here’s the point, doc — you prove to me that I’m crazy, then fine, I’m crazy, despite how normal I feel. That means I need to take a pill, fine, I take a pill.”

“Is that what you want?” Dr. Patel’s tone was both challenging and encouraging, like a trainer asking a boxer if he wanted to go another round with the champ. “Do you want to take a pill?”

Jane shook her head defiantly. “No. What I want — is for the world to go back to being what I remember it was.”

Sumeet reached his right hand up to his chin, elbow pivoting on the desk. He stroked his beard, black with streaks of grey, as he gazed at Jane. She could tell that Dr. Patel was examining her, realized that every change in facial expression or body position she made would be evaluated, would be a factor in the diagnosis that was coming, as surely as fall of night. She fought the urge to rise from her chair, declare this appointment over, then walk out and face on her own whatever challenges came from this strange new world she found herself in. But the rational side of her kept her in her seat. When Gary can’t figure things out, he calls in the experts. And to figure out what had happened to her, she would need the help of experts.

“I believe I owe Gary an apology.” Jane hadn’t expected this sudden statement from Dr. Patel. “When I agreed to meet with you, I told him that I doubted whether I could help you. From what little he told me, it didn’t sound like you were ill — more confused, than anything else.”

“So you think I’m ill?” Jane sounded defeated, conceding her bout with the champ.

Sumeet pursed his lips, tilted his head to the right. “Honestly, I don’t know what to think yet, Jane. Other than, that we need to meet again — if that’s all right with you.” Seeing Jane nod in agreement, Dr. Patel put his palms on the top of his desk, pushed himself backwards in his chair, turned slightly to his right — then stopped himself, half-turned to Jane with a playful smile. “I hope you don’t mind if I use this?” He pointed to devices on his desk that Jane, with Wings’ assistance over the past few days, had learned were called a monitor and keyboard.

“Sure.” Dr. Patel nodded, and began pressing keys on the device that to Jane still looked like a disembodied typewriter.

Untrusted Memories – TLWM 4B

Jane studied Dr. Patel as she spoke, looking for any physical signs that would reveal his thoughts. “Before I woke up Monday morning, I hadn’t seen a smart phone, or any type of telephone that wasn’t connected to a wall, before Monday” — his right eyebrow arched up — “And I didn’t know computers existed outside the military or colleges” — the corners of his mouth drew back — “When I left my apartment that morning, I saw more cars on the road than I ever remembered seeing” — he began rubbing his palms with the tips of his fingers — “It was about then that I realized Unirail, this mass transit system that’s been running for decades, no longer existed” — he blinked twice — “Then I get to the office, and Gary tells me all the work I do — I’m a draftsman, I do engineering drawings, did Gary tell you that?” — he paused as if surprised, then nodded, a blank look on his face — “I’m thinking if I just work the board for a few hours then everything would be back to normal, but then Gary tells me no, I haven’t done drawings on a board in years, everything I do is on the computer, and I’m looking at him like, really?” — his lips parted, then shut quickly.Jane cleared her throat before continuing, and fought the urge to advise this nice, patient man to never play poker. “So, it’s like I wake up Monday morning, and bam — the whole world’s changed around me.” She held her arms, palms facing upward, towards Dr. Patel. “So that’s why I’m here, doc. To see if you can help me make sense out of what’s happened to me.”

Sumeet leaned back in his chair, its loud creak penetrating the silence that had descended on his office like a fog. He brought his hands together, fingers on one hand pressing against their opposites. He balanced his bearded chin against the top of his middle fingers. “You say you first noticed the — ” he opened his arms until his hands spread shoulder-width, palms facing Jane — “the world changed. On Monday, this is when you noticed this?”

Jane nodded. “When my phone started ringing. Or playing Mozart, actually.”

“When Gary called me the other day, he told me that everyone at the office has been a little stressed. You are working on some big project, this is yes?”

Jane shrugged, a frown crawling across her lips like a slug. “I guess. We’re wrapping up this project for IDOT, Route 20. We’ve been working on it two years. Things always get crazy at the end.” Her lips curled up in a smile, while her eyes remained stern. “It’s just another project. Like the project we completed in the spring, which none of us remember anymore. Just like when we complete our next contract from IDOT, nobody’ll remember anything about Route 20.” She lifted her palms up. “It’s work. That’s all it is.”

