Catching Up on Emails

The hurricane has been upgraded to Category E or Level Orange or to the Fifth Tier or Echelon or Whichever Unit They’ve Invented to Measure the Combination of Wind Speed and Irrationality. At this point evacuations are highly recommended which makes you actually consider evacuating which would never happen if the evacuation were mandatory because what word inspires defiance quite like the word mandatory? This storm is undeniably strong however, so strong that every channel on TV is showing the Yule Log. You actually like the windows all boarded up. It’s comforting. The eye of the storm will not look down upon you until early tomorrow morning and so you decide to devote this time to doing something responsible like catching up on emails.

You email a colleague about a plan for the committee you head to collaborate with the committee she heads. “Sounds dope,” you tell her, then hit SEND.

You write back another colleague about the change in venue and time for the release party of a journal you both edit. “Great,” you type, “see you there,” then hit SEND.

You write back a student who’s petitioned you to be advisor for the laser tag club, saying, “Laser tag, eh? Well, I must confess I’ve never played before and therefore have next to zero to offer by way of advice, plus I’m already insanely busy this semester, but tell you what: try to find somebody else, but if you can’t, write me back and we’ll see what I can do. Perhaps I can be an invisible advisor from afar who actually does nothing, kind of like God.” SEND.

The wind, not yet fierce, is tossing small objects against the boarded up windows in a surprisingly subtle pattern that somehow calls to mind slam-dancing mice. A voice inside tells you to enjoy it while you can. The last time a storm of this nature rolled overhead you were a child and dreamt while you slept on the couch in the cellar that night of a meteorite that caught fire upon entering earth’s atmosphere. From a cinematic point of view you watched the rock burn and fall and burn and fall until it landed precisely in a sewer drain on an empty city street. By way of artful and rapidly alternating camera angles you watched the shrinking meteorite hiss and steam as it clinked and bounced and tumbled down one sewer pipe after another, deeper and deeper through those urban bowels until it reached one final pipe-end and plummeted several seconds through open air before plunking into a vast green mildly radiant reservoir of glop. From a side angle you watched the now cold and considerably smaller meteorite sink slowly through the sludge until it came to rest at the bottom, a chunk missing from its side as if it had been bitten. One jump-cut later you were looking through your own eyes in your own garage while you sat upon your own electric tricycle, except now whenever you hit the FORWARD button on the tricycles’ controls you moved backward and whenever you hit REVERSE you moved forward, and you could hear dissonant chords being played faintly on a violin somewhere and you were terrified, terrified because you knew your toy was not the only toy in all the world afflicted by this dysfunction and that every FORWARD button on every electric ride-on-top everywhere would from then on propel the toy backward and that every REVERSE button would propel it ahead, and you knew it was all because of the injured meteorite and also knew you were the only one who knew because you alone had seen the rock fall from outer space and come to rest at the bottom of a shitty sea, and though you tried to explain this tragedy to various adults in attendance they just didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, because they didn’t know about the meteorite, hadn’t seen it break, until at last your mom said, “Well honey, why don’t you just hit REVERSE when you want to go forward then?” and you woke up wailing and wet.

The colleague you emailed just sixty seconds ago about the release party has already emailed you back, saying, “I am worried we don’t have enough readers for the release. Do we have enough readers for the release? What if Rob reads and Jesus’ daughter reads? Do you think they’d be interested in reading at the release? Sent from my Galaxy 7.”

You write back, saying, “I bet the daughter of Jesus would. I don’t know about Rob. Maybe? I’ll email them both at once.”

You make a note to yourself on the back of a receipt to email Rob and Jesus’ daughter and then pause and reflect upon the fact that you are already currently writing emails and wonder if it will ever be easier to write an email than when you are already writing emails. No, you admit, likely not. Nonetheless, later seems the appropriate time.

You email a former student who now lives in a desert in Utah and recently sent you something she wrote after months and months of trying to write something she wrote. You read it and tell her, “Awesome. Now send me some more tomorrow.”

You write an email to a friend, saying sorry for the delay and you will definitely get to their story really really soon, then you download the story and notice the word count at the bottom—21,706—and groan and reread the entire thread, looking to see if they used the word “story” or if they used the word “novella” and note that they actually used the word “novelette”which makes you groan again.

The wind is no longer not fierce but very. A xylophone has been blown into the yard and though you cannot see it through the boarded up windows you know it is there because you can hear scales being practiced by airborne debris along its multi-colored keys as if by a giant one-eyed child. You’re amazed the power and internet haven’t gone out yet but you’ve got to believe they will soon. 

