Tara Isabel Zambrano
During the day we work in labs and at night we sleep on
bunk beds in our cubes. Breakfast, lunch and supper are brought into
conference rooms. Each of us is given a different specification to work on
and we aren't allowed to discuss. There are cameras everywhere. We cannot
leave this office until Project X is complete. Our families have received a
shitload of money and all of us have signed a waiver.
Ken, my boss, works the hardest. I see him hunched over circuit boards in
lab, switching power sources, watching waveforms on oscilloscope. He rarely
eats. Sometimes I think he isn't real. Karen, on the other hand, is always
in motion, setting up meetings, resolving issues with higher management. Her
office has windows. I often stop by and look out. The world on the other
side does not seem to care about Project X or us.
Gary sits next to me and gets up every hour for a smoke break. He talks to
his wife while working on layout or studying schematics. I know it's her
because he says, I love you, bye, before disconnecting. Then he
kicks at the processor and mouths, Piece of shit! At night he sings
lullabies to himself. I fall asleep listening to his gruff humming,
wondering how much time has passed in this godforsaken place.
Every day I go through a new segment of code, line by line, and fix bugs. In
between, I have revelations. The words come together and form sand on a
beach or create a mountain. I imagine swimming far away from them. Or
rock-climbing until I slip and fall—and the words revert to lines of code, a
language whose purpose eludes me.
After 10:00 pm, Karen comes to collect data from our desktops. I can recognize
her silhouette, her high-heel clicks and sighs as she enters information in
her handheld while I pretend to be asleep. She has administrative
privileges. One day, I want to be in her position, able to control some
number of things, able to say what I like.
I talk to my family via Skype or WhatsApp. My parents are always smiling,
drinking wine, wearing expensive clothes. Sometimes when they don't answer,
I feel I don't exist anymore. In the bathroom mirror, I'm often startled to
notice myself, a woman who has a pointed nose, high cheekbones and light
bouncing off her curves. Those nights I touch myself. The air above me
illuminates like sections of code I've been working on. It seems beautiful
and wrong all at once. A few times, I feel as if Gary is watching. I'm
worried, some day he might come over and do things I won't be able to
resist. He might say, I love you. I wouldn't know what to say
back—even though it's against what we signed and our cubes are
Our days look the same, feel the same. I think I'm getting used to all the
quiet here, the fluorescent lights, the bright monitors
displaying color-coded AC/DC signals. Maybe this is what death will be
like—endless toil. The circuit board inside you rattling loose, a million
lines of software in every cell pushing boundaries you've set for yourself,
like this cube, this office, this body, this world. Another Project X in the
works. Except with more grace, innovation.
Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas. She's had stories in Juked, Gargoyle,
matchbook, SmokeLong Quarterly and others.
Read her postcard.
Detail of illustration on main page courtesy
W i g l e a f