Sumeet leaned forward, his jacketed arms resting on the table between them. “Do you like your work?”

Jane raised her eyebrows, looked down. “I like drafting. I’ve always like drafting. On the board, anyway.”

“Do you not like using the computer for drafting?”

Jane looked up, made eye contact with Dr. Patel. “I don’t know how to draft on the computer.”

“But those drawings on the computer — they do exist, yes?” Dr. Patel folded his hands on the table.

Jane nodded, an uncontrollable sadness descending on her face. “Yes, they exist. And Gary says I was the one who put most of them there.”

“But you don’t remember doing those drawings?”

Jane squeezed her eyes shut. “I have this odd thing about remembering details from when we finished big projects. What people were wearing, what we had for lunch, what time of day it was when I told Gary I was finished.” She opened her eyes. “Devon storm sewers — we ordered Chinese take-out the day we mailed the drawings, it was this new restaurant that was so bad, we vowed never to eat there again. The DeKalb culverts — there was an eclipse. I remember those projects, and more. But what I also remember — is doing them on the board. My board. Not with a computer.”

A Reluctant Appointment – The Land Without Mosquitos 4A

Jane Summers shifted in her seat uncomfortably, like she was watching an unpleasant movie. “Look, I’m only here because Gary said I needed to do this.” Her tone was sharp. “I told him I wasn’t going to go on disability, I didn’t need a — ” she spat out the word — “diagnosis.”

On the other side of the large wooden table, Dr. Sumeet Patel leaned back in his chair. He tried to look as reassuring as he could, as he brought his palms together, fingers interlacing under his bearded chin. “The only thing that Gary asked of me, was that I talk with you, Miss Summers. Gary’s is very worried about you, and doesn’t know what he can do to help. So that’s why he gave you my name — to help you, not diagnose you.”

Dr. Patel waited for Jane to reply. Her name had sounded familiar when Gary had called him, and although he hadn’t recognized her face when she arrived at his office that afternoon, he knew they had likely both attended the same parties at Gary’s home over the years. Dr. Patel remembered Gary speaking fondly of Jane, had seemed comfortable, even grateful, for the role he played as her surrogate father. Which had made their call earlier that week all the more strange. She has a — unique problem. (Gary had uncharacteristically refused to provide any more detail on that topic). And she’s only going to talk about it with someone she trusts. My saying you’re a good guy will go a long way with her.

“I know.” Jane Summers shifted again in the stiff armchair, her shoulders relaxing. “That’s what Gary does. He can’t figure something out, he calls in the experts.” Her eyes scanned Dr. Patel’s office, moving quickly past the thick volumes on the tall bookshelves, past the framed Renoir print from the Art Institute, her gaze pausing only when she located his diploma.

“I’m honored to hear Gary thinks of me as an expert.” Dr. Patel’s chair creaked as he leaned forward, his jacketed arms resting on the desk in front of him. “He speaks highly of you as well.”

Quickly, Jane snapped her head around, tension returning to her shoulders as she glared directly at Dr. Patel. “I don’t have to lay down, do I?”

Dr. Patel smiled, tilting his bearded head back while closing his eyes leisurely. “Only in the movies, Miss Summers.” His eyes smiled open. “I don’t even have a couch.”

Jane twitched her head, confirming his assertion with her eyes. “OK. Good.” She blinked, cleared her throat. “Jane. Call me Jane.”

“Thank you, Jane. And please, call me Sumeet. Or Sam. Or Dr. Patel, whatever’s most comfortable for you.” He leaned back in his chair, his hands forming a tent under his chin. “So tell me, Jane — how can I help you?”

Jane looked down at her hands folded in her lap. She sighed noisily. “Honestly, I don’t know if you can help me.” She looked up, her eyes meeting Patel’s across the desk. “How much did Gary tell you about — what’s going on with me.”

Sumeet shook his head, his hands lowering to the chair. “Nothing. Not even when I asked. All he said was that your — condition, he called it — was unique.”

Jane laughed, turned her head. “You could say that.”

“Are you in danger?”

