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Martín Felipe Castagnet | from:Spanish

The Next Soviet Union

Translated by : Frances Riddle

Mojito sniffs through the bars of the gate. He gets bored and comes back with muddy feet. I pet his fur. The color of tea with milk, Brenda says, as the dog licks my hands.

          She needs me to take care of him while she’s away. I’m hoping she’ll offer to let me stay at her house for the two months, but I don’t say anything and she doesn’t suggest it.  Would I take a peek at her panties? Yes.

                 I try to count the number of living things I have in my apartment. No ficus or pet or even a cactus. Only bacteria and the rotting vegetables in my fridge.

                             I agree. The bag of dog food weighs more than the dog.

 

His whines and need for affection keep me up and when I finally fall asleep I sink into an elastic and sweaty confusion that there’s no escaping.

                My dreams look like a scene from Counter Strike. The terrorism of old loves. You want to rescue your hostages but it’s too late.

                             Headshot and out of bed to go to work.

 

Eight hours in the office means eight hours on the internet. You can’t talk about that.

                You can talk about the open carcasses of the computers, the heat of the server room, the coffee maker that sometimes spits out dirt, the shrillness of each ring, message, and alarm that a person hears every day.

 

The security guard shakes my hand after I swipe the magnetic card. Aníbal spends the night in the building; he’ll be getting off work soon.  I know that he hides a mattress in the basement, next to the service bathrooms.

            On his netbook he watches tutorials on how to make origami. More animals than flowers.

                    He makes them out of the gold wrappers of the cigarettes he smokes leisurely all night or quickly, secretly during the day. Every once in a while me gives me one of his animals.

                            The smoke sticks to his fingers and then to the paper and then to me.

 

I help with the systems. There are a lot of systems and my hand dips into all of them. Always under different users, like a glove that changes color. I imagine my work like a hand tying up cables inside a bucket of Jell-O.

            I’m also the one who checks what my co-workers search on Google.  Some are interested in clothes or in some zodiac sign or soccer team. In my opinion our individual identities are defined by the terms we search for.

                        This week I’m “can you eat banana peel,” “angelface redhead on the beach,” “song that starts with  biribiribiribibí,” and “name for the white part of your eye.”

 

I also Google my name. It relaxes me. It gives me certainty. It’s objective: that’s what I am. My boss on the other hand reads about weightlifting, cocks, and fishing. He also has braces on his teeth. According to his CV he’s one year younger than me. One Friday working late he told me that he wanted to leave everything behind and move to Italy.

            But I’ve never seen that in his searches.

                        There are people who don’t even dare to type their dreams in Google.

 

The secretary calls and tells me to go up to the boss’s office on the top floor. I say I’m on my way. She’s the vegetarian version of Catwoman who keeps an Excel spreadsheet on what she steals from petty cash. I don’t read her e-mails. One time when I used the boss’s bathroom there was a strong smell of raw fish from the trashcan. The lid was on.

            The boss only calls me when his computer freezes or his antivirus expires; and also when they want to scold me for something I did right but they think I did wrong. All systems leak.

                        Of course only the worst ones sink.

 

The air-conditioning is always on. The janitors move around the building from computer to computer with buckets and jugs. I stare at the painting of Rosas until the secretary gives me permission to enter the boss’s office.

            Without even greeting me, my boss asks me if I want to grow. I say yes. Perfect, he smiles, great. His braces sparkle like a white dwarf star. He hands me a Blackberry and says I’m a good kid. That’s it.

                        I need an app that will completely uninstall my expectations.

 

The rest of the workday slides by. I want to configure my Gmail account on my new Blackberry but it keeps giving me an error message. I restart and it seems to have been successfully installed, but then the error message again. I take out the battery, I put the battery back in and turn it on.

            Error. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. In systems there’s never room to grow.

                        At least I manage to set the Tetris theme as my ringtone.

 

I leave work tired but as I begin to walk I feel my energies return. A little bit of air, unexpected cold, quick trip to the corner store where I make the rounds down the same aisles as always. I pay with exact change. I’m happy when I unlock my door on the first try.

            The first thing I do when I get inside is turn on the computer. Then I turn on the light, the gas for the heater, I open Chrome, I start iTunes, I find a yogurt in the back of the fridge and shuffle takes me directly to Brenda’s favorite song. She must already be on the road, driving at night, the last CD spinning infinitely in her CD player.

