Third Thoughts

A thick sweater over two layers didn’t fend off the chill this snowpocalyptic morning. Not in a dingy Argyle apartment. Drafts swirled in busily from every corner.

Terri Ryan took another slow sip of coffee, stared at the laptop screen. Outside, bitter lake shore winds buffeted the old high-rise building. Icicles grew like whiskers on every inch of exposed metal. Unnoticed, except for the chills they conveyed.

Warmth radiated from the bowl-sized mug, which she curled around closely. Thumb pressed firmly into the inset handle. Late into work today.

Valentine’s Day. Another bleary glance at the date on her laptop. An old photo with her sister Jean filled most of the screen, from when they were both in kindergarten. Building sandcastles on the beach.

Jean would be in San Diego, probably still asleep now. Their parents too. At the cozy little home in Mission Beach, on Windemere. Arched walls, hand textured. Oversized windows facing the beautiful sunsets. A ridiculous fireplace that no one ever used.

Except that most of Mission Beach was underwater, at least what was left after the hurricane last September. It felt as if the entire room had stopped, turned silent. The first v-day without them. She coughed, trying to force an exhale.

Someone was talking in the background. A podcast, maybe Dan Savage — left running from when she’d started the moka pot on the stove. At least this morning the espresso hadn’t boiled.

Other random noises shuffled back into the room. The wind outside. Something auto-playing in one corner of the laptop screen, its audio lightly contending against the rhythms of the podcast. The edges of news items from Facebook, more election year dregs. A calendar for the day — though not enough coffee yet to view that.

On the other side of her screen, an obscured OkCupid heatmap. Her AI “pre-screening” with others across Chicagoland. GGG sapiosexuals, unicorn hunters, picture-perfect fictions. Scattered among vapid lumps of “Let’s meet for lunch?” one-liners. Why couldn’t men train their AIs to be more inquiring, or at least vaguely interesting? Feeds from her phone trained her AI to look for common interests. Computed happenstance. Some of the women in this group might be worth meeting.

Not that her life felt interesting. Work, day in and day out. Commuting downtown, departmental budgets to model, KPIs to report, endless meetings, perpetually buried in email. Bad food in the cafeteria. Crowds. Bad air throughout the building. Noise. Bad ethos in every meeting. Depressingly awful people. Bad karma.

Terri had been reconsidering her career choices, well beyond second thoughts now. “Maximizing yield for smallholders; maximizing yield for shareholders,” as the COO seemed so fond of chanting at every All Hands meeting. Or worse, their complete BS about “Feeding the world.” Quality of life metrics across the board for smallholder farms had dropped markedly with almost every new product they introduced. The only maximizing Nonserto had done was their ability to manipulate commodities markets worldwide. And she’d had to crunch those numbers, up and to the right.

Another sip. The cafe roasted their espresso blend out in front by the windows. Roasted dark to a smooth, creamy finish. The calendar for today showed budget meetings solid, across most departments. Everyone lining up for fiscal year end. First meeting didn’t start until 10:30 so there was still plenty of time to catch the L downtown. Most of these were sufficiently farcical, some narcissist or another attempting to BS the rest of the exec staff with grandiose claims that never quite panned out. Never even quite as believable as your average B-rate movie.

Seeking warmer waters

Though these meetings required almost no thought. Ample time to check job listings discretely by phone. Third thoughts. Or time to daydream more about becoming an adventure travel guide, perhaps a dive master somewhere warm — somewhere in the Caribbean? So long as there weren’t any hurricanes.

Terri sipped more hot joe, not too fast. From a bowl that nearly covered her face, warm and soothing. Jean had bought them both baby buddha bowls in pacific blue. That was always her favorite color.

Savage’s voice piqued, punctuating some gem of advice for some desperate soul. Tomorrow was a weekend. Sleep in late, brunch, maybe a movie. Serious effort devoted to finding a descent job, somewhere far away. Somewhere back warm.

“That’s great, NTR,” Savage assured. “You have my full support. But you do acknowledge that fantasies about living someone else’s life probably just represent your own desire to change?”

“Definitely.” Terri closed the laptop and started getting dressed for work.

Fri 02–14, 09:00 CT / 15:00 GMT
Argyle, Chicago; 41.9726° N, -87.6638° W

The previous story was Sunrise over the Playa, and the next in the sequence is Olgarithms.