The chair is missing one rubber foot, so the bare metal scrapes the concrete floor and screams like a wounded monkey. Azrael Brown sits down and wobbles back and forth, deciding whether to put his weight on the shorter foot-less leg or balance with it off the floor.
He notices his own shadow sweeping back and forth across the floor. Azrael looks up, surprised to see a bare incandescent light bulb suspended at the end of a long wire. He had grown accustomed to the curly pig-tail of the energy efficient and narrow-spectrum fluorescent bulbs required by law today. This bulb wasn’t even frosted: the swirl of a filament inside the clear glass globe radiated a cacophony of black-body heat. How long had it been swinging, he wonders? Who turned it on?
“So, this is how we’re doing it?” he asks the empty room.
“June 19th, 2001,” he says after waiting for a response.
“June 19th, 2001, Backwash user ‘Gregariously Fun Inquisitive Tall Chick’ linked to my website, ‘Voices From The Thriftshop‘, and that’s how I learned about Backwash. Oh, I had read something about it on Plastic.com, but it didn’t jump out at me at that time. Two days later, I sent in my pitch and Ringman set me up as ‘Absurdist Technomedia Homunculus’. Later I changed it to ‘The Absurdity of a Postmodern Homunculus,’ but the CafePress stuff still has the old name on it.”
Azrael Brown hears somebody cough quietly, then sniffle, possibly in an entirely different room.
He stands and pinches the light bulb between two fingers. It is quite warm to the touch, but not enough to cause pain. He holds it until the motion in the wire stops, then gently releases it, assured it wasn’t swinging any more.
“I like to write, so I thought, here’s a place that’s not my own website, that I can use as an outlet for creative writing. The internet was just beginning to form around the idea of users creating their own content — blogs and such — so I had ideas about nonstandard ways of creating non-blog blog content at the time. Reading other peoples’ blogs and posting the audio as my own post. Offering my undying love as the prize in a contest. Acknowledging the disconnect between online identity and real identity. I also straight-up wrote short fiction, more of that later in the life of my column than at the beginning.”
Azrael Brown leans forward, adjusting his weight so the the foot-less leg touches the concrete floor with a slow and deliberate motion that makes no sound.
“I met my wife there. She’d been having a tough time, so I offered my sympathies, and we started talking. We started out as friends, then had ideas of doing business together, and by the end of the year we were living together. We married about a year and a half later. She’s GlamKitty.”
“I know she thinks it was 2004, but I’m pretty sure we married in 2005.”
Azrael looks around the room, but the light from the bulb doesn’t quite reach any of the walls. He is sure there was a wall with a door directly behind him, because that’s where he came from, but he can’t see if there are other doors, or windows, or wallpaper, or vents, or motivational posters, or family portraits, or any of the other stuff you see on walls. He is certain there was nobody else in the room with him, though.
“I still list Backwash.com as a past paying gig, and I’ve gone on to other paid writing jobs. I wrote about collectibles for Collector’s Quest, and I wrote for the local alt-paper High Plains Reader for a while, which wasn’t paid but was a non-internet gig, and for the past three years I’ve been writing for radio, the local NPR affiliate has a this-day-in-history program called Dakota Datebook. GlamKitty and I had a small publishing business for a while, we even published Suburban Diva’s book. ”
There is a click, then a hum of a poorly-grounded amplifier emerges from a speaker somewhere above his head.
“MR. BROWN,” booms a voice out of the speaker, so loud the lightbulb starts swinging again. “YOUR CAR IS READY. IT WAS A QUART LOW, SO YOU MAY NEED A NEW GASKET SOON.”
He stands and turns, letting his eyes slowly adjust to the darkness behind him. Something catches his eye, tiny and gray, off in the corner.
Azrael shuffles across the concrete floor, picks it up, and walks back to the chair. He flips the chair over and turns the rubber foot around in his hand a couple times before finding the right way it fits into the chair leg. He sets the chair back on all fours, shakes it for good measure to prove it is stable, and then leaves the room.