Jessie liked it down in the tunnels. Quiet and cool, the opposite of this damn Mississippi summer that reminded him of Iraq except in the desert you could not drown in the air. Damn Mississippi and its humidity.
The computer in front of him beeped and percent bar was full and flashing 100 percent. Jessie hit a few keys and started the next update.
“Jessie?” a man said.
The young man turned up his headphones and waited for Caleb to go back to the party.
Footsteps overhead and light came in from the service hatch of the trailer that had been positioned right over the entrance to the tunnel entrance.
Jessie sighed and took the headphones off.
“Jessie, what the hell are you doing?”
“Just thought I’d get some updates done without the people around.”
Caleb stood and nodded his head. Jessie stared at the man, wondered how it felt to have your library burn and your wife leave and your mind start to wander off from you. Jessie had seen the same thing happen to men when they came back. Had seen it in the mirror once upon a time.
First the hair goes longer when you realize nobody cares. Then you reach for something, fall back on what you know. Slide away into it. To Caleb it was people, the library.
“Come on up and get a hot dog.”
“Nah. Gonna sit and have some quiet.”
“Too much of that’ll bring you down, son,” Caleb smiled and Jessie almost believed him.
“Think I’m gonna take your word on that one, sir.”
“Well, okay. But you remember we’re gonna have the food out all day, okay?”
Jessie nodded, “Sure.”
Caleb turned and climbed up the steep stairs, his flip flops slapping on each step.
Jessie sat for another hour, listened to the hum of his computers and the sound of a live band outside.
“Shit,” he said, climbed the stairs, locked up the library and joined the party.
Jessie waved and smiled and talked to several people. He ignored the children who shrieked and ran around the party, some holding balloons they had been given from a clown. He watched the band run through a medley of bluegrass tunes and thought the singer, a blonde girl about college age, was the prettiest thing he had seen since he watched a sunrise over the Pacific Ocean while at Vandenberg. Her dress was just the right color of blue and he made his mind up to talk to her when Skinner Punk loped over.
“Jessie, man, long time.”
“Yeah, hey Skinner. You doing okay?”
Skinner’s head bobbed as if he belonged on a trucker’s dashboard.
“Hey… you spare a buck or two? I’m kinda light.”
“Sorry, Skinner, I’m all digital. Got a card for just about everything now.”
“Maybe you can just come to the store with me then, you know, we could share a bottle or whatever.”
“I can’t,” Jessie said.
“Come on, man. Be like old times. We’ll go out to the creek and put some poles in the water.”
Jessie shook his head, “Gotta go back to work, Skin.”
“It’s Labor Day, man,” Skinner Punk said.
“Nah, man. Later.”
Jessie turned away from the party, from the blonde in the blue dress and walked back to the trailer. Closing the door behind him, he did not bother to turn on the light.
He slipped back down into the dark server room and started another update on the computer. He stared at the computer for a moment, at the small percent bar tracking left to right, then put his headphones on to drown out the noise.