                        Mojito falls asleep under my jacket.

 

Gmail Facebook Twitter Tumblr. Gmail Facebook Twitter Tumblr. The repetition unravels until all of the updates are exhausted. And then again. And Again.

            News, torrents, weather forecast, subtitles, 24 hour pharmacies, movie show times.  Music. Gmail Facebook Twitter Tumblr. Update. Delete. Share. Send.

                        Surfing the internet is like a workout routine.

                                    Sometimes it feels like military training.

 

Just as I’m about to go to bed I get an e-mail. Not the one I was hoping for, never the one I was hoping for. One of my co-workers is mad about something that I supposedly did but I’m sure I didn’t do.

            I mark it as spam.

 

Dried tea bags on my desk at work. Eye drops. Flash drives. Origami. Broken pens. A Plastic fork from the sweet and greasy Chinese takeout. The box my speakers came in filled now with I don’t know what. Breadcrumbs.

            Systems are so clean in comparison, even when they don’t work.

                        But they never don’t work like they didn’t work today.

 

The chat windows in my Gtalk are full of sentences I didn’t type.

            “YOU LIKE TO PUT YOUR FINGER IN YOUR ASS AND SMELL IT. FAG. AIRPLANE GREASE FAT-ASS.”   Et cetera.

                        I try to avoid it but it’s impossible: as much as I move the cursor or sign out of  Gtalk the ghost continues to send messages from my username. The majority of my contacts respond aggressively.

                                 Some understand that it’s not me.

                                                Some don’t.

 

I try to explain to my friends what’s happening, but I don’t even know what’s happening. Most of them say okay. Not much else: okay. One of them tells me to post a message on my Facebook wall; I do it. Another one suggests I change my account; no.

            I take lunch late and there are hardly any restaurants still open. As I chew a milanesa and cheese sandwich I realize that in my mass apology I must have also written to the person responsible for the messages. A co-worker, most likely.

                        I search the histories up to the last cleaning, but it’s too late. It’s no surprise. Links break. Servers break. Users break.

                                    Internet prevails.

 

It starts with e-mails I never sent and continues with new avatars on my Facebook wall. I’m not sure if I should erase them; a lot of people have even liked them. The images came from my Tumblr account, but under a username no one knows. On the internet there are always traces for people who want to follow you.

            I change all my passwords. I write them down in a notebook so I won’t forget them; my handwriting looks as foreign to me as what’s being written in my Gtalk.

                        For the first few days I forget I changed the passwords until sign-in fails.

 

Brenda took several days to get online or at least to sign on to Gtalk. It annoyed me to have to wait around in the same space that they’ve been hijacking, with me inside.  There were many false alarms: whenever the computer would make any noise, like a hiccup, and it sounded like someone was trying to chat with me. Finally my status isn’t invisible and Brenda talks to me when she finally connects. She just asks me about the dog; but it makes me happy anyway.

            She says that she received a pretty strange message from me on her phone, but she didn’t want to respond. It makes me sad somehow. How could she not have known that it wasn’t really from me? Then she starts telling me about her trip and we drop the subject but I’m nervous the whole time that they’ll take over my account in the middle of our conversation.

                        As the photos she sends upload I think about how every time we see each other she lets me use her computer, without passwords, without protests, without erasing the history. If I’d stayed at her house I’d be safe I think.

                                    She likes to search recipes for carrot casseroles. The rest stays in her imagination. I would like one day to be able to Google “What does Brenda think about when she masturbates” and see the results appear in my browser.

 

Every once in a while my boss contacts me via Blackberry to tell me to hurry up with the systems I’m managing. Nothing or no one has written to him yet, but it’s possible that the secretary told him about it. I know they talk about me behind my back in the office because they talk to me to my face less and less every day.

                   At least Mojito barks at me when I get home from work.

                                Then I remember that he must be hungry.

 

Sometimes it’s hard for me to recognize that this is happening to me, and not some stranger who’s telling his story on a webpage devoted to secrets. I wonder if the excessive light of the monitors might be driving me mad.

                 I need an app that impedes me from writing this at night.

                             I need an app that impedes me from reading during the day.

 

As I shower I think: I could also track the person who’s tracking me. Something always filters through. I copy all the e-mails, all the chat messages, and all the posts into one document. I use an Excel spreadsheet to record the origin and content of each message.