You open the email about renewing your car insurance and click the link and take out your credit card place it beside the keyboard and renew your car insurance.

You email an ex-girlfriend who started emailing you a few months ago when she entered divorce proceedings in France where she lives with the husband she’s divorcing and who will soon be moving stateside again and wants to know if you want to meet up then for coffee or ayahuasca and you tell her, “Word. Email me once you get back and settled.”

You email the parents of a dear friend who died when he fell off a building years ago and tell them you were able to place one of his poems in a journal and that the journal is coming out this week and ask what their mailing address is so you can send them his compensatory copy.

The wind gusts are now the new sustained speeds and lambast the vinyl siding of your apartment complex with rain and hail and the xylophone has long since lost all its teeth or else flow south with the other marching bands and there is instead a sound like a large metal table being dragged slowly across a marble floor upstairs in a room as long as forever. The naked light bulb overhead flickers blue and goes out and comes back again. You still have internet and so press on.

You think of sending an email to your former spouse in Antarctica with the penguins, picture her kneeling in the snow, picture her holding a camera with a long stiff lens to her face, recording penguins in their icy bedrooms pass an egg back and forth between their feet, puking affectionately into each other’s mouths, an email you do not write, an email you do not send. What could you write other than, “Where are you? How are you?” which is exactly what your father always asks in every email he ever sends you, except he hasn’t heard of capital letters and likes to emphasize his curiosity by tripling or quadrupling question marks.

you evacuate???

everything ok????

Your colleague at the journal has written you back for a third time with a similar question: “Please tell me you left town, right? Sent from my Galaxy 7.

You’re not going to respond to this email because emails sent this rapidly do not qualify as emails but as text messages and what responsible person in their right mind uses spare time to catch up on text messages? Still you wonder why your colleague has emailed/texted you in this slightly condescending tone and so you check the National Weather Service website right after watching a video of a woman with long blonde hair and extra long flippers swimming in slow motion alongside a great white shark and note that the evacuations have been upgraded from recommended to mandatory and there’s a video in slow motion of the governor telling people watching the video of the governor to not throw their lives away and hurry up and get the hell out of town and if it weren’t for the subtitles it would be impossible to understand him on account of the slow motion and that is when you realize the slow motion button is clicked on your flash player which means the video of the woman with the long blonde hair reaching out to take hold of the dorsal fin of a great white shark by which she is then tugged gently along was not meant to be played in slow motion which is actually quite sad because the slow motion struck you as a wholly appropriate and artful and fitting choice for the film and now appears to be just an accident which is exactly what the governor says emergency responders will not be able to rescue you from if you are so idiotic and irresponsible as to not flee from the path of a Category E or Level Orange or Fifth Tier or Echelon or Whichever Unit They’ve Invented to Measure the Combination of Wind Speed and Irrationality Hurricane.

 You write an email to a potentially future student who is on the waitlist of one of your courses and wants to know if he will get in. “If you’re on the waitlist, and you show up for the first day of class, I will let you in,” you write, but before you can hit SEND the overhead bulb winks out and the email ends up in the DRAFTS folder, not in the SENT.

Your laptop remains lit even though the internet is dead.

Outside the wind says SHE or HE or ME without stopping as loud as an ear can hear, as loud as every wolf pack in the world howling in unison in suburbia about running out of propane for the grill and then there is an even louder pop and an orange flash halos the window boards. The rain hitting the roof sounds like hammers hitting the roof and you can hear waves breaking outside even though you cannot afford to live anywhere near the beach.

Without internet you can no longer catch up on emails.

Without internet you can only reread emails and imagine what you would have said if you did not have to catch up on them, what you would have said if you hadn’t let days and then weeks and then years pass by, if you had responded promptly in the first place like a responsible person would, if you’d actually known what to say and had had the courage to say it.

Your feet are wet and cold. When you look you see six inches of water has pooled across the floor through which minnows smirk and dart. With your laptop camera you try to capture these little silly fishes which suddenly seem not all that different from house flies. By the time you catch a thirty-second clip the water is to your waist and two penguins perch atop your desk. “You’ve lost your connection,” one of them tells you, then dives off into the drink.

Dan Tremaglio’s stories have appeared in various publications, including Gravel, Tammy, Literary Orphans, and Flash Fiction Magazine, and twice been named a finalist for the Calvino Prize. He teaches creative writing and literature at Bellevue College outside Seattle where he is a senior editor for the journal Belletrist.

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