MAY I TAKE CONTROL NOW? • by Carroll Dale Short

“May I take control now?” the support tech asks me, her telephone voice so barely above a whisper I’m convinced she’s aware of the sexual innuendo.

“Sure,” I say nervously, feeling naked and twelve years old.

Like sorcery, the pointer on my screen takes on a life independent of my hands, and pictures from my entire past scroll by at the manic rate that God must see.

I only phone Mumbai whenever my photo or video editing software crashes, but lately that’s been so regularly that I know several of the tech support staff by name.

Not her.

Something about the overseas phone hookup always seems to magnify surreally the background noise of the corporation’s offices, which is obviously the opposite of what you want an audio headset to do. As a result I can hear a young (apparently) man in another cubicle call out something (apparently) raucous to her in their own language.

The laugh with which she responds to him is a language of its own: more free and piercing than the younger or elder are ever capable of, the call of a woman who has that very morning looked in the mirror and realized that she is at her life’s peak of beauty and theoretically can have any man she wants. A laugh impossible to physics, at once stark power and a lilting humility.

Throughout this interruption, the crazed shuffling of windows that is now my screen has not slowed at all.

“I believe I have found your problem,” she says to me, her voice professional and steady. “I do apologize, so much, that you are having this. I see here that this is not your first call.”

I chuckle. “Yeah, that would be kind of an understatement,” I say. I wonder if she knows the English word, and in any event I cringe at how lame I sound. Spoiled Westerner. Computer as pacifier. What level of abject poverty must she pass through each day walking to work: beggars sprawled on the street? Ancient lepers?

On my screen, obscure folders I hadn’t known existed are springing open like flowers. Lists of files scroll by too fast to read, then halt on a dime and blossom further from within, the pointer’s double-click too fast even to discern with the eye. Items are deleted, items added, boxes checked and unchecked with the naturalness of rain falling. Throughout she speaks not a word, makes only a musical kind of clicking with her tongue as though serenading an infant.

From the static-tinged blue she says, “You have a very beautiful other.  In your photographs.”

“Thank you,” I say.

That’s the moment I have the vision.

Being a scientist and a skeptic, the phrase “I had a vision” brings to mind only the woo-woo connotations of mystics in swirly grandeur. But this one is neither grand nor swirly. It is, literally, vision. For this brief span of time I can see through her eyes. I share her vision, alongside my own.

I see that underneath her desk she wears a dark-blue full skirt whose fabric has a slight kind of nub or sheen; simple black pumps with low heels; no nylons. The desk’s accoutrements have no reflective surfaces in which to see my, her, face — only a computer screen that mimics, second by second, my own. Alongside her keyboard is a steaming white cup of green-colored tea into which she stirs honey with a teaspoon. As the steam rises, it fogs over the apparent eyeglasses she wears, until she takes them off and the clarity of her surroundings is restored.

She says to me, “Are you happy?”

“We were very happy,” I tell her. “Until the day she passed away.”

“I am sorry for your loss,” she says.

For a span of maybe ten seconds, the manic motion of my screen halts altogether. Then the endless gray squares of icons and lists begin one by one to implode back into themselves, like nested egg-dolls, until like magic only the original desktop screen remains.

“You are, how to say, fixed,” the woman’s bright phone voice declares. “Is there anything else I can help you with, today?”

I can’t let it go.

“Do you feel this… connection?” I ask her.

Two beats of silence. Then, “Mmm-hmm,” she says casually. “It sometimes happens.” And lest I misconstrue her meaning she adds, “The distant seeing, you mean?”

Ball in my court.

“Are you familiar with the term ‘empath’?” I ask her.

She laughs softly. “I am a family of them, yes.”

I wait.

“While you are in my thoughts,” she says, “I must mention that a portion of your problem is that you should more often clean… remove… the program’s memory cache. Do you know how to do that?”

“Yes, I do,” I tell her. “But about these visual connections. What happens to them?”

She thinks about this. “They come and go,” she says.

“Do they not disturb you, emotionally? Or…”

She gives a soft, child’s laugh. “Please deposit twenty-five cents,” she says.

The phone audio clicks away and returns to the noise of satellites trying to talk to one another.

Carroll Dale Short is a fiction writer, journalist, teacher, and multimedia producer who lives in northern Alabama.

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