Jane turned back to Dr. Patel, her eyes wide with surprise. Patel stared back placidly. “You’ve been nervous, even a little scared, since you’ve walked in this office.” He pointed a thumb in the direction of the diploma she had been studying. “I don’t need a degree to tell me that. You’re holding back something, just like Gary was holding back. Something is wrong, Jane. And I think you need to tell me what it is, that’s bothering you.”

Looking back across the desk at Dr. Patel’s placid stare, Jane was suddenly reminded of Gary — professional, no-nonsense, let’s just get to the point already. And she finally accepted that this meeting, this evaluation from a mental health expert, was the right thing to do. Because even though she believed that every word she was about to say was absolutely correct, she knew that most people, upon hearing her story, would think she was crazy.

She sighed, and smiled. “No, I’m not in danger. It’s just — all right, then.” She inflated her cheeks, blew air noisly past her lips. “Here’s what’s going on with me.”

Facts and Fictions – TLWM 3C

Still holding the smart phone in her left hand, Jane rose the right up to her forehead, then closed her eyes and pinched her face, several times. Wings stepped towards her, placed a hand on Jane’s shoulder. The younger woman was confused but motivated; what Jane was saying was bizarre, her story sounding like an elaborate prank, or the ravings of a delirious or intoxicated person, yet Wings still sensed that this was the Jane Summers she had known for years. No less sure of herself, as intelligent as always. Still strong, too strong, displaying her one weakness — being vulnerable, asking for help. Which, given the odd story she was telling this afternoon, was something Jane really needed about now.

“Hey.” Wings squeezed Jane’s shoulder, reached for the smart phone, took it from Jane cautiously. “Why don’t you tell me about this — Unirail thing you keep talking about.”

Jane nodded, sighed, stared up at the ceiling of her apartment a moment as if trying to recall an anecdote from a summer camp many decades past. “I really don’t know much about it, other than it works off this — grid, they call it, under the streets.”

“Electric?” It was the first thought that came to Wings upon hearing the word grid. “You mean, like the El?” A long thin finger pointed out the window of Jane’s apartment.

Jane snorted. “The El? Haven’t heard that in five years.” She brushed shoulder-length hair back off her brow. “No, you can’t have people walking on live circuits. The electricity’s all under ground, in shielded cables, but it makes this, I don’t know, some kind of magnetic field that only the pods can pick up.” Jane glanced up at Wings, saw her confusion. “Pods are like these little cars, can seat up to six people — there’s thousands of them, all over Chicago now. To call one, you press this button on a summoning station, they’re about the size of those parking meters we used to have.”

“Still do.” As Jane shot a look up at her, Wings blinked.

Jane waved a hand in front of her. “You pay your fare by swiping a pass, either at the summoning station or on the cube. You get in, enter your destination in this little typewriter — few minutes later, you’re on your way.”

“Get out.” Wings laughed. “That’s totally science fiction!”

Jane slapped her palms on the low coffee table in front of her. “But I’m telling you, Unirail’s reality, it’s a fact. Pilot project was launched in the Loop, early eighties. We’ve got 95% of the city covered, about 70% of the major roads in the ‘burbs. Five years we’ll have the whole county, would have had it by now if that tax bill had passed. I don’t think anyone, except the scientists who developed it, really understands how it works, but it’s totally safe, and it works. Been working for — ”

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik began playing from a nearby chair. No longer startled by the sound, Jane reached over — “Now this is science fiction –” picked up the small device she had seen for the first time this morning, even though Wings insisted she had sold it to Jane almost a year ago. Jane saw Gary’s name and Christmas family picture on the device’s surface; her questioning eyes then searched for Wings, who patiently demonstrated how to answer the incoming call.

“Hello?” Jane was relieved that phone etiquette remained the same in this strange new world. “Yeah, it’s me. Yeah, I’m home. No, my friend’s here.” Jane nodded at Wings, who smiled in response. “Yeah, I’m still — those things I told you this morning, I still think they’re true.” Jane’s face hardened as she stood up suddenly. “They are true. I don’t know what’s happened, but this world, it suddenly got all fucked up.” Steel remaining in her face, Jane listened intently to the sound of Gary’s voice a moment, before her eyes widened. “Oh God no. Gary, I’ll do anything, but not that.”

