The Brick: 4. Purple
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"The Brick" is a serial novel, updated weekly. For more information, please go here.
Jenny has purple hair and many piercings. She spends thirty minutes describing for me their placement, significance and usefulness.
We're sitting in one of the chrome-chased booths lining the walls of YesterDaves: a Fifties-style diner on the East side of Albuquerque. Close to a branch of the local community college, where Jenny is a student.
The salad bar resembles the ass-end of a '57 Bel Air. Her friends are in a booth across the aisle.
Eventually she says: "So where are you from?"
"The freeway," I say.
She accepts this. Jenny is studying biology. Silver studs run her ears like rhinestones on Country-Western wear. For a while she explains osmosis to me using disturbingly sexual language. I nod and pick through my fajita salad.
Jenny enunciates with her hands, twining her fingers together.
"Utterly joined," she says.
Each of her fingers bears several silver rings. Her hair is long and plum-colored. She looks like some kind of cyborg manga character.
Her smile is endearing.
"So what's in the box?" she asks, pointing.
I pause mid-chew and look at the cardboard box sitting in the seat beside me. I had thought it was out of sight. One of its flaps has popped open, revealing the black styrofoam inside.
I swallow the lettuce in my mouth. "Solid-state storage device," I say. "Where I used to work, we called them bricks."
"What did you do -- steal it?"
"What does it do?"
"It's just like a hard drive in a computer. But it doesn't have any moving parts, so it can take a lot more punishment."
Are her eyes purple?
"How much can it hold?"
I stab lettuce. "I don't know. This one doesn't have any markings on it to say."
She nods. "Did you work for Sandia? You might know my dad. He says they're either doing energy research or weapons research, depending on whether a Democrat or a Republican's in office."
"I've heard that."
The hills around Albuquerque are riddled with laboratories. Nuclear simulation. Cold fusion. Laser development. This is the home of the National Atomic Museum, where artifacts like nuclear mortar rounds and the promise of "Atomic Medicine" are displayed in all their Cold War glory. Life-size replicas of Fat Man and Little Boy. Educational videos. Timeline murals. Fully stocked gift shop.
Through the display windows, past bobby-socked employees, I can see the busy suburban street. No black SUVs. No white government plates.
I haven't seen anything since I left White Sands.
All I know is I have an ATM card and five grand a month allowance -- apprising someone of my whereabouts whenever I choose to use it. Someone I can only assume is on my side.
The faxed set of orders are unreadable. They sit crinkled but carefully folded in the box with the dull-green brick whose only marking is a 24-pin SCSI jack on one end.
Little green 2001 Monolith.
This is 1998. May: the Southwest's windy season.
Earlier I nearly went Samsonite Gorilla on the infuriating thing in a gas station parking lot. But I thought better and bruised my right fist on the dash board instead. I'm not usually violent -- I tell Jenny this when she coos over the purple welt and insists on kissing it to make it better.
She then explains in lurid detail how broken vessels leak blood into the surrounding tissue. Her lips languish on the words blood, swelling, and discoloration like they're double fudge.
My life as I knew it recently ended.
I almost let that slip at Jenny's apartment. In the dark her body shines with more metal than a frog in a dissection tray.
Her eyes are amethyst.
Later I sit on the front stoop of her house and watch lights flicker on the far backdrop of black mountains surrounding the city.
Sick of turning it like a Rubick's Cube, the brick sits beside me.
Quiet street. No traffic.
So I'm surprised when a man appears down the sidewalk. He's whistling, wearing a Bermuda shirt and khakis, no socks, hands in his pockets. White hair.
He nods as he passes me, then pauses and we both double-take.
"Brian Bell," he says.
My Cultural Anthropology professor, summer term, 1996.
"Ha!" he barks. "How's it going?"
My watch says it's midnight.
A week after I turned in my final exam for his class, Richard Chamberlain died of a heart attack. Fifty-six years old. I think that's why I got an A. I graduated two days afterward -- late.
I'm looking at a ghost.
James Stegall continues to rock the casbah