a beautiful Thursday morning, Praise the Lord, and now its
time for the CBN morning news. An earthquake in Guatemala hit
6.4 on the Richter scale . . .
Christ! Jerry Thomas sat up in bed, shaking his head
and trying to rub the sleep from his eyes. When they finally focused,
he was staring at the large water stain on the wall across from
his and Glorias bed. Gloria, he yelled, Do
you have to turn this crap up like this?
The radio blathered on.
Gloria came walking in from the kitchen. Its time
to get up, she said. Past! Kelly and Donna are having
breakfast and youre gonna be late if you dont move
Yeah, Jerry said, but cant you at least
put a normal news channel on?
What do you care? It woke you up.
Showering and shaving was the usual chore, and it was too late
for breakfast. He had to dig through three pairs of socks before
he found a pair without holes that were too large. By the time
he was dressed, there wasnt time to do anything but grab
his brown bag lunch and leave for work.
Whats in here? Jerry asked with one hand on
Do you have to use that kind of language in front of the
children? Kelly and Donna were slurping Alphabits and milk.
Im just sick of the damn peanut butter. Im going
to turn into an elephant, only fat.
Gloria walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. God only
gives us the burdens were capable of bearing.
Yeah, I forgot, Jerry mumbled, then walked out the
Then the Pinto wouldnt start. Jerry came back into the house
saying, Pintos dead. Ill have to take the Toyota
Oh, Jerry. How will I do the shopping?
Its not my fault. You know I hate driving that beater.
What about Marlie? Maybe she can give you a ride.
You know I hate to ask. Shes been so good.
Well, Jerry turned away. We have to do what
we have to do. He didnt kiss either of the girls when
he left the first time, or the second. There wasnt time.
The first install of the day was high speed cable for a fellow
who was still running Windows NT. That was a break, because the
company didnt support NT anymore, and all Jerry had to do
was drop the disk and leave. Number two was the back half of one
of those brick duplexes on Cabin Hill Road; easy enough and no
hard questions. Usually, the customers had to know something before
they asked difficult questions. He drove around all morning resenting
Glorias red crystal rosary which hung from the rearview
mirror of the Toyota.
Could have made the Pinto start, Jerry advised the
crucified Jesus hanging under the Our Father bead.
There was one more morning run before Jerry could stop and eat
his peanut butter sandwich. It was crunchy. Jerry preferred creamy.
Halfway through the sandwich, Jerry felt a sickening crunch in
his mouth that was more than part of a peanut. He spat the brown,
spit-covered mess out into his hand.
Shit! A filling! he said aloud.
The tooth, a right upper molar, was already starting to ache.
It was only after he spent two dollars on a bottle of Tylenol
that Jerry realized that he was low on gas and was forced to borrow
ten dollars from Burdock. Jerry didnt like Burdock, but
was forced to eat his dislike and take the mans money. It
was paying him back that was the problem.
When Jerry pulled up in front of the Fredricks home, his
last scheduled install of the day, all he could do was stare at
the immaculately manicured lawn and bright red brick of the immense
three-story home. When he shut off the ignition on the Toyota,
it continued to cough and sputter for almost a full minute.
Jerry had been a computer tech for twelve years, working with
the machines since before the time theyd had hard drives.
His personal machine was three years old, and computers were four
times faster than theyd been when hed built his. Hed
been installing high speed internet for three years, but still
had a dial-up connection. The molar without a filling ached, but
all he could do was stare in open-mouthed horror at the mansion
he had to enter.
After a moment, Jerry banged his head against the steering wheel
as the engine idled to a palsied halt. His eyes were closed. When
he opened them, the shiny crucifix glinted at him in the sunlight,
mocking him. Gloria, he said to the crucifix, Youre
The Toyota expelled its final tubercular cough from the exhaust
and stilled. Jerry opened his eyes and stared at the Fredricks
house again. This was a ritzy neighborhood, but even so, the house
stood out; the marble birdbath and circular driveway were lined
with painstakingly clipped box hedges. The driveway continued
around to the back of the house, no doubt to a large multi-car
garage. Even the grass on the lawn was more lush and green than
any blade that had spawned on the Thomas tiny plot. Red
tile covered the immense roof; if it melted in the July sun, it
would drip coins and dollar bills into the shiny stainless gutters.