A Familiar List – TLWM 3B

Wings walked back into the living area of Jane’s apartment, her slender body sliding down into a cushioned chair across where Jane sat on the couch. It was the only area not currently covered by an open book. She looked at Jane with an expression mixed with genuine curiosity and bemused annoyance. “So explain to me why knowing who was in the White House before Clinton helps.”Jane stood up suddenly, her face reddening with frustration. “I just need to know what changed, and when. I remember who was president all the way back to World War II — ”

Jane stopped, stared down at Wings. “There was a second world war, right?”

Wings shrugged, glancing briefly at the floor before looking back at Jane. “Think so. At least two.” Her face suddenly brightened. “Hey, why don’t you just look up who was president?”

Jane looked down at her, genuinely confused. “Look up? I don’t have an encyclopedia. You mean I should go to the library?”

Wings blinked, groaned like a diner battling indigestion. “Girl, use that damn computer — ” She looked back up at Jane, apologetically. “Oh yeah, right. You said you’ve forgotten how to use it.”

Jane slammed her fists into her hips. “I didn’t forget — I’ve never used one!” She threw her hands into the air. “Ever!”

Wings nodded, lowering her eyes aware from Jane’s withering glare. “Sorry.” Her voice did not sound apologetic. “Come over here, I’ll show you.” Wings leaned forward in her chair, moved one of the open books on the coffee table to the side.

Jane pointed to the small device that was uncovered. “You’ve got one, too.”

Wings nodded, sighed as she picked up the device. “Look, I know you say this is all new to you, but believe me, everyone’s got a smart phone these days.”

Jane walked around the coffee table, stopped next to Wing’s chair, looked over the slender woman’s shoulder as her fingers touched the surface of this device she called a smart phone. The image on the surface changed, displayed a series of small pictures arranged in uniform columns and rows in a field of bright colors. Wings turned her head, looked up at Jane. “You want to see a list of presidents?”

Jane nodded, pointed at the device. “Your smart phone, it knows that?”

Still looking up at Jane, Wings frowned. “Girl, this thing don’t know nothing, but you can use to look up just about anything you want.” She turned her attention to the smart phone, the images on its surface changed rapidly as Wings pressed her thumbs deftly across its surface. Jane continued looking over her shoulder, mesmerized by the dance between Wings’ fingers and the smart phone’s surface.

“Jesus.” There was genuine awe in Jane’s voice.

A moment later, Wings turned back to Jane, held up the smart phone to her, its surface (now white, with dozens of words in small black font) facing Jane. Wings smiled. “There you go, girlfriend. That’s all the Presidents of the United States, from Obama all the way to George Washington.”

Jane took the phone from Wings, and after the younger woman explained how to scroll down in the screen, Jane brought the smart phone up to her face, reading slowly. “Obama. Bush. Clinton. The other Bush. Reagan.” She began nodding as she read the rest of the names, the list she had memorized in fifth grade coming back to her — “Carter. Jesus Christ, Ford. Nixon. Johnson. Kennedy. Eisenhower! Truman!” She looked up at Wings, her eyes wide. “Roosevelt! It’s all the same!”

A Friend in Need – The Land Without Mosquitos 3A

“I don’t know — I was like, five years old then.” Wings heard the annoyance in her own voice, but given the story that Jane was telling her, sounding a little peeved seemed appropriate. The twetny-two-year-old dancer and Best Buy employee scratched her scalp, ran slender fingers through the tight curls of her brown hair, and followed Jane into the living room. “Think it was Bush.”

Jane Summers was sitting on the couch, opened books arrayed around her on cushions, furniture, the floor, her lap. She turned quickly to Wings. “Which Bush?”

Wings shrugged, her t-shirt wrinkling up her shoulders. “I don’t know — George, maybe.”Jane slammed her right hand hard down hard on one of the open books. “Which George?”