            It has to be a group of people that secretly hate me. I look at the faces of my co-workers and I imagine them thinking up the messages together.

                        Even the ones who were the victims of the joke.

 

Some are just insults to my contacts, gratuitous but well-reasoned and true. But there are also the miserable ones. As if my account were drunk with a score to settle and all the time in the world.     

            The guy who took a drink from a water bottle that was in the trash. The girl who peed in a trashcan because the bathrooms were occupied. The man who has to take his dates to hotel rooms because he still lives with his mom. The lady who’s antsy all day because she has anal parasites that stick to her underwear. The guy who has purple marks on his hands because he bites them when he’s nervous.

                         Admit that she doesn’t like you. She thinks you’re ugly. All she sees is your bald head. She likes dick, little guy,  you know what she does with your presents? Did you really think that you could win her over with those ingenious e-mails? You’re so small that you can’t see how pathetic you are. When you smile you look like you have Down’s. Even your mom has more sex than you. She gives you pecks but with him she watches movies where they stick things in their asses. Everyone knows you’re so desperate that you show up at the clubs you know she’s going to and then say it was a coincidence. Look in the mirror, your crossed eyes, your hands the size of your feet. You’re teeth are so yellow it looks like you eat plaque for breakfast. We’re not laughing with you, we’re laughing at you.

 

I wake up feeling like there’s a telephone pole stuck in my back. I don’t know how I manage to get up, but I do. I serve Mojito his food and decide not to make any breakfast for myself.

            Last night I left a book on top of the modem and now it’s hot like a piece of toast.

                        I rub it on my face. When I open it, the pages are cold.

 

The security guard offers me an origami of a cat made from neon green paper. He hasn’t figured out how to make the whiskers, he apologizes. Aníbal is the only employee in the office who still talks to me.

            I don’t want to make the dog jealous. I leave the cat on top of the toilet in the boss’s bathroom.

                        I need an app that keeps me from accepting other people’s animals.

 

Brenda says I should get off the internet.

            I can’t, I tell her, it’s part of my job. And how would we talk during your trip, I think.

                        It’s true that I can’t, I don’t know how. Is there any place where wifi still doesn’t reach? I wouldn’t know where to hide out. Internet is the next Soviet Union. Someday it’s going to collapse but in the meantime we’re trapped inside and subject to its whims.

 

Now I’m the one my e-mails are shaming. The precision of detail makes my stomach churn, as if the modem was connected directly into my digestive tract. No one could possibly know so much about me; there’s no one who knows the exact version of all my humiliations.

            The computer exposes me like a nerve to all of my contacts, as if suddenly the search engine started showing all my thoughts and conversations when someone types my name.

                        Things I didn’t even know existed appear, things I thought no longer existed but still exist, things that remain in cache even when I know they don’t exist anymore.

 

The dog pissed on my collection of pirated DVDs, in the dirty clothes hamper, on my photocopies; also on the laptop. I should shut him in the patio, but deep down I’m happy to be with someone who doesn’t know anything about love, communism, or the internet.

            I need an app that can clean the piss off this keyboard.

 

I try to erase all of my accounts, the ones that are linked to my name and the ones that aren’t. The ones for work and the ones for pleasure. Credit cards, newspapers, magazines, games, porn.

            The pages either say they’re under maintenance, or an error message pops up when I finish the configuration, or there’s simply no way to delete the account.

 

I stop going to work. The computer’s fan sounds like the wind, or a snowstorm when it’s working hard. I’m tired like a computer that gets restarted every once in a while but hasn’t been unplugged in too long. For the first time, I make a place for Mojito under the covers. His snout is cold and his fur the color of tea with milk is warm.

            My boss calls me on the Blackberry. Will the systems keep running without me?

                        I let the Tetris theme play.

 

I decide to turn off the computer. First I just want to reread one more time the last conversation I had with Brenda, but the connection is down. I keep trying for several hours.

            When the internet returns it’s nighttime and all my contacts are connected. A video recorded on a webcam has gone viral from my Facebook account. As it loads I see the final image: it’s me, sitting in front of the computer; on my desk there’s an origami animal that I don’t have yet.

                        I hear myself squeal like a girl until I come. “Look, you have come all over your hands,” I hear Brenda’s voice on the video. I turn off the speaker but I know what she’s going to say: “Lick them.”

                                    As I close the video the Facebook notifications continue to grow exponentially.

 

 

 

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