Jerry glared at the figure on the crucifix. Not a break,
huh? he asked. Not even one?
He was still for a long moment, then reached out and violently
jerked the crystal rosary from the mirror; red beads flew in all
directions. The centerpiece, the crucifix, and some beads felt
cold in his warm palm. Jerry threw them over his shoulder into
the back seat, spitting as he cursed, Screw you and your
Finally, he willed his legs to move and carried his kit up the
perfect walkway to the front door. Beveled crystal distorted the
interior, but it looked cool. Sweat pooled around his collar and
one finger stabbed the lighted doorbell button.
Mrs. Fredricks wore a long flowing white house gown, which emphasized
her every movement like mouse trails on a computer cursor. She
was blond and tall, with perfect breasts and a surgically enhanced
smoothness to her brow. Oh, Im so glad youre
here, she said, Kimberly has been so excited.
Jerry felt surly. If you could show me to the computer,
he grimaced. Id like to get started.
Certainly, she smiled, Its upstairs.
Of course, Jerry hissed under his breath.
Bedrooms, Jerry covered for his slip, Bedrooms
are always upstairs.
Oh. Right. Its this way. She turned and led
the way up the stairs.
The interior of the house was worse than the exterior; the daughters
bedroom was larger than Jerrys living room, den, and bathroom
put together. There were video games, a flat screen plasma television,
an intercom station, and even some electronic components Jerry
couldnt identify. He swallowed and got down on his knees
to begin installing the modem. Naturally, the install was a pain
in the ass. Everything that could go wrong did, and it was over
an hour before Jerry got the modem to connect to the local node.
Then he called Mrs. Fredricks in for the obligatory demonstration.
It wasnt time on the clock, as Jerry was paid by the install.
He would be late getting home.
Wait, she said, Let me get Kimberly.
When the little girl entered the bedroom, Jerry felt his legs
go wobbly beneath him. She was completely bald.
Its the chemo, Mrs. Fredricks whispered so only
he could hear.
Jerry couldnt stop himself from staring. Kimberly was a
beautiful little girl. If shed had any hair, he imagined
it would be as blond and silky as Kellys. Innocent blue
eyes peered out of the pale, effervescent face. Is it working?
Y-yeah, Jerry stammered. Here, let me show you
He could barely speak.
When he finally finished the demo and Mrs. Fredricks closed the
door behind him, Jerry walked down the manicured driveway, then
halfway down he began to run. He got into the Toyota and gunned
the engine, driving only eight blocks to the parking lot of the
local Safeway before killing the motor and getting on his hands
and knees in the back seat to search for the scattered crystal
beads of the rosary. He found the crucifix under the passenger
seat and kissed the aluminum figure.
Im so sorry, he told the metal Christ. People
are foolish and short sighted, but I guess you know that.
It took Jerry an hour with his mini-pliers to reassemble the rosary
and replace it on the rearview mirror. Only then did he continue
home to Gloria, Kelly, and Donna. When he came into the house,
Jerry kissed his wife and daughters, holding them as if they might
I talked to Carl at the auto mart, Gloria told him.
Her eyes were scared. It looks like the repair on the Pinto
wont be cheap.
Jerry kissed her again. Dont worry, he said.
Its nothing we cant handle. Well do what
we need to do.
Youre feeling better? she asked.
Yeah, Jerry said, smiling.
Anthony Longo has been the main contributor and editor of
a monthly newsletter titled "Music City Computer News."
He has a professional writing credit with his sale of "Anonymous
Hours" to Hardboiled, a Gryphon-Books publication.
He lives in Nashville
with his wife and two daughters.
Thomas Anthony Longo