Wings rolled her eyes, turned back to the kitchen of Jane’s apartment. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but if you want me to help, you’d best chill out.” She opened the refrigerator, grabed a soda can, closed the door, and sighed. She wanted to help Jane, her brother’s friend in college, a surrogate big sister since she’d moved to Chicago three years ago, a scared high school drop-out whose childhood nickname clung to her like a birthmark. Jane had put her up, helped her find her own place, a job, her first show — Wings owed her a lot, so when Jane had called that afternoon to ask (more like plead, which Jane never did) her to come over, she never hesitated. And when she arrived, and saw the wild look on the older woman’s face, Wings had told her to relax (using the same tone that Jane used when she felt desperate), because no matter what was wrong it was all going to work out. Wings had even used her grandmother’s favorite expression — There’s nothing man can do that cannot be undone.

But that was before Jane had said nobody was supposed to own a computer, that only the police and military had phones that worked without wires, that she couldn’t own a car because she hadn’t driven one in over a decade and who knows if she even knew how to drive anymore.

Jane Summers raked her fingernails back across her scalp, the scratching audible to Wings. “I’m sorry, Wings. I’m just trying to make sense out of this.”

No Joke – TLWM 2F

The beginnings of Arjie’s protesting answer was cut off by a sharp command from Gary. The fifty-two-year-old senior engineer at Crasob Engineering touched Jane’s arm, motioned for her to sit down, a silent command. He grabbed a nearby chair, pulled it directly in front of Jane. Sat, leaned forward, and spoke to Jane like a doctor giving a grave diagnosis to a patient.

“Jane — we hardly use the drafting board anymore.” He motioned to one of the devices that looked to Jane like a television. “Sometimes we find a minor mistake on a vellum we’ve already submitted to IDOT, or the city, we’ll just make the correction on the plot, instead of re-plotting. All of our drawings, most everything we do, is done on CAD.” Gary smiled. “Based on what you’ve said so far this morning, you probably don’t know what CAD is.”Jane shook her heard, her face looking like a student about to admit she hadn’t done her homework. Gary nodded. “It stands for computer assisted drafting. Or design, some call it. Like I said, it’s all done on computers now.”

Jane squinted as if in pain. “Computers?” She spread her arms wide. “You mean those big things, like at colleges or the Pentagon?”

“Not hardly.” Gary and Jane turned to the sound of Arjie’s voice. He held a device similar to what Jane had showed them this morning, what he had called a laptop. “This little guy’s got all the power we need.”

Jane Summers stood up suddenly, ran her fingers back over her scalp as she walked past Gary and Arjie. “This — can’t be — ” She threw her arms into the air, turned to her friends dramatically, her hair looking as wild as the desperation in her voice. “How can the world that I remember be — so different — than the world that you say — actually is?”

Gary remained seated, his round face only betraying a hint of concern. Arjie, standing and leaning on a desk behind Gary’s chair, studied Jane’s face a long moment before replying.

“You’re serious. This isn’t some kinda practical joke. You’re — scared, Jane. I’ve never seen you scared — ”

“Me neither,” Gary interjected.

“Right. You wouldn’t even know how to fake being afraid, Jane. But everything about you, how you look, the way you’re talking — it’s clear something pretty dramatic has happened.”

Jane Summers waited for Arjie to finish speaking. Her lower lip then lifted, pushing her upper lip into a grin that seemed to flare her nostrils, inflate her cheeks, widen her eyes. Her grin seemed genuine yet somehow perverse, as if she were about to tell a joke she didn’t find amusing. “So what you’re telling me,” she began, lifting an empty palm up in Arjie’s direction, “is that I’m from — I don’t know, some alien world, another dimension maybe — where almost everything is the same, except where I come from we don’t have these little computers, or phones that don’t have no cords.”

“Or cars.” Gary sounded almost apologetic.

Jane pointed her palm down at Gary. “That’s right, because we have Unirail, which you don’t have.” She raised her hands in the air again. “So, is that it? Am I from outer space? Is that what you’re telling me?”

Gary rose from his chair. “I’m not sure what to tell you, Jane.” His face softened. “Except — I think you should take the rest of the day off.”

A Room Transformed – TLWM 2E

Gary’s chair squealed as he suddenly rose from behind his desk. “Hold on — be right back.” He walked purposefully to his office door, opening it so swiftly he hit his shoulder (Dammit!) before stepping back, quickly exiting the office, then shutting the door behind him.Jane Summers put the backpack on the floor again, sat in the chair and leaned forward, rubbing her hands over her scalp. She could feel her brown hair lying in uneven clumps over her head. Fingertips began rubbing her temples aggressively — “Dammit. Dammit.”

