Gray Matter

Free Gray Matter by Shirley Kennett

Book: Gray Matter by Shirley Kennett Read Free Book Online
Authors: Shirley Kennett
not one of the times.
    Whoa, there, Keypunch. Sounds like you need some fatherly advice from old Merlin. Not that you’ll listen.
    1. Of course being a divorced mom is difficult. But remember this: it’s a very rare divorce where there isn’t blame on both sides. And yours was as common as a dandelion.
    2. Thomas has a lot of the same pressures that you do, translated into a twelve-year-old’s world. Plus the simple curse of being twelve years old. Why don’t you try being the adult in the relationship and let him be the child?
    3. Money is the curse of the proletariat. Or was it the salvation?
    4. Ditto for bosses.
    5. Male chauvinist pigs make good bacon and you’re an old pro with the butcher’s ax. If all else fails, put a curse on ’im.
    6. You have my sympathy on the last point. I never could stand the smell of blood.
    7. The word for the day is “curse.”
    By the time PJ finished reading the list, she was laughing out loud. Thomas looked up from his movie, but she shook her head in his direction and he resubmerged. A conversation with Merlin always went like this, with his wonderful combination of sympathy, humor, and a bucket of cold water in the face, in just the right proportions. He loved making numbered lists, and she hardly ever got out of a conversation without one.
    Thanks. I feel better already. I think.
    Always glad to beat someone about the head and shoulders. Now then, down to business. How’s business?
    I suppose you mean my actual work. That could be the bright spot in this whole mess. I really feel like I could make a contribution. You know, do something in the public interest.
    Well, la-de-da!
    Don’t be such a cynic. If I can do my part to make the world a little safer, that’s something. Maybe a lot better something than working with consumer studies.
    I always knew you were a knightess in shining armor.
    You’re just jealous. You’ve never done a worthwhile thing in your life.
    Yes I have. I met you.
    That made PJ pause. Merlin rarely expressed himself so openly.
    You’re sweet to say so. But I have another motive for talking with you tonight besides airing my gripes.
    The truth comes out at last. You only want my body, not my mind.
    Quiet, you exasperating phantom of cyberspace! Besides, you should be so lucky. What I really want is a connection. I want to know who in this town is working with VR and would maybe, if I beg really hard, lend me an HMD.
    I take it your new employer doesn’t provide niceties like Head-Mounted Displays.
    Let’s just say I went out today and bought my own surge protector and box of diskettes. I doubt that money for an HMD is suddenly going to appear in my budget.
    I think you’ve assessed the situation accurately. Let’s see, I think there’s a group at Wash U. I’ll poke around and let you know.
    That was just what PJ wanted to hear. Washington University would be a great place to make contacts in her new community. Merlin seemed to know someone, or someone who knew someone, just about everyplace. She wondered how many others like herself were strung out across the world, orbiting Merlin like the numerous satellites of Jupiter. Merlin always seemed available to her. It had never occurred to her before that he might be carrying on conversations with others, that someone from Tallahassee or Spokane might be sharing a triumph or commiserating about a failure tonight.
    For the first time, it occurred to PJ that Merlin might be a computer program, not a real person.
    As soon as the idea blossomed in her head, she rejected it. Merlin was far too sophisticated, warm, and just plain human to be a collection of coded routines.
    Thanks, Merlin. Goodnight.
    Anything for you. Keypunch. Sleep well.
    As PJ was signing off from the session, there was a knock at the door. She folded the PowerBook shut and glanced at the bathroom door. The door was ajar; one of them had accidentally left it open. She let the technician in, and then knelt down to fetch the cat out

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