Arjie walked to her chair, stood over her. In the five years he had known her, he had never seen her like this. He knew from experience what Jane was like when she was too frustrated to speak, too headstrong to be reasonable, too giddy to be cautioned, too focused to be distracted. But now, kneading her temples and muttering under her labored breathing, staring down at the floor as if she wanted to tunnel and hide under its surface — she seemed too lost within herself for anyone to find.

Arjie did something he had never done before. He put a hand on Jane’s shoulder, and squeezed. “It’s OK. We’ll figure this –”

The door suddenly opened, Gary’s head popping in. “OK, I cleared the room. Let’s go in.”

Jane looked up, confusion on her face. Gary could see her eyes were red. As Jane rose, joined Arjie in walking out the office door, Gary explained that he’d asked Rahul and Megs (Jane seemed to relax in recognition of the names) to take a break, so that they could talk to Jane alone in the room.

Jane recognized where they were going — a few feet to the right, down the corridor on the left, then the second door on the right. The drafting room, Jane’s office. But as they approached the door which was so familiar to her, she saw a sign she didn’t recognize. Blue with white letters: CAD Room.

Jane Summers then walked into a room that was simultaneously familiar yet alien, as if someone had played an elaborate redecorating hoax. The dimensions, colors, lighting, even the calendars and photographs on the wall — the four desks, even arranged at the same uneven angles she remembered. All of that was the same. But the equipment . . .

On each desk were two of what Jane thought were televisions, smaller than the one in her apartment. (Alana and Gary, she now recalled, had similar televisions on their desks.) Each desk also had another object, short yet wide and long, like a giant yet thin pizza box — Jane guessed it was made of metal and mostly plastic. On top of those objects was a small device, no more than an inch high, a couple inches wide, several inches long — each device had several buttons, in different colors. And there was another object, in front of the televisions — she had also seen this in Gary’s office. A couple feet wide, maybe a foot long, with dozens of buttons. She examined the closest multi-button device, and finally remembered what it looked like. A typewriter.

Jane looked up at Gary, saw his face searching hers, hoping to see some signs of recognition from her, yet slowly sinking into disappointment as her bewilderment became evident. She scanned the room quickly, looking for something, anything that looked familiar. She focused on the television closest to her — the image was static, multi-colored lines — turned her attention to the second television on that desk, then snapped her eyes open and thrust her right arm forward, index finger pointed directly at the image she saw on that screen.

“That’s the Route 20 drainage plan!”

“Yes.” Arjie’s voice behind Jane conveyed his relief on seeing Jane locate something, anything, that the two of them mutually recognized. “I found where you stored the files on the server just before you got here.”

Jane Summers half-turned back to Arjie, the look on her profiled face still wild with confusion. “Files — server.” She blinked, snapped her head in the other direction. “My desk –”

Off to the right and slightly behind the room’s door was a familiar narrow alcove. There was a desk, her desk — the picture of Jane and her parents from college graduation, her Van Gogh desk calendar, the Chicago Cubs schedule on the wall. But also, on top of the desk, those two televisions, the pizza-box sized object with its odd multi-buttoned small device, and that typewriter thing. And off to the left, a white table, high and wide, mounted at an angle sloping towards the wall.

“My board!” Jane Summers rushed to the table like it was a lost puppy, spread her arms and grasped its two ends, as if its feel confirmed its reality. Her eyes scanned its surface, a smile coming to her face as she recognized familiar marks on it — a coffee ring that had never come clean, the ink stain on the lower right, the words GET TO WORK she had scratched near the top —

“Where’s the drawing?” Jane turned quickly back, still holding the board. A sinking feeling came over her as she saw from Gary and Arjie’s faces that she wasn’t going to like hearing the response to her line of questioning. “When I left on Friday, I had the Route 20 drainage profile on my board. Where is it?” She looked between Arjie and Gary, saw only blank stares coming back. She let go of the board, turned fully to them — “WHERE ARE MY FUCKING DRAWINGS?